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Largest display of Chinese lanterns in Europe

Updated: Nov 18,2015 9:47 AM     

The setting could not be more English, but the celebration is quintessentially Chinese. Longleat is a vast rural estate in Wiltshire, southwestern England, and the site of a famous wild-animal park. Now, thanks to the efforts of artists from China’s Sichuan province, it is also the backdrop for the biggest Chinese lantern festival in all of Europe.

Hundreds of thousands of colorful Chinese lanterns have transformed Longleat into a glowing wonderland.

And the Festival of Light is not just about the lights. Among the extraordinary artworks is a five-meter-tall teapot set, a spectacular recreation of China’s famous Terracotta Army, and a 50-meter-long floating dragon boat.

The workers are using more than 18 kilometers of silk, 20 kilometers of LED lighting, and 76 tonnes of steel to create the spectacular glowing tableau.

Longleat House is one of the finest examples of architecture in the UK. Now, it is surrounded by a multitude of huge Chinese lanterns. And I am standing on a 50-meter long Chinese dragon boat. It is a very good example of Chinese culture here in the UK.

It took a team of 200 highly skilled craftsmen - from Zigong in Southwestern China’s Sichuan province - 100 days to finish the project. Zigong is renowned as the birthplace of Chinese lanterns and has been staging its own extravagant lantern festivals for more than 2,000 years.

“This year, the themes are China’s Qin Dynasty and Tang Dynasty, as well as Chinese ceramics, such as the big teapot set behind you. We also have Chinese folk tales, like ‘Journey to the West’, and Emperor Qianlong’s trips to the South. This year, the lanterns are closer to ordinary people, so they’re more familiar with it,” said Huang Dechun, Chinese lantern artist.

In addition to the lanterns, the tea set, and the dragon boat, the team are also constructing a twenty-metre-tall Porcelain Pagoda out of 80,000 porcelain cups, bowls, and plates.

“I think they are so skilled. I am so impressed by what they create. I don’t know how they begin to think of such wonderful things. It is wonderful to have the cultural exchange between China and Wiltshire in England. It is not what you expect - to have such a Chinese celebration in the middle of England’s countryside - which I think makes it even better. It is more exciting. It is something you won’t see everyday,” said Emma Macuiston, Lady Weymouth.

It is the second year of the Festival, following its great success last year in introducing British people to elements of Chinese culture.

“We are telling a lot of specific stories of Chinese culture, so there are Monkey King, or some aspect of the dynasties here, the Terracotta Warriors, so coming and seeing a lot of attractive things, but also learning something as well about another culture, and it has a certain authenticity to it, and our guests really respond to it,” said Bob Montgomery, chief executive, Longleat.

Along with all these Chinese elements, some lanterns will depict wild animals such as zebras, crocodiles, and giraffes. The festival will remain at Longleat until the New Year.