SANTIAGO – The International Chinese Lantern Festival has arrived in Chile for its first exhibition in Latin America and is offering an “island of peace” to visitors amid the ongoing social upheaval in the country.
Situated in Santiago’s northwestern Quinta Normal district, the festival is attracting crowds with thousands of colorful lanterns shaped like dragons, swans, water lilies and other symbols of the Chinese culture.
“We want to bring Chinese culture to Chileans, that is why we have made a big investment,” Jin Li, president of the manufacturer Cutralco, the main organizer of the event, told EFE.
The festival, called Fesiluz in Spanish, which will be open to visitors for the entire Chinese festive season until Feb. 28, is spread over 20 hectares (50 acres) in the Parque de la Familia, next to the Mapocho river.
Apart from large light installations, the fair also offers Chinese and local delicacies, while an impressive stage displays dazzling plays of light during sunset.
Sunilda Ramos, who was visiting Fesiluz with her mother and children, praised the “family” environment and said the festival had become “an island of peace and tranquility.”
“My children are awestruck with the lights, they have never seen anything like this,” Ramos told EFE, while crossing a bridge in the park, which offers a chance to admire the massive scale of the installations.
Next to her, young Camila Bello highlighted the “need to stop thinking about the social crisis” which Chile has witnessed during the last six weeks.
“I was lucky to visit China for studies and work and I believe the installations give a good idea of how the country is,” Bello said.
Abel Baeza said she had wanted to bring her daughter to the event so she could know more about the Chinese culture and its symbols, such as the imposing 64-meter long dragon statue, made of white, pink and purple lights.
Baeza, who lives in central Santiago, said when she crossed the park’s entrance, it felt like “traveling to another country and for a few hours escape the violent scenes” outside on the streets of the Chilean capital.
Jorge Ribera, one of the directors of Fesiluz, said the “festival brings China closer to many Chileans who would never be able to visit there.”
He said that “absolutely all” the installations had been brought from China and even the 80-member team that set the exhibition up had traveled from the Asian country.
Cultralco, along with the governments of China and Chile, was set to inaugurate the festival on Nov. 1, considered a good time ahead of the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit and COP25 (United Nations Climate Change), which Chile was set to host in November and December respectively.
However, the government of Chile decided to cancel both events for security reasons, after massive protests broke out in the country on Oct. 18, demanding better social security and the resignation of President Sebastian Piñera.
Thus, a planned visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the lantern festival had to be canceled and its opening was postponed to Nov. 28.
“Now the people are afraid, scared of going out after sunset, but we are trusting word-of-mouth publicity and hoping for the situation to improve,” Cutralco head Jin Li said.
Although China is the biggest trade partner of Chile – being both the biggest export market and source of imports for the Latin American country – not much is known locally about Chinese rituals and traditions.
“The Chinese community here has grown sharply in the last decade. This event also aims to commemorate 50 years of the beginning of bilateral relations between the two countries,” Ribera said.
Qiu Hong Wang, one of the traders selling her products at one of the stalls in Fesiluz, has especially traveled to Chile for the event.
The Chinese woman, who is selling stuffed toys with Chinese symbols and other products such as umbrellas and necklaces, seemed happy with the visitors, who appeared “kind and affectionate” and showed interest in her products even though she cannot speak Spanish.
“I understand and respect the situation in the country, because I know that each country has its own problems, but I hope things would improve with each day,” Qiu said.