一条联系新加坡与中国友情的纽带 一个展现中华文化艺术风采的舞台 一次推广中华大地旅游观光的盛会

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A showcase of fine Chinese arts and culture, which was started to revive the festive atmosphere of Chinese New Year here, has become one of the most iconic annual events in Singapore.


In 2012, Spring in the City, which was held at three major shopping centres over a period of 48 days, attracted several million visits. It was one of four major events to mark the new year, and the only one driven by the private sector. The others – the Chingay Parade, River Hongbao and Chinatown Street Light Up – were organised by community organisations with the support of the government.


Spring in the City was established in 1994 by Golden Travel Services which specialises in tours to China. It was held at only one venue and for just 18 days then. It has since flourished and expanded in depth and scale.


Over the years, 104 performing and cultural groups from 24 provinces in China, and almost 1,000 master craftsmen and artists have participated in it.


The maestro of one of the longest cultural acts in Singapore is Madam Lin Deng Li who set up the 37-year-old travel company and is its chairman.


It was former Senior Minister of State Ch’ng Jit Koon who prompted her to launch the event.


In the 1990s, he noticed an erosion of traditional values and cultures within the Chinese community and expressed his concern. The Christmas season, he felt, had become too commercialised and widely celebrated, especially by the young. Chinese New Year and other traditional festivals in contrast, were neglected or even forsaken.


Singapore should revive the once lively atmosphere of Chinese New Year, he urged. His words resonated in the hearts of many.One of them was Madam Lin who took the bold step of organising Spring in the City.


Window to age-old arts

The event proved to be extremely meaningful to the largely Chinese-dominated society, as many of the age-old art forms it features are little known or even unknown to many here.


It became an implicit gesture to reconcile the young with their Chinese roots and values through a lively display of cultural symbols and content.


The event also offered a window for Singaporeans from other ethnic groups to take a peek into the diversity and robustness of Chinese culture and enhance their understanding. Tourists too, have been drawn by its sights and sounds, and the number of these visitors to the show has grown tremendously over the years.


More importantly, the annual event has offered many opportunities for local amateur performing groups to interact and share the stage with professional performing groups from China. As a result, the local groups gained valuable experience and expertise, giving impetus to the development of the arts and cultural scene here.


A fund-raising component was introduced in 1995, and the money raised has been distributed to many local charities.


Integrating arts and cultural components into its efforts to market its tours was a bold step by Golden Travel Services. The decision also mirrors a global trend in the industry of consciously combining cultural and heritage elements with travel products. Arts and culture have increasingly become key tools to draw tourists.


The efforts not only reflect in the balance sheets, but also win the hearts of many. Consequently, the experience stays in their minds for a very long time.


As something on the scale of Spring in the City had never been attempted before, it created a unique corporate image for Golden Travel Services.

 

Even China felt the impact

While the event introduced a richer view of China here, it has created significant and far-reaching impact on that country as well.


In the early days when travelling out of the country was difficult for mainland Chinese, the occasion was a rare and highly cherished platform for them as it put the participants into the international spotlight. They became pioneers in showcasing their talents in a foreign country. Many were grateful for the opportunity and exposure.


On top of that, some of the traditional art forms and heritage, which are not commonly seen even in China, garnered newfound interest and won widespread recognition at home and abroad.


Being a regular event held on a massive scale, Spring in the City has given  opportunities for many professional China performing groups to perform overseas and is a key driving force in broadening the influence of that country’s performing arts.


The event’s accompanying travel fair also helped highlight China’s tour services and prompted more people to visit the country.


The Chinese authorities have been highly appreciative of the effort and have increasingly lent support to the event by sending its officials to attend it regularly. This in turn has contributed to deepening bilateral relations.


Madam Lin’s work in keeping the event alive and thriving reflects her ties with the two countries – China, where she was born and Singapore, her adopted home.


The 63-year-old came to Singapore with the help of her uncle when she was 11 to join her grandmother here. Her mother and sister stayed home in China. She has since called Singapore her home. She has also kept in touch with her family in China by taking every opportunity to visit her relatives there.


But travelling was expensive, so the mother of five set up her own ticketing business, Golden Travel Services, in 1976.


Recognising the potential demand for travel in China, she began organising tours to the country about a decade later. Her company enjoys a good reputation both in Singapore and China.


Her good business acumen helped transform a modest travel agency into a growing business in the travel, education and medical industries. Her success, however, did little to quench her thirst to do more in an entirely different sphere that was linked to China.


Having been exposed since her childhood to some of the finest Chinese traditional arts and culture with their colorful compositions and meaningful motifs, Madam Lin was earnest in introducing Singapore to the arts which have appealed to her for many years.


Life-changing taxi ride

The first Spring in the City had its debut in conjunction with her agency’s travel fair during the Chinese New Year at Raffles City Shopping Centre in 1994. Over the years, it has also made its appearance at VivoCity and ION Orchard. It has also grown from an 18-day show to a seven-week event.


The S$600,000 bill for it each year is paid for by her company and several individual well wishers.


Among the first to perform here was the Xiamen Little White Heron Dancing Troupe from Fujian province where Madam Lin was born. The others included the Yunnan Performing Art Troupe and Shanghai Magician Group.


To cover her costs, Madam Lin sold off the entire stock of her wooden sculpture business. Still, the amount she raised fell short and she wondered if it was rational for her to carry on.


A taxi driver, whose cab she rode in, changed her mind.


The driver who did not know her spoke enthusiastically about the performances and handicrafts he had just seen at Spring in the City and urged her not to miss the event! While she uttered a simple “Thank you”, his words filled her with joy and the courage to continue.

Closing the door on the cab, she knew she had opened another for herself, one which offered her intangible returns she could not resist.


Year after year, Madam Lin made trips to negotiate with the various authorities in China to arrange for the craftsmen and performing troupes’ trips to Singapore. She travelled to all corners of the country, including such faraway places as Yulin City in Shanxi Province where direct transportation was not available then.


Madam Lin takes particular pride in the unusual offerings. They include traditional handicrafts such as olive seed carving, tri-coloured stone carving as well as traditional Chinese music, dance, opera, martial arts, acrobatics and magic shows.  


Along the way, a system was developed to shortlist potential master craftsmen, artists and performing troupes: She would include visits to see them in the itineraries of her tour groups to China. The opinions of her customers helped her decide who she would bring over.


To deepen the annual cultural exchange, she began to invite the performers, craftsmen and artists from China to perform in Singapore’s schools as well. It has offered the students a chance to appreciate Chinese arts and culture as well as hands-on experience in such age-old handicrafts as paper-cutting, and traditional arts like pottery and calligraphy.


A large number of young volunteers from both countries are also recruited each year to help with ushering and reception duties during the event. They provide a perfect platform for them to hone their bilingual skills and forge closer ties among themselves.


Cultural mission

Looking back, one can say Spring in the City was born out of a social need. It was hastily rolled out, disorganised in structure and vague in its goals. Still, over the years, the organising team, through the accumulation of experience and constructive suggestions, carved a niche for the event in the festive market.


Most importantly, it identified a clear mission and formulated a systematic approach to staging the event.


What began as a supplement to Madam Lin’s company’s travel fair, Spring in the City has expanded dramatically from a small showcase of 14 craftsmen and three performing troupes to a mega annual festive event it is today. The year 2013 will be the event’s 20th.


Along the way, its cultural leanings and mission have far outstripped its initial commercial component. A genuine appreciation and vivid presentation of Chinese cultural and artistic heritage have irrefutably become the event’s highlights.


Over the years, Madam Lin with her infectious energy has remained a staunch believer in the cause. She has also proven that obstacles are surmountable by sheer determination and dedication.


She said with justifiable pride: “Over the years, we have hosted numerous guest artists and master craftsmen who have been well acclimatised, never fallen ill and have all given their best.”


Ch’ng Jit Koon, who has been an adviser to Spring in the City, noted that with the recent increase in the number of new immigrants hailing from all provinces in China, the festive celebration has helped promote racial harmony and enable the newcomers to integrate into Singapore’s multiracial society.


He urged cultural groups to harness multimedia and breathe new life into age-old values, traditions and cultures. He also hoped to see the event featured in social media websites to further broaden its support and outreach.  


In February 2012, in his response to the Arts and Culture Strategic Review, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that it was best for Singapore’s arts landscape to develop through individual and community initiatives.


One of the recommendations of the review committee was that a ground-up, community-led approach to integrating arts and culture into people’s lives should be adopted.


Spring in the City is an embodiment of this aim. It is arts for the people, by the people. With growing support from the government, cultural groups and the community, hopefully this model of endeavour in arts and craft will be duplicated.


* Spring In The City 2016



Spring In The City:

20, and blossoming