From sparkling costumes, elegant dance moves, melodic folk songs, to classic Beijing Opera, a stunning visual feast of Chinese culture dazzled many Chicagoans on Friday night at a concert sponsored by the Confucius Institute in Chicago (CIC).
This speaks a lot about the locals' growing enthusiasm in learning Chinese inspired by Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the Wind City in January.
During the concert at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School which President Hu once visited, students from 42 area public schools, along with their administrators, teachers and parents, reveled together for the first time, still riding the wave of excitement set in motion by Hu's visit.
"It was a magnificent performance!" said Terry Mazany, Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools who took his wife to attend this special celebration. "The beauty, the voices, the dance, the culture, the stories that they told --this is just a remarkable evening," he said.
"The concert brought all of the beauty of Chinese culture. It made Chinese culture real and brought it to life. It also showed the richness and depth of the heritage of Chinese people. Learning Chinese is valuable beyond just mastering a second language, but it is preparing our children for the 21st century."
"Tonight's event was organized to answer a strong request from our schools," said Jane Lu, director of the CIC, which is located in the Walter Payton College Preparatory High School.
"We have never had such a large scale annual celebration before. This time we invited all 42 schools that offer the Chinese language program."
"After President Hu's visit, students' enthusiasm for learning Chinese surged unprecedentedly. They realized that learning Chinese opens up more opportunities for them, not only in their future careers, but also opportunities to appreciate and enjoy the rich Chinese culture, such as tonight' s celebration of the Year of the Rabbit."
She said after President Hu's visit, "the Confucius Institute received tremendous support from top executives to parents in Chicago Public Schools. It gave me encouragement, confidence and pride in what I am doing. I feel valued because we are working hard to fulfill a strong, growing demand for learning Chinese in Chicago."
Cheryl D. Watkins, head of John J. Pershing West Middle School, shared a story of one of her former students who "was in the picture with President Hu." "She was very excited. It really is a big deal."
"President Hu's visit helps our students understand the relevance of studying Chinese," said Mathew Ditto, principle of Andrew Jackson Language Academy in Chicago. "We re happy that we have a Chinese program because it provides our students with opportunities to study Chinese language and culture.
For Christina Xu, who has nurtured the Chinese program at Andrew Jackson Language Academy since it's inception five years ago, the only regret was -- some of her students didn't have the chance to attend Friday's concert.
"We have over 100 students learning Chinese, ranging from Kindergarten to 8th grade. Unfortunately, we don' t have many tickets tonight so only a few parents and friends could come."
CIC's Lu said this is the first time they have members of Dong Fang Chinese Performing Arts Association on the stage for the special event.
"The reason we chose a local performing arts group is because we want to get the students more involved with the local Chinese community. Maybe next time we can combine the students' performance with the art group's performance."
Jan Zheng, vice president of Dong Fang Chinese Performing Arts Association, said they were very glad to perform at the event.
"We appreciate this opportunity to collaborate with the Confucius Institute in Chicago to share the artistic heritage in Chinese culture with administrators, teachers, students and parents of Chicago Public Schools."
Chicago Public Schools has the largest Chinese language program in the United States, with about 12,000 students learning Chinese at 42 schools.
On January 21, President Hu visited Walter Payton College Preparatory High School in downtown Chicago and conducted face-to-face exchanges with U.S. youth.
The school established the only Confucius Institute in the United States that is housed in a K-12 (Kindergarten through 12th grade) environment and which primarily focuses on the Chinese language and cultural education programs.