Nearly Everything Is New at China Lights This Year

This year’s China Lights display in Hales Corners is worth checking out.

A great red gate with regal gold accents towers over the entrance to Boerner Botanical Gardens in Hales Corners this month. If you peek through it, you might catch a glimpse of some brightly-glowing goldfish suspended above luminescent flowers and lily-pads, their flowing tails shining against the autumn dusk. This is just the first of the many beautiful, hand-made light displays brought to life by China Lights.

China Lights has transformed the Boerner Botanical Gardens, into a festival of Chinese craft and performance until Oct. 20. Attendees are free to roam the grounds and admire the artwork at their leisure, whether that means stepping on the interactive light-up piano, enjoying a stroll on the bridge under the warm red light of dozens of lanterns or taking a picture with a “porcelain” statue of their Chinese zodiac animal.

The team behind China Lights is comprised of 30 artisans who build exhibits from the ground up, from design to completion, in a matter of months. For this year’s theme, “Extinct and Endangered Animals,” 95% of the exhibit was made of entirely new works, including giant bison and moving dinosaurs. China Lights’ artists have painstakingly hand-detailed textures like fur and scales onto most of the exhibit’s artworks, from the faces on each terracotta warrior to the scales on all three of the colossal dragons.

When guests have had their fill of the artwork, they’re invited to grab a seat at the Panda Stage or the Dragon Stage, grab some Chinese chow and watch a live show. The performances range from culturally-rooted martial arts and string instruments to carnivalesque feats of grace and agility like “spinning tops” and “high chair.” Once guests have seen all that the grounds have to offer, gift stands afford visitors a chance to commemorate their trip with a special new memento.

Tianyu Arts and Culture, who put together China Lights, specializes in organizing world-class lantern festivals and tailored event experiences across the globe. The team behind China Lights has organized events all over the United States and abroad, from Texas, Tennessee and Virginia to Belgium, Italy and Australia.

We spoke with Huiyuan Liu, event manager from Tianyu Arts and Culture, who told us what visitors can expect from China Lights.

How would you describe China Lights to someone interested in the event?

I’ll say it’s a combination of lots of light displays, stage entertainment and good food, and it’s also a gateway to learn a little bit about a different culture. It’s a little bit of everything. Of course the most important part is the lanterns, and they’re not like the usual small hanging lanterns that you see at other places, they’re all hand-made and they’re larger than life, and they can be in any form that you can or cannot imagine. So that’s pretty magical.

What would you say first-time visitors would enjoy the most about China Lights?

Definitely the lights, right? [she said, laughing] I think it’ll be, really, like a “wow” experience for someone who’s never been here, or even for someone who has been here before, because every year the themes are different, and the designs and everything is different, and as we move on we’re moving in to new technology, new designs. For example, for the first year it was only lantern displays stationed in one place, but now we’re adding sound effects, we’re adding more motions, and it becomes more interactive, so I think that’s a really cool part of it and that’s why I’m not bored with the job yet.

What do you expect visitors to have learned after experiencing China Lights?

I’m not sure, but there might be different stereotypes about Chinese or Chinese culture, but when they come here there’s a chance to see what it’s really like. There’s not just the lights, there are different programs, they can try on new clothes and the costumes, they can talk to our team, they can do a tour…it’s a good channel for people to learn a little bit about China nowadays. There are different forms of art as well…that’s another way for them to learn about a different culture without having to sit in front of a desk. So I think that’s really cool.

If You Go

China Lights: Treasures of China

Boerner Botanical Gardens
9400 Boerner Drive
Hales Corners

September 13 – October 20, 2019
Tuesdays – Sundays, 5:30 – 10:00 p.m.
(Closed Mondays)



Calvin Lemieux is a Communication graduate from University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point. Following an internship with Milwaukee Magazine in Fall 2019 and graduation in Spring 2020, he returned to work as a freelance writer.