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China Lights returns to Boerner Botanical Gardens

The world-class Chinese lantern festival, “China Lights: The Magic Returns”, will open to the public Friday, Sept. 22 at Boerner Botanical Gardens.

As the sun goes down, the magical glow of nearly 50 larger-than-life sculptural displays will illuminate 10 acres of Milwaukee’s renowned Boerner Botanical Gardens, in Whitnall Park at 9400 Boerner Drive, Hales Corners, WI.

Boerner Botanical Gardens will be transformed into a dramatic display of color, light, and sound.

The festival, presented by Tri City National Bank, also celebrates Asian culture with professional entertainment, a bustling marketplace, and a wide variety of food and beverage options. The event runs from Sept. 22–Oct. 22, Tuesday through Sunday, from 5:30–10 p.m. The festival will be closed Mondays.

Lantern Displays

Even before reaching the Welcome Gate, visitors will be impressed by the first display, the Porcelain Tower. Don’t miss the intricate work of the Chinese artisans who brought together 60,000 porcelain bowls, bottles, cups, plates, and spoons to create the nearly 40-foot-tall structure.

For about a month, 24 artisans from China have been on-site welding metal frames, lighting the frames from within using various types and colors of LED lights, covering the framework in brightly colored fabric, and hand-painting finishing touches.

Inside the exhibition, visitors will find a 200-foot dragon, a phoenix with a long undulating tail, glowing flowers, swans, fish, and pandas.

Kids will have the opportunity to power one of the displays. In the Perennial Garden, a bicycle is connected to an elephant lantern, known by staff as “pedal the pachyderm.” Visitors can hop on the bike and pedal to illuminate the elephant.

Be sure to check out the Love Gallery, an archway formed by a series of heart shapes.

Cultural Entertainment

Each night at 6:15 p.m. members of the entertainment staff will lead the Illumination Parade, a procession through the displays in the Shrub Mall. During the Opening Weekend, free giveaways will be distributed. The parade will conclude at the Dragon Stage, the main stage, in time for the first performance of the night.

Two stages will highlight folk-culture entertainment. In addition to the Dragon Stage, the smaller, more intimate Panda Stage will offer professional acts. Performances will be staggered between the stages beginning at about 6:30 p.m.

During the week, four shows will be offered each night; Friday through Sunday, six shows. The night’s schedule will be posted at the Welcome Gate.

Acrobats, martial artists, and musicians will be among the performers. Some of the acrobatic feats, such as plate spinning, catching bowls on a unicycle, or performing tricks with the Chinese yo-yo, require calm conditions.

If winds are too strong, other of the many professional acts will go on. One example is face changing, or mask changing, the ancient Chinese art form from the Sichuan opera. Performers wear thin masks that change with the passing of a fan.

Another performance to watch out for is the demonstration of baji, a kind of tai chi that features explosive, short-range strikes. The two martial artists demonstrating the form have placed first and third in some of China’s national competitions.

In addition, traditional Chinese folk music will be performed on the erhu, or two-stringed Chinese violin. The instrument, which is played vertically and has free- floating strings, is said to imitate the sound of thousands of horses running on the grassland.

Cultural Displays

Head to the Garden House to see examples of traditional Asian clothing on display. Additional small-sized clothing items will be available for visitors to try on for a photo op.

Also on view in the Garden House will be videos highlighting the making of the Porcelain Tower display, China’s natural beauty, history, and culture. Replicas of historic Chinese artifacts are also on display for hands-on interaction.


In the colorful marketplace, visitors will find an abundance of souvenir items as well as the opportunity to watch Chinese artisans create traditional handicrafts. Clothing, toys, jewelry, and artwork will be for sale. Some of the crafts being demonstrated include name painting, rice engraving, inner-bottle painting, and aluminum weaving. Also take a taste of the great Asian and American food and beverages for added fun!

Mobile Guide

Immerse yourself in the China Lights experience with a self-guided mobile tour app on your own smartphone or tablet. The guide can be purchased at the box office.

Food and beverage

Enjoy beer, wine, and sake options plus traditional Asian cuisine including egg rolls, tempura rolls, sweet and sour chicken, teriyaki chicken, crab rangoon, and much more.

To find out more or purchase tickets, visit

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