The Chinese zodiac comprises 12 animals, each of which represents a year in a 12-year cycle. The first animal in the cycle is the Rat. Hence the Year of the Rat is seen as the beginning of a new era.
It just so happens that the Year of the Rat next falls in 2020. And by happy coincidence, certainly as far as the West Midlands is concerned, it's also the year in which our region is set to mark a new era of friendship with China.
Members of the Chinese Community Centre - Birmingham, Birmingham China Business Forum and Birmingham Business Focus have come together to create a planning group to organise China West Midlands 2020 (CWM 2020), an exciting initiative aimed at deepening ties with the Middle Kingdom.
The group unveiled its thinking at a well-attended launch event at Birmingham Hippodrome on Thursday, 23 November (2017).
Ideas and projects for CWM 2020 begin now, with activities featuring a range of arts, cultural, sports, education and business events running through 2018 and 2019, culminating with a year-long festival throughout 2020, aimed at celebrating and deepening the connections between the region and China.
There is indeed much to celebrate.
Whilst CWM 2020 will go beyond trade and commerce, it’s important to acknowledge that more than a quarter of the UK’s exports (valued at £3.3bn) to China is from the West Midlands, making us by far the largest exporting region to the Middle Kingdom.
We’re also the fourth largest importing region (valued at £3.5bn) behind London, the South East and North West. Put those two figures alongside each other and you get an enviable trade balance.
Good trading relationships like this are built on trust and friendship, making initiatives like China West Midlands 2020 incredibly important.
Anyone who consumes Chinese news may have noticed that when it comes to international relations Beijing always places a strong emphasis deepening cultural and science ties as well as trade. It’s a refreshingly holistic approach. Whilst we in the West talk about competition, the Chinese promote collaboration.
The organisers of China West Midlands 2020 are very much in tune with this.
Last Thursday’s launch event at Birmingham Hippodrome began with a performance from Modern Warrior, a mesmerising martial arts-inspired dance by Rosie Kay in which “mods” are pitched against “trads”. Modern Warrior debuted in Birmingham earlier this autumn and is set to be developed further as part of CWM 2020. The next showing of Modern Warriors will be during the Chinese New Year celebrations in Southside, Birmingham, in February 2018.
We also heard from Dr Yeow Poon, of the Chinese Community Centre in Birmingham and England China Business Forum, who spoke eloquently about working to bring together all communities across the West Midlands. He said there was an opportunity for people across business, arts, sports, education and other areas of interest to get involved and play a part with events, in order to create a deeper understanding and mutual prosperity.
Professor Julian Lloyd Weber, Principal of Birmingham Conservatoire, gave a keynote speech on the contribution made by Chinese students and the arts, highlighting the exciting opportunity to learn from each other.
His point was beautifully illustrated by guest speaker Xiao Di, a renowned Chinese pianist, who spoke about her route out of poverty in South China to life as a professional international musician. She gave a moving but inspiring account of her parents’ personal sacrifices, which were made to ensure she had an opportunity to learn piano.
Xiao Di’s story was truly enlightening and personal tales like this are bound to play an important role in bringing China West Midlands 2020 to life, promoting understanding and friendship across cultures. At the end of the day, it will be very much about people.
More information about the exciting China West Midlands 2020 can be found here. Whether you’re in Wolverhampton or Weoley Castle, Halesowen or Harborne, there is something here for everyone. I’m informed CWM 2020 will have further announcements in the coming months.
And if the launch is anything to go by, we can expect some very impressive events, which are guaranteed to entertain, engage and inspire. Watch this space.
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