Hopping into Chinese New Year



Andrew Zhou (9) (third from the left) plays his viola in a string quartet along with other White Station students. They played traditional Chinese music.

Ray Wu (12) (far left) stands on stage as he greets the audience at the Chinese New year event. Wu and the other hosts made sure the show ran smoothly. (MILAGROS PEREZ//THE SCROLL)
Alexandra Shirley (12) and Andrew Zhou (9) present a traditional Chinese comedic performance known as Xiàngsheng. (MILAGROS PEREZ//THE SCROLL)

A few weeks into the new year, many East Asian cultures begin celebrating the Lunar New Year. During this celebration, families come together and reconnect with each other while celebrating their culture. 

This year, the Greater Memphis United Chinese Association (GMUCA) plans to make a strong comeback after multiple years without hosting a Chinese New Year performance event. Ray Wu (12) will host this year’s event on Jan. 21, 2023 from 6:00-8:30 p.m. in the Rose Theater at the University of Memphis. The program will include traditional Chinese folk songs and dances, Chinese Kungfu and much more. 

“[The festival] has around 20 or so performances,” Wu said. “And my job is … [to] go on stage, introduce the performance to everyone and basically let everyone know what’s about to happen.”

In addition to the annual Chinese New Year performance, the GMUCA has a school where Chinese language and culture classes are held every week. Not only was the school a place to promote cultural heritage, but a place where people could socialize and build connections.  

“Being a part of [chinese school] for so long, that was really important to me, and I looked forward to it every Sunday, [so] when that got taken away, it was pretty sad,” Wu said. “And then when COVID happened, the performance got taken away … [which] was also really sad, because it was … [a] fun time for everyone, and I think now that it’s coming back, it’s just a really good thing.”

Wu received the opportunity as a host due to his vast experience on stage and involvement with the event and organization in previous years. Interested in expanding his contribution to the event, he reached out to GMUCA.

“This is the New Chinese year, [and] we’re getting the community back together,” Wu said. “We’re reviving the culture and connection from the community, [which is] a really big deal to me.” 

After countless hours and practices spent rehearsing his script, he is most excited to go on stage and help make the event an unforgettable experience for everyone attending.

“[My goal is to] make it good for the audience [and] to make it memorable for them as a host,” Wu said. “I just really want to also bring the energy to where they’re feeling happy, and they feel like it’s alive again.” 

Alexandra Shirley (12) will be performing a cross talk or comedic dialogue in Chinese along with Andrew Zhou (9), who is also performing in a string quartet. Chinese is not Shirley’s primary language; however, she has dedicated herself to learning it for five years. Apart from taking Chinese classes at school, she recently enrolled for the spring semester in the Chinese school that GMUCA offers to help elevate her skills further.  

“I’m really excited,” Shirley said. “I really enjoy public speaking, and I also like performing. I just love the Chinese language, so I’m mostly just [feeling] really excited and honored.”

Shirley received the chance to take part in the Chinese new year event through the recommendation of one of GMUCA’s board members. Shirley and Zhou both practice their scripts about one to two times a week while preparing for the performance. 

“I’ve wanted to get more active in the Chinese community for a little while,” Shirley said. “[And] I felt like this was kind of [a] doorway for me to get more involved with Chinese events around Memphis.” 

Zhou was driven to perform at the event because of his desire to overcome his stage fright and start performing again. His older sister had previously been in the festival, which inspired him to partake in it as well. Part of the planning process is making sure the special attire is ready and memorizing their scripts.  

“I say the majority of it is mental preparations,” Zhou said. “I have to switch into a stage voice, because it’s pretty different from normal talking.”

One of Zhou’s main goals for the festival is to make it as remarkable and enjoyable as possible for the audience. He believes that the years in which the performance did not take place hurt the Memphis Chinese community and that this is a way of uniting it again. 

“I’d say honestly, my main goal would be to leave people with an impression that they probably won’t forget,” Zhou said.