From costumes to parades, Brazil’s Carnival is now “made in China”

. Feb 25, 2020
feathers samba schools brazil carnival china Feathers used in Brazil's world-famous samba school parades are imported from China. Photo: CP DC Press/Shutterstock

From the colorful umbrellas used in frevo dances to the parades in São Paulo’s sambadrome, China seems to be creeping into every aspect of Brazil’s Carnival. What started as a result of the deep strengthening of the trade relationship between the two countries now finds a more prominent place in one of the most traditional parties in Brazilian culture.

</p> <p>A report by website <a href=""><em>DialogoChino</em></a> shows that Brazil began to import party supplies from China in the 1990s, making it the most common source of the country&#8217;s Carnival costumes and decorations. Chinese products proved to be more competitive than the locals, as production costs are notoriously cheaper in China. It was only a matter of time before Chinese masks, wigs, and costumes took over Brazilian streets.</p> <p>Official <a href="">Brazilian foreign trade</a> data shows that in 1997, Brazil imported USD 1.71 million worth of party goods from China. In 2019, imports leapfrogged to USD 10.14 million. While it is an impressive increase, it’s still short of the USD 14.3 million recorded in 2014, before Brazil entered into an economic recession.&nbsp;</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-1078973"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Carnival experts&nbsp;&nbsp;</h2> <p>The Chinese became specialists not only in “commodity” party items, but also in products deeply-connected to Brazil’s culture, such as the colorful umbrellas used in <em>frevo</em> displays in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. The musical rhythm—which consists of upbeat brass band marches—is one of the most traditional symbols of <a href="">Recife’s Carnival</a>, while the umbrellas are key to the performances, used in acrobatic choreographed displays, somewhat similar to the use of castanets in Spanish flamenco dances.</p> <p>According to<a href=""> a report</a> by news website<em> G1</em>, all of the roughly 340,000 frevo umbrellas imported by Pernambuco in 2019 came from China. Once again, competitiveness is seen as key for success, as they are sold for up to BRL 5.00 in Recife, even considering importing taxes and freight costs.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="Warehouse with costumes ... from China. Photo: Brastock/Shutterstock" class="wp-image-32006" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Warehouse with costumes &#8230; from China. Photo: Brastock/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <p>This came at a cost for local industries, however. The last local umbrella factory, Leite Bastos, shut up shop in the early 2000s due to stiff competition, according to <em>G1</em>. The lack of any domestic firms to take up the mantle in umbrella production may be explained by the local industry’s disinterest in making low-added value goods, said Rafael Araújo, analyst of international affairs at Pernambuco’s Industry Federation (Fiepe), speaking to <em>G1</em>.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <h2>From the shelves to the main stage&nbsp;</h2> <p>However, China’s role in Carnival is no longer restricted to supplying decorations. In this year&#8217;s celebrations, São Paulo samba school Unidos de Vila Maria dedicated their 2020 parade to honoring the Asian country at the <a href="">Anhembi sambadrome</a> on Saturday.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to another report from <a href=""><em>G1</em></a>, the samba school received financial aid from Brazil-China foundation Ibrachina, and its artistic team spent 45 days researching in China to create this year&#8217;s show. Every samba school parade has to have a theme, and Unidos de Vila Maria entitled theirs &#8220;China: the dream of a people rocks the samba and makes the Vila dream,” honoring many icons of Chinese culture: from philosopher Confucius to pandas and the modern city of Shenzhen.&nbsp;</p> <p>The samba school aimed to show a modern, open China to the Brazilian public on Saturday, in the words of chief artistic director Cristiano Bara, writing on the school&#8217;s <a href="">offical website</a>. “Today you’re not just the great ‘Red Motherland’. You are the global, multicolored, and multifaceted giant, that wakes up and walks ahead of your time. However, you show yourself with arms wide open to the world, as a living inspiration teaching us how to dream,” wrote Mr. Bara.&nbsp;</p> <p>Unidos de Vila Maria will not be the only ones to celebrate China in 2020. Though much less famous, samba school <a href="">Unidos do Imperador</a> from Nova Friburgo in Rio de Janeiro also chose Chinese history as its main theme, with their song lyrics claiming “today China will dance the samba.”

Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Most recently, she worked as an Editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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