Lumination exhibit sheds light on Chinese culture

Updated: 2016-08-04 04:59

By SHI XI in San Francisco(

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Lumination is looking to dazzle audiences with "colossal light displays that illuminate over 2,000 years of Chinese history and culture".

That's what the website says of the cultural exhibition, which features traditional lantern works along with historical, musical and other displays.

The show takes place at the Gilroy Garden Family Theme Park in Gilroy, California, 80 miles southeast of San Francisco. It is running from July 16-Aug 14, and again from Aug 19-Nov 27.

The exhibition includes lantern masterpieces from Zigong, Sichuan province, a variety of Chinese art performances, including traditional percussion and string music, a martial arts demonstration and dances.

"You will be whisked away to another time and place as you stroll through colossal light displays that illuminate over 2,000 years of Chinese history and culture," the exhibit's website says. "These incredible displays — some towering as high as six stories into the night sky — include giant dragons, mythical Qilin and playful pandas, as well as landmarks like the Great Wall, Temple of Heaven and Terracotta Warriors."

The exhibition is a joint effort between the Zigong local government, the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco, the Gilroy Garden and local Chinese-American organizations such as Able2Shine, a non-profit that aims to help Asian-American younger generations better assimilate into the American mainstream.

Xiao Xiayong, culture counselor at the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco, who helped orchestrate the exhibition and attended on July 30, said cultural exchanges play an important role in the China-US relationship.

"The appreciation of art is universal," he added.

Decorated with traditional Chinese motifs and landmarks, the Gilroy Garden looks like a miniature Summer Palace in Beijing or a resort in South China.

Among the many lantern works, a 30-foot-long dragon made of porcelain plates and bowls is the most eye-catching, with park patrons waiting in line to take a picture with it.

Paulina Mendez, who lives 10 miles from the park, took her sons to visit and said "it's very interesting to see the arts and performances".

Luo Ping, president of Able2Shine, sees the exhibit as a platform for Westerners to better understand China and Chinese culture.

Luo reached out to the local Chinese-American community to recruit masters of ceremonies, performers and volunteers.

"To maintain our Chinese culture is important in our community, and at the same time, I wish our children would take this opportunity to appreciate our culture more, be more proud of our Chinese heritage, and break the stereotype of Asian Americans (as being) only able to do math and engineering well," Luo said.

Eason Yuan, a seventh-grade MC from Fremont, California, said he arrived two hours before the show, rehearsing his lines with his 14-year old co-host Ashley. Both teenagers are first-generation Americans.

Initially, Yuan was reluctant to take part in the show, but his mother insisted.

"I always want my boy to remember his roots," said the woman. "He just needs to remember the sky is the limit."

Luo gave the MCs intensive training, highlighting details of Chinese culture. "If you Asian Americans don't (understand it), who will?" she said

Luo's efforts paid off. Yuan not only memorized his lines but used his quick wit and humor to entertain guests.

"I've learned a lot, and it means a lot to preserve my Chinese heritage," Yuan said.

Shi Yanyong, a 34th generation Shaolin martial artist, works as a mentor at Cupertino-based Shaolin Martial Arts, and has performed at many cultural exchanges over the years.

Shi and his troupe won loud applause and cheers at Gilroy Garden.

"I teach my students more than just fighting skills," Shi said. "I want to pass on the treasure of the Shaolin Temple spirit – peace of mind, harmony and love," he added, the key elements of Chinese culture and civilization.

C.J. Wang in San Francisco contributed to this story.