Iowa Rings in the Lunar New Year with Chinese Music

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by Savannah Shih
A performance by China’s Zhejiang Symphony Orchestra. [Photo: Government of Muscatine, Iowa]

Cities across the United Sates celebrated the start of the Chinese New Year at the end of February. One city in Iowa rang in the Lunar New Year with a special performance by China’s Zhejiang Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra stopped by Muscatine, Iowa as part of its tour of the United States, and performed traditional Chinese opera and folk music inspired by its hometown province of Zhejiang. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds was in attendance to wish the audience a Happy Lunar New Year, offering hopes that the concert “fosters an even deeper relationship between Iowa and China.” The 40 musicians also toured Muscatine and stayed with local host families, offering a unique chance to further cultural exchange.

The concert helped celebrate the historic ties between Iowa and China. Then Iowa Governor Robert Ray was one of the earliest leaders to visit China after it established full diplomatic relations with the United States in 1979. Another former governor, Terry Branstad, is well-known for his friendly relationship with China, which serves him in his new role as US Ambassador to China.  Today, almost 11,000 Chinese and Chinese Americans live in Iowa, while the state maintains a sister state relationship with Hebei Province. A delegation from Muscatine, along with Governor Branstad, helped arrange this partnership through a visit in 1985, while the town has lead exchanges ever since, including Xi Jinping’s visit to Muscatine in 2012.

Both music and the Lunar New Year have long helped connect China and the United States. It has become a tradition for Muscatine to host a Chinese musical celebration to ring in the Lunar New Year, as it did last year with a performance by the Shaanxi Province Song and Dance Theater National Orchestra. Larger cities like New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas have become well known for their elaborate Lunar New Year Celebrations. It has also become increasingly common for Chinese orchestras to travel to the United States to perform, like the National Youth Orchestra of China did with their 2017 international debut at Carnegie Hall.

Savannah Shih is a research intern at the East-West Center and a graduate student of Asian Studies at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.