Christian Living

chinaconnection 02/11/08

China in London: The Biggest New Year's Party Outside of Asia

Chinese lion and dragon dances, fireworks, and street vendors selling paper parasols, lanterns, and balloons for the Year of the Rat.  None of these things would be unusual rituals for traditional Chinese New Year celebrations throughout Asia, but yesterday I was thousands of miles away in London's Trafalgar Square.

London prides itself on having the largest Lunar New Year's celebration outside of Asia, and being a part of it, it's easy to see why.  At the third annual China in London celebration, thousands of visitors watched several Chinese performances, while enjoying a lucky dumpling or having their faces painted.

Beyond Sunday's festivities, many tourists can experience a taste of Chinese art in the National Gallery or British Museum.  London has arranged over 500 events for the festival, including everything from special Chinese films to trips to the zoo.  Over 300,000 are expected to be part of the festivities, which will continue until April 6, when the Olympic torch passes through London.

The National Gallery, whose art almost entirely consists of European painters, has a special "Year of the Rat" pictoral tour, where people can observe Western representations of all twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac.  The British Zoo also has a similar program, hunt, where children won't just learn about certain animals, but also their signficance within Chinese culture.

These festivities aren't just limited to London, but are also popular throughout the UK.  Liverpool, which has Europe's oldest Chinese community, had 20,000 watch its Lunar New Year parade and street festival. 

Perhaps this year presents an especially great cause for British celebrating Chinese contrast in light of the fact that after the year, the Olympic torch will pass from Beijing to London, which will host the next Summer Games. 

While London's events promote cultural awareness, they're also not devoid of economic motivations, beyond the street vendors in the square or the major airlines sponsoring raffles with free trips to China and Hong Kong.  Mark Prescott, one of the event's organizers, told China Daily that promoting Chinese culture in London promotes economic ties. 

According to Prescott, "one of our fundamental beliefs is to strengthen Londoners in better understanding and engaging with China's rich culture (so that it) can benefit our economy and culture."

Most people wouldn't necessarily consider the link between schoolchildren finding Chinese symbols throughout the National Gallery and business executives more adequately negotiating international trade deals, but at the same time, what better way to break down cultural barriers?

As the mystique of the Olympics piques international interest in Chinese culture, it may also open doors to lucrative financial deals in addition to more cultural exchanges. 

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