New cultural revolution arrives in Britain on a wave of creativity and confidence

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The Independent Online

Skyscrapers reach into the air above Shanghai, a symbol of emergent economic might. In Beijing, the "birds nest" stadium is woven into the urban landscape, serving notice of a sporting revolution. Yet China's astonishing domination of the world stage this year will have a third dimension, and it will be played out in Britain.

Chinese culture steps out of the shadows in 2008, reminding the world of its rich legacy of music, dance and visual arts. However, those expecting throwbacks to the Ming dynasty or totalitarian art will be disappointed. For the UK is about to be flooded by a new wave of creativity unlike anything it has seen before.

The Chinese New Year begins on 7 February, the start of the year of the rat. It will also mark the beginning of China Now, the UK's largest festival of Chinese culture, which will continue up to and after Olympics in August, with more than 800 events nationwide. As part of the festival, the organisers are staging China Art Now, a trail of work by new and established artists which will span the UK.

One of the artists featured is Cao Fei, who works in the virtual online world Second Life, where she has created RMB City, a fictional place named after the Chinese People's Currency (the renminbi or RMB), and a hybrid of communism, socialism and capitalism.

Highlighting a very different aspect of China, a sculpture trail will include works by Sui Jianguo, who has created two giant, bronze-cast Mao suits, which will be exhibited in public gardens across Britain. The head of the sculpture department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, Jianguo first realised the disappearing cultural significance of the Mao suit when he visited the birthplace of the Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen in Guangdong province in the summer of 1996.

China Art Now is also expected to feature a huge brontosaurus installation, inspired by Damien Hirst's animals in formaldehyde, by Xu Zhen, known as the maverick of the Chinese art world, to be situated outside London's Hayward Gallery.

And He An, a young artist who explores the contemporary environment of China, is creating four neon signs, which will be displayed on iconic buildings around Britain.

The sound artists Zhong Minjie, Yan Jun and Wang Changcun are creating installations at the Southbank Centre ballroom, bringing sounds from the streets, shops, bars and workplaces of modern China to London. At a number of locations, headphone trails will guide listeners through a Chinese soundscape in their local area. When, for example, they pass a school playground, they will hear sounds from a schoolyard in China.

Sadler's Wells, meanwhile, is staging a season of Chinese dance in May and June 2008. The dancer and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has teamed up with the artist Antony Gormley to create a piece inspired by the martial arts of the Buddhist monks from the Shaolin Temple.

Alistair Spalding, the chief executive and artistic director of Sadler's Wells, said: "The more I've worked with the Chinese, the more I realise how different we are as people. They've had this huge event in terms of the Cultural Revolution a huge weight over the creative process. They're just really coming out of that.

"In some areas of the arts, particularly the visual arts, they've really raced ahead; they've become quite avant-garde. Because it was so repressed, it's come out in quite an extreme way. China is going to be an absolute force."

China has a very strong classical dance tradition and the impresario Victor Hochhauser is bringing the National Ballet of China to Covent Garden for a week of performances including a new production of Swan Lake by Natalia Makarova and Raise The Red Lantern, based on the controversial 1991 film of the same name.

Hochhauser's China Season will also feature Acrobatic Swan Lake, a radical makeover of the ballet by the Guandong Acrobatic Company, which combines classical ballet with pole balancing, rope walking, and jumping through fire hoops.

The Liverpool Biennial, meanwhile, is working with the artist Ai Weiwei, who designed the Beijing Olympic stadium, on a proposal for an ambitious installation, which would consist of a giant spider's web, made of illuminated crystalline strands stretching across the city's Albert Dock.

There will also be a design spectacular, China Design Now, at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Zhang Hongxing, the co-curator of the exhibition summed up what 2008 will mean for his country. "Despite China's economic importance, its contemporary culture remains mysterious and remote in the West." Bringing it to the UK would, he added, present the world with "a more balanced and layered picture of contemporary China".

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