Meridian Reflects on its China Lunar New Year Tradition

The Chinese Deputy Chief of Mission, Minister Lu Kang, and artist, Yang Huiping, demonstrate the process woodblock print making at this year’s Chinese Lunar New Year celebration. Photograph by Kaveh Sardari.


Four years after Meridian and The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China first co-hosted the annual Chinese Lunar New Year Celebration, Dr. Curtis Sandberg, Meridian’s Senior Vice President for the Arts, took a moment to reflect on how the collaboration transpired. Spoiler alert – it’s not how you might think.

As the story goes, in 2010 Bravo’s culinary hit, Top Chef, filmed its seventh season in Washington, D.C., with Episode 8’s elimination challenge filmed at Meridian.  During the episode, aptly titled Foreign Affairs, the show’s contestants cooked up dishes inspired by a foreign country to serve to visiting diplomats. In attendance at the event were representatives from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, with whom Meridian’s Art for Cultural Diplomacy division had worked on past exhibitions together.

Sure enough, one of the dishes featured was inspired by China.  Although the tea-smoked duck breast with pot stickers and szechuan jus did not win the elimination challenge the Chinese representatives left enamored with the idea of sharing their diverse cuisine with a wider audience.  Shortly thereafter embassy officials approached Meridian with the idea of co-hosting a Lunar New Year celebration with authentic Chinese cuisine as its centerpiece.

The first year, as Dr. Sandberg puts it, was an “unqualified success.” The event featured 5 of the embassy chefs preparing dishes from 5 different regional cuisines, as well a station where guests could learn to make traditional Chinese dumplings.

In the years that followed the event grew in scope, featuring not only authentic Chinese cuisine, but also traditional New Year woodblock prints, kung fu demonstrations, and a fashion show with haute couture Chinese silk gowns. As Dr. Sandberg explains, the event has become about celebrating China’s intangible cultural heritage by exploring the things that define the identity and heritage of its people.

Now a beloved annual festivity at Meridian, the 2014 Chinese Lunar New Year Celebration took place Thursday, January 23rd.  Once again, Meridian and the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China joined in celebration to mark the beginning of the Year of the Horse at the historic Meridian House.  In keeping with the Chinese tradition of hanging nianhua, or “New Year Pictures,” to bestow good luck and prosperity, hand-painted scrolls from Tianjin were on display during the event. In addition to offering the audience of over 200 guests the opportunity to sample authentic Chinese cuisine prepared by Embassy chefs, this year the celebration also featured live artist demonstrations and puppeteers by Tianjin’s Children’s Art Troupe, who delighted guests with their traditional puppets and skilled choreography.