How Scotland's growing connections with China and plans for 2019 will see the strengthening of cultural and economic links
The links between Scotland and China have seen steady growth over the past decade, aided in part by the arrival of giant panda Tian Tian and her mate Yang Guang in December 2011. Welcomed to Edinburgh Zoo on a 10-year loan and as part of a £2.6bn trade deal, the pair have since attracted visitors from all over the world hoping to catch a glimpse of the charismatic and rarely seen animal. At the time, it was noted that the loan '[symbolised] the great and growing friendship between Scotland and China' and this has only strengthened in recent years, as the number of Chinese visitors to the capital continues to increase.
The surge in tourists has been helped greatly by the recent announcement of the first ever direct flights from Scotland to China, which began in June, connecting the cities of Beijing and Edinburgh. With Edinburgh being second only to London as the most popular UK destination for Chinese tourists, the new route aims to build on the cultural and economic links already shared between the two countries.
As celebrations begin in early 2019 for Chinese New Year, undoubtedly the biggest and most significant of all the Chinese cultural holidays, tourist attractions, retailers and businesses are being encouraged to mark the occasion as part of a special campaign to make Edinburgh the UK's most China-friendly destination.
A major highlight of the programme, Edinburgh Zoo's spectacular Giant Lanterns of China (which continues throughout the Chinese New Year period) is back, following the success of the inaugural event, which attracted more than 83,000 visitors. This year's steel and silk sculptures, produced by artisans in Sichuan, will take visitors on a completely new nocturnal trail around the zoo, with over 450 handmade lanterns inspired by mythical creatures from Scottish and Chinese folklore including unicorns, faeries, bogles and the magnificent winged tiger.
'This year's Giant Lanterns of China event is set to be bigger and even more spectacular than ever,' says Barbara Smith, chief executive of RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. 'We're bringing to life a new myths and legends theme in an awe-inspiring nocturnal trail around the zoo, which features everything from Scotland's very own Nessie to a colossal phoenix from China.'
A commemoration of the new year according to the lunar calendar, Chinese New Year shares similarities with Christmas and Hogmanay in many ways, especially in its family focus, gifting traditions, decorative displays and huge fireworks extravaganza. This year, Edinburgh went all out in its celebrations, with prominent buildings and landmarks around the city being lit up in red to coincide with the start of the Year of the Dog. As we head into the Year of the Pig in 2019, businesses are being urged to up the ante as part of this industry-wide initiative, details of which will be revealed fully via The List and ETAG in February.