AISHK 25th Anniversary Throwback: Chinese Day to Chinese Week

Students enjoy a lion dance performance as part of Chinese Culture month in 1995

To acknowledge the usual highly anticipated calendar event of Chinese Week, this throwback will give you an insight into how the focus of Chinese Week has shifted from simply promoting Chinese culture to creating more engaging opportunities for students to use the language. Chinese Week has been postponed to Term 4.

In March 1995, the Chinese Programme at AISHK was introduced with a Chinese Culture month. The month was rich with Chinese cultural activities to excite and delight the school community to the coming formal Chinese curriculum. The month included a lion dance performance, a visit to Middle Kingdom, a visit from a calligrapher, performances from musicians demonstrating traditional Chinese instruments including the erhu (二胡), a quzheng (古筝), and a pipa (琵琶), concluding with a Chinese cooking day which included a noodle making demonstration. When the Dragon Boat Festival came in June, the very first Chinese Day was launched. Jean Zhai (Head of Chinese, 1995-2008) shares how the school’s first Chinese Day in 1995 developed into Chinese Week in 1997.

Dragon Boat racing for Chinese Day in 1995

“The first Chinese Day happened on the day of Dragon Boat Festival in 1995 on the Boundary Street campus, where we used the courtyard to enjoy a lion dance, a cardboard dragon boat race, and students singing songs. It was fun and successful, so in 1996 we had another one. As the school grew bigger, suggested and encouraged (pushed) by Margaret Merrell, the then Primary Principal, the Chinese Day became Chinese Week in 1997. Apart from assemblies and outdoor activities, calligraphy, Chinese painting, art, special visitors, cooking, fashion show, ‘mini tours’ over China were gradually part of the week’s program. These mini tours also known as ‘Touring Around China’, involved stations set up in the hall with information about some iconic Chinese cities. Students would ‘visit’ these cities with a ‘passport’ made with their Chinese teachers.

“Chinese Week was always organised during a Chinese festival, either Dragon Boat Festival or Moon Festival. It was hard work, especially for Chinese teachers. But we had so much fun! If I have to name one as my favourite parts, I would say when I saw children enjoy the activities and speak better Chinese with smiles on their faces! Or maybe the marble picking game with chopsticks!”

Students performing a Lion Dance for Chinese Day in 1996 (right to left): Nalani Slater, Nick Dowson, Eric Austin, Nick Ashley

Over the past 25 years, an understanding of China as a country and Chinese culture has hugely improved in society. This is why the Chinese Week programme has also seen a shift in focus from simply promoting the culture to creating more opportunities for students to use the language through involvement in the school community. Today, Chinese Week traditions include a lion dance performance, workshops including lion dance, Chinese opera singing and Chinese painting, ‘Costume Day’, ‘Shopping Day’ and a talent show. Joy Chung (Head of Chinese (R-6), 2010 – ) has been a Chinese teacher at AISHK since 1998. She shares more about Shopping Day, her favourite part of Chinese Week.

“We started ‘Shopping day’ around 10 years ago. Normally, we invite around 40 Chinese speaking mums to set up shopping stalls and games stalls for the students. Students will use real money to buy the things they like and talk to the mums. It gives the students chances to use the language, and is a great opportunity for mums to be involved in school life. I also love the support from class teachers. It is a whole school activity. It is lovely to see all the class teachers also decorate their classrooms and introduce Chinese culture in their English lessons.”

Joy Chung (left) speaking to students at ‘Shopping Day’ in 2017

According to Joy, Chinese Week is an important school event as it helps create cultural unity at the school.

“Chinese week creates chances for the students to celebrate what they have learned and also have chances for them to use the language. The students further understand how to respect other cultures from the different activities and from every teachers’ involvement.”

Outside of the Chinese Week celebrations, visits to China including Shenzhen and Beijing were possible as part of Primary’s comprehensive outdoor education program, which also included excursions, camps and swimming. Due to the small numbers in 1995, Years 3-6 visited Shenzhen and in 1996, Years 5,6 and 7 went to Beijing. As the school grew, Shenzhen became a Year 4 only excursion with the ‘Splendid China’ theme park and a local school visit as the two main activities. Likewise, the Beijing trip became a Year 6 only excursion which involved visits to the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and the important local school visit. Hard work and support from the parent community trip after trip ensured the excursions remained an integral part of the Chinese Programme for years to follow.
To this day, the Year 6 Beijing trip remains a highlight of the school calendar. Below is an excerpt from Dhanara recounting the 2019 Beijing trip. As you read, you will notice that many of the traditions have remained since the first trip.

“Over four full days of exploring in China’s capital, our Year 6 students were treated to the incredible sights of: The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, The Temple of Heaven, The Drum Tower, a wander through the Hutongs and of course, the unforgettable day when over 100 Year 6 students together climbed the Great Wall of China. They were also kept busy and active with Jianxi (shuttlecock) kicking, calligraphy painting, Peking Opera mask painting, shadow puppet crafting, Chinese cooking and meeting the famous Cricket Master!…

“Our students had the opportunity to visit the impressive Shi Jia Primary School, our sister school in Beijing. Excitement was in the air (and certainly some shyness) as all students approached each other. Although within a short amount of time, gifts were exchanged, laughter and chatter filled the air and some new friendships formed.

Year 6 students in the Forbidden City, Beijing in 2019

“All senses were astounded with the Beijing Acrobatic Show as well as the Peking Opera performance. Not to mention visiting the Beijing City Planning Centre to get more of a bird’s eye view of this incredible city of old and new, as well as stroll through Olympic Park to pose before the iconic Bird’s Nest and Water Cube buildings.”