by Juhani Niinisto
HELSINKI, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- A key ceremonial segment of Helsinki was converted on Monday night into a "cultural China world" in a joint celebration of the Chinese New Year by the cities of Helsinki and Beijing and the Finland-China Society.
This was the 13th time that the Chinese New Year has been celebrated out in the open in the Finnish capital, with emphasis on the outreach to Finnish population. This year the event occupied the prestigious Civic Square opposite the parliament building.
Pang Wei, deputy director of Beijing's Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism and head of the Chinese delegation for the event, described the the evening as exchange of heart and feelings.
Talking to Xinhua, she noted that although it is really cold outside, the people are showing the passion. "They really appreciate Chinese culture".
With the clock approaching six p.m. in Helsinki, or midnight in Beijing, Jan Vapaavuori, mayor of Helsinki, and Chen Li, Chinese Ambassador to Finland, addressed the crowds.
Chen noted that the square the event took place is called "People's square". It represents the fact that Chinese new year is not only a traditional festival for the Chinese, but also an urban festival for the city of Helsinki.
Chen recalled the recent visit to China by Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and the joint action plan approved. He noted in particular the ongoing winter sports year of China and Finland.
Vapaavuori said the Chinese New Year celebration brings joy and life to wintery Helsinki. "It is always a happy event. Since its first edition it has grown into a major event."
The program at the Civic Square included, among others, Kun opera, dancing, musical performance and Chinese martial arts.
CHINESE PICKED UP AT EARLY AGE
Among the many small exhibits offered as part of the event, Jenny Law, the co-owner of a new day care operation "Little heroes", told Xinhua their day care center offers tuition in mandarin, although the main language is English.
She believed they are the first day care center to offer Chinese. They have children between the ages of one and five.
The Helsinki public primary school system is offering Chinese now as one of nine languages from the first school year.
Delegation head Pang said she had been particularly delighted with a special performance arranged on Monday morning for pre-school age children. "We had 3-to-5 year olds watching the program. I am really happy they start learning Chinese culture at an early age".
The Finland-China Society has been an organizer of the Chinese New Year in Finland from the start.
Enthusiast Leena Vilponen had traveled to Helsinki for the event from the west coast town of Pori. She said it is the Chinese culture that attracts her, adding that the local chapter of the society in Pori has been arranging its own New Year events as well.
HARD-WORKING CHINESE POPULAR IN FINLAND
This year's event was preceded by Finnish media focus on the popularity of the Chinese immigrants have gained and also maintained in Finland in recent years.
In a large feature, Sami Sillanpaa, a correspondent at Helsingin Sanomat, noted that while attitudes towards immigrants in Finland have hardened in general in recent years, the Chinese have maintained their good reputation.
"They give their contribution to society and do not cause problems. That is just what is expected from the newcomers," Sillanpaa wrote.
Pang said she had not heard about that discussion but said that evening during a short visit she could see that Finns and Chinese get on well.
At the end of 2017, there were 12,000 Chinese speakers in Finland, including Cantonese speakers as well. Chinese are the fourth largest foreign ethnic group in Finland.