New Chinese Community Center Opens in Bartlett

The Chinese Community Center Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony

On March 26, 2022, the front entrance was decorated with red lanterns and ribbons. The most eye-catching was the distinct red sign, “Chinese Community Center,” just hung almost a month after the center’s first opening. The parking lot was turned into an open auditorium. More than a hundred Chinese and other community friends from all parts of Memphis came to witness the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which announced the official grand opening of the Chinese Community Center in Bartlett.

That day, the sun appeared especially warm and welcoming. People gathered around in small groups with old friends and new. You could hear the joyous chatting mixed with ringing laughter and feel the buzzing energy. Soon, you could smell the smoke and aroma of barbecue flowing through the air. Someone had set up a barbecue grill, and Jinliang (Jin) Cai was busy flipping hot dogs and hamburgers for everyone. Food can always make one feel at home.

The two lady MCs, Wangying Glasgow and myself, Wei Du, announced, in English and Chinese respectively, the start of the ceremony. The inspiring opening speech was delivered by the Board Chair of the Greater Memphis United Chinese Association (GMUCA), Mr. Jimmy He.  He summarized the true meaning of a community as “caring for the old and loving the young.” About 20 years ago, GMUCA established the first Chinese school, which has offered Mandarin Chinese, math, computer science, arts and other classes to children of all ages. 

Now, the Chinese Community Center is taking as its mission to provide a “home” for overseas Chinese and Chinese Americans, especially for the elderly. Filial piety, or respect for the elderly, has long been a Chinese virtue, a Confucius tradition that is carried on and made to flourish here in America. As a result, in less than a month, the Center has already started a number of services and programs for the seniors, including three weekly classes — Taiji class, ESL, and painting.  

Mr. He emphasized that the opening of the Chinese Community Center is a huge accomplishment and the result of over 20 years of continuous efforts by previous and current GMUCA leaders and pioneers. He especially acknowledged Mr. Huimin Hu, the Director of the Center, for his vision and persistence in pursuing the seemingly impossible dream – to find a “home” for the Chinese community. Without him and his volunteer team’s tireless endeavors, this dream would never have become today’s reality. Mr. He urged the Memphis Chinese to continue to stay in Memphis upon retirement.

Memphis has a great Chinese community that offers everything they need, and this community needs more Chinese and Chinese Americans to stay. Thanks to all the volunteers and donors, today we finally have our own community center, a clean and inviting space for people to gather together and socialize. We hope to see more centers like this in the future, to serve as platforms for cultural exchange, entertainment, leisure, and performance.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, Memphis Police Chief. C. J. Davis, and Cigna Healthcare’s Vice President for Government Relations Mary Tate Lee also attended the celebration. Mayor Harris praised the Chinese community for its contributions to the diversity and development of the Greater Memphis Area. He noted that the Chinese help to enrich the culture of Memphis and Shelby County by adding their talents and values to the fabric of this large cosmopolitan area. 

The next speaker was Annie Zhao. Now a senior at White Station High School, she won the title Miss Tennessee Teen USA 2021. She is the first Asian American to hold this title in the history of the Tennessee USA program. She remarked that when her grandparents came to visit from China several years ago, their biggest frustration was the lack of a place to hang out and meet people their age. 

Now that the new community center is here, she could invite them back to Memphis, for now “the elderly have an inclusive space where they feel welcome, safe and encouraged…There’s dancing, singing, special lectures, and even Majiang.” On behalf of her own generation of young Chinese Americans, she expressed their willingness to volunteer and make their contributions for the prosperity of the local community.

After the speeches, three ladies dressed in qipao, elegant traditional long dresses, carried a long red ribbon onstage. Ms. Lee, Chief Davis, and Mr. He jointly cut the ribbon to cheers and applause. 

Immediately, the celebration began.  

The program showcased popular traditional Chinese instrumental music and a mesmerizing demonstration of Chinese martial arts. Yaogu, a small drum attached at the waist with a wide ribbon, is a traditional folk dance instrument. It is typically performed by women on celebratory occasions such as Chinese New Year. This occasion may have been the first time yaogu was performed on stage in Memphis. According to the team leader, Dr. Ying Wang, who is the only male in the group, the drum team formed less than a month ago. 

Pipa, a guitar-like instrument, has been played in China for more than a thousand years. Ms. Elsie Zhang played “Dance of the Golden Snake,”  a piece of classic celebratory music composed by the renowned artist, Mr. Nie Er, who was also the composer of the Chinese National Anthem. “Dance of the Golden Snake” was showcased in the closing ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. Like pearls dropping into a jade plate, Ms. Zhang’s pipa is exquisite and passionate, precisely communicating the ardent and happy emotions of this music composition.

Taiji, a form of the Chinese martial art, has various schools and styles, all of which are based on the yin-yang philosophy. It is aimed at achieving mental and physical equilibrium and power through internal tranquility. It is popular among the elderly due to its slow, subtle movements and gradual yet powerful health benefits over time. The day’s performer, Mr. Xueming Wang was born into a martial art family about 65 years ago. Having practiced for more than 50 years, he is a master of Taiji and other forms of martial art. Almost a month ago, he volunteered to teach Taiji for free in the Chinese Community Center. The popular Taiji class quickly formed. 

Master Wang’s solo performance is called Chen Style Taiji. The master was dressed in all white. With his silvery silky hair flowing in the air, he seemed almost unearthly, meandering forward and backward, smooth and composed, gradual but powerful. Every glide showed his controlled freedom. Every curve demonstrated his ultimate mastery of the move. He was flowing in his own body and blossoming in the Taiji art, the art of subtlety and strength. Next, his students, in all black, demonstrated what they have learned so far – the first 24 moves of Taiji basics. Their impressive first step promise much more success in the future.

The next performance was an indulgence for the ear. Dizi, or the bamboo flute, is another major traditional Chinese folk instrument. The selection, “Happy Joy,” is a popular piece usually heard at weddings and other celebratory occasions. The melody, relaxing and cheerful, is full of festive atmosphere and thus perfect for the celebration stage.  The two performers, Mr. Jijiang Wu and Mr. David Lu, carefully collaborated to present this auditory feast to the audience. Mr. Wu’s flute, clear and crisp, was like a bird singing on top of the tree in the spring. Mr. David Lu’s keyboard accompaniment was deep and resonant, vibrating with power, rolling out a rhythmic backdrop for the enchanting flute. The two artists creatively mingled together two widely different instruments in a seamless harmony to bring out a unique piece of modern folk music.  

The last, but not the least, performance showcased Coach Guoqing Qin and his team “The Tennessee Happy Kungfu.” Aged anywhere from six to 13, a group of children, sporting bright kungfu costumes came on stage like a flight of colorful butterflies. Their performance was called “Five Step Fist,” a basic kungfu routine. The children’s strong moves as well as their determined poses were full of vigor and youthful spirit, showing their young but solid groundwork. Among them was Eric Zhao, a 10-year-old boy decked in royal blue, who demonstrated two solo routines: one with a silvery sword and the other with a long wooden stick.  The young performer was truly impressive with his brisk turns and curves, dazzling spins and swings, and his steady kicks and poses.  

The last onstage was their coach, Master Qin. He sprang on stage in his bright yellow suit. At once he leapt up in the air, like an eagle spreading out its flapping wings in the clear blue sky. When he let out a thunderous roar, it was like an angry tiger sending its echoes throughout a mountain valley. Master Qin’s weapon is a whip, a long soft whip segmented into nine parts, which is traditionally used as a hidden weapon. His flashing swirl and swivel almost formed a solid circle around himself like an opened umbrella in the rainstorm. His performance took the whole celebration to its climax, earning shrieking cheers and applause from the thrilled audience.

When the show came to its close, the party had just begun. People started to move inside the center building. Here a group of ladies, embellished with black and red, had already started their weekly folk dance practice in front of the wall mirror. The long tables covered in red cloth along the wall were lined with enticing cookies and sweets. In the kitchen, the Center Director Mr. Hu was busy working on a large water boiler, preparing hot water for the elderly. 

One of the first questions in the senior ESL class was how to say, “I want hot water” in English.  It seems ironic that in this beautiful, rich country of America (by the way, meiguo, or “America” in Chinese, literally means “beautiful country”), hot water is not always available outside home. Instead, one sees ice and ice water everywhere. In China, on the other hand, guests are always offered hot water or hot tea. At public places such as the airport, restaurants, and even on the train, hot water is expected and available. In a real sense, “hot water” represents Chinese hospitality, especially when it comes to the elderly, who have been brought up drinking nothing but hot, boiled water. A cup of hot water makes people warm and at home, which is exactly one of the missions of the Chinese Community Center – to provide a “home” for the overseas Chinese and the Chinese Americans.

This ribbon-cutting ceremony marked a milestone in the history of the Memphis Chinese Community. We hope that the Chinese in Memphis will work together to enrich the community and to help bring social prosperity to the Greater Memphis area.  Maybe one day in the future, the community center will evolve and grow into an all-inclusive Chinatown.

At dusk, by the end of this special day, splendid clouds across the horizon covered the sky with all shades of red, purple and orange. Like the seniors, the setting sun is no longer young and glaring, but it’s gentle, warm and beautiful like never before. The sign “Chinese Community Center,” written in six beautiful Chinese characters, is basked in the soft evening twilight, glowing with thousands of golden hues. 

Images are courtesy of Yunping Deng, Changzhi Yu, Qing Zhang, Hong Zheng, Shirley Joe, and Yong Chen.

The Chinese Community Center is located at 2965 N Germantown Pkwy, Suite 118, Bartlett TN  38133. The non-profit organization is entirely staffed by volunteers.  

Wei Du, a mother of three, originally from China, has made Memphis her second hometown by living here with her family for more than twenty years.  She had been a Kumon Math and Reading instructor and run her own tutoring business for fifteen years.  Now she enjoys being a volunteer at the Chinese Community Center and teaches an ESL class to the seniors.  Among her many hobbies are singing, dancing, yoga, and, of course, reading and writing.

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