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UK gears up to celebrate Chinese New Year

Updated: Feb 9, 2024 By Zheng Wanyin in London Print
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Traditional Chinese dragon dancers perform in front of the London Eye which is lit up in red to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year in London on Feb 8. [Photo by Xing Xue/ For China Daily ]

When night falls in London, England, the London Eye, an iconic ferris wheel standing on the south bank of the River Thames, is usually illuminated a shade of fuchsia.

On Feb 8, the wheel glittered in red and gold, two colors that symbolize joy and prosperity in Chinese culture, to count down to Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it is also known, which falls on Feb 10.

The year 2024 is the Year of the Dragon, based on the Chinese zodiac. The dragon, long perceived by the Chinese people to be their totemic symbol, represents dignity, prestige, and auspiciousness.

Prior to the transformation of the London Eye, the Chinese New Year mood has built across the United Kingdom.

On Feb 1, an exhibition of zimingzhong, or striking clocks that were collected by Chinese emperors during the 1700s, kicked off alongside a Chinese New Year Lates at London’s Science Museum, showcasing more than three centuries of exchanges between China and the UK.

In the display, more than 20 resplendent clocks were brought from the Palace Museum in Beijing and shown in the UK for the first time.

The timepieces reveal the early trade history of the two countries, because many were made by British craftsmen, designed for the Chinese market, and taken to China’s south coast to be traded for silk, tea, and porcelain. The exchange of goods led to the exchange of skills, represented by exhibits that were constructed using both Chinese and European technologies.

"We are excited to welcome everyone to join us in celebrating the opening of the exhibition and the Year of the Dragon," said Jane Desborough, keeper of science collections at the Science Museum and curator of the exhibition.

Up north in Scotland, Edinburgh has been in the festive atmosphere since Feb 3, with a wave of activities, including shows of hanfu (a traditional Chinese-style of clothing), Chinese calligraphy workshops, red envelope giveaway games and more.

Since its inception in 2019, the Edinburgh Chinese New Year festival has become the largest celebration of its kind in Scotland, according to Rob Lang, chair of Edinburgh Tourism Action Group’s China Ready Initiative.

"Chinese New Year is a fantastic opportunity to encourage our people of Edinburgh to learn more about Chinese culture and history, and it is something that is at the core of the entire city," Lang said.

"It is also a vital time for us to make sure we can engage with the Chinese communities," he added, noting that there is a large number of Chinese people who are working or studying in the city.

"We want Edinburgh to be their home as well."

As the Lunar New Year dawns, the festive ambiance will only become more intense.

In Bristol, the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery will also provide people with a feast of Chinese culture from Feb 17 to Feb 18. The weekend will feature martial arts performances, crafts workshops, educational activities about Chinese heritage and inventions, and more.

The museum has been hosting Chinese New Year events since 2003 which have ushered in a sense of "freshness and optimism" during the cold winter days for hundreds of thousands of visitors, said Karen Garvey, the museum's programming officer and Spring Festival coordinator.

As the festivity highlights Chinese traditions, Garvey also emphasized the educational roles of the celebration: "It is important that we create opportunities for visitors to learn about the diverse communities who shape our city and the world…we have a responsibility to educate and inspire people."

Back in London, tens of thousands of people are expected to join in a carnival on Feb 11 organized by the London Chinatown Chinese Association, or LCCA, that will include a lively parade, stage performances, and food stalls surrounding Trafalgar Square.

The celebration, which the organizer claims is the largest Chinese New Year event outside Asia, is aimed at uniting people — Asians and non-Asians alike — and removing anything bad or old while welcoming the new and the good, all to the resounding sound of Chinese drums and gongs.

"The event is not only an occasion for welcoming the New Year but also serves as a bridge of friendship, connecting people from different backgrounds to celebrate this important moment in Chinese tradition," said Huang Ping, secretary-general of LCCA.

As 2024 is the Year of the Dragon, a group of dancers performing the Chongqing Tongliang dragon dance will join the Trafalgar Square celebration to send wishes of auspiciousness to people in the UK.

The Tongliang dragon dance, as one of the cultural symbols of Southwest China's Chongqing, was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2006.

Another national intangible cultural heritage — Puning Yingge dance — will also help build up the festival mood at the Trafalgar Square. The traditional folk dance, originating from the Chaoshan region of South China's Guangdong province, merges opera, dance and martial arts, and is considered a symbol of promoting good, suppressing evil, and bringing peace.

16 Yingge dancers from Chaoshan will perform at Burlington Arcade in London on Feb 10 as well. In addition to the dancing, many heritage British brands at the arcade have also launched special collections for the Year of the Dragon to pay tribute to Spring Festival.

"In this joyful and reunion-filled Year of the Dragon, may the friendship between China and the UK, like the flying dragon, span across the miles and sail forward," Huang said.

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