As a Chinese-American living in Texas, it has been quite a while since I have been to a decent Chinese New Year event. It has been at least 5 years since I have been around the loud, jolly and colorful event. This year, I had the opportunity to spend the year of the Rabbit in Paris, watching the Chinese New Year parade in the Quartier Chinois.
After I met up with some friends, we headed over to the round-about at Place d’Italie, and faced the southern end, where Avenue de Choisy feeds into the circle. As minutes passed by, we started hearing the distant sound of firecrackers. It was much longer as one smelled the sulphurous hint of the black-powder smoke.
Tensions mounted with the crowd control officers, as the parade approached the plaza.
The mouth of the Avenue quickly filled up with crowds, eager to catch a glimpse of the spectacle. As any good photographer, I wiggled my way through towards the center of the avenue where I could get the best shot without interference from the police officers.
The first sight that caught my attention was the leaders of the parade column. I had often seen Hong Kong flags, Chinese flags and American flags being carried with such parades, but the two French flags were a new sight for me. Within, it marked that I was truly in a different country observing a very similar culture.
The Quartier Chinois is distinctly different from any Chinatown in the UK or in the US. Vietnamese, Laotian, Thai, Cantonese and various Southeast Asian languages are used. This is a district that attracted many immigrants in the 70s and the 80s, many whom were evading the communist collapse of that region. Consequently, much of the inhabitants observe the holidays with their unique cultural background. As a Han Chinese, I am used to seeing a much more traditional Chinese outfits in this sort of a celebration. I was pleasantly surprised to see the different dresses and silver headwear from some of the minority cultures to lead this parade.
Many of the performing groups also consisted of those whom were not ethnically Far-East Asian. Despite their different cultural origins, who were connected to the Quartier Chinois community took part with music and dances in the lively event.
Some children dressed with the “Big-headed Buddha” face masks. These masks were traditionally worn with a costume where the “Buddha” would engage in lion dances to entertain the crowds.
A local Chinese school also appeared in the parade with the children reciting the “student rules” to the crowds.
As a group approached with the Chinese Imperial family and his officers, I quickly reckoned that they chose an ugly king. I suppose that goes to say that you can still have pretty wives as long as you are royalty.
A float passed by with the Monkey God and his minions. This character is from the book “The Journey to the West”. It accounts the journey of a Buddhist monk who journeys to India to obtain sacred texts. On his way, Buddha appoints the Monkey God, the Pig Monster and the Man-Eating Sand Monster as his disciples and bodyguards. The Monkey God had always been a good fighter and a smart being. Not only was the monkey king was able to summon his minions upon flicking his hairs, but his staff, was actually one of the Sea Emperor’s pillars in his palace. The Monkey God had escaped all sorts of heavenly punishment and even challenged Buddha that he could leap out of his hands easily. His challenge was ultimately faced with imprisonment under a mountain formed by Buddha’s hand. These three characters all ended up serving and protecting the monk to repay their sins towards mankind.
On one of the last parts of the parade, the Dragon dances passed by with two dragons chasing their pearls which they would unfortunately never catch.
The Parisian Chinese New Year parade was a delightful experience and it was amazing, that even this far away from home that I would be allowed to experience such a colorful and welcoming spectacle. This furthered my understanding on how amazing cultures can mix together. Once again, I reminded myself of the extraordinary possibility that the story of the Monkey God being told in French in a sleepy apartment on the 13th district later that evening. I look forward to more new experiences through my stay in Paris!
Photos and text by Secrets of Paris contributor Henry Chan