As snowfall blankets New York, fireworks light the night sky here in Beijing. The horizon flashes blue, white and green as families across the city celebrate Yuanxiao Jie—the Lantern Festival. The holiday marks the end of China’s two-week observance of the lunar new year, and it packs quite a punch. From our apartment we can see dozens of fireworks displays launching from courtyards up and down Workers Stadium Road. They’ve all been going strong for hours.
There are many explanations for the festival and for the beautiful red lanterns and explosive fireworks that fill the city each year on the 15th day of the first lunar month. My favorite explanation is an ancient tale of a crane killed thoughtlessly by a group of villagers. The Jade Emperor in heaven is angered by this savage treatment of a noble bird and decides to destroy the village. Before he has a chance to send his army down to earth, however, his daughter rushes ahead to warn the villagers. They immediately hang red lanterns and light firecrackers as a means of convincing the heavenly army that the village is already ablaze. The army is befuddled when they arrive in the village and return to the Jade Emperor immediately. The village is saved. Chinese commemorate this miracle by mimicking the villagers on each anniversary of their deliverance. It’s a bit like Passover, with red lanterns in place of shank bones and fireworks in place of wine.
The Avenues team here in Beijing fills its days with discussions of curriculum, faculty recruitment, school architecture and the optimal ways to integrate the best practices of Chinese schools with what we’ve learned at Avenues New York. The days are long and fruitful. But it’s nights like this, when ancient China feels fully alive in this modern city, that the deeper purposes of the Avenues global vision are most visceral. It will be a joy a few years from now when our Beijing campus is covered in red lanterns for Yuanxiao Jie and when hundreds of our students from New York are fully immersed in the sounds, smells and sights of Chinese culture and history.