Association of Student Activities

Students celebrate Chinese culture on campus

Jessica Fujimori, Global MIT

Each year at the beginning of the spring semester, students of all backgrounds gather for the Lunar Banquet hosted by the MIT Chinese Students Club.

As a large audience with platefuls of dumplings, spring rolls, chicken, and tofu looks on, colorful lions bob across the stage to pounding drums. After the MIT Lion Dance members take their bows, a more modern act takes the stage. One year it was Wong Fu Productions, a popular Chinese American filmmaking group; another year, mainstream Asian-American musicians Far East Movement presented their greatest hits; another, the Fung Brothers entertained the crowd with comedy.

“Our banquet is a celebration of the Chinese New Year, but we want to make it an event that maintains its traditional elements while staying modern,” says Anji Ren, the former president and current publicity chair of the CSC.

The club is approaching its 100th birthday, and it is still going strong. Founded in 1916, the CSC is the oldest cultural club at MIT, and the largest by membership.

“We want to promote Chinese American culture on the MIT campus in an inclusive way,” Ren says. “Our mission is to provide a comfortable and inviting social setting for all MIT students to learn more about Chinese culture, but also just to hang out together.”

To that end, the CSC hosts campus events like a hot pot extravaganza, a Iron Chef-style fried rice competition, a “Green Tea Party,” and bubble tea sales in MIT’s central Lobby 10 under the Great Dome. Over popular Chinese food and drink, students can relax and enjoy the tasty side of Chinese culture.

And if they have never been to one of the bustling, open-air city street markets that light up the night in Taiwan, China, and other Asian countries, they can get a taste of that experience as well — right on campus in MIT’s Student Center, where the CSC teams up with the Asian-American Association and the Association of Taiwanese Students to host the annual Nightmarket.

“We try to bring the ambience of a real night market in Asia into the Student Center,” Ren says.

The Student Center’s main eating area transforms for the event. Amid booths with food and games run by various Asian cultural clubs, crowds gather around performers ranging from Indian dance to an a capella group singing Korean pop to a troop of children who practice Chinese yo-yo. At the Nightmarket, the impressive array of international groups shines.

The diversity shouldn’t be surprising when you look at some of the numbers. MIT students hail from 114 foreign countries. 10 percent of undergraduates and 41 percent of graduate students are international citizens. And 46 percent of undergraduate students are members of US minority groups; many of these students have parents who were immigrants, so they are still deeply connected to their ethnicity’s culture. Perhaps that’s part of why clubs like the CSC are so popular at MIT.

“I think it’s important to have these cultural groups and international clubs because they create pockets of belonging in two ways,” Ren says. “For people who are of that ethnic or cultural descent, it provides an echoing of something that’s familiar to them from home.”

“For others, it creates a way to belong to a culture that you weren’t born into,” she continues. “Culture is something that you don’t have to be born into to understand.”