Feature: How one artist is bringing Chinese culture to Chicago students

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-22 17:58:46|Editor: Xiang Bo
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by Jian Ping

CHICAGO, March 22 (Xinhua) -- Students from several grades at Kenwood Academy High School in Chicago Thursday gathered in a class to learn Chinese art and culture. They focused intensely on the hands-on activity of carving images on eggshells.

Shan Mengbo, who is 70 years old and an award-winning artist from China's Shandong province, was the teacher. The artist specializes in carving, and the raw materials he uses a range of materials from eggshell and pencils to porcelain plates.

"This is so challenging and interesting," said Azaria, a 7th grader.

Azaria told Xinhua that she had been learning Chinese for seven years and had done paper-cutting and other activities before, but "had never done anything like this," referring to eggshell carving.

"This is so different ... we normally just learn Chinese in class, this is about culture," said Kroi, who is also in the 7th grade.

Kroi said he is very interested in China and Chinese culture and wants to visit the country some day.

Eggshell carving isn't easy. One student crushed his eggshell. He received a replacement and was told to proceed with more care.

Shan demonstrated some raw materials used in his artwork, including empty cans, fallen leaves, discarded pencils and eggshells.

"We can use daily waste to make art," said Shan.

Shan showed students artwork made of waste can foil, and passed porcelain plate carvings, with portrait images from Confucius, Mona Lisa, Bill Gates, to Hemingway, all figures students could easily identify.

The program was organized by the Beijing Language and Culture University Press.

Shan, as well as Chen Heling, a language professor from Shandong University, were invited to Chicago for the program. They visited 20 schools and held 40 workshops over a 10-day period.

Chen carried out conversations with the students in Chinese, conveying the cultural background and stories behind Shan's artwork.

"Mr. Shan is good at relating to students," said Chen. "Our approach is to let students learn from experiencing culture and language together."

Chen said eggshell carving has a long history in China. "By showcasing carvings of Chinese images as well as Western iconic figures, it strikes a cord with students when they can recognize and relate to what they see," she said.

"It's my first time to the United States," Shan said. "I'm very glad to see so many students are interested in Chinese culture and artwork."

"It's a great experience for our students to interact with an artist from China in our classrooms," said Jennifer Chang, the Chinese language teacher at Kenwood Academy.

"Different from focusing on language only ... we are expanding language learning through culture and art," said Tony Yuan, chief operating officer of Beijing Language and Culture University Press branch in Chicago.

Yuan said that they are in the process of releasing a series of books teaching Chinese with folk art and culture, and the first book on paper-cutting has already been released.

Alonda, a 10th grader, moved her carving knife to chip off a thin layer of her eggshell. Shan bent over to show her how to move the eggshell instead of the carving tool to create the image she had drawn on the shell.

"This year's program has gone extremely well," Jane Lu, director of the Confucius Institute in Chicago, told Xinhua. "Mr. Shan and Ms. Chen have met with approximately 2,000 (program) students. Their new approach of combining culture, art and language is well received by both teachers and students."