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A lion dance

The lion dance is a traditional Chinese dance in which one or two dancers don a lion costume to mimic a lion's movements. Photo (and homepage image) by Ryan Rodgers.

Red envelopes for China study

China Center's Red Pockets Appeal for Scholarships provides U students with learning abroad opportunities

By Pauline Oo

Feb. 21, 2007

Red envelopes, also known as red packets, ang pow, laisee or Hong Bao, are as synonymous to the Chinese New Year as lion dances, fire crackers and tangerines--all to symbolize or summon good luck and fortune. Traditionally, parents or married individuals give the red envelopes filled with money to their children or unmarried relatives and friends. Red packets are also common gifts at weddings, birthdays or any other important event.

At the University of Minnesota, however, these auspicious red envelopes have taken on a new meaning. They represent a University student's chance to pursue an education in China.

The U's China Center on the Twin Cities campus established the Red Pockets Appeal for Scholarships two years ago, complete with an informational letter and a palm-sized red envelope that's mailed to potential donors (see photo below). Each year, an average of 15 students tap the resource for awards that can vary between $500 and $1,000. A committee made up of China Center staff and representatives from the U's Learning Abroad Center picks the recipients--undergraduate, graduate and professional students of various majors who are interested in yearlong, semester or May session sojourns to broaden their knowledge of Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

"We haven't really turned that many down; most people who've applied have received something," says Joan Brzezinski, China Center interim director. "[The scholarship] helps to cover their travel cost."

In 2005, 16 students submitted applications and 13 received scholarships. (The first Red Pockets appeal in 2004 brought in $3,075 in new scholarship funds from 22 donors; in 2005, 29 donors gave $5,225.)

A Chinese red envelope
The Red Pocket appeal: Illustrations on the front of a red envelope, which could be anything from carp to the fabled phoenix, represent good wishes for longevity, prosperity and good health.--Photo by Ryan Rodgers

"My travel to Taiwan and China [has been] the highlight of my college career," says former scholarship recipient and undergraduate student Tyler Stigen. "I can't even begin to put into words the scope of the culture and history I was privileged enough to enjoy. I am continuing my studies in biomedical engineering and Chinese now that I am back."

The University of Minnesota has a 90-year history with China and boasts more than 8,000 Chinese alumni who have worked or studied here. Following the normalization of U.S.-China relations, the University formed the China Center in 1979 to further strengthen the educational, cultural and economic ties with China. Currently, the University is home to more than 1,200 visiting Chinese scholars and students--the largest contingent on a North American campus.

Year of the Pig

This year the Chinese New Year, the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays, began on Feb. 18 and ends on the full moon 15 days later. (That last day of celebration, March 4, is called the Lantern Festival.) The Chinese New Year is also known as the Lunar New Year because it corresponds to the lunar cycle, and it is celebrated in different ways by other Asian cultures.

"[Our Red Pockets scholarship has] been a great opportunity for many students, and more students should take advantage of it," says Brzezinski.

In addition to the Red Pockets scholarship, the China Center also offers the Hsiao Scholarship, which was created through an endowment from University of Minnesota donors Jenny and Fred Hsiao. The requirements are similar to the Red Pockets award, except that it funds only travel to Mainland China.

To learn more about both scholarships, call the China Center at 612-624-1002 or e-mail

Further reading Did You Know? The Minnesota-China connection Carlson School program rated No. 1 in China Putting the pieces together: Bruininks reflects on whirlwind trip to China