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The day before British Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived in China for his maiden visit, the UK organizers of China Now held a press conference in Beijing to announce this largest Chinese cultural extravaganza ever to take place in the United Kingdom.

(From L to R) Jinqing Cai, Chief CHINA NOW Representative in China; Tsai Lien, Dept. of European Affairs Director, Ministry of Culture; Xu Ying, Vice Director General, State Council Information Office; Peter Wilson, Political Counsellor, British Embassy; Xu Feihong, Counsellor, Department of European Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Alan Parker, Vice Chairman of China Now, Chairman of Brunswick Group; Joanna Burke, Cultural Counsellor of the British Embassy; Peter Wong, Executive Director, Hong Kong and Mainland China, HSBC; Simon Heale, Chief Executive of CHINA NOW.

Over 800 events have been arranged for the festival, according to the organizers.

Starting with the Chinese New Year celebrations, the 6-month, nationwide, partially free festival will include exhibitions, performances and activities spanning Chinese film, cuisine, comics, art, literature, music, design, science, technology, business, education and sport, During the period, world-renowned pianist Lang Lang will give a concert, and the Penguin will release English version of the novel Wolf Totem, a Chinese bestseller by Jiang Rong, which has so far sold 4 million copies.

China Now is an independently funded, non-profit organization. It aims to advance the public's understanding of China and forge strong relationships between artists, cultural leaders, schools, businesses and communities between China and the UK.

While addressing the press conference, Chief Executive of China Now Simon Heale said "I hope the festival stimulates both peoples to interact more. It will be fantastic if something comes out of it, and I think it will."

China Now initially was just an idea born in a lunchtime conversation between Alan Parker, a veteran in business and Chairman of Brunswick Group LLP, and Stephen Green, Group Chairman of HSBC Holdings two years ago. Later, when backed by HSBC and other 30 sponsors, as well as Chinese and British governments, the multi-million-budget idea got bigger and bigger.

While 46 percent of Chinese people know who the British Prime Minister is, only 7 percent of British people know current Chinese President Hu Jintao, and another 7 percent British people still thought the Chinese President is Chairman Mao Zedong, said Simon Heale by citing a survey conducted by HSBC. Chinese fast-growing economy is recognized around the world, but the cultural side is neglected, he added.

A vivid short promo film was also displayed on the big screen at the press conference, collecting many beautiful shots, movie clips and images of the modern China.

HSBC Executive Director Peter Wong, one of the founders of China Now, said: "Cultural exchanges between China and the UK need to be intensified after economic ties have developed so quickly. Communication helps countries to develop their relationships. But real communication starts from cultural exchange."

China Now organizers even have another ambition: to launch a Britain Now event in China when London holds Olympics in 2012.

China Now Festival Highlights

China Now launches with the UK's Chinese New Year weekend celebrations. Events will be happening across the country, with a full day of family activities at the British Museum on February 9. The capital's China in London festival, which is also a part of China Now, features a lantern lighting ceremony at Oxford Circus on February 7 followed by a day of celebrations with fireworks on February 10 at Trafalgar Square.

China Film Now features three distinct film strands; a UK tour of 15 short films from popular Chinese film artists, a series of 3-9 minute films produced by students and famous Chinese producers and a BBC Big Screens nationwide project.

Taste of China will see a culinary journey through China as part of the renowned annual Taste event held in London's Regent's Park. Highlighting food from top Chinese restaurants, it includes cooking demonstrations, cultural exhibits and cultural performances.

China Comics Now is an exhibition featuring the art work that comprises the highly stylized and eye-catching mànhuà comics.

China Literature Now brings together a number of key Chinese authors in a number of literary events at some of the leading literature festivals and book fairs across the UK.

China Art Now is a nationwide art trail showcasing contemporary Chinese art including sculptures, sound-scapes, neon installations, film and photographic art.

China Now Club Football Exchange is a grassroots project bringing together children from China and the UK through an international football competition.

China Design Now, the V&A's spring exhibition, investigates the recent explosion of new design in China across three rapidly expanding cities: Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

China Dance Now is an extensive dance program showcasing performers in a collection of tours and workshops from world-renowned Chinese dance companies including Beijing Modern Dance Company, UK-based Akram Khan Dance Troupe and the National Ballet of China.

China Education Now is a nationwide outreach program that encourages awareness and understanding of Chinese culture across primary and secondary schools as well as universities and colleges.

China Music Now is a range of musical events that are taking place across the country ranging from Chinese Hip Hop and modern Beijing Opera to classical string quartets and 70-piece orchestral concerts.

Hong Kong Day at Ascot race course is a family day which, along with one of the richest five-furlong handicap races in Europe, will feature a combination of magnificent Chinese arts and crafts displays, fortune-telling, paper-folding workshops, calligraphy, plate spinning, Chinese massage and spectacular racing action attracting 20,000 race fans.

The Chinese Tea Culture Exhibition explores China's long history of tea culture looking at the tea-making process, tea sets and utensils, tea art and customs, tea and health, and the China National Tea Museum.

A varied arts program includes performances by Shaolin monks at Sadler's Wells, an acrobatic version of Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House, the Flying Dragon Circus in Newcastle and the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra's nationwide tour.

A series of business conferences will explore issues such as sustainability, urbanization, and education in China, in a series of locations ranging from Chatham House to Wilton Park.

Events will also be taking place across the UK in cities including Newcastle, Yorkshire, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton, Bath and London amongst others. In addition, China Now Scotland will see a range of events taking place north of the border.

(China.org.cn by staff reporter Zhang Rui, January 18, 2008)

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