It was an evening of colour, culture, community, and celebration. The ninth UAE Chinese New Year (CNY) Gala took place at Dubai Opera on January 8, 2023. Seven hundred artists, including children as young as age 4 and adults over 70 years, from China and other countries, participated in presenting 26 performances, showcasing Chinese traditions. It was held to mark the Chinese New Year, which is on January 22 as per the Gregorian calendar, ringing in the Year of the Rabbit.
The rabbit is the fourth in the 12-year cycle of animals that appear in the Chinese zodiac, which is a classification scheme based on the lunisolar calendar. It assigns an animal and its attributes to each year in a 12-year cycle.
The CNY gala performances communicated these attributes of the forthcoming Year of the Rabbit, which is expected to be fluid, relaxing and contemplative - it included the pensive Erhu solo (it is a Chinese two-stringed bowed musical instrument, a spike fiddle), dancing with calligraphy, traditional Chinese opera, children’s hip-hop dance, Mongolian folk dance, poetry recital, and piano solo. It was said to have been the largest CNY Gala in the UAE by far. It also set the record for the highest number of participants for performances at the Dubai Opera. The visual feast attracted nearly 2000 people as audience.
The Chinese Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the UAE, Yiming Zhang, and the Chinese Consul General in Dubai, Xuhang Li, attended the event. Ambassador Zhang gave the opening speech wishing everyone a happy Chinese New Year.
Gulf News spoke to some of the attendees at this largescale event, on their emotional connect with the Chinese New Year celebrations in their home away from home – the UAE.
Wide participation by Chinese community
Lanzhou Zhang, 56 years, working in the industry of metal products in Dubai for past three years, said, “Chinese New Year to me means uniting with family members. Unfortunately, this year I am unable to go back to China due to work, but I am happy to attend this Gala and celebrate the event with many others – It feels like home.
“Meanwhile, it is pleasant to see that the audience are not only people from China, but also from other countries. I hope they enjoy the show as much as I do.”
When asked what other celebratory activities he has planned to mark the Chinese New Year, he said, “In China, I usually stay home with family members and have home-cooked food for the CNY. Since I’m not with my family members in Dubai, I will go out with some friends to an authentic Chinese restaurant to celebrate."
Boran Zhang, 23 years, a fresh university graduate from China, has come to Dubai for the second time, to spend the CNY with her family members, who are UAE residents. She said, “To me, the CNY means hope. We have a saying ‘The coming year is going to be better than the past year’. I always look forward to a brand new year, as it resets the old, and starts the new.
“Dubai is a very loveable place, and I am happy to be here with my families for the CNY. In fact, one of my family members is performing at the gala tonight, so this makes it an even more special memory for me. Another reason I like to come to Dubai is that it is cosmopolitan. I have had occasions where people from other countries came to me, and talked to me about Chinese culture. I can see that there are also other nationalities at the gala, and I hope the performances convey enough cultural messages about China to these audiences.
“I am from the north-eastern part of China, my memory of the CNY is mainly visiting family members, relatives and friends on different CNY days, playing mahjong and chatting late into the night, as well as making home-made food all together. Our CNY food specialty includes chicken with wild mushrooms, and dumplings with pickled Napa cabbage and meat. This year in Dubai, we will make home-made food and invite some friends over on the CNY eve. It is going to be a great time, and I’m looking forward to it!"
Eleven-year-old Yehao Zhou said that Chinese New Year is all about delicious food for him. “Specifically, I can finally have as many dumplings as I want every day – Dumplings are one of my favourite foods, but because it takes time to make, my family does not make it regularly. I love all kinds of dumpling fillings, including minced lamb with carrot, and Chinese chives with eggs and shrimps. Making dumplings is fun too, I started helping my family members with dumpling wraps since I was very young.
“I attended this gala to support my little sister, who is 9 years old, because she is performing in a Tibetan group dance. I feel happy for her because this place is filled with audiences, they are all going to see my little sister’s dance, which she prepared for months."
Bringing in different nationalities
Wei Zhou, 48 years, Yehao’s dad, moved to Dubai in 2004, and has since been working in the exhibitions industry, said, “This year’s gala received wide attention in the Chinese community – many of my friends are attending this event tonight too. It is very difficult to get tickets, even as a performer’s family members. We were given one seat free, but for the other two tickets, I had to wait for ticket cancellations to be able to buy. I was lucky to be able to get additional two tickets in the end.
“It is great to see guests from other nationalities attending this gala. I believe that cultural exchanges between China and other countries are important for trading activities in both China and the UAE. Today’s event is a good way for people to get to know more about Chinese culture, which may in turn help them in their line of work, that may potentially link to China and Chinese people in the present or in the future.”
Xueyan Wang, 65 years, living in Dubai for 10 years, said after the show, “I was pleasantly surprised by the scale of the event and the professionalism of all participants. Two of my children were in the show, and it was nice to see how their hard work turned into something beautiful on the stage. I am very proud of them.
“I have been to multiple UAE CNY Galas in the past, but this year’s gala is especially good, because every performance is designed carefully to deliver Chinese culture and traditions. The performances spoke my mind, when it comes to how to present Chinese culture to a mixture of audiences. It set off a strong CNY atmosphere, which resonated with me deeply. Out of the 26 performances, poetry recital and Chinese traditional opera were two of my favourites.”