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Spotlight: Rio's elite samba school presents Silk Road theme at carnival

  RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- This year's Rio de Janeiro Carnival celebrations paid special homage to China, as award-winning samba school Imperio Serrano presented "The Empire of Samba on the China Route."

  The traditional parade of top samba schools concluded early Tuesday after two nights of spectacular shows and floats paraded by a wildly cheering audience of 60,000 at Rio's iconic square Sambadrome.

  Warriors in red garb armed with bamboo spears performed a type of Kung Fu dance with a carefully choreographed martial arts-style routine, mounted on an allegorical float resembling an ancient Chinese pagoda which announced "China has arrived."

  Subsequent floats featured Chinese cultural icons, such as a golden dragon, a Buddha seated on a lotus flower, a giant red fan, and even the Great Wall of China.

  The procession of floats paid tribute to the range of contributions China's millennial civilization made to the world throughout the history of the Silk Road.

  China's 2016 Miss Universe contestant, Li Zhenying, flew 30 hours from the Chinese city of Shanghai to take part in the singular event.

  "I feel the samba mood of the Brazilians, a mood that runs in their blood, like their love of Chinese culture. It's an unforgettable experience for me," Li told Xinhua as she climbed down from the final float dedicated to the Chinese Lunar New Year.

  Li said she hoped to make the most of her trip by learning more about the Brazilian culture while promoting her own among Brazilians.

  Jia Yawen, a Brazilian of Chinese descent who also took part in the school's tribute to the Asian nation, said she was delighted to play a role in the homage to her ancestral country of origin.

  "I'm Brazilian, but Chinese blood runs through my veins. This year's Rio de Janeiro Carnival celebrates Chinese culture, which makes me very proud," said Jia, who donned an elaborate costume reminiscent of the armor worn by Zhou Dynasty warriors, and had the flags of both countries painted on her face.

  Jia is studying Chinese and plans to take the language proficiency test at the local Confucius Institute to validate her level so she can eventually get a Chinese-related job.

  There are as many as 200 samba schools in Rio, but only the top 24 get to parade through the samba square Sambadrome.

  Imperio Serrano, one of the elite samba schools, has been around for more than 70 years and excels at wowing the crowds with its creativity and talent, proven yet again this year.

  The school's president, Vera Lucia Correa de Souza, told Xinhua that the two countries have long-running ties which have continued to grow since "the first Chinese came to Brazil to plant tea some 200 years ago."

  Rio's Madureira district, where the school is located, is home to numerous Chinese merchants, which inspired this year's theme, said De Souza.

  Fabio Ricardo, the school's artistic director, said he researched the theme well in order to design the captivating floats.

  "As I have never been to China, I studied a lot at the library. I discovered that China is a country with more than 5,000 years of history," said Ricardo, adding that the abundance of historic highlights made it a challenge to decide what to focus on.

  "That was tough! But when I realized the Belt & Road Initiative springs from the ancient Silk Road, I decided to use the concept as the main thread of our presentations," said Ricardo.

  Once Brazil's Chinese community found out China was going to feature at the carnival, it was encouraged to take a part.

  Wang Junxiao, president of the Brazilian Association for the Reunification of China, and other prominent members of the community, arrived at the Sambadrome aboard the float dedicated to the Great Wall.

  "I generally have too much work in Brazil to take part in recreational events. But this year, I think it's a great opportunity to spread our culture among Brazilians," said Wang.

  China's ambassador to Brazil, Li Jinzhang, underscored the importance of cultural exchange to building bridges between different countries.

  "Peoples' hearts come closer every day through such exchanges, despite the geographical distances separating Brazil and China," he said.