Chinese New Year is becoming one of few times of the year when the world takes an interest in Chinese culture. Whilst I have always considered this a good starting point, there is so much more to China beyond Spring Festival. Like all live cultures, Chinese culture is developing organically every second, having sprouted thick branches across different regions within China, and new branches in different communities around the world. Over the last decade or so, China is increasingly featuring in not just current affairs, but in the arts around the UK. Media that offer an overview of these events from different parts of the country, through the year, are much harder to come by. So this year, I have curated my own selection, not only for China-enthusiasts, but for anyone who is interested, curious, or just fancies something a little different. I hope you will find it useful.
Chinese Arts Now Festival,
19th January to 2nd February
London, various venues
2019 sees the first ever CAN Festival. In the words of An-ting Chang, its creative director, “Chinese culture today reflects China today and also the people of Chinese origin who live in many different parts of the world. Some of us have integrated into our new societies, some of us embrace our unique heritage, and some of us choose both roads! We all have different perspectives because ‘Chinese’ is not a single identity but one that is formed by many individuals with many different experiences. There are many contemporary Chinese stories, which have not yet been told”. A talented and diverse British-Chinese line-up featuring dance, theatre, traditional, modern and fusion music, comedy, art and more. My curated highlights can be found throughout the article.
Liu Xiaodong: Weight of Insomnia
25th January to 2nd March
Lisson Gallery, Marylebone
Lisson Gallery is pleased to welcome Liu Xiaodong’s second exhibition, which is the culmination of a number of years spent developing a technologically radical project to create 21st-century landscape paintings using robotic arms and surveillance cameras. Taking a live feed, streaming data and imagery from a specific London location, Liu has created a painting machine to process this rolling image feed and transcribe the ever-changing flow of people into a complex network of abstract marks on canvas – resulting in a machine-manufactured painting at the exhibition’s finissage.
The Moon is Warmer Than the Sun
31st January, 1st February, 8pm
Toynbee Studios, E1
Whiskey Chow is a London-based artist and Chinese drag king. Coming from an activist background in China, Whiskey’s practice engages with political issues, exploring female masculinity, stereotypes and cultural projections of Chinese/Asian identity with interdisciplinary performance, moving image and experimental sound pieces.
In this other-worldly performance, audiences will be immersed in a world created by Whiskey that explores ancient mythological and contemporary queer longing. Featuring moving image of the ancient god of queer love – the Rabbit God (兔兒神) by digital artist Haocheng Wu, the work is a rebellion against the normalization of queerness.
ART, Southern England
The Art of China: A Brief History
4th December 2018 to 12th May 2019
Museum of East Asian Art, Bath
The Museum of East Asian Art’s collection of Chinese objects spans 7,000 years, from the Neolithic to modern times. They celebrate our 25th Anniversary with a special exhibition displaying the extraordinary human inventiveness and creativity in the development of Chinese art.
China is a vast country – its modern-day territory is almost as big as the entire continent of Europe. China’s many years of history has seen waves of invasion, trade, and the rise and fall of numerous dynasties. With many different climates and landscapes, lifestyles and regional cultures vary from one place to another. The art of China has developed in response to these diverse elements.
ART, northern England
Installation: Lucky Pigsy
From 1st February
Museum of Liverpool
The Museum of Liverpool will be displaying the giant Lucky Pigsy from the 1st of February to celebrate the Year of the Pig. Local Chinese cultural organization Pagoda Arts had set the Pigsy Challenge to create a sculpture using Lai See envelopes. ‘Pigsy’ is the joint work of a great number of people. With the help of over 10,000 volunteers and 30 organisations in Liverpool and Hong Kong, Pagoda Arts have collected and folded 120,000 recycled paper envelopes into fish, butterflies, lanterns and zodiac animals. Bristol artist Barbara Disney was commissioned to create this sculpture, which will have a backdrop inspired by traditional Chinese landscape ink drawings.
Pigsy is a mischievous character in the 16th century classic “Journey to the West”.He travels with a Buddhist monk, a monkey spirit and a water demon on a long journey to India in order to collect holy scriptures. He causes troubles sometimes, but also brings a great deal of laughter. Along with the good fortune represented by the traditional gift of the Lai See red packect, it is hoped that Pigsy will bring joy and good luck to everyone in the New Year. Music at the unveiling includes “Lucky Pigsy”, by Liverpudlian composer Tianqi John Wardle, and “Piggy Fights the Scary Monsters”, by Canadian composer Jeremy Moyer, and performed by The Pagoda Trio.
8th February to 12th May
Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Mancester
China is home to 802 million Internet users, 431 million micro-bloggers, 788 million Internet mobile phone users, and four of the top ten Internet companies in the world. This vast user base combined with a handful of ubiquitous online platforms and e-commerce giants including WeChat, Tencent and Alibaba results in cultural currents that flow at a blinding pace – spreading and evolving far more rapidly than on the ‘global’ web and creating a distinct internet culture – the ‘Chinternet’. Utilising this space as a site for cultural and political negotiation, critique and play, the artists presented in ‘Chinternet Ugly’ probe how the sheer volume of Internet users in China ensure that the country is effectively becoming its own online centre of gravity, one with the power to create its own sphere of influence over network norms.
Focusing on a younger generation of artists – the first to have grown up with mass digital technology – ‘Chinternet Ugly’ invites the viewer to explore the complex and contradictory nature of China’s hyper-regulated digital sphere from the perspective of some of its most dynamic and engaging artists. From Xu Wenkai (aaajiao) and Lin Ke’s manipulations of found digital materials and standard software programs; to the augmented reality of Lu Yang; the celebratory pop aesthetics of Ye Funa to the dark side of internet freedom in the works of Liu Xin, and the veneration of the ugly and artless evident in the works of Miao Ying.
Chinese New Year Children’s Day
31st January, 11am to 3pm
Guanghwa Bookshop, Soho, London
The shop will be hosting talks on teaching kids CNY culture, and the children’s books currently available that can help. There will also be a variety of children’s activities on the day, including paper cutting, making pop-up cards, and traditional storytelling. Attendants will enjoy 10% off all products on the day.
Book Launch: Walk for Peace
16th February, 6:30pm
Guanghwa Bookshop, Soho, London
A book launch with the author Baron Michael Bates and his wife Lady Xuelin Bates. On 27 July 2015, the third anniversary of the London Olympics, Lord Bates embarked upon a 71-day walk from Beijing to Hangzhou. On his journey, he shed his cultural baggage, and immersed himself in the real China. His daily journals reveal his observations of and interactions with the local culture.
Here are Guanghwa’s top five books of 2019. I do recommend a visit to this veritable treasure trove of books on China, but you can also order online from Cypress Books.
Happy Chinese New Year, Elena!
by Dingli Stevens and Kun Liang (Amour Publishing, January 2017)
A beautiful bilingual children’s book newly published by Cypress Books, taking the little ones through a special cultural journey.
From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao: The Essential Guide to Chinese Deities
by Xueting Christine Ni (Weiser Books, June 2018)
A wonderful guide to Chinese myths and deities, many of whom are still venerated in the modern day, not only in China itself, but around the world.
Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China
by Rao Pingru (Penguin Random House, May 2018)
The 88-year-old author remembers his late wife with hundreds of exquisitely detailed paintings and hand-written notes, telling not just of the romance between the couple, but the story of China going through political turmoil and rapid changes.
A Bond Undone: Legends of the Condor Heroes Vol. 2
by Jin Yong (MacLehose Books, January 2019)
Last year, we lost Jin Yong, a star of Chinese Wuxia, but he continues to be remembered, his writing now reaching more English-language readers around the world, with volume 2 of his best-loved saga.
The Wandering Earth
by Liu Cixin (Head of Zeus, October 2017)
Liu Cixin is one of the most well-known science fiction authors in China, this is a short fiction collection following his successful launch of “The Three Body Problem” in the English-speaking world, with a new year movie based the eponymous short story in the collection coming out on Chinese New Year’s Day.
More Fantastic 2019 Books on China
Some Day We Will Fly
by Ranchel Dowskin (Penguin Random House, January 2019)
From the author of Blind, a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story set during World War II in Shanghai, one of the only places Jews without visas could find refuge.
Under the Red Skies
by Karoline Kan (Hachette, March 2019)
A deeply personal and shocking look at how China is coming to terms with its conflicted past as it emerges into a modern, cutting-edge superpower.
The Red Scrolls of Magic
by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, April 2019)
From #1 New York Times bestseller Cassandra Clare and award-winner Wesley Chu comes the first book in a new series that follows High Warlock Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood as they tour the world after the Mortal War.
Descendant of the Crane
by Joan He (Albert Whitman & Company, April 2019)
In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception.
The Shanghai Free Taxi
by Frank Langfitt (Hachette, June 2019)
As any traveler knows, the best and most honest conversations take place during car rides. So when a longtime NPR correspondent wanted to learn more about the real China, he started driving a cab-and discovered a country amid seismic political and economic change.
The Dragon Republic
by R F Kuang
(Harper Voyager, August 2019)
The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.
A Touch of Sin (Tian Zhu Ding)
7th February, 9pm
Genesis Cinema, Mile End, London
Genesis is welcoming the Chinese New Year in collaboration with Chinese culture specialist Xueting Christine Ni and a screening of Zhang-Ke Jia’s exceptional “A Touch of Sin”.
An angry miner revolts against the corruption of his village leaders.
A migrant worker at home for the New Year discovers the infinite possibilities a firearm can offer. A pretty receptionist at a sauna is pushed to the limit when a rich client assaults her. A young factory worker goes from job to job trying to improve his prospects in life.
Four people, four different provinces. A reflection on contemporary China: that of an economic giant slowly being eroded by violence.
Pegasus (Fei Chi Ren Sheng)
English release 8th February
Starring popular Chinese comedian Shen Teng, and directed by famous writer of youth literature Han Han, “Pegasus” tells the bittersweet story of a racing driver who tries to regain his past glory on the track, and to prove himself in the eyes of his young son.
Chinese Visual Festival
King’s College, Strand campus, London
This year’s programme is currently under selection, but do keep an eye out for the confirmation of dates from this stalwart of independent and experimental Chinese film, and possible events elsewhere around the country.
In collaboration with FOURTEEN TEN, “Sensational” Xi’an restaurant Murger Han Han (murgerhan.com) is offering a free Pork Murger with every order of Pork Biang Biang Noodles.
Insta-favourite Bubblewrap Waffle have launched their ‘BubbleOink’ filling their classic waffle base filled with Bacon Gelato, Cream and Crispy Shallots.
In the heart of the action Chinatown’s first Sichuan restaurant, Er Mei, is offering four of their homemade Sichuan Soy Sauce and Minced Pork Buns for just £4.50, perfect for eating on the go while taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the area’s most vibrant time of year. Elsewhere the Year of the Pig can be enjoyed more leisurely at dim sum specialist Shikumen (branches in Aldgate and Shepherd’s Bush) with their silky smooth made-to-order Char Siew Cheung Fun.
The School of Wok
Covent Garden, London
Founded in 2009, School of Wok remains Europe’s only award-winning Asian cookery school, and has taught over 60,000 students in its Covent Garden premises. 2019 is set to be a huge year, with new classes and dates at the School ranging from the Introduction to South East Asian Cuisine, to the Quick Bao Hour, intensive 5 Day Course, and a charity Supper Club in aid of our partners, the food waste charity Plan Zheroes.
This year the School are turning their focus on their grocery products, so if you can’t make the classes you can still get a flash cooking course with School’s snazzy Bao and Stir Fry kits, available in Tesco and Waitrose. They are holding a launch of the Bao Kit International Kickstarter on Chinese New Year’s Day, 5thFebruary.
GAMES & CRAFTS, Scotland
Chinese New Year Celebrations
Kelvin Hall & Riverside Museum, Glasgow
Ricefields Arts are partnering with Glasgow Life and Glasgow Museums to deliver a range of family-friendly activities over two venues. In Kelvin Hall’s sports halls participants will be exploring traditional Chinese games, including tangram, Chinese Chequers, the Weiqi and shuttlecocks. The other part of the even will take place over the historic street at the Riverside Museum, with pop-up craft stalls (paper crafts and lantern making – with a transport theme), and talks about Hanfu clothing in the old photography shop.
Check Ricefield Arts‘ website for further information and confirmation of events later in the year.
3rdApril, 9pm, The Peer Hat, Manchester
5thApril, 9pm, The Shacklewell Arms, London
7thApril, 9pm, The Lanes, Bristol
Chinese indie record label presents FAZI, a Chinese dark post punk band. Spinning stories from threads of post-punk synth and driving guitars, FAZI is a burst of joy in the solar plexus. Formed in February 2010, the Xi’an-based band turned to Beijing in search of the cultural nourishment that would lead them to record and produce their debut album in 2011, and come into their own with “The Root of Innocence” in 2016. FAZI have toured China, Europe and the USA. Check the venue websites closer to the event for further info. Here’s a little bit more about FAZI.
If you like traditional Chinese music and opera, please keep an eye out for Sinolink Productions, who will announce their 2019 London programme later in the year.
GHOST GIRL // GWEI MUI 鬼妹
22 January to 9 February, 7.15pm
Camden People’s Theatre
What does it really mean to be British and Chinese in contemporary Britain? Based on director Jennifer Tang’s personal story, this piece of contemporary theatre explores what it means to be British, to be Chinese, what is a personal and national identity, and aims to give voice to an ‘invisible minority’ in the UK.
Set in the 1980s in Gravesend, Kent, “Ghost Girl” follows the story of Kim, a young Chinese girl who is fostered by a white British family. Juggling family loyalties, cultural contradictions and the widening gap between personal identity and social acceptance, this touching and theatrical show asks important questions about love, belonging and how to find your way in a world that doesn’t recognise you. Read my review here.
Citizens of Nowhere
28th & 29th January (6:30pm), 30th January (12pm), 2nd February (3 & 5pm)
Duddel’s Restaurant, Borough
A funny and moving real-time live audio drama by award-winning writer, Ming Ho and directed by David Jiang. Matriarch Linda Lo comes to London to announce a decision to her son Jun Chi and daughter, Jane; but ambitious Jane has big news of her own, while Jun Chi is mystified by their mother’s refusal to engage with plans for his upcoming wedding. With Brexit on the horizon, it’s a crossroad for all three.
This intimate performance by actors seated among the audience is experienced through headphones, as if eavesdropping, and includes refreshments.
31st January, 7.30pm (includes Post Show Q&A)
“Nanjing” is a monologue about identity, awed heroes, and the consequences of war. Written and performed by Jude Christian, and directed by Elayce Ismal, it’s a personal response to the Nanjing Massacre of 1937, frequently referred to as the Rape of Nanking. Simultaneously delicate and epic, this poignant direct address explores what it means to be mixed-race. In an explosive time for political discourse around the world, “Nanjing excavates” what it is to love one another while fighting hatred, and how we can make sacrifices for pacifism.
Boh Boh Finds Home
2nd February (11am & 2pm)
Hatching Dragons Bilingual Nursery, City
“Boh Boh Finds Home” is an interactive adventure that allows families to travel through the galaxy together, stopping at different planets to help our friend Boh Boh the alien, for find their home. We sing and dance through space, expanding vocabulary, working on motor skills and most of all having fun!
Little Bean is a theatre company focusing on Cantonese speaking children and families in the UK founded by a group of theatre, music and multi-arts practitioners based in London. Performed in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. The Hatching Dragons performances are for children 2-7 years old.
Monkey and the Cave of the Spider Demons
An Evening with Miss Wong
7th to 16thJune, Greenwich
The Rotunda Theatre
Red Dragonfly Theatre are delighted to be will be part of Rotunda Theatre’s touring programme this year (The Rotunda Theatre is a pop-up 120-seater theatre housed in a blue geodesic dome). They will be popping up in various regions across the country in the spring and summer.
After “DiaoChan: The Rise of the Courtesan” in 2016, they are completing their Chinese classic programme with a story the world-renown classic “Journey to the West”, with a fun, family-friendly play. On long pilgrimage to India, Monkey, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka run into many demons along the way, many of whom try to kidnap and eat Tripitaka. This is one of the most exciting episodes in the epic adventure. In collaboration with Grist to the Mill Productions, Red Dragonfly Theatre will carry on touring “An Evening with Miss Wong”, a solo play with songs celebrating Anna May Wong, the pioneering Chinese American actress, who, despite the odds became one of Hollywood’s best loved stars and gained international fame in the 1930s.
THEATRE, southern England
Monkey and the Cave of the Spider Demons
An Evening with Miss Wong
26th April to 12th May
Brockenhurst, New Forest
The Rotunda Theatre (see “London” section above)
Taking Flight Festival
Everyman Theatre: Irving Studio, Cheltenham
Red Dragonfly’s new writing festival Taking Flight is in its third year and will showcase new and entertaining British East Asian and South Asian stories by emerging writers. This year our stories will take our audience on a journey from rural Japan, to China and all the way to a wedding in the UK.
Under the Umbrella
2nd to 16th March
Belgrave Theatre, Coventry (ahead of a UK tour)
The Belgrave Theatre is proud to present the world premiere of “Under the Umbrella”, in partnership with Tamsha and Yellow Earth Theatres. Set in Coventry and Guangzhou, this compelling new production tells the story of Wei, a young Chinese woman living and studying in the UK. As the single Wei approaches her 27th birthday, her grandmother begins to worry that she will be labelled a shengnu or “leftover woman”, and decides to intervene. Torn between the conflicting expectations of her family and her life in the UK, can Wei navigate a path between them without losing sight of her own hopes and ambitions?
Written by Amy Ng ( Acceptance, Shangri-La ), directed by Belgrade’s Associate Director Justine Themen,and based on an original idea by Lian Wilkinson, this play has remarkably diverse creative input, with design, lighting, music and choreography by artists from around the world.
Yellow Earth Theatre sets out to shine a light on East Asian stories, some of the least represented around the UK. Keep an eye out for their new co-production Flight Paths and biannual play reading festival Typhoon.
From Shore to Shore (Piao Yang Guo Hai)
Chung Ying Cantonese Restaurant, Birmingham
Chinese Community Centre, Birmingham
Directed by David K. S. Tse, and featuring a seven strong cast, “From Shore to Shore”is a powerful new drama inspired by stories from Chinese communities living in the UK. Three stories, three lives, three journeys to find a place to call home. Taking place over a delicious two-course Chinese meal, the play blends live music, drama, English, Cantonese and Mandarin to tell an uplifting story of love and loss, struggle and survival.
THEATRE, northern England
From Shore to Shore (Piao Yang Guo Hai)
Yang Sing Restaurant, Manchester
Angel Restaurant, Liverpool
Wong’s Kitchen, University of Lancaster
The Dukes, Lancaster
More Music, Morecambe
Aspers Casino, Newcastle
Palace Garden Restaurant, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Posted in Commentary and tagged 2019, arts, books, china, Chinese, culture, film, food, games, theatre, UK