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Europalia opens window to China

2009. 9 October

by Chen Jie
( The Belgian Jesuit missionary, mathematician and astronomer Ferdinand Verbiest, known as Nan Huairen in Chinese, arrived in China in 1659. He introduced Catholicism and worked as a diplomat, cartographer and translator. He became a close friend of Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) and was given the task by the Qing court of rebuilding the Beijing Ancient Observatory.

Now, some 350 years later, invited by Europalia, one of the leading arts festivals in Europe, Chinese artists and "missionaries" are embarking on a four-month cultural tour of Belgium to give Europeans a better understanding of the Middle Kingdom.

China's Vice-President Xi Jinping yesterday attended the opening ceremony at the Bozar, Brussels Center for Fine Arts, with Vice-Minister of Culture Zhao Shaohua and Belgium's Minister of Foreign Affairs Yves Leterme, to announce the formal opening of the Europalia China Festival.

"When the King of Belgium Koning Albert II visited China in June 2005, President Hu Jintao accepted his invitation for China to be the guest country at the 2009 Europalia Festival. Thanks to the hard work from both sides in the last four years, we can now present a most extensive picture of the diversity of Chinese arts and culture. Even so, this is still just a glimpse at 5,000 years of Chinese civilization," Zhao says.

"I hope our efforts will promote cultural diversity and dialogues between countries."

Until Feb 14 next year, when Valentine's Day coincides with the Chinese New Year in the lunar calendar, Europalia China Festival will celebrate the diversity of Chinese culture by hosting 50 exhibitions and 450 theater shows, concerts, movies, conferences and literature workshops in 75 cities in Belgium, and four neighboring countries.

Comte Jacobs de Hagen, president of Europalia, told China Daily that it was good timing to have China as a guest country.

"After the Beijing Olympic Games and before the Shanghai Expo in 2010, China's fascination and appeal have never been stronger. What's more, this year marks the 40th anniversary of Europalia and you have just celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of New China," De Hagen says.

Europalia is a major international arts festival held every two years to celebrate one invited country's cultural heritage. Its name is a combination of two words "Europe" and "Opalia", an ancient Roman harvest festival held in mid-December, in honor of Ops, an earth goddess and fertility deity. Her name is the root of the Latin word "Opus", that denotes a work of art.

Since 1969, Europalia has organized 21 festivals and brought fresh insight into the appreciation of many European countries, as well as more distant lands like Mexico, Japan and Russia.

Europalia China is the largest festival, however, with a comprehensive program of music, fine arts, photograph, cinema, theater, dance, literature and more, says Kristine de Mulder, general manager of Europalia, in her office facing the Bozar.

"When we plan the whole project, we don't just choose traditional arts. Of course, China's rich culture heritage has been a constant value throughout the centuries and fascinates us, but it also forces us to take other approaches, such as the contemporary arts."

From this perspective, the festival designs the programs around four themes: Eternal China, Contemporary China, Colorful China, China and the Rest of the World.

Eternal China focuses on the splendor of the tangible and intangible Chinese heritages; while Contemporary China showcases trendy art works, pop, rock and electronic music from urban centers and the avant-garde theater and cinema. Colorful China introduces Chinese customs, popular culture and ways of living. In China and the Rest of the World, there are collaborations by Chinese artists and counterparts from other countries.