The doors of the Town Hall opened to the Chinese community in Portugal, who attended the ceremony that marked the arrival of the Chinese New Year. 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit, the fourth of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac.
Red is a colour associated with luck and prosperity in Chinese culture, and there was no lack of red in the ceremony: around the neck of all guests there was a red scarf, and the decorative elements present in the building were also that colour – the traditional Chinese lanterns gave a special touch, which was recorded in countless photographs taken with cell phones.
Surrounded by a small crowd, the mayor of Porto, Rui Moreira, and the ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Portugal, Zhao Bentang, watched from the access ramp to the Town Hall building to the show of the Dance of the Dragon, starring about 60 students from schools in Porto.
At the reception that followed, in the Noble Hall, there was a musical moment with Chinese instruments and traditional greetings. “By meeting here today at this celebration, we are praising the historical relations between Portugal and China and underlining the social, economic and cultural importance of the Chinese community in our city”, says the mayor of Porto.
Evoking the history that connects the two countries, and that began with “the landing of the explorer Jorge Álvares on the Island of Ling-Ting, in the Pearl River, in 1513”, the mayor described this event as “the beginning of a fruitful intercultural relationship between Portugal and China”. “Our country's first contact, and by extension the West, with the ancient Middle Kingdom provided an intense sharing of knowledge, techniques, experiences and cultures that enriched human history”, he added.
Sino-Portuguese relations have come a long way since then, recalled Rui Moreira: “We have seen a significant growth of the Chinese community in our country in recent decades. There are about 35,000 Chinese and Sino-Portuguese citizens living on the national territory. It is the tenth-largest foreign community in the country. In the North lives the second-largest Chinese community in Portugal. An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Chinese or Sino-Portuguese citizens reside in the region, which speaks well of the weight of this community in the northern social and economic fabric”.
“In Porto, the Chinese community began to settle in the Batalha area, starting in 1950”, recalled the mayor of Porto, noting that “today, the Chinese community is perfectly integrated in our city. It is a community that participates in the social, economic and cultural dynamics of Porto, contributing to the common good and actively exercising its citizenship. This full integration owes much to the Chow family and in particular to Commander Chow Horng Tzer, whom I would like to recall here today, a year after his passing.”
“It is to be hoped that the consolidation of the Chinese presence in Porto will give our city an even more relevant and consequential role in the framework of Sino-Portuguese cooperation”, said Rui Moreira, concluding with “I hope that the Year of the Rabbit, an animal that symbolizes patience and luck, will augur well for relations between Portugal and China, in the context of a geopolitical situation that is desirably less tense. Happy Chinese New Year! Xin nian kuai le!”
“Peace and Prosperity”
In an intervention in Mandarin, translated into Portuguese, the ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Portugal, Zhao Bentang, stressed the importance of the celebration: “This is the most important festival for the Chinese, it marks the arrival of spring”.
“Bilateral relations have progressed a lot”, the diplomat said, alluding to cooperation between Portugal and China. “There is a big potential to explore, in a relationship that has always been one of friendship”, added Zhao Bentang, giving as an example the collaboration between the authorities of the two countries in combating the pandemic.
“May the Year of the Rabbit bring peace and prosperity to the peoples of both countries”, concluded the ambassador, followed by an exchange of memories.
Before, on behalf of the Chinese community in Portugal, donations had been given to five social solidarity institutions in the city: Associação das Escolas Jesus, Maria, José (Associação do Monte Pedral); Associação dos Albergues Noturnos do Porto; CASA – Centro de Apoio ao Sem-Abrigo; AADID – Associação dos Amigos das Deficiências Intelectuais e Desenvolvimentais; and Soroptimist Internacional Clube do Porto Invicta.
“This is the first time that the Chinese New Year is marked in the Porto City Council, and we believe that it will not be the last. The Chinese community is well integrated in Porto", said the president of the Portuguese-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Y Ping Chow, citing the twinning of Porto with Chinese cities and territories: Shanghai, Shenzhen and Macau.
The solemn session was attended by the Minister of Health and former mayor of Porto, Manuel Pizarro, as well as members of the Executive, the Ombudsman of the Municipality, Maria José Azevedo, D. Duarte de Bragança, among other personalities.
The program of activities promoted by the Chinese community in Portugal to mark the arrival of the New Year included a dinner and a show alluding to the Year of the Rabbit, at the Teatro Municipal do Campo Alegre.