Every August, the city of Edinburgh in Scotland plays host to the greatest Arts Festival in the world. Launched just after the Second World War to try to renew cultural exchanges among all countries, victors and vanquished, it grew to become the biggest international festival of its type, covering every form of artistic endeavor.
This year, China played a prominent role in the official festival. Innovative theater director Lin Zhaohua laid on a production of the Shakespeare classic The Tragedy of Coriolanus featuring Pu Cunxin, Jing Hao, Li Zhen, and Fu Jia, with live music by two of China’s leading heavy metal bands – Miserable Faith and Suffocated. The event was one of the triumphs of the festival.
But Lin, Pu, and their colleagues were not the only Chinese troupe to be in Edinburgh this year. They were joined there by more than one hundred primary schoolchildren from the Beijing Young Cultural Ambassadors organization.
Over the years, alongside the official festival, an organization called The Fringe has grown up and flourished. It is a huge, sprawling, anarchic, unofficial festival featuring thousands of performances of all types by actors, singers, dancers and comedians from all over the world, hoping to make their mark.
Because it is unofficial, participants have to organize their own transport, their own accommodation, their own venue, and their own logistics. It represents an enormous effort at a time when Edinburgh is brimming with hundreds of thousands of extra visitors.
But the Beijing Young Cultural Ambassadors, and their Deputy Director Jiang Tao, were equal to the challenge, organizing their trip and putting on two festival performances for hundreds of spectators at Greyfriars Church and St Brides Church in the center of the city. The group spent a week in Edinburgh, staying on the campus of Heriot Watt University, enjoying cultural and tourist trips to historical sites such as Edinburgh Castle, and taking English lessons, as well as rehearsing and staging their own performances.
Founded in 2010, Beijing Young Cultural Ambassadors is an organization that takes talented Chinese children to perform at cultural events all around the world. They have already visited much of Eastern and Western Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Australasia. At the end of the Edinburgh trip some of the organizers were heading straight for America with another group of children.
In Edinburgh the Beijing Young Cultural Ambassadors were represented by Beijing Qinglongqiao Primary School, Beijing Petroleum Institute Attached Primary School and Beijing CuiWei Primary School.
Their group included brass and woodwind bands, and orchestras featuring traditional Chinese and Western instruments, performing a range of folk and modern music from China and around the world. There were singers performing in both English and Chinese, and dancers performing traditional, ethnic, and modern dance.
The theme of the performances was “Chinese Dream of Youth”, recalling the words of Liang Qichao, the great Chinese scholar and reformer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in his famous work Young China - "How beautiful, my young China! How powerful, my young Chinese people!"
Both the performances, at Greyfriars and at St Brides, were spectacular successes. The non-Chinese members of the audience were staggered by the quality of what they had seen from children of only primary school age. The audience gave them a standing ovation, and at Greyfriars Church the representative of the Edinburgh Council Department of Culture was so moved that he threw away his prepared speech and simply thanked the children for their performances from the bottom of his heart.
Meanwhile, the Chinese who attended could simply take quiet pride in the outstanding talent of their young compatriots, and the message they brought with them and left in Edinburgh: “We are China's youth, and its future. We embody the China Dream.”