Beijing wheels out soft power for ‘Millennial Road’ gala performance

Executive director of Beijing Olympics ceremonies showcases the spectrum of Chinese culture – and beyond

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 May, 2017, 4:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 May, 2017, 4:07pm

All eyes were on China for its biggest diplomatic event of the year – the Belt and Road Initiative summit – where leaders hoped to win over nations by wielding Beijing’s soft power alongside its display of political and economic clout.

The two-day summit kicked off with an evening banquet on Sunday, welcoming heads of state from 29 countries and representatives from over 80 others with colourful performances of Chinese culture at Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts.

With president Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan seated in the front row next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the show featured the time-honoured Kunqu opera classic The Palace of Eternal Youth, a performance of the nationalistic soprano I Love You, China, and music from Dream of the Red Chamber – a television series based on one of China’s Four Great Classic Novels.

Check out our visual explainer of the five main projects of China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Performances were set against backdrops of some of China’s most beloved locales, from Hangzhou’s West Lake to Beijing’s Summer Palace. Sun Wukong, the mythical monkey king from the 16th century epic Journey to the West, even made an appearance.

International elements were also woven into the performances, such as Western ballet and the famed Italian song ‘O sole mio.

Reflecting China’s desire to shine at this summit, the evening show – dubbed Millennial Road – required about half a year’s preparation, and was directed by Chen Weiya, who was executive director of the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony,China Youth Daily reported.

More than 700 performers and a support staff of more than 1,300 were deployed for the show. Even the venue had five alternating colours deployed on its façade, compared to the usual three, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

“There are too many aspects of Chinese culture that can be shown,” Chen was quoted as saying.

The concept for the show reflected both “millennial” as a time concept, to underscore the historical roots of the idea of a modern Silk Road, as well as the promise of the initiative for participating countries.