The largest celebration of Chinese culture "China in London 2006" was formally launched in the last days of January with the switching on of a specially designed Chinese lantern lighting display in the heart of the capital by London Mayor Ken Livingstone and China's Super Girl champion Li Yuchun.
"China in London", a season-long celebration encompassing over 100 events and exhibitions across the metropolis, demonstrates the close links between London and China, which is further reinforced by Beijing and London as the next host cities for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
After lighting up the Chinese lanterns at the world-famous Oxford Circus, Li Yuchun performed in front of a large crowd with British band Liberty X.
"I am very pleased that Li Yuchun is able to join London in launching the largest ever celebration of Chinese culture to have been held in the City. Her appearance at this event is a demonstration of the growing links and strengthening of relations between London and China, which were given a huge boost by London's successful bid to host the Olympic Games in 2012," said Livingstone.
The launch also marked the beginning of the capital's Chinese New Year celebrations, which has been traditionally the largest of its kind outside Asia. The annual Chinese lunar New Year parade and festival took place on Sunday 29th January, marking the start of the Year of the Dog.
Chu Ting Tang, president of the London Chinatown Chinese Association, said: "Super Girl Li Yuchun's launch of the China in London season is an exciting curtain raiser to the capital's Chinese New Year celebrations, which are growing every year. Around 80,000 people attended last year's festivities in Chinatown and Trafalgar Square and we expect the turnout to be truly phenomenal this time around."
The Chinese New Year parade and festival was one of the biggest events during the "China in London" season, which features a wide range of other activities, from exhibitions, performances and film screenings, to food tasting and the appreciation of Chinese language and literature.
James Bidwell, chief executive of Visit London said: "We're delighted to play host to such an extensive celebration of Chinese culture in London. With Li Yuchun performing, the cultural links between China and London could not be stronger. In 2004 Chinese visitors represented eight per cent of all trips to the United Kingdom from Asia and, with the receipt of approved destination status in 2005, we would expect this figure to rise in 2006. This celebration of Chinese culture in London highlights the city's cultural diversity and the economic benefit it brings."
Livingstone noted that later this year he will be visiting Beijing and Shanghai with a delegation of representatives from London business. "I will be opening London offices in both cities to promote links between London and China. I regard it as the highest strategic priority for London that we develop the strongest possible links with the Chinese economy. It is also central to the continued strength of London, as a financial centre, that we remain open to the most important developments in the global economy."
The Chinese season is organised through a partnership between the Mayor of London, Visit London, and the Royal Academy of Arts, as well as a wide range of organisations, including London Chinatown Chinese Association, New West End Company, Regents Street Association, Transport for London and the London Development Agency.
Highlights include a spectacular specially commissioned window and in-store display at Selfridges, performances by the Gold Sail Dance Troupe from Beijing, the Shanghai on Screen film festival in the West End and Docklands, as well as a Beijing Olympics Photography Exhibition at London's City Hall.
A cornerstone exhibition is the acclaimed China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795 now on show at the Royal Academy of Arts and featuring 400 works, many of which have never been shown outside China.
The Red Mansion Foundation, a non-profit organisation which promotes cultural exchange between China and Britain through contemporary art, is staging shows like Bad Girls, Good Girls and China Coup. There will also be a wide range of theatre, dance and live performances such as Yellow Gentlemen, a new play by Benjamin Yeoh, and a version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Nightingale by the Yellow Earth Theatre Company.
London's growing relationship with one of the fastest growing markets in the world brings significant economic benefit. London attracts around 30 per cent of the Chinese foreign investment projects in Britain, the largest European recipient country of Chinese foreign direct investment projects.
Xinhua news agency