BEIJING/MEXICO CITY — Premier Li Keqiang’s recent fruitful four-nation tour of Latin America has raised bilateral cooperation to a higher level.
Premier Li’s busy schedule featured two cultural events, in Colombia and Peru respectively, underlining the importance the Chinese government attaches to bilateral cultural exchanges.
Wu Changsheng, director of the Latin American Studies Center at the China Foundation for International Studies, said that cultural exchanges between the two sides have been lacking, but goodwill exists among governments and peoples to increase mutual understanding.
COLOMBIA: LITERATURE AS A BRIDGE
During his day-long visit to Colombia, Premier Li and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos presided over a symposium on China-Latin America cultural exchange to promote the interchange of contemporary literature between the two distinct cultures.
China’s delegation to the conference featured Mo Yan, a winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, and Mai Jia, a Chinese writer who has sold the most books translated into Spanish. Representing Colombia were poet Horacio Benavides and author Santiago Gamboa.
Premier Li has proposed that China and Latin America strengthen not just material but also spiritual cooperation, and rely on the power of literature to achieve heart-to-heart communication.
He called on writers and artists from both countries to increase interchange and dialogue to learn more about each other and help deepen cooperation for mutual benefit.
Mo, for example, paid tribute to famed Colombian-born author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who had a profound impact on contemporary Chinese literature during the 1980s.
Benavides, meanwhile, recited poems from an anthology of Chinese poets, such as Li Bai, one of the most renowned poets of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618 - AD 907).
Through their unique stories and styles such as magic realism in the case of Colombia and other Latin American countries, the literary works of one civilization can serve to spread knowledge and understanding among other distant and distinct cultures, and to highlight cultural similarities.
In recent years, a host of contemporary works of Chinese literature have been translated into Spanish and are available at bookstores throughout Latin America, making Chinese works much more accessible to Latin American audiences.
Colombia has a great appreciation for China’s time-honored civilization, which dates back to some 5,000 years ago, said Santos, adding he is confident that the two peoples will increasingly consolidate their mutual understanding through cultural exchanges.
PERU: ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS, MODERN CONNECTIONS
In Peru, the third leg of his tour, Premier Li inaugurated an exhibit titled “Encounter between Chinese and Latin American Civilizations,” which featured ancient pre-Incan and Incan artifacts alongside images of early Chinese civilization.
Such exhibits can serve to foster an interest in learning about each others’ civilizations, Premier Li said.
Carmen Carrasco, director of Lima’s National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History (MAAH), noted Premier Li’s great interest in artifacts about the historical evolution of Peru’s indigenous civilizations, including a stone relic from the pre-Incan Chavin and woven textiles from the Paracas.
“Premier Li Keqiang’s presence in this emblematic venue is very important,” Carrasco told Xinhua, as it shows the Asian country is interested “not just in economic matters, but in deepening cultural knowledge, which is essential to bilateral exchanges.”
Carrasco noted the affinities between the early Chinese and pre-Incan civilizations, saying “there is a symbiosis between the two sides” due to “similarities found in stone relics, the rational use of water, agriculture, and other areas.”
Meanwhile, across the globe an exhibit of contemporary Latin American art was under way in Beijing, bringing scenes of the region’s landscape, historical traditions and multiculturalism to Chinese viewers.
Organizers of the exhibit, held under the banner “Sharing Beauty,” hoped that the exhibit will serve to strengthen cultural exchanges between China and Latin America, and promote goodwill between the two peoples.
CHINA-LATIN AMERICA: MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING
In the past decade, trade between China and Latin America boomed, with the two-way volume growing by 20 times.
Still, the lack of mutual knowledge about each others’ history, culture and society is becoming increasingly incompatible with the rapid growth in trade and investment, and could present a disincentive to expanding cooperation.
In 2014, China proposed rebuilding bilateral ties on five main pillars, including raising mutual awareness about each others’ civilizations, in addition to political and economic cooperation.
As part of that strategy, China plans to offer 6,000 scholarships for Latin American students to study in China for the 2015-2019 period, and invite another 6,000 Latin Americans to take training courses, and an additional 400 candidates to take part in postgraduate courses.
China also plans to launch this year a program called “Bridge towards the Future,” which is designed to train some 1,000 young Chinese and Latin American students. Meanwhile, the year of 2016 will be designated as the Year of China-Latin America Cultural Exchange.
Wu Baiyi, director of the Latin America Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out that restructuring bilateral ties and calling for stronger cultural connections show the Chinese government’s intention to overcome cultural obstacles as it continues to expand practical bilateral cooperation to new areas.
Cultural exchange is an intrinsic part of the process of modernizing ties between China and Latin America, and of deepening mutual understanding to strengthen the foundation for sustainable and fruitful cooperation, said Wu.
Enrique Garcia, president of the Development Bank of Latin America, known by its Spanish acronym CAF, echoed Wu on the importance of cultural exchanges.
“To have a fruitful relationship in the long term, you have to look at the whole picture. The Chinese should know the Latin Americans and the Latin Americans should know the Chinese, and they should better understand their cultural differences,” Garcia said.
During a speech to the cultural symposium held in Colombia, the Premier expressed his hope that peoples of both sides will increase cultural exchanges and heart-to-heart communication, so that the trees of cooperation can bear more fruit in the fertile soil of friendship.
“A ship’s strength is in its sails, and a man’s strength is in his heart,” said Premier Li.