Actors rehearse opera "Marco Polo" at the Tianqiao Performing Arts Center in Beijing, capital of China, May 14, 2018. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
Long associated with trade and commerce, the ancient Silk Road was also an important conduit for intellectual and artistic exchanges that continue to this day.
It is this theme that underlies the Ministry of Culture’s Action Plan on Belt and Road Culture Development (2016-20). The plan is promoting cultural exchanges between China and other countries involvedin the Belt and Road Initiative.
Floral Whisper along the Silk Road - Culture Journey of Maritime Silk Road is one suchhigh-profile campaign under this plan.
We convey our history and culture not only through the relics, but also through innovative cultural displays and digital exhibitions
Wang Bin, Director General, the Tang West Market Museum
Organized by the Administration of Culture, Radio, Film, Television, Press and Publication of Guangzhou Municipality, the campaign saw a group of Chinese artists visiting Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Cyprus in September 2018, showcasing Chinese opera, folk songs and puppet shows.
“It was particularly well received in Cyprus where local people were not too familiar with Chinese culture,” Luo Huan, general manager at Global Raytur (Beijing) Public Communication, told China Daily. Global Raytur is host of the campaign.
This year, Chinese cultural centers and tourism offices overseas are organizing China Tourism and Culture Week - a series of cultural and tourism events taking place in over 40 countries, from May 15 to June 30.
In Tokyo, Singapore and Budapest, Chinese cultural centers or tourism offices will showcase Suzhou, a city famous for its gardens and canals. In Madrid and Seoul, ancient green porcelain art from Longquan will go on display. A forum on traditional Chinese medicine will take place in Copenhagen and Wellington.
“The content of the exhibitions is rich and diverse. We convey our history and culture not only through the relics, but also through innovative cultural displays and digital exhibitions,” said Wang Bin, director general of the Tang West Market Museum in Xi’an,the capital of Shaanxi province.Xi’an was an eastern terminal on the Silk Road.
“Through these exhibition activities, we will show the culture of different countries to the public and deepen their understanding of these cultures,” Wang said.
Since 2014, the Tang West Market Museum has been collaborating with other museums in Asia along the Silk Road route. The partnerships allow for stronger cultural communications related to exhibitions, data and expertise.
Efforts to strengthen cultural links are particularly visible among countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. Malaysia is one such country.
Wang Bin, director general of the Tang West Market Museum. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
“There have been many positive developments in cultural exchanges over the years,” Ngeow Chow-Bing, director of the Institute of China Studies, University of Malaya, told China Daily.
He cited the opening of Xiamen University’s first overseas campus in the western Malaysian state of Selangor, the increasing number of Chinese literary classics being translated into Malay,and the opening of Confucius Institutes in two Malaysian universities.
Experts and artists from other Asian countries have like wise promoted their respective art, heritage and traditions in China
“All these activities have contributed to positive people-to-people ties between China and Malaysia. China is important to Malaysia and vice versa, and continued cooperation between the two countries will bring benefits to the peoples,” Ngeow said.
Cambodia has also seen vibrant cultural exchanges with China, pushing Sino-Cambodian relations to new heights.
Kin Phea, director general of the International Relations Institute of Cambodia at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, told China Daily that culture, considered soft power, is playing an important role in expanding relations between Cambodia and China.
“Through understanding of culture, beliefs, traditional value and language, Cambodian and Chinese people can live together and understand each other,” he said.
Phea said exchange programs have been conducted in areas of culture, government, media, youth and academia, with funding support from the Chinese government.
“Cambodia and China share many civilization values, including the way of life, social values, beliefs, tradition and culture as well as state governance,” he said.
One the best examples of China-Cambodia cultural exchange is China’s participation in the global effort to restore Angkor Wat - a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the northwestern Cambodian province of Siem Reap.
Chinese architects and builders have renovated the Chau Say Tevoda and the Ta Keo temples in the Angkor Wat complex. Apsara National Authority’s spokesman Long Kosal said China has played a great role in safeguarding and developing Cambodia's cultural heritage, according to a report by Xinhua News Agency.
Apsara National Authority is the government body that manages the protection and preservation of Angkor.
Cultural exchange, however, is a two-way street. Experts and artists from other Asian countries have like wise promoted their respective art, heritage and traditions in China. This helps Chinese to understand and appreciate the diverse cultures in Asia.
The song and dance "A Panorama of Asia" is staged at the Asian culture carnival held at the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest, in Beijing, capital of China, May 15, 2019. (JU HUANZONG / XINHUA)
For instance, this year Tang West Market Museum is planning to launch the exhibition One Thousand Angels and One Painting - a large-scale art project by Lekim Ibragimov, a national artist of Uzbekistan.
The mega-painting is composed of 1,000 linked canvasses thatcover a 528-square-meter exhibition space.
“Our museum was built on the site of the West Market of the Chang'an City and is the actual starting point of the Silk Road during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The introduction of Silk Road-themed paintings is a perfect match for our history and has brought a visual feast for the audience in Xi’an,” said Wang of Tang West Market Museum.
Wang is alluding to Ibragimov’s inspiration behind the mega-painting - a compilation of folk tales better known as One Thousand and One Nights. These folk tales are rooted in the Arab World,an important link in the ancient Silk Road.
Arabic culture is also gaining interest in China. The Beijing-based Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Center for Arabic Language and Islamic Studiesis a gateway for learning the Arabic language and Islamic culture.
The center waslaunched in 1994 through a grant provided by the late Shaikh Zayed,after the then United Arab Emirates president’s historic visit to China in 1990.
It is part of the Beijing Foreign Studies University and has trained about 1,000 Chinese diplomats, government staff and journalists, according to the Abu Dhabi-based daily The National.
Buddhism, meanwhile, served as bridge between China and India. This connection was showcased at 2016’s groundbreaking exhibit of ancient Indian and Chinese sculpturesat the Palace Museum of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
The exhibit,titled Across the Silk Road: Gupta Sculptures and their Chinese Counterparts during 400 to 700 CE, featured 56 sculptures from nine Indian museums and 107 carvings from the Tang Dynasty.
The Palace Museum said in a statement that the yearlong exhibition showed how land and maritime trade brought Buddhism and Indian art to China, influenced artists during the Tang Dynasty and illustrated a “profound interaction of religion, culture and art between ancient Chinese and ancient Indian civilizations”.
Sino-Indian cultural exchange has flourished since then, and its latest incarnation is evident in the massive popularity of Bollywood films in China.
According to Anjali Gera Roy, professor in the humanities and social sciences department at the Indian Institute of Technology in the eastern Indian city of Kharagpur, Bollywood movies appeal to Chinese moviegoers because of “shared cultural values”.
Roy told China Daily that Bollywood movies revolve around such themes as close family ties and the importance of education - values cherished in both China and India.
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Malaysia is also promoting cultural exchange with China through film.
In April, Selangor-based Les' Copaque Production teamed up with China’s Cultural Investment Holdings to distribute the animated movie Upin & Ipin in China.
Gobind Singh Deo, Malaysia’sminister of communications and multimedia, said the partnership will not only strengthen ties between the two countries but will “help us understand each other more through filmmaking”, according to Xinhua.
Additional reporting by Prime Sarmiento
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