Would-be-patrons arrived at the entrance to the first annual Detroit China Festival, only to find that the venue was at capacity. Inside, things were no better. Ticketholders waited in long food lines, but were turned away when they finally reached the front — the stands had sold out. Joshua Chiatovich, a spokesperson for Detroit Chinatown LLC, the metro Detroit real estate company responsible for organizing the festival, says they hadn’t anticipated such a large turnout given the event was the first of its kind. “Anyone who went last year will tell you that there were some headaches,” he says.
This year, Detroit Chinatown is prepared. The festival plans to feature double the vendors and nearly three times the space of the inaugural festival. It will take place on Sept. 21 at Hart Plaza with a capacity of 40,000 people, compared to last year’s venue — Grand Circus Park — which holds about 1,000. When the public demanded expansion, organizers set their sights on answering with a vibrant carnival of Chinese culture. The entertainment roster is even amped-up with dance performances, live painting, and three hours of music from local and global performers — a choice meant to foster a community that transcends ethnicity and language through music. Entertainers include Pontiac-based rapper Gueringer the 13th and Chinese hip-hop artists Lil’ Bag and Don Dream, among others.
Perhaps most noteworthy is the presence of China’s first rap battle event, Iron Mic, launched in 2002 by a native Detroiter. Dana Burton moved from the Motor City, with its vibrant rap scene, to China — at the time a hip-hop desert, where the only rap to be found was American and listened to only by a small, scattered minority of youths. That is, until Burton brought them together with a small rap battle that would help precipitate a musical revolution in China. Today, Iron Mic is held annually in more than 30 Chinese cities. “This show was one of the first to do hip-hop in China, and it was because of a kid from Detroit.”
Detroit Chinatown hopes the incorporation of an Iron Mic battle will help mend a gap in intercultural communication. “When people think Chinese culture, they’re thinking about the 19th century,” he says. “We’re trying to show modern Chinese culture, and hip-hop is one of the fastest-growing genres in the country right now.”
Even with the myriad of exciting cultural music, Chiatovich says food will be the true showpiece. “Food and culture go hand-in-hand. You eat authentic food, and you can feel the culture behind it.” Authentic being the operative word. And with 22 local Chinese food vendors, the Detroit China Festival is the best place to discover the real stuff, like sushi from 168 KTV Bistro in Madison Heights and frozen treats from local pop-up Street Kings Rolled Ice Cream.
Whatever entices guests to attend — be it the food, the music, the chance to celebrate their culture or discover someone else’s — the Detroit China Festival aims to offer a meaningful experience that will appeal to all. “I hope attendees of both Asian and non-Asian descent realize how connected we really are. Once you learn about somebody’s culture, you realize human beings are human beings, and we have so much more in common than not.”
From Asian food to designer sneakers, here are a few noteworthy vendors at the Detroit China Festival
Authentic Chinese food abounds at this Madison Heights spot best known for its dim sum and hand-made Chinese noodles. 30120-30140 John R Rd., Madison Heights; 248-591-4092; noodletopiami.com
The café will be selling bubble teas at the festival, but you’ll have to visit their brick-and-mortar location in Ann Arbor for their other authentic Chinese goodies. 1213 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-213-3300
U.S.-based e-commerce brand Yamibuy offers an easy, reliable way to shop Asian goods — from Korean beauty products to Chinese electronics, tasty Japanese snack foods, and everything in between. yamibuy.com