China Now - A UK-wide Celebration Of Oriental Culture

By Georgi Gyton | 02 April 2008
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Illuminated Chinese lanterns, with Chinese lettering on them

Courtesy National Railway Museum

With the Beijing Olympic Games 2008 just around the corner (and an Olympic torch pursued by Tibetan controversy), a huge series of events celebrating and exploring Chinese culture is underway in the UK.

The largest festival of Chinese culture to ever take place in the UK, China Now has more than 800 events, performances and activities on its roster, aiming to showcase the best of modern China.

On its way around the world before the Games begin in August, the Olympic flame will arrive in London on April 6, so we'll pick a few events taking place in the capital to begin this round-up of China-themed exhibitions and activities.

A colour photograph of an installation of Chinese fashion

China Design Now at the V&A in Kensington looks at contemporary design from the country. © V&A Images

The China in London season started on February 6 when Chinese lanterns were lit in Oxford Street in the run up to the Chinese New Year celebrations. Other events in the city include showcasing animals of the Chinese Zodiac at London Zoo, Chinese tea tasting sessions, and a Chinese calligraphy workshop. For more information visit China Now website.

A photo of artwork featured in the V&A exhibition, showing a Chinese girl's head in a glass ball

Preference, front cover artwork for Vision Magazine, February 2004, from the V&A's China Design exhibition. © Chen Man

The British Museum currently has the largest exhibition of artefacts from the Terracotta Army and the tomb of Qin Shihuangdi to ever leave China. It's your last chance to catch The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army - it runs until April 6.

If you miss out on that, make sure to go back in the summer to see the Chinese landscape created in the British Museum's forecourt, produced in a unique collaboration between the museum and Kew Gardens (May 3 to October 26). And there's also a special display of Chinese art that displays a 'Fascination with Nature', inside the museum, until August 5 (open now).

The Victoria & Albert Museum is hosting a major exhibition of Chinese design until July 13, alongside a programme of music, dance and demonstrations of Chinese art forms. April, May and June will see a focus on a different city each month - Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing - in terms of its fashion, architecture and graphics.

A photo of some plastic figures of pandas, each with different facial expressions

Hi Panda, from the V&A exhibition. © Ji Ji, 2006

Another of the China in London art exhibitions is a series by Yang Qian, at the Red Mansion Foundation from April 29 – June 15.

Qian is regarded as one of China’s most important contemporary artists, and well known for his paintings of women at their ‘toilette’. He uses a variety of techniques including painting over images with colourless fluorescent paints that are then displayed under black light.

A photo of a brightly coloured Chinese dragon, typical of what will be on show at the National Railway Museum

Courtesy National Railway Museum

The National Railway Museum (NRM) in Yorkshire, has launched a China ’08 festival, commencing with a new photography exhibition. China: The Last Days of Steam (until August 31) features 56 spellbinding images of China’s railways, some of which were taken on the Jitong line, the last steam hauled mainline in the world.

An oil and mixed medium piece of a Chinese girl, viewed through what looks like the mist of a bathroom window

Yang Qian. Waterdrop and Diamonds #11 (under normal light). Courtesy Red Mansion Foundation

Meanwhile in Manchester the Chinese Arts Centre, is displaying a collection of ink animations by Chen Shaoxiong & Qiu Anxiong (April 5 to June 22).

The animations are being shown as part of Asia Triennial Manchester ‘08, which is exploring the theme of ‘protest’ (appropriately), and aims to present a range of views and perspectives on Asia and Manchester in the 21st century. The festival runs from April 5 to June 1.

The Centre is also running an unusual project that presents a slice of contemporary China that is not seen, but heard. (Un)familiar Territories offers a series of headphone walks by leading experimental sound artists Yan Jun and Hitlike which provide a glimpse of today's China through an MP3-led walk around Manchester (May 24 to June 22, pick up map and MP3 player from the Chinese Arts Centre).

China Now in Scotland runs until St Andrew's Day on November 30, and will be the largest ever celebration of Chinese culture in Scotland.

A photo of the national stadium in China, which will be the main stadium for the Olympics, which resembles a larger spider's web style metal creation

The main stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games Beijing (the National Stadium). © Herzog & de Meuron

The museums that are part of will be part of a nationwide art trail running until July where you can discover contemporary Chinese design through displays of contemporary artworks in glass, steel and calligraphy.

Woodblock artist Professor Xiang Silou from Sichuan is artist in residence at the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, for four weeks as part of the festival, offering woodblock workshops.

Ricefield Arts and Cultural Centre in the city will show Xiang Silou's works from April 19 to May 16 and woodblock prints and ink paintings by respected artist He Weimin until April 12.

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