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Country Highlight: Celebrations and traditions in China bring families together, says two BYUH students

Fei Liu wearing a red shirt with white polka dots, holds the flag of China and has a little black and white toy panda bear, while standing in front of flags from other nations in the background.

Family is at the center of Chinese culture, traditions, food and celebrations. For example, Spring Festival, also known as Chinese New Year, brings extended families together to decorate their homes, enjoy time away from school and eat family favorite foods, said two BYU–Hawaii sophomores from China.

They said spending time with family during holidays is a highlight of life in China. Kefei Yu, a communications major, and Fei Liu, an accounting major, shared as a nation, they love Spring Festival traditions, like the dragon dances and exchanges of red envelopes for good luck and prosperity.

Yu said the Spring Festival is “like Christmas in the U.S. Most of the people will make dumplings together and spend time together as a family,” and this lasts up to two weeks.

Fei Liu and her family of six women and four children sit around a large, round table eating a meal in white bowls of rice and a variety of main dishes.

Q: What is it like to attend BYUH as a student from China?

Compared to her high school experience in China, Liu said BYUH feels a lot more laid back. She explained in China “we only have three years to study [in high school], and it’s very hard to take the college entrance examination at the end of the year.”

The exam is competitive, she said, and causes a lot of stress for high school students. Although the exam is somewhat catered to what they studied in school, it is very exhausting, she added. Yu said she has noticed many differences in the classrooms at BYUH compared to the classrooms in China.

In China, she said people stand up to answer questions instead of staying seated. The education system in China uses standardized testing to meet national standards, she explained, and individual creativity was not encouraged.

At BYUH, Yu said she feels she can share her opinions on subjects and the professors learn from the students just as much as the students learn from them. She expressed her appreciation for the relationships she has with her professors and said she feels respected when she shares her thoughts or opinions in class.

Q: What is your country most known for?

Yu said China is known for its cuisine. “There is different food across all different provinces and each one has a signature flavor.” She said the signature food from her province, Tianjin City, is a steamed dumpling filled with pork called goubuli baozi.

Liu said China is known for kung fu. Foreigners associate China with martial arts and assume everyone in China knows kung fu, she added.

Q: What are some unique cultural practices there?

During the Spring Festival, otherwise known as Chinese New Year, Yu said parents or elders give a red envelope full of money to their children or unmarried individuals. The red color of the envelope is a symbol of good luck, Yu explained. Chinese people do this to wish others good luck and prosperity.

A long time ago, many people believed evil spirits would come and take children, but if they had either the money or the envelope they would be safe, she explained. “You are protected from evil when you wear a lucky color.”

Liu said she enjoys watching the dragon dance during the Spring Festival. The dance is performed in celebration of the new year, she said, either at the end or in the middle of the festival. She said the dragons are made with red paper to symbolize power and good fortune. The dance is believed to bring good luck and blessings to the community and cast away evil spirits, she added.

Q: What is a major holiday in your country and how do you celebrate it?

The biggest holiday in China is the Spring Festival, Yu said. People hang up decorations and, instead of Christmas trees, they hang scrolls on their doors. She stated families also make paper decorations in the shape of the Chinese zodiac animal that represents the current year.

Liu said the Spring Festival is the most exciting holiday because for students it means they get a long break from school work. She said she loved being able to spend time with her extended family and enjoyed a lot of food. Her family makes fish for this holiday because fish represents prosperity, she explained.

Q: What is your country like geographically?

Yu and Liu both said they live in the heart of big cities. Liu said she is from the Jiangxi province and Yu from Tianjin City. Yu said she loves the modern feel of the city and the convenience of everything being close to her.

Liu said both the countryside and the city have advantages and disadvantages, but she prefers the city as educational opportunities are more accessible there. She loves to visit her grandparents in the country but added she enjoys being close to everything in the city.

Q: What do you love most about your country?

Liu said she loves the strict academic programs in China. School in China was hard for her, she clarified, but said high school prepared her for college. In Chinese high schools, all homework assignments are completed within the same day, Liu explained. Most students don’t leave the school until 9 or 10 o’clock at night, she added.

Yu said the rules China has to protect their citizens allows her to feel safe from harm.

Q: What is the main language spoken there?

Liu said the language most people speak in mainland China is Mandarin. Yu agreed, saying, “The official language is Mandarin Chinese, but people from certain provinces speak different dialects.”

In the Guangdong Province, located near Hong Kong, Yu said people speak Cantonese.

A large round table with a clear glass Lazy Susan holds 10 different Chinese dishes in white bowls and platters.

Q: What is your favorite food from your country?

Liu said her favorite food is mapo tofu, which is usually made with tofu and a spicy sauce. The packets of sauce have three different levels of spice, and she said her favorite is the medium level. She said these packets can be found at the supermarket and are easy to make.

Yu said her favorite meal is a hot pot. A hot pot is a soup, she explained, saying you can put any toppings you want in it, whether it be meat, seafood, vegetables or sesame seeds. Yu enjoys her hot pot with a lot of meat, sweet potato and corn.

Fei Liu holds up the nation of China's flag, which has a red background and one large yellow star surrounded by smaller yellow stars, while standing in front of a campus building.

Q: What is the meaning of your flag?

In primary school, children learn the meaning of China’s flag, Yu explained. The red background, she said, represents the Chinese communist revolution, while the big star represents the communist party. The four stars surrounding it represent different societal classes, she added.

Liu said the smaller stars represent the working class, peasant class, urban petty bourgeoisie or middle class, and national bourgeoisie or the upper class. In addition to China’s communist revolution, she added the red background also represents the blood of their ancestors during the revolution.