Chinese New Year festival is a way to 'give the community something back.'

In China, it takes several days to celebrate the lunar new year.

But in Rancho Palos Verdes on Sunday, all of this revelry will be crammed into four hours during the third annual Chinese Lunar New Year Festival.

The Chinese "consider this one of the most important events," said Willie Chen, past president of the Chinese-American Assn. of Southern California, which is helping stage the festival.

"Back home, people get together, just like we do (here) on Thanksgiving Day," he said. "It's a family time. People try to write down resolutions for next year."

There are also hopes for good luck in the coming year, symbolized by the gaudy lion dance, which is accompanied by the popping of firecrackers and the sound of drums, gongs and cymbals.

"It signifies looking forward to the bright future and drives away the evil," Chen said.

The prancing and dancing of this fanciful creature will highlight the festival, which is designed not only to mark the Lunar New Year--in this case, the Year of the Ram--but to offer a glimpse of Chinese culture.

On the Chinese calendar, each year is identified with one of 12 animals that have particular characteristics. The Year of the Ram, which is being greeted this weekend, is a sign of creativity and artistry. And despite the current Middle East conflict, it's supposed to be a year of peace.

For the festivities, the parking lot at Golden Cove Center will sport 35 colorful booths with a variety of Chinese, Vietnamese and American food, as well as displays by artists and demonstrations of Chinese arts and crafts.

A central stage will present music and dance groups and martial arts demonstrations, with bleacher seating for an audience of 300.

According to Chen, there are about 3,000 Chinese living on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and the festival is an opportunity for them to spotlight their cultural heritage.

"We hope that a very broad audience will attend," he said, adding that the celebration "introduces Chinese culture to the non-Chinese."

Vistors to the festival--which lasts from noon to 4 p.m.--will be entertained by children's choral groups and folk dancers. There also will be demonstrations of the traditional stringed instrument, the ku-cheng. Chen likens it to a guitar with a higher pitch.

A portion of the afternoon will be devoted to examples of traditional Chinese martial arts, among them tai chi chuan, a discipline that combines physical conditioning and mental concentration. A highlight of the tai kwan do demonstration will be spectacular board-breaking techniques.

Special appearances will be made by Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, California Secretary of State March Fong Eu and Miss Chinatown.

Chinese art also will command attention during the festival, with demonstrations of brush painting and making dolls out of dough. Figures of people and animals are quickly molded out of colorfully dyed dough.

There also will be a fashion show, ranging from historic royal costumes associated with various Chinese dynasties to contemporary Chinese clothing.

Said Chen: "We want to show how the Chinese have a very rich culture."

The event is a combined effort of various Chinese organizations, businesses and Rancho Palos Verdes. "We want to give the community something back," said festival chairman Mickey Mason, a Golden Cove merchant.

Chen said that by the time the festival ends, he hopes people will "understand the tradition of the Chinese New Year, what it's about, how we celebrate it. We hope people will enjoy it."

What: Chinese Lunar New Year Festival.

When: Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.

Where: Golden Cove Center, Hawthorne Boulevard and Palos Verdes Drive West, Rancho Palos Verdes.

Parking: At Rancho Palos Verdes City Hall, 30940 Hawthorne Blvd., and the Point Vicente Interpretive Center, 31501 Palos Verdes Drive West. Free shuttle rides to the festival.

Admission: Free.

Information: 377-5156.

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