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Get rid of ‘Chinese New Year’ term and more nuance needed around idea of home, say South East Asian and East Asian creatives

Get rid of ‘Chinese New Year’ term and more nuance needed around idea of home, say South East Asian and East Asian creatives

Salon group Moongate Mix returned this year with a discussion about the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival and what the concept of home means…

By Mamie Colfox

WESTERN perspectives on the Lunar New Year or ‘Chinese New Year’ – as it is commonly known here – remain narrow and are often inadequate and patronising.

A panel made up of leading UK creatives from South East and East Asia all made similar points around this at last night’s (February 7) Moongate Mix – regular salon sessions dedicated to subjects of topical concern among British East Asian and South East Asian communities (and referred to as Besea sometimes).

While the term ‘Chinese New Year’ is commonly used in the UK and other parts of the West, the term, ‘Lunar New Year’ or Spring Festival is more accurate and inclusive. This festival is common to many in the region of South-East Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore) and East Asia (Korea and China).

Youngsook Choi, whose family heritage is Korean, said: “Europe only uses limited traditions and the effort to understand our culture isn’t there – as if there’s no space in the media for it.”

Others on the panel were Jesse Lau, (Hong Kong) Cuong Pham, (Vietnam) Eleanor Lisney, (Malaysia) Vy-liam Ng, (China) and moderator Diana Yeh (China).

The panellists also discussed the concept of home.

Vy-liam Ng revealed his awkwardness as someone whose family are all in the UK.

“Lunar New Year is one of the biggest migrations home, but for British Chinese like me there’s no need to fly home. It is a confusing time as we do not need to physically leave the country to see our family, so you are neither one nor the other”.

When asked if there were more ways to include people, Eleanor Lisney responded : “For Lunar New Year, I have to act as a bridge between my Malaysian and Chinese friends due to the Muslim and non-Muslim divide. The only way to alleviate the reluctance is through food, and since both are ‘exiled’ from their homes, it is a way of creating new spaces for them”.

The panellists started the discussions by sharing what they did during Lunar New Year festivities – many eat a special meal of hotpot with friends and family. It symbolises a prosperous New Year for all and traditionally people would gather literally around a big pot of food that included fish (abundance); chicken (family), radish (good fortune) and leeks (longevity); and would eat rice cakes (each one representing a better year to come).

This year festivities began on February 1 and continue for around 15 days with different regions marking a few special days in the calendar.

Hosted at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham, London, the audience also watched a short film by Lucy Sheen on the theme of ‘Home’.

The 15-minute documentary featured many of South East Asian and East Asian heritage speaking to the camera about their experiences in Britain. They talked about racism during the pandemic with “Go Back to China” being a common insult.

There was a short preview of last night’s Moongate Mix published on the site last week and acv covered the opening talk last year – which was a discussion about the term, ‘Asian’ in the UK and Suman Bhuchar, acv’s Associate Editor was part of the panel of creatives that evening.

Moongate – which is the name of a theatre company based at Omnibus Theatre – was co-founded by Jennifer Lim, who organises the Moongate Mix programme.

Picture above, panel: Youngsook Choi, Cuon Pham, Diana Yeh, Vy-Liam Ng, Jesse Lau and Eleanor Lisney

For more about Moongate Mix and or future events –

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture