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On Purpose: Portrait of the Chinese Heritage Foundation

August 16, 2018
To commemorate our 150th anniversary in 2018, the College of Liberal Arts commissioned 60 photographs taken by Xavier Tavera. Departments and programs partnered with Tavera to envision their images and to write the narratives that accompany each photograph. View On Purpose: Portrait of the Liberal Arts.

Two women sit with a young graduate student in an apartment.
Pictured L to R Kan Li, Ming L. Tchou, Pearl Lam Bergad

Established in 2004 by members of the Twin Cities metropolitan area Chinese community, the Chinese Heritage Foundation provides grants that support its twin goals: to preserve and promote the understanding of Chinese history, culture, and heritage, and to facilitate communication and mutual understanding among all Minnesotans. 

In 2005, we established the Chinese Heritage Foundation Graduate Fellowship in History to encourage the study of Chinese and East Asian history during World War II. Several of our graduate fellows now teach in China, Taiwan, and the United States. 

Together with our sister organization, Chinese Heritage Foundation Friends, we also do community outreach. For several years we have pioneered the novel approach of annually presenting a free cultural event, A Passage to China, in the heart of the American shopping experience: the Mall of America. Interactive cultural activities include Chinese painting, porcelain-making, calligraphy, translations, language learning, Chinese chess and other games, and performances that attract over 10,000 shoppers every year. Attendees would not otherwise experience such a diverse offering of Chinese culture at such a convenient location. 

Recently we commissioned a new opera, based on the famous Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber, that the San Francisco Opera premiered in the fall of 2016. Written by composer Bright Sheng with a libretto by David Henry Hwang, it earned high praise and went on to premieres in Hong Kong and Beijing the following year. Plans are underway to bring it to Europe and then back to the United States. University of Minnesota history professor Ann Waltner created an online course as an ongoing compendium to the opera that continues to attract new learners. Concurrently, the Confucius Institute at the University of Minnesota, which promotes the study of Chinese language and culture in Minnesota, has created a study unit based on the scenes in the opera. It’s being incorporated into the curriculum for middle school students studying Chinese across the country. 

Currently we are pursuing a new initiative to encourage young Chinese Americans to participate in theatre arts and attend performances. By underwriting playwrights, offering free tickets to performances, and creating theatre residencies in Chinese language schools, we hope to bring the Chinese experience to the theatre as well as increasing Chinese attendance in the theatre. 

Ming Li Tchou is the Chinese Heritage Foundation’s founder; Pearl Lam Bergstad is its executive director; and Historian Kan Li is one of its fellows, as well as a student in CLA.