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Year of the Tiger: Lunar New Year traditions

As almost two billion people around the world prepare to celebrate Lunar New Year in some way, we take a closer look at the traditions and origins of the festival as well as the celebrations that are taking place both here in Bristol and in our sister city, Guangzhou, in South China.

On 1 February, a quarter of the world’s population will celebrate Lunar New Year. City streets will burst with life as people come together to ring in the Year of the Tiger, enjoying pyrotechnic displays and spectacular drone shows dancing above elaborate choreographed performances and snaking parades.

As communities in Bristol and beyond prepare to celebrate the festivities over the first two weeks of February, we reach out to our sister city – Guangzhou, in South China – and take a look at how, collectively, we will be bidding farewell to the past year and looking forward to one of adventure.

To help us better understand our special relationship, we chat to the chief executive of the Bristol & West of England China Bureau, Dianne Francombe OBE, who in 2020, was honoured in the Queen’s New Year Honours List for truly exceptional and outstanding service to international trade, investment and exporting. A leading expert in her field, Dianne provides a fascinating insight into our alliance and shares some joyous news about the year ahead.

Year of the Tiger (1 February 2022 – 21 January 2023)
The order of the zodiac signs is thought to be based on a folk tale known as the Great Race. Legend has it that one of the most important gods in Chinese tradition, Jade Emperor, invited 12 animals to participate in the race. The years are named in the order in which each animal finished the race – Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Each zodiac animal holds a special meaning and their qualities are believed to be embodied by the children born in that specific year. This means anyone born in 2022 is believed to have the qualities of the Tiger – an animal known to be king of all beasts in China. Those due to be born this year are predicted to be brave, competitive, unpredictable, confident and display great levels of willpower.
“The predictions for the Year of the Tiger are currently being promoted as a year of change, a year of risk-taking and adventure,” Dianne tells us. “We should find enthusiasm again, to do things for ourselves and for others – I hope this rings true!”

In celebration of Lunar New Year, Guangzhou is planning to have a traditional lantern festival and a modern light and shadow show, where people will be able to admire flowers, browse exhibitions and enjoy wonderful food. “Lunar New Year is a time for fun, interesting and meaningful Spring Festival activities,” Dianne explains. “Throughout the festivities, stories about the meaning of life are told. It’s a very vibrant and colourful time when families gather to share food and give presents in the form of lucky red pockets. The children particularly enjoy this time – it’s like our Christmas.”

Sister-City Agreement
The Bristol China Partnership (BCP) was created in 1998 when members of the Bristol City Council and Bristol’s corporate businesses agreed that there was much to be gained by developing a strong and lasting partnership with China. BCP facilitated the signing of the Sister City agreement in 2001. Since then, the Bristol & West of England China Bureau has been working unstintingly to connect the people of Bristol and the south west of England with the people of Guangzhou, encouraging greater mutual understanding between the two countries and providing a platform for businesses to connect with like-minded organisations. Over the past 21 years, the two cities have grown close, successfully erasing the distance that lay between them. “The relationship has gone from strength to strength and a deep level of friendship, trust and understanding has developed,” says Dianne. “Many joint projects have flowed covering education exchange, cultural activities and climate change, to name just a few.”

Celebrations in Bristol will be taking place in equal measure as families, students, scholars, members of the China Bureau, Bristol Overseas Chinese Association and the Chinese Community Wellbeing Society will all be enjoying the seasonal jollity. “There will be a festival at Bristol Museum, celebrating the colourful and entertaining culture of China. We will be showcasing the fantastic pyrotechnics display from Guangzhou on our social media and website – their drone displays are truly amazing. We will also be holding a Year of the Tiger banquet in March to celebrate the Lunar New Year and the 50th Anniversary of UK-China relations.”

Over the last two decades, Bristol and Guangzhou have certainly reaped the rewards of the Sister City agreement. But for Dianne, it has been the personal stories that have brought her the most joy. “It’s the 14 scholars who have studied in Bristol for a year, received a Master’s degree from the University of the West of England and now call Bristol their second home. It’s the students who have visited through the Sister City School link programme and the companies who have a stake in Bristol’s and Guangzhou’s economic development – their successes have been the most memorable moments,” she says.

The next highlight on the calendar – after Lunar New Year, of course – is the unveiling of the Guangzhou Garden at the University of Bristol’s Botanic Gardens in the summer. The garden took home the coveted Best in Show prize at last year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show and was gifted by Guangzhou to Bristol. The designers, Peter Chmiel and Chin-Jung Chen, looked to capture the essence of vast and vibrant Guangzhou, which has a population of 15 million. They were inspired by a philosophy of reconnecting people and nature, while also highlighting the benefits of responsible city planning.

“It will be the most spectacular legacy of the Bristol–Guangzhou Sister City relationship,” says Dianne. Ultimately, whether you’re celebrating Lunar New Year in all its traditional glory, or are simply hoping for a happy and healthy 12 months ahead, the wonders of connection during these times are abundantly beautiful and provide us with an inexhaustible source of inspiration – let us harness it and make this year a better one. Happy New Year!

For more information about the Bristol & West of England China Bureau, visit: chinabureau.co.uk; or follow them on Twitter: @BristolChina and Instagram: @bristolchina_