Friday, September 28 began gloriously. Suzhou was bathed in beautiful sunlight – a good omen for the opening day of the 2001 Suzhou China International Silk Festival that would last for three days. The city had been preparing itself for months for this event, which coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival as well as the 52nd Anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China on October 1. This, coupled with the APEC Conference that took place here a few days ago, has turned Suzhou into a city of thousands of potted plants and flowers. The place was adorned with festoons of myriad of colored ribbons and balloons. At night the lovely moon was overshadowed by the display of fireworks. Suzhou presented itself in all its glory.
The organizing committee sent out their invitations to the various local as well as foreign businessmen for the event. Among the honored guests included major investors, heads of big international companies and spouses as well as diplomatic corps from Shanghai. The Expatriates Association of Suzhou received twenty invitations through the Tai Tai Club. Any couple interested to take part could sign up and participate in the event.
At the Economy & Trade Mansion we were given a red identification badge before being ushered into the VIP room to await a coach that would take us to the Sheraton. There we would be treated to a buffet reception and to meet the Mayor, his deputy and the Municipal team. The banquet hall seemed smaller than usual that evening as the 280 guests began to arrive and fill up the room. The majority of the guests were Japanese, followed closely by the Taiwanese and Singaporean investors. Once in a while one could detect a Western face. The buffet tables were beautifully decorated with fruit and flowers. One of the centerpieces was a graceful swan carved from ice. Every table was groaning with food, both western and Chinese.
After the Foreign Affairs General Director, Mr. Zhang Li Cheng made a short introduction, the Suzhou Mayor, Mr. Yang Weize, gave a short speech to welcome the guests and to thank them for their assistance in making Suzhou one of the most developed industrialized cities in China.
Later we were taken to the International Conference & Exhibition Center for the Opening Ceremony of the Silk Festival. The road from the Sheraton to the Exhibition Center was cleared of all traffic.
Lining the entrance to the hall were men and women drummers in their red, yellow and black costumes with drums slinging on their shoulders, beating away in welcome. A large crowd of spectators milled the area that was cordoned off to make way for the invitees. Above the main gate was a huge red banner with an inscription both in Chinese and English, proclaiming “2001 China International Silk Festival Suzhou”.
The first thing that attracted our attention were well-known models in their elegant silk gowns sitting on the stairs – their heads covered by frilly headwear. Some were clad in beautiful silk evening dresses of lovely blue, emerald green and white. On the front of their dresses were beautiful embroidered flowers. A few stood on the steps, wearing their traditional costumes from various regions. They held baskets in their hands. It was indeed a lovely sight that could take your breath away.
The hall where the fashion show was to take place is huge. Chairs were arranged in semi circular rows to enable the guests to have a clear view of the stage and the catwalk. A big screen was illuminated with green, blue and yellow lights – obviously the most modern lighting technique was applied. On the right hand side of the screen was a placard, displaying names of the three sponsors, i.e. Suzhou Municipal Government, Association of the China Textile Industry and China Silk Industry Co.
During the opening ceremony, the Mayor mentioned that the Silk Festival has been held in Suzhou since 1990. The purpose is to emphasize the importance of silk as trade as well as to promote Chinese culture. He went on to say that silk was discovered in China and has been known in the country since Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD). In addition one of the most famous institutes, specializing in silk production and embroidery is situated in Suzhou whose reputation is well known throughout the world. After the sponsors’ review of silk industry in the country, the Festival was declared opened.
The fashion show began with a group of models displaying lovely silk fabrics in various shades of turquoise blue. Then came a parade of models in elegant ball gowns of different hues. The most impressive of all was the Kingdom of dress and headwear, followed by an exhibition of ancient Chinese costumes worn by the emperors and empresses of the various dynasties. The shapes and sizes of the headgear were remarkable and received a positive response. Then there was a show of fashionable and classical dresses by renowned designers. To give a change of pace and atmosphere, there was a grand soiree of singing and dancing, followed by a performance of acrobatics of leaping, bouncing and prancing figures around the stage and along the catwalk. Another interesting theme was a performance of martial arts of the Shaolin Monastery where “Damo”, one of the monks started with boxing and developed it into an intense variety of styles.
The show ended with singing of popular Chinese songs by the famous female singer, Miss Mao A’Min. The opening ceremony was indeed a great success and everyone involved deserved a big applause for their relentless efforts.