Beyond Chinese Dumplings: Chinese Culture

When I was a child, one of the best things I enjoyed during Chinese spring festival was finding a coin hidden in one of Jiaozi. In china, traditionally, the member of a family gets together to make Jiaozi during the New Year’s Eve. We may hide a coin in one of the Jiaozi. The person who finds the coin will likely have a good fortune in the New Year. Jizozi has come to signify gold ingots for prosperity in the coming year in China, but largely serve to bring family members together. There are several key words associated with Jiaozi in my mind: festivals and celebration, family union, happiness, wealth, and delicacy.

Sometimes, people will add specific fillings to Jiaozi in order to symbolize certain wishes. Because Chinese people like playing with words and symbols. Words that share the same pronunciation but have different meanings are gladly used. Names of dishes and/or their ingredients which will be served sound similar to words and phrases referring to wishes expressed during the Chinese New Year. For example, Peanuts (花生; huāshēng) symbolize health, long life, birth of prosperity, and continuous growth.

Jiaozi does not simply mean dumpling, but is part of the Chinese culture. such as where did it come from? why is it so popular? what does it have to do with Chinese New Year? And what is meaning for different fillings in Jiaozi? Actually, Jiaozi is the just one type of Chinese dumpling. Chinese dumpling has various types, and each of them has a unique name, an origin of the custom and cultural significance. The food culture is deep rooted in China’s history. I am intrigued by the Chinese culture.

After I moved to New York city, I found a lot of people from the world like Chinese dumplings. Some famous Chinese dumpling restaurants attract thousands of people to eat, such as Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown. However, I quickly discovered that few people knew about hidden stories behind dumplings and Chinese culture. But they showed great interest in it after I talked with them. Then I did user research. I did survey and learned which information people who like dumplings mainly concerned or wanted to learn. After the first round of interview, I found that filling, flavor of dumpling, how to rate the quality of dumpling, where to purchase high-quality dumpling, dumpling type, and Chinese culture were interested by them. I also wrote the cold emails to people who have posted reviews for dumplings on the Yelp. Some of them replied me. One of repliers told me that he would republish my work on his blog with my permission. Therefore, they’ve inspired my passion for exploring the idea of introducing Chinese culture that is beyond dumpling to more people.

I am exploring possible approaches for making people learn Chinese culture and experience dumpling in a meaningful and engaging way. There are some ideas, one is to collaborate Museum of Chinese in America in Chinatown for advancing public understanding of the Chinese culture, history and food. The other ideas include holding events for people to experience the intersection of dumpling, culture, and history. Or creating notebook with dumplings theme, introducing Chinese culture inside.

I’d love to hear your ideas. Please feel free to reach out me on twitter. @yuelilianyuan

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