Happy Year of the Pig, everybody! I hope that the Chinese New Year break has given you all the chance to relax, refresh yourselves and spend this special time of year with your loved ones. As the new term approaches, I wanted to look back in appreciation of the school’s very first Chinese Week. Thanks to the exceptional efforts of everyone in the Huili community, it turned out to be a fantastic celebration of not only the richness and depth of China’s culture, but also of our pupils’ growing understanding of its importance in their lives.
The theme we chose for Huili’s inaugural Chinese Week was to celebrate “The Charm of Chinese”. Over the course of the week, with all its competitions, presentations, fun activities, as well as innumerable displays of skill and learning, we had two main goals. Firstly, we wanted to give every Huili pupil the chance to explore and experience their own culture in ways that would be great fun as well as educationally valuable. Secondly, we aimed to let them celebrate just how much they have progressed during these recent months.
Again, thanks to the efforts of every Huili staff member and pupil, ably supported by our wonderful parents, I feel that we achieved both of these goals. As the following highlights of Chinese Week hopefully demonstrate, it proved to be a very special time for the community to come together and experience the ‘soul’ of China.
Highlights of Chinese Week
The opening ceremony on Monday 28th January set the tone of the week as our four house captains joined the heads of school on stage as we all gained a deeper appreciation of the lessons of Chinese etiquette. While the ritualised bowing and formal speech of ancient etiquette may not be strictly relevant to life in modern day China, its principles of politeness, consideration and mutual respect most certainly are. This served as an excellent reminder to all pupils that respect is a universally important attitude that we should all strive to demonstrate.
The following Tuesday and Wednesday saw our Story and Speech Competitions come to a dramatic and successful end. My department colleagues and I were delighted by the enthusiasm and talent that the pupils have displayed throughout these competitions. Over 100 pupils, including plenty from the younger year groups, put themselves forward. The Story Competition was designed to promote pupils’ interest in seeking out new and exciting stories both in books and their own imaginations, while the Speech Competition was themed around the idea of ‘choice’. Over many weeks of recitals, we heard dozens of excellent stories as well as compelling speeches on dealing with dilemmas and making important choices, all delivered within just three minutes per pupil!
In both cases, our purpose was to give Huili pupils a stage to explore and display their creative talents in new and interesting ways, while at the same time overcoming any nerves or shyness they might have felt performing in front of others. These are exactly the kind of skills necessary to develop the kind of ‘whole person’ we wish for our pupils to become during their time with us.
Of course, the school also burst into reds and golds over the course of the week, as the Chinese New Year decorations were put in place. One of the most exciting and noticeable decorative elements was the ‘Competition for the most Creative Chinese Door’, which allowed every class to choose how they wanted to make their classroom door as eye-catching as possible! By Friday, every door was beautifully adorned with dragons, flowing characters and Chinese symbols. There were building themes too, such as 1930s Shanghai and Beijing’s Forbidden Palace. All of these wonderfully creative themes were a fitting tribute to the varied and colourful parts of our country’s history and geography.
Friday signals the beginning ofHuili Chinese Culture Festival
For the grand finale of Chinese Week, Friday brought the school to life in a whirl of colour, laughter, energy, knowledge and new discoveries. Once again, the whole Huili community came together for the opening ceremony as our talented drummers from grades 4-6 delivered an incredible original composition which pounded across the courtyard in a very dramatic manner!
As soon as parents and pupils entered the school, they were met with a wide array of Chinese cultural sights, sounds and smells. From the beautifully arranged Han Chinese clothing displays, to the ‘culture corners’ showing elaborate tea ceremonies and traditional musical instruments being expertly played, everyone was able to immerse themselves in the many different elements of our shared heritage. Also on the ground floor, parents of Grade 1 pupils could see first-hand how much their children have learned in the months since Huili opened, as our classroom video presentations took them on a learning journey which catalogued the successes and key moments of our curriculum to date. Parents of pupils in Grades 2-6 could also examine some excellent examples of their children’s work in the open study area. On display there were plenty of dioramas, models and paintings of traditional Chinese themes and nature scenes. There was even a great sculpture of a blossoming tree which had an individualised tag from every pupil in the school attached to it, detailing their wishes for the New Year.
As soon as visitors entered the second floor, they could smell the tantalising scents of spun sugar, pumpkin cake, spring rolls and dumplings wafting down from the cafeteria area. Between bites of the many snacks and delicacies on offer, parents and pupils enjoyed joining in with our guest folk artists to produce beautiful examples of Chinese cultural pursuits. Under the guidance of the experts, they practised flowing calligraphy (including special Dragon and Phoenix calligraphy), paper cutting, knot tying, straw art and more. As you no doubt saw for yourselves, there were plenty of reproductions of the four Huili house logos expressed in these different artforms – a fitting tribute to the importance of the house system and how much the pupils enjoy it.
Up on the sixth floor, our pupils treated everyone to the performances that they had been working so hard to prepare for the big finale of Chinese Week:
- Grade 6 delivered their theatrical piece “In Berlin”. Everything was prepared by the pupils. They created the costumes, props, scenery and direction, receiving only a small measure of guidance from their teachers.
- The winners of the Story and Speech Competitions, Arnold Gao (G1E) and Bella Zhao (G5A) gave confident recitals of their winning entries. Arnold’s enthusiasm was infectious during his recital of an original interpretation of the famous story, “Crow Drinks Water”, complete with dramatic gestures and body language.
- Each grade was tasked with presenting their take on a Chinese classic, which they had been studying throughout the term. These took the form of dances, poetic recitals, mini-dramas and songs. In each case, pupils demonstrated the importance of Chinese classics not only in terms of their educational value but also their usefulness in connecting with Chinese culture and its central lessons.
Bringing Chinese culture to life at Huili
- Finally, our Tai Chi and Kung Fu CCA groups gave a thrilling demonstration of the skills they have learned this past term. Against an impressive CGI flame backdrop and light show, they performed a series of gracefully fluid movements which showed the inherent beauty of these two martial arts and the discipline necessary to master them.
Chinese New Year is perhaps the most important annual cultural event in China; it is a time to look backwards on the achievements and lessons of the past, while also looking ahead to the new knowledge to be gained and challenges to be faced. Equally importantly, it is a time to celebrate with the people who are important to you – those who support, inspire and care for you.
With this in mind, I am both grateful and heartened to have seen the whole Huili community come together to enjoy our first Chinese Week together, culminating with our CNY celebrations. From the pupils and staff who worked so hard all term, to the parents how have supported our vision all of the way, we have begun a great tradition here at the school. Already, I am very much looking forward to seeing what we can do next year to improve it!
Perhaps the most important lesson of all, in the middle of all the excitement and activities, is to remember exactly why we dedicate a week to Chinese cultural exploration. It is our duty to allow every Huili pupil the chance to understand, appreciate and interact with their own culture. By giving them access to China’s rich history, its traditional artistic and martial pursuits, poetry, music, food and more, we give them the chance to see the inherent beauty and value of Chinese culture. Furthermore, we give them the chance to discover what cultural elements they enjoy, to think critically about them, and learn their lessons to take with them into a globalised world.
I hope that you all enjoyed this inaugural Huili Chinese Week as much as I did, and I would like to sincerely thank everyone involved in its preparation and execution. Once again, Happy New Year!