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Spring Festival Celebrations Fire Maltese Fascination with Chinese Culture
China Today
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Spring Festival Celebrations Fire Maltese Fascination with Chinese Culture

Throngs of shoppers, in a department store adorned with colorful Spring Festival posters, vying to try their hand either at Chinese calligraphy or traditional Chinese lantern-making, might seem incongruous in a European setting. The background to this vibrant scenario was The Point, Malta’s largest shopping mall, as part of the island country’s 2023 Chinese New Year celebrations, courtesy of the China Cultural Center in Malta.

For the Maltese people, the Chinese New Year (also known as the Spring Festival) celebration has long been a scintillating facet of their island country’s cultural domain. “Since its establishment in 2003, the China Cultural Center in Malta has sought to integrate the Chinese Spring Festival celebration into local life by presenting ‘Happy Chinese New Year’ activities,” Director of the China Cultural Center in Malta Yuan Yuan told China Today in an exclusive interview. The Chinese zodiac exhibition, Spring Festival concert, and film festival are firm fixtures among events that the cultural center arranges during the Spring Festival season. Meanwhile, local media input, such as from the Times of Malta and Television Malta, promotes the Chinese cultural concepts of harmony, reunion, and sharing that are synonymous with the most important elements of China’s festivals.

After more than two decades, the “Happy Chinese New Year” program is among the country’s most eagerly anticipated multicultural festival events, according to Yuan. It usually involves the distinctively Chinese cultural delights of window pane paper-cuts, lion dancing, and writing Spring Festival scrolls, along with firework and lantern displays. Nor to be forgotten are temple fairs during this celebration which the Maltese people have come to relish, where food peddlers and craftsmen gather to vend their wares.

“I was delighted on being presented with an adorable rabbit mascot (Chinese zodiac animal for 2023) at last year’s Spring Festival celebrations,” principal officer of publishing and didactic resources at Heritage Malta Fiona Vella recalled. Vella jumped at the chance that events organized by the China Cultural Center offered to watch five Chinese films, learn how to make Chinese lanterns, and try her hand at Chinese painting and calligraphy, as well as enjoy traditional Chinese food and drinks and an evening of classical and Chinese music. “The Chinese New Year celebration in Malta enabled me to share and experience personally the Chinese people’s joy in reuniting with their families to celebrate and share new year happiness. Although the contrasts between Chinese and Western festivals are fascinating, it is nevertheless clear that what both peoples most look forward to is being with family and close friends to share their hopes for happiness and peace in the coming year,” Vella said.

As the year of the wood dragon draws near, Vella eagerly anticipates the celebratory events that the China Cultural Center in Malta is going to arrange.

A main highlight of the 2024 Chinese New Year celebration is, according to Yuan Yuan, the Hanfu (traditional Chinese attire) parade in Valletta, Malta’s capital, presented by the newly-founded local Hanfu Society. For visitors’ delectation, Chinese people and local Maltese model traditional Chinese garments. Celebration activities also include displays of such traditional Chinese intangible cultural heritage craftsmanship as silverware, woodcarving, tie-dying, and embroidery. The 2024 Spring Festival, moreover, will bring the opportunity for Maltese locals to enjoy Chinese music and performances by acclaimed art troupes that the China Cultural Center has invited from China.

The Maltese people have, through the staging of these celebratory events over the past two decades, become familiar with the Spring Festival and more knowledgeable generally about Chinese culture. Encompassing as it does Chinese cuisine and martial arts performances, temple fairs and Spring Festival decorations that ornament streets and venues, as well as traditional Chinese music, Peking Opera performances, and even figures from traditional Chinese literature like Sun Wukong – the Monkey King, this annual Chinese celebration has enriched local life. It also underlines for the Maltese people the farming civilization on which the Chinese lunar calendar is based. Taken as a whole, this festival has fired the Maltese public’s fascination with China’s profound, splendid, and diversified culture.

On the Eve of the 2023 Chinese New Year, Maltese high school student Jeremy Azzopardi made a point of visiting the China Cultural Center in Malta’s celebration venue. His specific intention was to convey his best wishes to the people there by presenting them with his work of Chinese calligraphy depicting the character 福 (fu, meaning good fortune in Chinese).

Not even the COVID-19 pandemic could dampen local residents’ keen participation in Chinese New Year celebrations. During the 2021 Spring Festival, the China Cultural Center in Malta unveiled its online celebration gala, whose online platforms enabled local Maltese to take part in singing, general knowledge quizzes, and cultural exchanges, as well as to share videos about making Chinese dishes. The Mediterranean Conference Center website broadcast the launch ceremony of the global “Happy Chinese New Year” activity, and a symphony concert and photo exhibition, attended by Maltese President George Vella, also took place in Malta.

Maltese people’s passion for Chinese culture actually goes beyond the Chinese New Year celebration. “Since the decline of the pandemic, our center’s series of cultural salons and activities have expanded to full capacity. Chinese language and calligraphy class attendees have also ballooned,” Yuan Yuan told China Today. Meanwhile, the center has cooperated with local schools to enrich students’ cultural life. Having effectively become a venue for teenagers and young adults in Europe to learn about and experience Chinese culture, the center received Chinese language learners from Germany and Spain in 2023.

“On the whole, Maltese people have shown strong interest in Chinese culture, so we’ve been expanding and improving our cultural activities by integrating Chinese and local resources. The scope of our cultural events has consequently broadened to include exhibitions, concerts, temple fairs, cultural salons, film festivals, lantern festivals, and children’s calligraphy and painting classes, among others. To encourage even greater participation, our venues have extended from national art centers to big shopping malls, schools, and parks,” Yuan said.

Even more noteworthy is that Chinese culture is being embraced by ever greater numbers of young Maltese people. Fourteen-year-old Mattia Dalcielo, who has learned Chinese Kung Fu for more than eight years, was selected as the 2022 “Junior Cultural Ambassador” of the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation. Driven by his passion for Chinese language and culture, Dalcielo hopes one day to go to college in China. The 2023 “Junior Cultural Ambassador” candidate Thiago Jo Said regularly attends the China Cultural Center’s Chinese language class although it entails a four-hour commute.

“It’s clear that these cultural exchanges instill new vitality in the people-to-people bond.” Yuan observed that people can, through various types of cultural exchanges, better distinguish – and hence accept, understand, and respect – cultural differences, which helps to dispel misunderstanding and prejudice. Such mutual understanding underpins the bilateral relations, and facilitates exchanges in other fields.

The Global Civilization Initiative proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping strikes a chord with the Maltese people – a nation open to cultural exchanges and integration. Cheryl Falzon, national librarian and chief executive officer (CEO) of Malta Libraries, said in a Xinhua interview that she foresees closer cultural cooperation between Malta and China, based on mutual understanding and appreciation. She commends China’s Global Civilization Initiative, which stresses the importance of respect for the diversity of civilizations and strengthening of international people-to-people exchanges and cooperation.

“Amity between people holds the key to sound relations between states. Dialogues between different civilizations in various forms can help people better understand the different values rooted in diverse cultures, thus helping to create a more harmonious and inclusive world in seeking common ground while reserving differences,” Yuan said.

China TodayGu Yetao

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