Chinese folk artists dazzle crowds on the National Mall

Updated: 2014-06-25 23:44

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily USA)

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It looks very much like a Chinese cultural gala on the National Mall in Washington on Wednesday as the 48th Smithsonian Folklife Festival began.

A giant colorful flower plaque is probably the most eye-catching as people exit the nearby Smithsonian Washington Metro station. The plaque is a bamboo structure used for celebrations such as weddings, business openings and anniversaries, mostly in South China.

China and Kenya are the two nations featured in this year's festival.

In a huge tent nearby, the opening ceremony drew a packed audience, watching shows by Chinese and Kenyan folk artists.

Signers and instrument players from the Dimen Dong Folk Chorus of southwest China's Guizhou province arrived early for the opening ceremony. They have already spent three days in New York, including performing at the Asia Society.

Some members had performed in the folklife festival last year as a preview for this year's China- themed extravaganza.

Wu Xiuchun, a singer, was in the US the first time. She said she was excited to visit the United Nations in New York that "I only saw on TV before".

Wu and her fellow performers, all from the same village, demonstrated Dong ethnic group's polyphonic choral tradition. Their songs are said to be inspired by nature, mimicking the sounds of insects, birds, mountains and streams.

The seven-piece Ih Tsetsn band, originally from the prairie of Inner Mongolia, but now based in Beijing, performed the so-called khoomei throat-singing and long song, two genres that have been on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Corine Motley, who came all the way from California for the festival, was sitting in the front row at the opening ceremony. "It's overwhelming, it's beautiful, colorful and it's marvelous," she told China Daily.

Michael Atwood Mason, director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, said this year's festival will present a cultural dialogue on the diverse cultures of China and Kenya through words, food, stories, songs and work.

"We want to make sure that culture DNA of the past does not just survive today, but flourish and hopefully make a better tomorrow," said Richard Kurin, under-secretary for history, art and culture at the Smithsonian.

Lu Kang, deputy chief of mission of the Chinese embassy in Washington said China has made great efforts in recent years to protect its intangible art and cultural heritage, but he said there are also challenges.

"We live in a global village. We need to learn from each other and better understand each other," he said.

Sun Yanling, a Manchu embroidery artist from northeast China's Heilongjiang province, was one of the many Chinese folk artists demonstrating in a nearby tent. She said the Bohai Mohe silk embroidery has a unique triangular stitch style.

"It's the oil painting of embroidery, the further you look at it, the more beautiful it is," she said.

She hoped that visitors will get to discover this culture in China.

With a theme of China: Tradition and the Art of Living, the Chinese program features 120 participants, including artists, dancers, craftspeople and cooks.

Two themes, reunion and balance, highlight the importance of seasonal festival traditions in China.

Along with Chinese silk embroidery artists, Chinese craftspeople will also make paper-cutting designs, New Year's prints, clay figurines, kites and sachets that are used during annual celebrations. Visitors can also see artists who specialize in patchwork, batiks and porcelain.

Visitors to the festival, which is scheduled from June 25 to 29 and then July 2 to 6 and free to the public, could also experience the exuberance of public life in China when they visit the "People's Park" area of the program. Participants will demonstrate and teach the flower drum lantern dance, tai chi and water calligraphy.

There will also be food demonstration at the Five Spices Kitchen with chefs flying in from China. But due to food licensing issues, visitors won't be able to sample the savory food, but will instead go to a nearby food tent for food provided by local Chinese restaurants.

Chinese folk artists dazzle crowds on the National Mall
Singers from the Dimen Dong Folk Chorus from southwest China's Guizhou province perform on Wednesday morning at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington. [Chen Weihua/China Daily]

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