PARIS, Jan 22 (AFP) – France is rolling out a red Eiffel Tower and an extravagant Chinese New Year’s parade on its finest Parisian street Saturday in an unprecedented tribute to China.
For the first time in history, the French will allow the legendary Champs-Elysees – affectionately called “the most beautiful avenue in the world” – to serve as stage for a major foreign cultural event.
Dancing dragons, acrobats, opera singers, banging gongs and thousands of marchers will transform the broad boulevard into a noisy sea of red and gold, traditionally lucky colors, to welcome in the Year of the Monkey.
And the Eiffel Tower, the ultimate symbol of the City of Light, will itself be illuminated in crimson for five nights.
Also for the first time, and exceptionally, the Champs-Elysees parade replaces those traditionally held in Chinese neighborhoods in the capital.
In Chinatown, the loss left resentment.
While celebrations in Asia were in full swing Thursday, the first day of year 4701 in the Chinese lunar calendar, workers in Paris were feverishly piecing the parade together.
Saturday’s extravaganza is the climax of a France-China cultural week of concerts, dance and expositions, part of their “crossed years” celebrations of 40 years of diplomatic relations.
France, which became the first major Western country to forge diplomatic ties with China, in 1944, is celebrating a “Year of China in France” from October 2003 to June 2004. China’s “Year of France in China” will take place during the same period, a year later.
The parade, organized by the cities of Paris and Beijing and 45 Chinese associations in France, will cost EUR 480,000 (USD 606,700), of which the French capital is financing EUR 210,000.
A giant red and gold dragon – claimed to be the world’s biggest – is being assembled from parts built in the Shanghai region and donated by businesses in China, Ling Yang, the head of project organizer the Association of Chinese Residents in France, said Wednesday.
The fabulous creature, with a head seven meters (24 feet) high, will ride atop eight flatbed trucks each carrying 25 people, Ling told AFP.
With a body about 110 meters (360 feet) long, four meters (13 feet) high and three meters (10 feet) wide, Ling said the dragon was the world’s biggest, “that I know of”.
“This dragon is a monster who will mark history,” he added.
Beijing is providing 800 artists – including acrobats, dancers, musicians – of the parade’s 7,500 participants, and four of about 50 floats.
One of them, a gigantic red goldfish, will open the parade at 2:00 pm (1300 GMT).
Another will feature a tribute to the Summer Olympic Games Beijing will host in 2008, after besting a bid by Paris.
Twelve towering, moveable puppets, representing the 12 animal signs of the Chinese zodiac, will signify this year’s progression in the lunar cycle. At one end of the parade will be the Monkey, symbolizing the incoming year, and at the other the Ram, or goat, for the year just ended.
Overhead the skies will fill with balloons, kites and banners as the Chinese celebrate Spring Festival, a sacred time of honoring ancestors and the family and performing rituals for the year ahead.
In Chinatown, shops beckoned this week with red lanterns, banners and strings of firecrackers. Shoppers fingered tall bundles of forsythia and spring flowers and sized up bamboo stalks and miniature mandarin bushes – tokens of such traditional values as rebirth, longevity and good fortune.
Amid the holiday bustle, a sign on a Roman Catholic church reminded that a New Year’s Mass in Chinese would be held “in communion with our ancestors”.
But for some in Chinatown, the Year of the Monkey, traditionally considered a little risky, already has brought trouble.
The Chinatown businesses were “more or less forced” by the city government to accept the transfer of the parade to the Champs-Elysees, a gift shop owner said.
“Most people didn’t agree” with the relocation of the parade, said an employee at a Chinese pastry shop.
The parade is “not Chinese” and is “not a good beginning for the year,” declared Estelle Chang.
“The new year is sacred,” the 32-year-old said, explaining that the parade should be celebrated within the Chinese community.
“People are going to watch the parade, and afterward eat French pastries?”
Many Chinatown workers and their families will not be able to attend Saturday’s parade because it a regular working day, she said, adding that was why the community held it on Sundays.
Asked whether anyone had protested the decision, Chang replied: “No, we don’t have the power.
“It isn’t the culture,” she explained, making a gesture of zipping her lips and lowering her head.
Subject: France news