Scotland/China news

New China visa centre opens

by Website Editor, 22 September 2012 (updated 9 August 2015)

A new China Visa Application Service Centre (CVASC) has opened in Edinburgh in response to the significant increase in applications for business and leisure travel to China. The new facility, in the city's West End business district, is initially expected to handle around 15,000 applications per year. However, this is anticipated to rise in the coming years, as business, cultural and education links between China and Scotland develop even further.

Speaking at the opening ceremony on 21 September, Mr Li Ruiyou, Consul-General of the People's Republic of China in Edinburgh, noted that his Consulate had been hard-pressed to cope with the "increasing workload of visa affairs and the shortage of office space". This has led to the new outsourcing arrangements, he explained, reflecting what happened at the London Embassy in 2008 and the Manchester Consulate-General in 2009. The outsourced system is in fact very similar to that operated by the British Embassy and Consulates in China for Chinese applicants for UK visas.

Left to right - at the opening ceremony, Consul General Li ; the service desks ; and Janice Dickson, SCA

Potential travellers should now make their applications via the CVASC, rather than directly to the Consulate, as was the case previously. Applications can be in person and by post, with different procedures for each service. In addition, the visa application form can be filled in online. Full details are provided on the Centre's new website. To note August 2015 - the Visa Centre has a new schedule of fees, please see their notice here.

It must be stressed, however, that final decisions on visa approvals will still be made by diplomatic staff at the Chinese Consulate-General.

The CVASC will be managed by China Bridge UK Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bank of China. This company already manages the similar centres in London and Manchester, as well as many others worldwide. Mr Winston Fang, General Manager of the Bank of China in the UK, said "we are very proud to have been chosen as a partner by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs", adding "we look forward to providing a better service to local applicants". The new centre has six service positions and a large waiting area, and the influence of banking customer service systems is very apparent in its design.

Welcoming the new centre, Mrs Janice Dickson, Chairman of the SCA, said that she looked forward "to a close working relationship" with CVASC, adding, "I sincerely hope it will be the best and most efficient centre in the UK".

See also here for a report on the Consulate's website.

China's Three Tenors reviewed

China's Three Tenors performed with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh on Friday, 3 August 2012. Many SCA members and friends were able to attend this event. The following review has kindly been written by our Vice President Eddie McGuire.

China’s Three Tenors in fine voice with RSNO - sparking the Festival fire in Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s festival season was launched in splendid style by China’s Three Tenors with a “Beijing Night” at the Usher Hall. Adding to the grandeur of the occasion was the full strength of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Martin Yates. World favourite arias from the great operas were matched by colourfully orchestrated songs from China’s folk and national traditions, as well as by arias by Chinese composers. And, in a tribute to Scotland, the tenors came on resplendent in their kilts for final encores !

From left to right - Wei Song, Warren Wah-lun Mok and Dai Yuqiang in full voice ; the Tenors with
the superb RSNO ; the Tenors in kilts ! (all photos courtesy of the producers)

The auspicious date was the sixth in an ambitious world tour that has already won accolades in Beijing, New York, Macau, Hong Kong and London.

Our home orchestra was not simply accompanying. The evening opened with a spirited rendition of Rossini’s ‘Barber of Seville’ overture. Other highlights for me included the solo moments closely accompanying the voice - from leader Maya Iwabuchi (in Puccini’s ‘Recondita armonia’) ; clarinettist John Cushing (in the folk song ‘The never Setting Sun’) ; oboist Katy Mackintosh (in the folk song ‘In that Distant Place’) and violas and cellos over hushed trombones with Dai Yuqiang in his Massenet aria.

Most memorable was the bravura opera style of the three tenors themselves, sustaining their power of delivery throughout the whole evening, even over full-blooded brass. The first half cleverly built gradually, with a series of solos from each singer. ‘Pourquoi me reveiller’ from Massenet’s opera ‘Werther’ was passionately sung by Dai Yuqiang, followed by Hong Kong born Warren Mok who gave a powerful performance of the tragic love song ‘La fleur que tu m’avais jet’ from Bizet’s opera ‘Carmen. Finally, Wei Song's first solo was a soaring ‘Vesti La Giubba’ from Leoncavallo’s ‘I Pagliacci’. Wei has become known as “China’s Pavarotti” and has performed on opera and concert stages worldwide.

Their solos in the second half of the concert were in the same order - powerful performances of arias by Puccini, Lehar and Verdi, the last of which presented Wei Song’s mastery of the Othello role.

Songs and arias - very well known in China - by six Chinese composers (Ao Chang Qun, Gu Jianfen, Qing Zhu, Chen Qigang, Tian Guang and Fu Jing) were given exemplary performances. However, the most exciting moments came in the trio ensembles for which the tenors are famous, in classics of Italian opera and songs by the Chinese composers. The evening was brought to a rousing conclusion by six of China’s most popular folk songs, including 'The Small Stream Flows' (Xiao He Tang Shui) - remarkable for the effect of its echoing voices.

Dipping its toes into Chinese traditional and classical orchestrations, the RSNO is setting the scene - and getting into the mood - for its epic journey to the East : its first ever tour of China starts in late December with concerts in Shenzhen, Beijing, Guangzhou, Tianjin and Macau.

Thanks to the Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism Development and related bodies for organising this Edinburgh concert and to all those locally who hosted it.

Background to the Three Tenors

Formed in 2011, ten years on from the original Three Tenors concert in Beijing, the trio comprises China's most celebrated tenors - Dai Yuqiang, Wei Song and Warren Wah-lun Mok. Their world tour began in October, with the premier concert in Beijing, followed by Hong Kong, Macau and New York. After Edinburgh they are performing in Freiburg and Cologne.

Dai Yuqiang was Luciano Pavarotti's first and only Chinese student, while Wei Song is known in the People's Republic as "China's Pavarotti" and is Vice-President of the Shanghai Opera House. Warren Wah-lun Mok, from Hong Kong, has a distinguished career as one of China's top opera singers as well as being Artistic Director of the Macau International Music Festival and Founder of Opera Hong Kong. This concert marks 25 years since his European debut.

The concert, A Beijing Night with China's Three Tenors, was sponsored by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism Development, for which the trio are ambassadors.

The repertoire for the concert, conducted by Martin Yates, included pieces from classic European operas such as Tosca, Carmen and Rigoletto, the works of contemporary composers from China, and a selection of traditional Chinese folk songs.

Background to the production

The Edinburgh concert, "Beijing Night", was organized by the Beijing Municipal Tourism Commission and produced by Beijing Mountain and Water International Media Planning Ltd. The company is one of China's modern cultural enterprises, with a wide international perspective and diverse multicultural values, and is committed to the appreciation of Chinese culture in Europe.

Mountain and Water brought China's original musical “Qingcheng” to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time in 2011, successfully hosting five performances and caused a sensation. Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, attended the premiere and described the show as "the classic representative of the oriental art and culture".

The artistic director and producer, Mr Xinli Lu, is a very experienced producer and a senior lecturer in the Central Academy of Drama. He was also responsible for the huge success of “Qingcheng” in Edinburgh in the 2011 Festival.

Miss Jiajia Li, the company's overseas liaison officer, worked with the International Office of the City of Edinburgh Council and the Consulate General of China to deliver the event, and she praised “the very full support we have received from our friends and partners in Edinburgh”. She added, “in the past two years, Mountain and Water has endeavoured to bring the most representative performances to Edinburgh so the Scottish audience can appreciate Chinese music and culture, and we are planning to bring more of the Chinese works to the city in the future”.

Du Benji brings Harmony to Confucius

by Website Editor, 10 August 2012

Master Du Benji, one of the most highly regarded calligraphers in China and best known for his "One World, One Dream" calligraphy for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, visited The Confucius Institute for Scotland in the University of Edinburgh on 9 August.

The event was part of Master Du's "World Harmony" tour, which has already taken exhibitions of his calligraphy to Los Angeles in April 2012 and London this month, to tie in with the 2012 Olympics. Master Du noted in his remarks that "we all have a duty to work together to make the world more harmonious and to overcome conflict", adding "I try to do this through my art".

Left to right - Du Benji demonstrates his calligraphy ; the VIP guests with Du Benji's Olympic Manifesto ; Du Benji presents a sample of his calligraphy to the Institute

Master Du was born in 1947, and as a student was greatly influenced by Xu Beihong, a grand master of calligraphy and painting in China who led the way in creating contemporary styles for these ancient traditional arts. Master Du now carries forward "the Spirit of Xu Beihong". The Du style of calligraphy is powerful, bold and vigorous, and draws on the traditions of the Su, Huang, Mi, Han and Wei styles of handwriting. He also incorporates Chinese and Western styles in his traditional Chinese paintings.

Master Du presented a copy of a unique 56m long version of the "Olympic Manifesto", for which he created the Chinese version, to The Scottish Government. Another copy has already been given to the British Library (and we hope this one might become part of the collection of the National Library of Scotland). This is the text originally drafted by Pierre de Coubertin outlining his vision for the revival of the Modern Olympic Games, and the book (seen in the first photo above) includes the text in French, English and now Chinese.

Master Du also delighted the audience with a short display of his unique combination of calligraphy and tai chi in the Institute gardens, before demonstrating his true art by creating superb calligraphy for the Institute, SCEN and the Consulate General.

Representatives of The Scottish Government, the Consulate General of the PRC, the Scotland China Education Network, the SCA, CBBC, and many friends of the Institute attended this fascinating event.

SCA visits Samye Ling monastery

by Fraser Newham, Glasgow branch

On 26 May 2012, sixteen SCA members enjoyed a trip to the Samye Ling Monastery in Dumfries and Galloway on our summer excursion.

We arrived at the monastery in time for lunch, where in return for a donation we could join the monks, residents and other visitors for a vegetarian meal in the monastery dining hall.

Photos courtesy of Inna Prorovner-Smullen

After lunch we had plenty of time to explore the well-kept monastery grounds and spin the prayer wheels. Samye Ling was the first Tibetan Buddhist Monastery to open in Europe - David Bowie went on retreat there in the 1970s.

Set in a peaceful valley, today the site itself is a unique blend of Tibetan and Scottish elements, including a large golden stupa, wandering peacocks, a Buddhist pet cemetery and what is believed to be the only stained glass window in any Tibetan Buddhist monastery anywhere in the world. We also had the chance to sit in on afternoon prayers in the main prayer hall.

As you can see from the pictures, in what has certainly been a wet summer we couldn’t have asked for better weather !

For more background about the monastery, see their website.

China at the Botanics

by Dale Finlayson, Edinburgh branch

On 12 June 2012, some 20 SCA members and friends met at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, for a look at some of the plants from China which can be found in this famous Scottish institution.

We were in the expert hands of horticulturalist Simon Crutchley, who oversees the Botanic’s Chinese Hillside and makes frequent visits to the Jade Dragon Field Station in Yunnan province. This is a conservation project run between the RBGE, the Kunming Institute of Botany and Lijiang Alpine and Plant Research Institute of Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Science, with which the Garden maintains a close working relationship.

Left to right - examining Paeonia Veitchii ; a sweep of blue poppies ; Simon on the blue poppies

We learned that an eighth of the world’s plant species – 31,000 - are to be found in China, and of these, half are in Yunnan. Many are now commonly found in Britain’s gardens, brought back by plant hunters who visited China in the 19th and 20th centuries, notably George Forrest from the Botanics.

The RBGE has a long association with China, beginning with plant collection and now focusing on the promotion of biodiversity, sustainability, and education – since the 1930s botanists from China have come to study at the Garden and continue to do so today as part of the RBGE's co-operation with institutes in Yunnan.

Beginning with a purple-flowering Paeonia veitchii on the Hillside, we moved down past numerous rhododendron, Himalayan birches, acers, bamboo, magnolia, primula, and the Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), once known only as a fossil until in 1944 it was found growing in China, and ending with the Garden’s spectacular display of blue poppies (Meconopsis grandis). Unfortunately, late spring frosts had killed off the buds of the Handkerchief tree (Davidia Involucrata), which should have been flowering during our visit.

After the walk, we adjourned to the Loon Fung Chinese Restaurant nearby for an eagerly anticipated meal – a deliciously satisfying end to the evening.