Beijing Culture: China-UK
Culture Connection: The Beijing-London Factor
As London gears up to host the Olympics in 2012, the impressive success of the Beijing Games has given the English capital's fascination with all things Chinese a serious boost.
With over 100,000 Chinese nationals living in London alone, and another 150,000 across the British Isles, the spread of Chinese culture across the UK is seen by many as a natural by-product of deepening bilateral ties.
London's Chinese community is one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to the mid-1880s, when seamen from China settled in East London to escape their cramped lodgings.
Nowadays an impressive network of Chinese schools and community centers help Chinese Londoners pass on their cultural identity from one generation to the next.
Still, it's one thing to preserve your own culture, it's quite another to get other people of a different background to understand and appreciate it.
For many years, a visit to the local Chinese restaurant and maybe a quick stroll around Chinatown was the closest many Londoners came to Chinese culture. Beyond the English street names in Chinese characters, and a range of cheap Chinese supermarkets and all-you-can-eat buffets, there wasn't even any real depth to Chinatown itself. It was little more than a couple of streets that looked like English people imagined China to be.
Now, thanks to the Beijing Olympics, and the efforts of people like David Tse Ka Shing, all that is changing. Tse Ka Shing is creative director of the Chinatown Arts Space (CAS), started in 2003 by a group of British East Asian artists who wanted to drive the development of East Asian performing and visual arts in London. Over the last couple of years CAS has organized many high profile events, and was heavily involved in last year's China in London event.
Together with all at CAS, I decided it was time to help re-brand Chinatown, says Tse Ka Shing. For a long time the area was just known for food and shopping. Now a younger generation of Chinese and other East Asians in London want to express themselves, and this involves promoting all manner of art forms, from dance and drama though to sculpture and songwriting.
Most recently CAS has overseen the installation of Chinatown's first public art work, a giant mural by Hong Kong-born architect and designer Wing Kei Wong.
Her design, entitled 1888, is a huge mural of a simple bowl of rice that up close reveals itself to be a mosaic of 1888 photos of Chinatown, its residents and visitors.
Next month a second sculpture, a 3-meter long Chinese lion by Taiwanese Hsiao-Chi Tsai and Japanese Kimiya Yoshikawa, will be erected at one entrance to Chinatown.
As Londoners of all nationalities, like their Beijing counterparts, prepare to celebrate the New Year, with a range of artistic events and entertainment, it's great to see Chinese culture in the capital really enhancing people's views of China, and strengthening the Olympic bond that ties these two great cities.
More on CAS at: www.chinatownartsspace.com