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Beijing Rolls out Red Carpet with Gala Performance
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Against a backdrop of Beijing's landmark Temple of Heaven, two African singers in traditional costumes hold hands with Chinese artists in scarlet Chinese-style jackets, singing in chorus a decades-old song in commemoration of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

Around them, a group of dancers dance to the music, spreading out butterfly-shaped silk fans that line out a scene of festivity.

Nearly 400 Chinese and African artists staged the gala themed on "Ode to Friendship" Saturday night at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing, after a day of handshakes, whirlwind meetings and a welcoming banquet given by Chinese President Hu Jintao and his wife Liu Yongqing.

An audience of at least 2,000 people applauded when a team of young Chinese artists opened the gala at 8:15 PM with red lanterns that lit up, one after another, to spell out in English " Welcome to China".

Among the audience were Hu Jintao, Chairman of the Commission of the African Union Alpha Oumar Konare, and more than 40 African leaders who are in Beijing for the two-day Beijing Summit, the biggest between Chinese and African leaders in history.

"I know Africa and China have been helping each other like close friends since the time Mao founded New China," Augustine Dondo, a 33-year-old singer from the Democratic Republic of Congo, told Xinhua through an interpreter.

From the traditional Peking Opera, upbeat tropical dance and drum to acrobatics, African and Chinese artists take turns demonstrating their exquisite skills and profound culture.

"It's a dialogue between the two ancient civilizations, as well as an exhibition of China-Africa cultural exchanges," said Tang Wenjuan, director of the gala.

Nine-year-old Sudanese boy Ahmad, the youngest performer at the gala, came to China in 2004 to study acrobatics in Puyang, a cradle of the traditional Chinese art in central Henan Province. "My folks love acrobatics. I'll show them more about Chinese culture when I grow up," he said in fluent Chinese.

Yeneneh Tesfaye from Ethiopia said he plans to go home soon to perform in his country what he had learned in China.

"I'll probably become a superstar when I get back. Few people in Ethiopia can practice rolling bowls and foot juggling the way I do," said Helen Yohannes, 18. "But I'll miss my coaches, classmates and the delicious Chinese dishes."

The Wuqiao International Acrobatics School in north China's Hebei Province, where Tesfaye and Yohannes studied in the past two years, currently has 22 African students aged between 12 and 22.

Founded in 1985, the school has trained nearly 100 acrobats for African countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana since it was authorized by the Chinese government to recruit international students in 2002, said Qi Zhiye, president of the school. "Ninety percent of them have taken jobs as professional acrobats or coaches in their home countries."

Personnel training has been an important part of China-Africa cooperation in the past decades.

By the end of 2005, China had offered more than 18,000 governmental scholarships to African students.

"Let's build up a golden bridge of friendship, peace, cooperation and development," prayed Guillaume Moumouni, the proud moderator from Benin, at the end of the gala.

Moumouni, 38, first came to China in 1990 and is pursuing a PhD in international relations at the Peking University.

(Xinhua News Agency November 5, 2006)

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