加油! Jiāyoú! The Chinese colloquialism, which literally translates to “step on the gas!” and is used to express words of encouragement like “go for it!” or “good luck!,” epitomized the spirit of this year’s Chinese Poetry Recitation Contest. The event, held for the 3rd time last Thursday, on October 29th, is organized every other year by the Chinese Language Program within the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. Faculty, students, staff, and interested members of the public convened in the Harvard-Yenching Auditorium at 2 Divinity Ave. to listen to student performances of traditional and contemporary Chinese verse while snacking on an assortment of Chinese pastries and beverages. Before the recitals, an upbeat video showcased students explaining their reasons for taking the language, featured instructor skits in Chinese, and ended in a chorus of “Jiāyoús” as inspiration for the contest. Taking the enthusiastic applause as a cue, emcees Qianqian Yang, Van Rhyn Jacques (both fourth-year Chinese language students), and Amanda Fang (a fifth-year student), took to the stage to commence the recitations.
This year’s thirty-two contestants were organized into three groups based on skill level, starting with beginners, intermediate students, and advanced students, respectively. Emcee Amanda Fang noted the “poetic atmosphere” in the room and predicted performances to be “wholly successful” throughout the “beautiful autumn afternoon.” The emcees demonstrated their language proficiency by hosting the contest both in Chinese and English, and skillfully translated the titles of poems for the audience’s benefit. After welcoming remarks, beginning student Razaak Alabi Eniola Jr. proceeded to the podium for a rendition of Cao Cao’s “Short Song,” and cited a translation by EALC’s own Professor Stephen Owen. The panel of judges, comprising Professors David Der-wei Wang, Wai-Yee Li, Jennifer Li-chia Liu, and the Director of the Education Division for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Boston, Cynthia Huang, jotted down notes in preparation for the awards ceremony. Highlights of the afternoon included a surprise appearance of a large paper moon prop (held up by a Chinese language instructor) during Pablo Arboleda’s recitation, advanced student Kathy Lin’s recitation and original translation of “Kindness,” a poem by Sudanese refugee Naomi Shihab Nye, and friendly banter between the emcees, students, and faculty during intermissions.
Recitations were rhapsodic at times and contemplative in other moments, with the tone of each performance determined by the histrionics and choice of musical accompaniment by students. “Homesick” by Guangzhong Yu, “Far & Near” by Gù Chéng, “Two Poems by Nalan: Magnolia and Silk-Rinsing in a Creek,” and “On the Lake (chí shang)” by Bái Jūyì were just a few of over thirty-five verses presented and dramatized during the course of the afternoon. As the final performance concluded, the judges conferred to select the winners. Kumeri Bandara took home the first place prize for Group A, or the beginning level students, with Maya Victoria Chung in second, Erik Godard in third, and Dann Stevens in fourth. Group B intermediate winners included Jesper Ke and Gabrielle Williams in first place, Veronica Ma and Christopher Johnny in second, and James Zainaldin, Cecilia Yao, and John Keller in third. Finally, the Group C, or advanced student, prize recipients were Shawn Alexander Best in first place, Kathy Lin and Hiram Rios Hernandez in second place, and Thomas Jamison, Kai On Alan Lam, Jaehyun Park, Akshay Swaminathan, and Hursuong Vongsa Chang rounding off third. With parting words of another Chinese saying, “台上三分鐘, 台下十年功 or ‘3 minutes of glory onstage takes 10 years of hard work offstage,’” the emcees congratulated the students for their accomplishments and thanked the judges and Chinese Language Program faculty. This year’s contest boasted an impressive turn-out, but, as emcee Qianqian Yang implored while everyone gathered for a final photo op, “We hope more students will join our Harvard Chinese Family soon!”
The Prize Recipients for Group A, or Beginning Level Students, with Professor Liu
The Prize Recipients for Group B, or Intermediate Level Students, with Professor Li
The Prize Recipients for Group C, or Advanced Level Students, with Professor Wang