The colourful parade on Sunday, 18 February, led by the spectacular 175ft dragon, will follow its usual route from Albert Square to Chinatown for a fantastic firework finale against a background of ever-growing ties with the planet’s fastest developing economy.
But seventy years after Manchester’s first Chinese restaurant opened on Mosley Street, the city’s traditional celebrations to greet the Chinese New Year of the Dog will reflect economic and cultural links that dwarf the role of food, restaurants or even the UK’s second biggest Chinatown.
When the Ping Hong restaurant opened in 1948, China was still in the grip of civil war and Hong Kong was a colonial backwater recovering from years of Japanese occupation. But the late 1950s and 1960s saw a significant number of Chinese migrants coming to Manchester, mainly from the rural areas around Hong Kong as the city expanded.
Chinatown became firmly established, its restaurants gained national acclaim, and by 1986 the Consulate General for the People’s Republic of China was set up with the consular district covering not only Greater Manchester but also most of the north of England.
That same year Manchester and Wuhan formed one of the earliest Anglo-Chinese civic relationships, and in 1987 Chinatown’s magnificent pagoda arch was unveiled in Europe’s fourth largest Chinese community.
The arrival of the Consulate General was a landmark event. In the 30 years that have followed, Manchester’s links with China have gone from strength to strength, driven since 2013 by the the Manchester China Forum.
It was launched by former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in response to a report outlining the huge opportunities for Greater Manchester that increased commercial connectivity between Manchester and China could deliver.
The forum’s over-arching aim is to build strong, long-term, co-ordinated links between Manchester and China. Since its launch, it has received acclaim for helping to ensure that Manchester is equipped and ready for China’s continued global ascendancy.
Four-and-a-half years on from the Forum’s establishment, the city has seen tremendous progress in its engagement with China. Inward investment in to Manchester’s infrastructure from China has grown enormously and now totals over £3 billion.
Major projects include Beijing Construction and Engineering’s investment into Airport City, 500,000 square metres of planned commercial development on 160 acres of land to support logistics, offices, hotels, retail, food and beverage and advanced manufacturing markets. Airport City is a notable example of the power of Chinese capital to support UK infrastructure development.
In October 2015, the Manchester – China relationship was further deepened when President Xi Jinping visited the city, marking an unprecedented period of co-operation between the two nations.
This was the first time that a Chinese president had visited a city outside London, reflecting the growing links in the region and increasing the potential of the Northern Powerhouse as an engine for growth.
During President Xi’s visit a number of key announcements were made, the most significant heralding the launch of a direct Manchester to Beijing air route, creating true connectivity between the city region and China.
The link has had a major economic impact on Manchester and the north. UK export values from Manchester Airport have increased 265% to £200 million per month since the Hainan Airlines service started. The link has generated a visitor spend of £140 million in the region and Manchester’s inward investment pipeline has doubled in 12 months.
Existing flights to Beijing and Hong Kong have had a successful year at Manchester Airport with Cathay Pacific increasing its services to daily in December 2017 and Hainan Airlines operating daily throughout the summer months.
In 2017, the Manchester China Forum hosted over 30 senior political level visits. The University of Manchester’s Chinese student population is growing at twice the rate of the UK as a whole and the Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS) has had a record breaking year for China programmes.
The Forum has worked in partnership with Manchester Football Association to deliver a training programme to 57 senior level coaches from China and run training programmes for a number of large Chinese financial institutions such as the Agricultural Bank of China.
Chinese inward investment is also diversifying. Already strong in infrastructure and regeneration, increasingly Chinese companies are bringing innovative technology to Manchester.
During the summer of 2017, Mobike launched in Manchester, their first city outside Asia – an example of a Chinese firm recognising Manchester’s openness and as a test bed platform for innovative Chinese technology.
“Forging relationships with China is essential but complex,” said Rhys Whalley, the Forum’s executive director. “China is now a major global power but requires unique, long-term engagement and demands mutual understanding trust and respect. But Manchester is well-placed to build on existing ties and the direct air links are hugely important in this.”
So, in Mandarin Gong Xi Fa Cai. In Cantonese Gong Hey Fat Choy. Happy New Year of the Dog.