Friday 29th September – Stratford delegation home after hugely successful China trip.
Stratford’s delegation to China has returned to the UK following a visit designed to cement friendships with the city of Fuzhou.
The jam-packed schedule included meetings with local government officials, the spectacular opening ceremony of the Tang Xianzu International Drama Festival and an array of cultural visits to local sites and landmarks.
The growing partnership between Stratford and Fuzhou is viewed positively by officials in China and Stratford district councillors, who say the relationship could potentially increase interest in Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu across the globe.
Though this trip is now over, a Chinese delegation is likely to visit Stratford next April for the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations.
The Herald will be watching the development of Sang Weng Town, a planned cultural attraction near Fuzhou featuring recreations of some a number of Stratford’s historical buildings, with great interest.
Read next week’s Herald for the views of reporter Ben Lugg and photographer Mark Williamson on the trip.
Follow how the trip developed, below…..
STRATFORD-UPON-AVON’S links with China are set to grow stronger this week as a delegation from the town visits Fuzhou.
District Councillors, representatives of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Herald journalists set off from Stratford on Thursday for the visit that will feature the inaugural Tang Xianzu International Drama Festival in Fuzhou, celebrating the life and works of one of China’s most influential dramatists, as well as an International Forum on Cultural Heritage and Innovation.
Building a replica of Stratford in China will also be discussed with further details about San Weng Town set to be revealed.
Here are the reports from Herald reporter Ben Lugg and photographer Mark Williamson as we get them…
Sunday: Fuzhou’s Tang Xianzu International Drama Festival kicked off with a spectacular opening ceremony last night, featuring hundreds of dancers and singers from across the globe.
Thousands of spectators, including a delegation from Stratford, looked on from a large stand opposite the main stage as performers, mainly local students, took part in a series of eye-catching displays.
In between flamenco and Hawaiian dancing routines, Shakespeare was honoured by around 150 local students, performing with swords in front of a huge inflatable model of the Bard, while singers performed a special song in dedication to Shakespeare called ‘To be or not to be’.
The Herald was not the only media covering event, TV companies and a large number of Chinese journalists were also in attendance.
Members of the Stratford delegation such as council leader Cllr Chris Saint, Cllr Chris Kettle and Nicholas Fulcher from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust sat alongside a number of Chinese politicians in the front row.
The show ended with a spectacular fireworks display, a fitting launch for the second Tang Xinazu International Drama Festival, which officials in Fuzhou hope to develop into a popular annual event.
Earlier in the day delegation visited the Fuzhou Urban Planning Exhibition Centre, a huge building in the centre of the city packed full of displays and huge models detailing how Fuzhou will be developed over future years as the population booms.
The exhibition, which also used CGI graphics throughout, showed a number of projects on the drawing board, perhaps more ambitious then Stratford’s controversial South Western Relief Road.
Later the Stratford delegation were guests of honour at special photography exhibition marking 45 years of ambassadorial relations between the UK and China.
The exhibition featured pictures from previous visits to China by Stratford officials as well as the Chinese visit to Stratford during the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations.
Afterwards the delegation were given the chance to experience some of the region’s well known dishes at the Tang Xianzu International Food Festival before being treated to yet more delicacies at a banquet hosted by the Jiangxi Provincial Government.
Stratford and Fuzhou’s drama links through Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu were once again at the forefront of activities today as the International Forum of cultural Inheritance and Innovation took place.
160 scholars and guests from across the world gathered for the forum, which saw speakers draw attention to the themes of Shakespeare, Tang Xianzu and Cervantes and the relevance each playwright has to today’s audience.
Overall there has been a great deal of positivity surrounding the blossoming friendship between Stratford and Fuzhou with both sides trying hard to cement the ties established over recent years.
Saturday: Excitement is building on the eve of Fuzhou’s Tang Xianzu’s International Drama Festival as officials from Stratford-upon-Avon prepare to help celebrate the Chinese playwright in his hometown.
The connection between Stratford and Fuzhou stems from their most famous sons, China’s leading playwright Tang Xianzu and Shakespeare, both of whom died in 1616.
On Saturday the streets of Fuzhou were brought to a standstill as crowds gathered to watch a dress rehearsal of the festival’s opening ceremony featuring hundreds of dancers.
It certainly looks like it will be hot in the city with temperatures set to reach 36 degrees.
Officials from Stratford and Fuzhou are keen to build on the friendship developed between the two over recent years and this week’s visit follows a number of others which have taken place over recent years.
It has taken around 15 hours travelling for our delegation to reach Fuzhou, broken up by a stop in Shanghai in which the delegation took in some of the city’s spectacular sights enjoyed a range of local cuisines.
Speaking ahead of the festival’s opening day, the Mayor of Fuzhou, Zhang Hong Xing, welcomed Stratford’s delegation to the city.
He told me: “This year 2017 marks 45 years since the UK and China established established ambassadorial relations and we are now in a golden era of relations between both countries. I feel we are not just good friends, we are like relatives.
“We are planning to hold the International Drama Festival every year and we already have great plans for next year with more wonderful shows and performances. In China there is an old saying, ‘the journey of one thousand miles starts with one step’ this festival is just a small beginning.”
Mr Xing also told me that that work on Sang Weng Town was underway and that a delegation from Fuzhou would plan to come over to Stratford every year for the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations.
Cllr Chris Saint, leader of Stratford District Council, said: “It was great to be called an old friend as I walked in today. We look forward to continued cooperation with the People’s Republic of China and I feel that this relationship has been very productive so far and will only grow in strength.”
More updates to come from China.