At the stove, Lee Yan boils traditional Chinese dumplings jiao zi filled with ground meat and vegetables while her eldest son, Tian rui Zhou, explains the dish's significance.
"Every Chinese must eat it at the Spring Festival," he said of the plump, savory dumplings. The custom ensures happiness and good luck in the new year.
Zhou, a Kansas University graduate student in engineering, is a member of KU's Chinese Student and Scholars Friendship Assn., which is staging a Chinese Spring Festival locally in cooperation with KU's Taiwanese Student Assn.
His mother, an accountant visiting from China, is helping to prepare food for the festival, which ushers in the Chinese New Year. The event will be staged beginning Jan. 24 in the Kansas Union.
Xiao Hua Yang, president of the Chinese student group and a KU graduate student in strategic management and international business, said it would be the first public celebration locally of this important Chinese holiday.
"We have the mission of promoting the culture on campus and in the community . . . so people can learn something about another part of the world," she said. "What we're doing really is a kind of representation of what is going on in China."
CHINESE GROUPS from the KU Medical Center, from the Kansas City area and from Manhattan also have been invited to share in the festivities.
The event will feature a tasting buffet of traditional festival foods, including dishes prepared by Lee Yan and Yang's father, as well as artistic performances, a fashion parade and exhibition of art and writing.
Shaoxian Sun, vice president of the Chinese student group, said the actual new year's date is Jan. 23, based on a lunar year. For Chinese people, this will be the Year of the Chicken.
Sun said the students' festival will begin at 2:30 p.m. with a hour and a half of dance, song and instrumental performances and a kung fu demonstration in the Union Ballroom.
Among the dancers will be soloist Ying Yue Yuen, who will enroll at KU this spring as a graduate student in business.
YAN WANG, a chemistry graduate student from Hubei province, said she serendipitously met the dancer one day in the Templin Hall cafeteria and introduced her to festival organizers, who asked her to perform.
Dancer Ying said she was born in mainland China and moved to Hong Kong when she was 10. Four years ago she began to study dance, and last year she began learning classical Chinese dances.
Ying, Wang explained while her friend danced, will perform the classical folk dance "Spring on the Moonlit River," to music composed for the traditional stringed instrument, the pi pa.
"It's very beautiful," Sun said of the dance. "Romantic."
Chang-Shu Tu, president of the Taiwanese student group working on her Ph.D. in theater, said a combined group of Taiwanese and Chinese students also would present a scarf dance, costumed in outfits provided by the Chinese Cultural Center in Houston.
TU SAID about 30 garments were to be shown in the fashion parade, including a prime minister's dress from the Han Dynasty, a male scholar's costume from the Ming Dynasty, costumes of famous beauties including the concubine Hsi Shih, and a number of embroidered silk qi pao, the traditional jacket many Chinese women still wear.
Contemporary fashions that combine traditional Chinese design elements with Western touches also will be shown.
After the artistic presentations and fashion show, Sun said, the tasting buffet will begin in the Jayhawk Room, followed by an exhibition of Chinese paintings and writings and a Chinese video in the Big Eight Room. A dancing party and traditional games will begin in the ballroom.
"We give people a lot of choices," she said.
YANG AND SUN said the cooperative effort between their group and the Taiwanese group had worked out well.
"Ethnically, we are the same," Yang said.
Most students in both groups speak either Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese, in addition to their home dialects, the students said, so they can communication with each other in Chinese as well as in English.
Back home, Sun said, Chinese families celebrate the new year first with food and then with fireworks. From Shenyang in northern China, she is studying for her doctorate in chemistry after spending five years as a student in Beijing.
IN HIS hometown, Harbin, capital city of Heilongjiang province, near Russia, it wasn't unusual for an average family to spend as much as $100 for Spring Festival fireworks, Zhou said.
Yang said in the south of China, her home, wealthy families might even spend as much as $1,000. She is from Zhejian province in southeastern China.
The festival is so important in China, Zhou said, that family members who live near each other always spend the holiday together, and those who live far away really miss the gatherings. He said this would be his second year away from home at festival time and the first for his mother, a widow, and younger brother, who also is here in Lawrence for an extended visit and enrolled at Lawrence High School.
Zhou, Sun and Yang said being involved with the campus student group helped ease their homesickness, especially at holiday time. They met through the group, they said, and enjoy other regular association gatherings together.
THANKS TO this festival, they said, Chinese and Taiwanese students on campus also are getting to know each other.
Tickets to the festival are being sold at the KU SUA box office and three local restaurants, Plum Tree, 2620 Iowa, Panda Garden, 1500 W. Sixth, and Magic Wok, 1700 W. 23rd. They also may be reserved by calling KU's Center for East Asian Studies, 864-3849. Deadline for advanced ticket sales is next Sunday.