Chinese culture spreads across both campuses

By Sammy Roth

Amy Zhang ’10 presented a Chinese folk dance, Ric Tennenbaum ’13’s Lion Dance troupe performed, and a group of students put on a comedic skit called “The Year of the Ox With a Lot of Bull,” written and directed by Timothy Schorr ’10 and Jenny Lin ’11.

“The performance was pretty good that day,” Zhang said of her dance. “I didn’t trip and fall flat on my face or anything.”

These performances took place Feb. 22 at the annual Chinese New Year’s luncheon in celebration of the beginning of the Year of the Ox.

The luncheon, which co-chair Wilma Chung (Kenny ’11) said was attended by over 300 people, is just one sign of the growing impact Chinese culture is making at Harvard-Westlake.

The luncheon was held by the Chinese Cultural Club. Founded in 1990, the club now has members from 110 families. Chung said this membership is made up primarily of students enrolled in the Chinese language program, many of whom are not from a Chinese heritage.

The Chinese language program was started in 1994, with 12 students in the first Chinese class.

After Dr. Qinru Zhou was hired in 1997 and began to expand the program, enrollment skyrocketed. 122 students now take Chinese.

Next year, Chinese will be offered in all six grades for the first time.

“[Chinese] is really useful for business,” Zhou said, “but it is more important for understanding the Chinese culture.”

Director of Studies Dr. Deborah Dowling believes that it is the school’s responsibility to educate its students in Chinese language and culture, considering the increasingly important role that China plays in the world community.

“We think that part of educating Harvard-Westlake students is to make sure that they’re in touch with issues in Asia,” Dowling said.

Dowling cited this as a primary reason for the faculty trip to China that will take place over spring break.

A dozen teachers, Dowling included, will spend 10 days in China, splitting their time between Beijing, Kunming, and Shanghai.

They plan on visiting well-known sites such as the Great Wall of China and the Temple of Heaven, along with various medical, educational and environmental institutions.

However, the itinerary is subject to change, Dowling said.

“As was explained to us in one of the lectures, things change in China, and you have to be prepared to change with them,” she said. “It’s a different culture and we’ve been told to expect that plans might suddenly change, and that’s fine, that’s just how it is.”

Dowling noted that the trip will benefit teachers from many different departments, saying that history teachers will gain a first-hand understanding of Chinese history, English teachers will be better able to incorporate Chinese poems and short stories into their curricula and science teachers will learn about the environmental impact of China on the world.Even middle school art teacher Katherine Palmer will benefit from the trip, Dowling said.

“There’s a reason that china is called China,” she said. “The pottery is named after the country.”

In preparation for the trip, the 12 faculty members participated in three full-day workshops at UCLA, listening to lectures from various UCLA professors on topics such as Chinese history, economics, geography and daily life.

Education in Chinese culture is also an important element of the Chinese language classes, Zhou said.

Chinese students learn Chinese geography and history, and discuss current events relating to China. The language itself, Zhou said, is an aspect of the culture.

“In order to learn the Chinese language, you must know the culture,” Zhou said. “The thinking is different, the language recognition is different.”

Many students have used their knowledge of Chinese language and culture outside of school. Charlie Melvoin ’05, who took Zhou’s Chinese classes and is now at Harvard University, spent this past summer at the Beijing Olympics working for NBC’s Client Hospitality Program.

In great part due to his proficiency in Chinese, Melvoin got one of only 30 jobs as a guide for NBC’s VIP guests.

Then there are members of the Chinese Cultural Club, such as those who performed at the New Year’s luncheon. They too have gotten involved in the larger community, with some CCC students doing tutoring every Sunday at the Alpine Community Center in Chinatown.

The parents of the CCC are also active in the school community. In addition to the annual New Year’s luncheon, the CCC has projects ranging from a Chinese food booth at Homecoming, to support for local museums, to a recent effort which raised $350,000 to build one of the science classrooms at the new middle school campus.

According to Josephine Wibawa (Jeffrey ’10 and Jessica ’13), the club’s past president, the club chose to sponsor classroom number 108 because “8” is considered a lucky number in Chinese culture.

“Collectively, our club wanted to contribute towards learning and the science room dedication seem like a good fit,” Wibawa said.

The spread of Chinese culture is not slowing down. Zhou said that he expects that enrollment in Chinese will keep increasing.

Dowling said the school plans to hire another Chinese teacher for next year.

Chung sees this escalation in all things Chinese as part of a global trend.

“There is a lot of interest in China and everything Chinese all over the world,” Chung said. “You can’t ignore a country with over a billion people and a history of almost 5,000 years.”