Posted by: brigid benson | January 22, 2012

Enter the dragon

Chinese new year 2012   Europe’s oldest & smallest Chinese community   Europe’s largest Chinese arch 

Europe's largest Chinese arch, Liverpool

Liverpool’s chinatown is the oldest and smallest in Europe, born out of  historic associations with the far east through shipping. At the height of the international trade between east and west, Liverpool became a temporary home for hundreds of Chinese seamen, many of whom, after repeated visits to the port, decided to make their home in northwest England.  The city is twinned with Shanghai and trade links are burgeoning once more. Chinese new year is celebrated with gusto in the city; it’s a loud, thrilling spectacle. Here’s a taste of the drama. As ever, the modest pictures are taken on the trusty camera of my phone.

Dispensing with the Year of the Rabbit, the Year of the Dragon begins on Monday January 23.

Enter the dragon

The celebrations retell the ancient story of how Chinese peasants were terrorised by a fearsome mythical beast marauding in their village.  The action takes place in the heart of Chinatown, where there are murals on the wall and bilingual signs.

Telling the story of the port in pictures

Historic maritime streets with bilingual names

Local pub

And in translation...

As people gathered to welcome the year of the dragon,  street vendors were selling these wonderful puppets.

Pet dragons

Chinatown parking meter

Chinatown security grille

Visitors invited to share fortune cookies

The scene is set

Local businesses remember how the lion came down from the mountain to chase away marauding bad spirits. Shops, restaurants and Chinese supermarkets hang lettuces, to symbolise good health, energy and luck, alongside tangerines which represent prosperity. A small red envelope contains a financial reward for the tireless martial arts experts and dancers who dance within the costume of the lion for hours.

Rewards to be collected by the lion after chasing away the bad spirits

Heralding the arrival of the lion

The lions arrive to the sound of banging pots and pans used to scare away bad spirits

After a tirade of ear splitting rip roaring firecrackers the lion steps up to claim his reward

The restaurant owners give thanks to the lion and wish everyone a happy new year

It takes a full afternoon for the dragon to chase the bad spirits along the street, dancing to gong, cymbals and drums as he goes. Claiming lettuces, tangerines and red envelopes along the way. He is welcomed everywhere, bringing new year prosperity and good luck.

Which animal represents the year of your birth?

I am always astonished by the extreme physical effort it takes to achieve the new year celebrations, the lion dancers are supremely fit and agile. Here are some of the behind-the-scenes preparations.

Lion head awaiting the dancers

Great trousers- these become the lion's legs

And here's the lion's lettuce reward for freeing everyone of the bad spirits

Climbing into the costume, moving like a lion

While two dragons served the businesses, this pair danced magnificently to entertain the crowds

Souvenirs of a fantastic day out

Liverpool's Chinese arch, late on a chilly January afternoon




  1. Fantastic reportage Brigid. It looks like you were right in there behind the scenes! I had no idea the Liverpool celebrations were so big! Thank you for sharing it.

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