Lion Head Joe Wang dances into the Bella Union Restaurant and Saloon during Jacksonville’s 2008 Chinese New Year celebration. The lion dance brings prosperity and good fortune. - Jamie Lusch

The Year of the Ox

Gong xi fa cai! And gung hey fat choy! That's happy New Year in Mandarin and Cantonese, respectively.

This year's Chinese New Year celebration in Southern Oregon begins Friday, Jan. 30, with music in Ashland, but the main event is not until Saturday, Feb. 7, in Jacksonville, which was a center of Chinese culture in frontier days.

Because the Chinese calendar takes into account both Gregorian and lunar-solar calendar systems, and because the track of the new moon changes from year to year, Chinese New Year can begin anytime between late January and mid-February. This year — it's 4707, the year of the Ox — it actually began Jan. 26.

A piano recital by touring 16-year-old sensation Wang Chun from China kicks things off at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30, at Southern Oregon University's Music Recital Hall.

A visit by Zheng Hongfeng, a famed practitioner of Shaolin kung fu, was canceled due to a visa problem, but Joey Ngan, a spokesman for the Southern Oregon Chinese Cultural Association, says the group hopes to replace him.

"We're going to get somebody else," Ngan says. "There are a lot of kungfu experts in the country. We'll get somebody."

A book talk by visiting author Moh Keed Wong is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, at the Ashland Library and again at 4 p.m. the next day at the Rogue Community College/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford. She will read from "To My Heart With Smiles," which she compiled and edited from her grandparents' love letters in the 1920s and '30s and an old diary.

Born in Singapore, the author is a journalist who has worked there and in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The book is the story of the courtship of her grandparents.

The heart of the celebration will come Feb. 7 in Jacksonville. A 5-kilometer run for all ages will begin the day at 8 a.m. Styled the "Buffalo Roaming 5-K Fun Run," (the Chinese ox is known elsewhere in Asia as the water buffalo) the event carries an entry fee of $10, or $18 with a long-sleeved T-shirt.

At 10:30 a.m., the old-fashioned Lion Dance and Dragon Parade will go off and wend its way through downtown Jacksonville. Beginning at 11:30 a.m., the activities around town will include such Chinese staples as a tea house, calligraphy, acupuncture, feng shui and martial arts demonstrations.

Activities for the younger set will include games, crafts and a "Confucius Classroom" exhibit with St. Mary's School of Medford, which offers classes in Chinese, at the U.S. Hotel in downtown Jacksonville.

Exhibits and lectures planned include emigration stories of the Chinese, gold mining around Jacksonville and the history of the Chinese in Oregon. At 11:30 and 12:30 p.m. at the McCully House, a Chinese cooking show is planned. Admission is $5.

The main program of the day is slated to begin at 2 p.m. at the Bigham Knoll Campus, the site of the old Cascade Christian School at Fifth and E streets, with a historic costume pageant and a Shaolin kung fu demonstration. Tickets are $5.

According to Chinese legend, the Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year, then named a month after each of the dozen that came. People born in each animal's time are supposed to have some of that animal's personality. Ox people tend to be stable, hard workers who are loyal and steadfast.

At Chinese New Year celebrations people wear red clothes, decorate with red paper and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes. The fireworks are believed to stem from an ancient custom of lighting bamboo stalks to ward off evil spirits.

Chinese immigrants in frontier days usually were young men who arrived without their families. Later, immigrants found a sense of community in neighborhood associations. Many such Chinese-American associations these days host banquets and other New Year events.

See socca.us for a complete schedule of events slated for the Chinese New Year celebrations in Ashland and Jacksonville, or call 899-8118.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or at bvarble@mailtribune.com

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