Last Saturday, the China Cultural Centre hosted Chinese nationals, their Nigerian friends and the diplomatic community to a cultural carnival in Abuja. ONWUKA NZESHI reports
he China Cultural Centre, Abuja, was adorned with beautiful decorations, red being the dominant colour. As early as 10.00 am, hundreds of Chinese resident in Nigeria and their friends were seen trooping into the expansive compound to partake in the Chinese New Year festivities.
It is an ancient Chinese festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese Lunar calendar. The ceremony dates back to around 2000 BC and just like the Christmas to the Christian world and Eid-el-Fitri to the Islamic world, the Chinese New Year is the most traditional festival in China, many Asian countries and among Chinese communities around the world.
The festival featured music, grand theatrical performances, movie screenings, Chinese cuisine and many other activities depicting the culture of China. It also turned out as an opportunity to promote cultural exchange and integration as students from selected schools in Abuja staged various traditional dances depicting Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage.
In a goodwill message on the occasion, the Ambassador of the Peoples Republic of China in Nigeria, His Excellency Zhou Pingjian, expressed appreciation to Nigerians and members of the diplomatic community for joining him and other Chinese people at the festival. He said that for him and many Chinese people, Nigeria had become a home away from home where foreigners no longer feel homesick.
Pingjian described the Spring Festival as an opportunity for family reunion and promotion of culture and mutual friendship.
Over the years, he recalled, cultural events such as the New Year Temple Fair have promoted friendship and better understanding between Chinese and Nigerians.
According to him, such interactions have laid more solid foundations for mutual cooperation between China and Nigeria in various sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, infrastructural development and manufacturing among others.
“We have achieved a lot in our relationship during the recent years. Nigeria has always played very important roles in China-Africa cooperation. We are very confident that with the Forum of China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) framework, we can achieve even more.
“Our relationship with Nigeria is highly complementary and in working together, we take advantage of each other’s strength and growth potentials. China/ Nigeria relationship has been very productive and there are new opportunities to grow the relationship.
“The trade balance between Nigeria and China will get better as we go on. With the start of a new year, we are very confident and optimistic about the future of the relationship between our two great countries. We wish all our Nigerian friends, a very happy and prosperous Chinese New Year,” Pingjian said.
Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hon. Yusuf Buba Yakubu, who also graced the occasion, extolled the essence of the festival in promoting cultural and economic cooperation between Nigeria and China.
Yakubu disclosed that there are currently about 60 Chinese firms, employing about 10,000 Nigerians in the Free Trade Zone in Ogun State. According to him, most of these industries are owned by Chinese businessmen in partnership with some Nigerians.
“This is bridging the trade gap because instead of importing all the goods produced by these local firms, we are now producing them here, creating employment opportunities and promoting industrialisation in Nigeria.
“I am happy that our dream of becoming an industrialised nation is becoming a reality and with China becoming the catalyst.
” In terms of culture, you can see today how our young children are singing and dancing to Chinese cultural tunes as if they were Chinese. Today, we have 7,000 Nigerian children schooling on scholarship in China.
“Most of our public infrastructure namely roads, railways and airports are being developed by Chinese companies.
“So without anybody saying it, the relationship is growing and growing for good. It is a win-win situation where the governments, businessmen and other citizens are benefitting at both ends,” Yakubu said.
Director, China Cultural Centre, Mr Li Xuda, said the festival is usually associated with many customs, rituals and cultural practices, particularly the temple fair, a traditional gathering of folks. The temple fair, he said, is traditionally held at the temple or adjacent to it and attracted vendors or hawkers who sold their goods to the people who journeyed to the temples during festivals.
In the present age, Xuda said, temple fair has gradually become a kind of cultural gathering where people have fun, dancing to good music and feasting on the numerous Chinese cuisines on display.
According to him, this year’s Spring Festival was organised by the China Cultural Centre in collaboration with the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce in Nigeria, the Chinese Embassy and supported by over 20 Chinese companies and restaurants operating in Nigeria.
At this year’s Temple Fair, there was a special session for charity and compassion for the less privileged people in the society. The Chinese General Chamber of Commerce seized the momentum of the celebration to make special donations of food items to poor and vulnerable Nigerians living in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps.
Items donated included bags of semolina, rice, noodles and oil. They also donated school bags to the school pupils in the IDP camps, all in a bid to render selfless assistance to people in need and spread the joy of the new year.
In the Chinese Lunar Calendar, Xuda explained, 2020 is the year of rat, which is the first in the 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiac, symbolising a new beginning. “Indeed, the year 2020 is a milestone of beginnings in many ways. It is the year Nigeria expects the 60th Anniversary since its Independence, the first year of Peoples Republic of China’s 8th decade and the year China expects to lift all rural residents living below the current poverty line and eliminate poverty in China. In terms of China-Africa Cooperation, it is the first year of the third decade since the mechanism, Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was established in 2000,” Xuda said.
In 2019, the Chinese New Year Temple Fair was celebrated in more than 1,500 events held in over 133 countries. It has also been held in Nigeria for three consecutive years at the China Cultural Centre since 2017.