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Discovering Ancient Chinese Treasures in the Far South

In the heart of San Diego State University, at the most southern state university in the U.S., lies a hidden gem that transcends time and space—the Chinese Cultural Center (CCC). Founded by the dedicated Prof. Lilly Cheng, the CCC is a testament to her unwavering commitment to Chinese culture. Through this cultural haven, she brings ancient Chinese treasures to the campus, unraveling the rich tapestry of history and tradition.  The Chinese Cultural Center: A Cultural Nexus  Before delving into the marvels within, let’s explore the significance of the Chinese Cultural Center. Nestled within San Diego State University, it is not just a museum; it is a vibrant space that fosters cultural exchange. Comprising a large gallery, tea room, and conference room, it offers a versatile environment for various events

In the heart of San Diego State University, at the most southern state university in the U.S., lies a hidden gem that transcends time and space—the Chinese Cultural Center (CCC). Founded by the dedicated Prof. Lilly Cheng, the CCC is a testament to her unwavering commitment to Chinese culture. Through this cultural haven, she brings ancient Chinese treasures to the campus, unraveling the rich tapestry of history and tradition.

 The Chinese Cultural Center: A Cultural Nexus

 Before delving into the marvels within, let’s explore the significance of the Chinese Cultural Center. Nestled within San Diego State University, it is not just a museum; it is a vibrant space that fosters cultural exchange. Comprising a large gallery, tea room, and conference room, it offers a versatile environment for various events and gatherings. Prof. Lilly Cheng emphasizes its adaptability, stating, “The CCC can be quickly transformed to suit the specific needs of each event or gathering.”

 Established in August 2019, the CCC’s mission aligns with the broader goals of San Diego State University. It serves as a hub for cultural, historical, linguistic, artistic, and political knowledge about China and the Asia-Pacific region. The center actively supports visiting scholars, lecture series, exhibitions, and international collaborations, contributing to increased awareness and education.

Main building Hepner Hall at San Diego State University (SDSU) in San Diego, California. (Photo: © Kevin RucK/Dreamstime.com)

 Unveiling the Marvels

 Now, armed with an understanding of the CCC’s significance,

Abacus Tower (Photo: ©Lillian Zheng/The Middle Land )

let’s embark on a journey through time within its walls. One of the most fascinating exhibits in the CCC is the Abacus Tower. As Prof. Lilly Cheng enthusiastically explains, “Here we have a pagoda made of abacuses. Now, an abacus is a Chinese method of calculation. So if you look at the abacuses here, we have long and short ones.” She goes on to reveal the intriguing origins of the abacus, stating, “The abacus was invented by the Chinese. It started by tying knots on a string, so each knot would be a number.” This ingenious device, both an art and a science, stands as a testament to China’s historical prowess in mathematics.

 The journey through time continues as we encounter a Chinese Porcelain Bowl, a Loong-Fenghuang pan. Prof. Cheng guides us through its significance, “Loong is the dragon, Fenghuang is the phoenix. When you look at the Loong-Fenghuang, you know it’s for a couple. So you know it’s a wedding gift, and it’s done in such a beautiful way that we can use it as a decoration. So this is part of the Chinese tradition of the wedding gift.” The porcelain bowl becomes more than an artifact; it becomes a symbol of love and tradition.

 A true connoisseur, Prof. Lilly Cheng, then unveils a Chinese Calligraphy piece with carving, poetry, and lacquer. She delves into its historical roots, stating, “This is a great example of Chinese literature – also a great example of a piece of lacquer. Lacquer is very famous in China.” The intricate piece, originating from 1865, tells the life story of Lady Madam Wong, devoid of punctuation marks, requiring a keen eye to decipher its meaning. Prof. Cheng highlights the cultural nuances, “Given to you by your stupid son-in-law” is not an insult but a Chinese way of showing humility.

 Dr. Lilly Cheng: A Cultural Visionary

 At the helm of this cultural haven is Prof. Lilly Cheng, the Director of the Chinese Cultural Center. Her illustrious career spans academia, cross-cultural communication, and contributions to the field of speech, language, and hearing sciences. Recognized globally for her expertise, Prof. Cheng has received numerous awards and honors, including the ASHA Award for special contributions to Multicultural Affairs and the Diversity Award from the California Speech & Hearing Association.

Prof. Lilly Cheng, the Director of the Chinese Cultural Center. (Photo: ©Lillian Zheng/The Middle Land)

 Beyond her academic achievements, Prof. Cheng is a cultural ambassador, organizing delegations and tours to China and Asia for more than three decades. Her passion for research, teaching, and learning has left an indelible mark on the landscape of cultural education. In 2020, she returned to the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum, now serving as the Chair of the Board of Directors.

 As we immerse ourselves in the treasures of the Chinese Cultural Center, guided by the insightful Prof. Lilly Cheng, we realize that this journey is not just a glimpse into the past; it is a bridge connecting cultures and fostering a deeper understanding of the richness that lies within the folds of ancient Chinese traditions.


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