China’s tropical paradise Nanning - an Indian experience (Letter from China) (With Images)

November 9th, 2008 - 10:56 am ICT by IANS  

Nanning (China), Nov 9 (IANS) Flowers in full bloom, gushing streams, impeccable city planning, not to mention outstanding hospitality to tourists - the city of Nanning is an example of how every modern city should be like.Nanning is situated in the southern Guangxi district of China, and it received the prestigious UN Habitat Scroll of Honour award earlier this month.

Nanning played host to the China - Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Expo 2008 as well as the Nanning International Folk Song and Arts Festival this year in the penultimate week of October. During the period, tourists and artistes from various countries across the globe flocked to this modest town in southern China for a taste of ‘authentic cultures’.

Artistes from 26 countries, including India, the Philippines, Myanmar, South Korea, Austria, Italy, Tunisia, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Brazil performed their native art forms in various parts of the city as part of the festival.

As part of a troupe of Bharatanatyam dancers from India, I was amazed to see the warmth extended to us - overcoming any disparity in language, customs or food.

Over a span of one week, artistes from each country performed at three stages in different districts and county of Nanning.

Our troupe became especially famous. The traditional gold jewellery, inlayed with coloured stones also referred to as ‘temple jewellery’ caught the attention of many a tourists and city dwellers, who tottered around us for photo ops.

Teachers of art forms in India are deeply revered by disciples. So before every performance, when we bowed before our Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan to seek her blessing, organisers and fellow artistes seemed pleasantly surprised.

“We had heard of such tradition, but did not know it was practised today!” said Jean-Luc, a blues singer from Italy.

What was striking was that audiences here don’t clap to applaud performances. Appreciation is shown no less though - they use clappers (made of plastic) resembling baby toys, whistles and shine torchlights in unison.

A fellow artiste from a Brazilian band commented: “Even their audiences are organised”.

My group comprising our teacher and six other dancers had the opportunity of performing in some of the most beautiful counties in Nanning, Mashan and Wumming. Along the way, the landscape was a sight to behold.

Dotted with blue, red and yellow flowers in full bloom the tropical forests in Nanning are laced with gushing streams of clear water.

Hues of rich greens translate into earth-coloured gorges and hillocks. Even the inter-city tollbooths are decorated with nature’s garnish - creepers and potted flower plants mark the lanes at the toll junctures.

The opening night of the festival was held at the Nanning Folk Song Square where folk singers and famed pop artistes from China, Taiwan and Vietnam performed. The night was organised to pinpoint precision - security was top notch, disaster and crowd management teams were on a stand by to manage the crowd that exceeds more than 100,000 each year.

The extravagant set design and lighting along with fireworks entertained the crowds that eagerly wait for this time of the year for such festivities.

The most interesting performances were of the Zhuang folk singers. Their high-pitched notes and dramatic style of singing may appear queer to an outsider like me, accustomed to different rhythm-based folk music, but the shining torches and whistles in the stadium were testimony to the popularity of the music.

Thirty-five ethnic groups live in compact communities in Nanning, including people of Zhuang, Han, Yao, Hui, Miao, Dong, and Man minorities. Among these groups the Zhuang people make up 56.3 percent of the total population of 6.48 million.

Although traders and shopkeepers manage to speak in broken English, a majority of the inhabitants of this quaint town hardly speak anything but Chinese.

There is little serious ethnic tension because most of these urbanised ethnic minorities are indistinguishable from China’s majority Han ethnic group.

An interesting concept surfaced during discussion with organisers and folk singers. The Zhuang people, who mainly reside on hillsides or mountaintops, have an intriguing way of communicating.

“In earlier times, men and women would sing their messages in high pitched voices. The rivers and the winds would carry the message forward,” our interpreter Zhu Zikaye informed.

The people of Nanning regard nature and specially water with great respect. In fact, many of the folk songs here have verses speaking of the glory of love being compared to the smooth flowing nature of rivers and waterfalls.

Formerly an essentially commercial and administrative centre, Nanning from 1949 experienced industrial growth. The city is surrounded by a fertile agricultural region producing subtropical fruits and sugarcane; food processing, flour milling, sugar refining, meatpacking, and leather manufacture are important in the city.

The city has played host to the arts festival each year since 2002 and has previously hosted the China Asean Expo in 2006.

The vice mayor of the city, Xiao Yingzi expressed the need for more cultural exchange on such platforms, and said:

“Each year we see a new aspect of the world in this festival. I hope the exchange of cultures amid nations continues to grow in the future.”

(Shweta Srinivasan can be contacted at

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