Irish in China and St Patrick's Day
St Patrick's Day
March 17th is St. Patrick's Day - time to honor Ireland’s popular saint who is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Every March 17th, the Irish pay homage to St. Patrick by feasting on traditional Irish dishes, drinking green beer and holding parades, don’t forget your “Kiss me I’m Irish” button. The Chinese just don’t seem to want to play nice though, in Shanghai their parade has been cancelled.
Irish in China, Who Knew? There are many thousands of Irish expatriates living in China right now and they have a number of social and business organizations to represent them and help them in their activities in China.
Now there’s an unexpected party even if it doesn’t take place, a St Patrick’s Day parade in Shanghai has been deemed a threat to political stability in China. There has been an anonymous internet campaign to replicate the recent uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East in China and China wants nothing of the sort taking place in Shanghai.
Shanghai authorities objected to the prominent route, on a major street near a movie house, for the annual St. Patrick's Day parade planned for March 12. China is still an autocratic regime, tightly controlled from the top down and apparently the leaders are still afraid of the people. With a population exceeding 1.3 billion people they have a lot to be worried about. China has in recent years been something of a GDP miracle, lifting 600 million of her own people out of poverty while controlling inflation and keeping a lid on political expression.
So, what does that have to do with the Irish and St Patrick’s Day? The parade attracts thousands of visitors every year and is part of a four-day event. The parade would have marched move along Nanjing Donglu, Shanghai’s most famous street, which runs past People’s Square a spot mentioned in the internet campaign. The internet campaign asked people to take a stroll there as a sign of passive resistance. That was enough to make Chinese officials nervous. State authorities have begun restricting activities by foreigners in China and the St Patrick’s Day parade was caught in this clampdown. When Shanghai authorities objected to the parade route they told the organizers of the parade that it could go forward if they would use a “more modest” route. The organizers couldn’t rearrange at the last minute so the parade was cancelled. Meanwhile the Beijing St Patrick’s Day parade, due to be held on Sunday, March 20th, in Chaoyang Park, a few kilometers from the city centre, will go ahead as planned. It seems that the party congress is going on in Beijing at the same time, they will have lots of security forces on hand to deal with any dissension and it might be good to have dissidents a few miles away.
Irish in China
China has a small but vibrant Irish community and before the current clamp down the Irish had been the only international group allowed to parade in China. So what are the Irish doing in China? China started opening to the west in 1978 as Deng Xiaoping oversaw the radical reformation of the basis of the Chinese economy. Deng was recognized in the West as a great leader for moving China away from its Maoist past to a more capitalist system. When you match the new economy of China with the Chinese taking back sovereignty of Hong Kong from the British in 1997 you have all of the ingredients needed for the Irish businesses in China. The Irish are in China for the opportunity to make money but this time they’re not escaping a potato famine, they’re in China to sell and buy.
The Irish are not ones to leave their identity behind when in a new country so they brought their holidays with them and have formed cultural and business groups in China. Le Cheile in Shanghai, a group for Irish expatriates “is a nonprofit, multicultural organization that provides an opportunity for Irish and non-Irish people to make friends, learn about Irish culture, and develop a comfort zone in this big, bustling city.”
Irish businesses in China, first there is the Ireland China Association, “ a voluntary organization dedicated to the promotion of greater trade, economic and cultural links between Ireland and China.” Of course Cork and Shanghai have chosen to be twin cities with many cultural and business ties. “On May 19, 2005 the Shanghai People's Municipal Government and Cork City Council concluded a Sister City Agreement in Cork City Hall which provides a framework for co-operation projects between Cork and Shanghai to develop deep and long-lasting ties between the citizens and organizations of both cities” Then there’s always The Irish Network China (INC) is an Not-For-Profit organization whose aim is to promote and encourage exchange and understanding of business. There is also Internations connecting Irish and other expats living in China.