An unusual spectacle took place in May 2019 as part of the Israel Festival in Chengdu. It was a week filled with blue-and-white cultural, musical and culinary events produced by the Israeli consulate in Chengdu.
The thousands of Chinese residents who came to the festival enjoyed a variety of activities. , Inspired by the beaches of Tel Aviv, the city’s main pedestrian mall was specially decorated. An Israeli DJ played music from Israel, blue and white cosmetics and technology were sold at stands, and chef Kobi Mizrahi prepared Israeli street food and distributed thousands of portions in exchange for shares on social media. At the height of the event, dozens of Chinese dancers performed a flashmob to the tune of Neta Barzilai’s song TOY, as a tribute to the Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv.
The festival received a great deal of attention on social media in China and significant exposure in the Chinese media. It was covered by China’s main news program, which is broadcast throughout the country. One and a half million Chinese registered as followers of the event page on the Weibo social network, which is the Chinese equivalent of Facebook.
A year later, China, like the rest of the world, experienced the Coronavirus, and many public activities, including those of the Israeli consulate in the city, encountered restrictions that made their existence difficult. “At first, the Chinese were a little skeptical when we asked them to hold the festival in 2020 as well, but when we showed them the adjustments for Corona that we would make, they wanted to,” says Ran Peleg, Consul General of Israel in Chengdu at the time. “For us, the very challenge was interesting.”
An award-winning branding digital campaign preceded the festival and gained tens of thousands of followers before it even began. Innovation workshops, food workshops and Krav Maga workshops were presented to the limited audience that was allowed to participate. In addition, a musical performance and a song written especially for Sichuan Province was performed virtually by artist and singer Gilad Segev from Israel, accompanied simultaneously by traditional Chinese musical instruments on a live stage in Chengdu. In-person sales of cosmetics and Israeli wine from the previous festival were replaced by a special sales evening of Israeli produce on Chinese shopping sites. In 2020, chefs from Israel could not attend, but two Israelis who operate restaurants in Chengdu gave cooking and tasting workshops of shakshuka and hamin.
Though Chinese tourists could not come to Israel during Corona, we decided to bring Israel to the Chinese, and we invited them to take a selfie at the Dead Sea and insert a prayer at the Western Wall. “Selfie booths” designed like the actual Israeli tourist sites were placed in malls and attracted thousands of visitors who uploaded their photos to social networks.
All told, 1.5 million Chinese viewers participated online on local networks. “There is a reluctance to initiate cultural and branding events in times of Corona, and it is certainly understandable,” says Peleg. “The restrictions make it difficult to achieve broad exposure, and the uncertainty poses a risk that at the last moment, everything will be canceled. But if you are willing to be flexible and choose content tailored to the preferences of the Chinese audience, you will find that even a hybrid or virtual event can arouse interest among surprisingly large audiences. This allowed us to hold the annual festival and serve a taste of the beautiful face of Israel, even in the year of Corona.”