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Show Modern China to the World


-- Minister Sun Jiazheng Talks on CCTV's Dialogue, Culture Bridges Hearts

The year 2001 is regarded as the China's Year by foreign scholars. More and more people around the world pay attention to China, a young country with an ancient cultural heritage that is approaching the world with unprecedented openness. How do we show a real China to the world? How can Chinese culture be recognized and accepted by the rest of world?

At 10 pm on November 4, 2001, Sun Jiazheng, Chinese minister of the ministry of culture, who has just returned from a Chinese Cultural Tour in Germany, and Zhao Qizheng, director of the Information Office of the State Council, were invited to the CCTV studio to tell audiences all over the world about a modern China.

The following conversation is excerpted from Dialogue.

Shen Bing: Ladies and gentlemen welcome to Dialogue. Today we have friends from all over the world in our small studio. Since people from different countries are becoming closer and closer nowadays, mutual understanding and communications are increasingly important. In China, there are two people who stand shoulder to shoulder and work whole-heartedly to promote our foreign exchanges. They are Mr Sun Jiazheng, minister of the Ministry of Culture in China and Zhao Qizheng, director of the Information Office of the State Council.

Sun: I hope we will have a faithful dialogue with our colleagues tonight.

Shen: To introduce a modern China to the world, we should first know its impression on everybody. Let's first hear what our audiences and guests have to say.

Chinese audience member 1: I think China is like jasmine -- elegant but full of power. Everybody will be fascinated by its faint fragrance.

Brazilian ambassador: China takes on a rapid change while it retains its traditions.

Long Anzhi: China gives me a strong impression in two aspects -- one is its culture, the other is its economy. China can be described as a siheyuan (quadrate yard) when it comes to its culture. Looking from the outside, you may find it hard to get into: You have to take a turn around the corner before you actually get inside. You will find it very quiet inside. As for its economy, China is like a train. Its front carriage is heading forward very fast, but the following carriages cannot run at the same speed, some of which also carry coal. The real situation in China resembles such a train where the leading part moves quickly, while the back lags behind. The direction, however, has been set and all efforts focus on that direction.

Xu Li: I am a news broadcaster with CCTV's international channel. Just as many friends have said, China develops very rapidly. Indeed, China is an inspiring country with a bright future.  

Sun: I agree with what everybody has said because those remarks represent their own interpretation of China.

Shen: If you were asked to use one sentence to describe China, what would that be?

Sun: My ancient country is like a dynamic youth.

Zhao: What the Brazilian ambassador has said is to the point: China makes great changes everyday. I want to add that China is a country that makes arduous efforts and develops everyday. 

Shen: If you were given only one minute to describe China, what would you say? It seems Minister Sun is ready to share his idea with us. Let's welcome him to speak first.

Sun: In my opinion, there are three words that best describe the current situation and development trend in China. The first is reform, which is closely related to opening up. Reform and opening up are the most distinct feature of China in the new development period. Only through reform and opening up can our ancient nation become as dynamic as the youth. The second word is development, which has become a theme in China. What I mean by development is not only economic development, but also the development of politics, culture and the harmonious relationship between humans and society and humans and nature. The third word is stability. China has made a great achievement, which would be impossible without the unification of all people and social stability and development. Reform, development and stability are the essential characteristics of modern China. These features have determined the tenet of our foreign policy, which is, in former president Jiang Zemin's words: to maintain world peace and promote mutual development. The three words, together with Jiang's remark, can perfectly sum up China's image on the world stage, as well as its domestic and foreign policies. Thank you.

Zhao: As an ancient country, China is one of the four cradles of culture in the world. China was an advanced country in ancient times, with its GDP amounting to 30 percent of the world total in 1800 and 7 percent in 1900. But, as time went on, China began to lag behind. We can no longer rely on our brilliant history of the four great inventions; we have woken up and realized we should strive for a bright future. So, after the founding of new China, we began to make great efforts towards accomplishing this goal. We made the right choice when Mr Deng Xiaoping put forward the policy of reform and opening up. This policy leads to the construction of a socialist society with Chinese characteristics, a society favored by Chinese people. Through this process, we have gradually become wealthier and entered an unexpected new era where we own cars and houses. The ancient country has taken on a youthful look. We love our country and it continues to make progress day by day.

Sun: Today, we have several foreign friends, including some ambassadors. They have a special opinion about China because they know about our country and are very friendly to us. I often travel abroad and make self-criticisms when I come back.

Shen: Self-criticism? Why?

Sun: Because, sometimes, I find foreign countries know so little about China. As a minister in charge of cultural exchanges, I feel that I have not done a good job in introducing a modern China to the world.

Zhao: Our foreign guests here are all experts on China's issues or know a lot about our country, but most foreigners are not like them and know little about China. Take our trip to Germany for example: When we asked a taxi driver about his impression of China, he said it was a country with a vast area. Then he added that he did not know much and the country seemed quite mysterious to him. 

Shen: Many overseas friends know little about our country. How can we introduce a modern China to them? Let's conduct a spot survey. First, let's invite some Chinese friends.

Chen Meiyin: I have spent 17 years in China, so I have a special fondness for the country and work hard to stay here. I brought a wall calendar here tonight. To introduce China to people in the rest of the world, we should first make them understand Chinese culture and its unique cultural heritage.    

Chinese audience member 2: Actually, I think what foreigners mostly want to know about is the life of ordinary people. When I worked for a US college, I found that people there were extremely interested in my family history, such as my bound-footed grandma who raised me up, my mother's life and my own life. They took a great interest in how women of three generations live together. 

Chinese audience member 3: I want to tell our foreign friends that China has the Internet, mobile phones and such beautiful things as fashionable dress.

Chinese audience member 4: I agree that we should introduce to the world our ordinary life because this was a popular issue when I was in the United States. People there often asked specific questions about the life of ordinary Chinese people, such as when Chinese families began using washing machines and when we started to use computers.

Xu Li: To most foreigners, the word China is more like an adjective than a noun. 

Shen: Why?

Xu Li: Once they talk about some ancient place, some mysterious place or some distant place, they will describe it as a Chinese-like place. Actually, it's because they know little about our country. It feels so unfair. If I am asked to say something about China, first I want them to know that China exists in the same space-time as their country. China is not mysterious, and our nation is a modern one. Secondly, I will tell them Chinese people live quite happily. I hope they can try to comprehend a modern China in the same space-time.

Shen: Now, let's hear what our foreign friends have to say about China and what they mostly want to know about our country.

Foreign audience member 1: I want to introduce to the world Chinese modern culture and art since most foreign friends know little about it and their knowledge of Chinese modern culture is so outmoded that it may date back 20 years. They have no idea about the energetic film, art and dance in modern China.

Foreign audience member 2: I believe it is not only an issue of what to introduce, but also an issue of how to introduce it. I feel China's lacks a scientific system of propaganda, such as exhibitions in art galleries. Very often, the exhibition period is quite short, normally lasting for only a week. How can people understand Chinese art in such a short time? But, if there are more detailed explanations on scientific commentary and visitors are given more time to digest, things will be much better. 

Foreign audience member 3: One thing the reform and opening up has brought to China is a more complicated situation than in the past. This has raised another question: What kind of product can best represent such a complicated situation?  

Sun: I think we should follow a three-word principle in foreign exchange activities, namely self-confidence, frankness and sincerity. I once talked with some foreign friends who told me they knew much about China since they had traveled to a number of cities around the country. But I told them that they had taken a one-sided view. I said to them: "Before the winter comes, the Chinese government has already taken into consideration whether tens of millions of people can pass the winter; whether they can dress warmly and have enough to eat. Hence, while 10 million more people fall under the poverty line in the world every year, 10 million people come out of poverty in China. This is a great achievement. But we still have 30 million people who face the problem of passing the winter. To me, poverty is not a humiliating thing. How can we change our impoverished fate to promote sustained development and to live a wealthier life? This is a question concerning our indignity. We should not hide our shortcomings. Every day, many of our TV programs point out and criticize such shortcomings; why can't we tell our foreign friends frankly that we still have many things to accomplish? Communication actually means exchanges between hearts. I think there are numerous things to talk about when it comes to Chinese history or its reality. But the most important thing is to tell the world what Chinese people really think, what they are doing and what they want. We should let the rest of the world know that Chinese people are their sincere friends. To sum up, the most important thing is to let the world know about today's Chinese. 

Zhao: There are many examples illustrating how little our foreign friends know about China -- some of which even sounds funny -- but we should have some deeper thoughts after a good laugh. In Chinese history, women bound their feet, and this is known by almost all Americans. But when I talked to a US senior officer saying American youth know a lot about China and remember the bound feet, he corrected me by saying it was Japanese women who had bound feet. I mentioned this story in a speech given in San Francisco. Sometimes, we find that introducing or explaining China is a difficult task, which actually results from a mistaken approach when we assume foreigners have the same background knowledge as we do. We can skip the background part and jump straight to the XYZ when talking to a Chinese, but we need to start from the ABC when facing a foreigner. We cannot put the XYZ directly into a foreign language, but rewrite it with an approach that will suit a foreign reader. At this point, we may ask our foreign friends here to write something -- may it be a book or a report. I think their perspectives may meet the needs of foreign readers.

Takeda (chief representative of the Mitsubishi Corporation in China): In Japan, some people are interested in history, some are interested in economy and others are interested in people's lives. To meet all their needs seems impossible. I have met many Chinese and asked them about China, but they told me that China was so vast and complicated that they did not know how to describe it and that foreigners would not understand. It seems to me that the Chinese want to keep themselves and their country a secret, or maybe they just cannot give an explicit description. So, if the director and minister ask officials and business people to say more to us about China, and if 100 million Chinese do this all together, then six billion people around the world will know China at once.

Shen: What are foreigners interested in China?

Brazilian ambassador: Various things, such as soccer, industry and its ancient culture. People around the world take a great interest in China and their interests grow increasingly.

Shen: After this round of discussions, we will invite Mr. Sun to give us a summary. Mr. Sun, do you think there is any difference between supply and demand? Any similarity? What's your opinion?

Sun: I think that we tend to exaggerate the difference when talking about the world. Actually, we have many similarities. Foreigners want to know about China, just as Chinese want to know more about the rest of the world. I think they want to know about our history, and more about a modern China, not only to get a general idea, but to get a detailed picture, such as the specific situation, specific person and ordinary life.

Zhao: The Chinese way of thinking may be different from a foreign one, so we should pay attention to others' ways of thinking when talking with foreign friends. Likely, foreigners need to take into consideration Chinese characteristics when they stay in China. Along with globalization, different ways of thinking tend to develop in the same direction. The expressions our foreign friends have used here is very Chinese, while some Chinese audiences have spoken in a foreign style. I think it is a good implication that we have become closer.

Shen: You have just mentioned that we should take others' point of views into account when describing China. I remember that you have different introduction brochures printed by a publishing house in the foreign country you are visiting, such as an American edition when you launched the Chinese Culture Tour in the United States. Right? 

Zhao: Yes, this is the French edition, edited and published by the Hachette Filipacchi Publishing House, and that is the American edition by the US International Data Group (IDG). The cover page of the French edition is a head-on picture and a reversed one, in black and white. This leaves room for one to think and gives a prominent, romantic sense. The American edition is comparatively plain because Americans like clarity. You see the three little girls on the cover page -- they are pretty, and that's it.

Zhao: There is also a German edition, which has no cover photo. You find the cover picture after you turn the page.

Shen: Why?

Zhao: It's about philosophy. Germans think one cannot see through something at first glance so they leave a blank cover page.

Shen: Let's testify Zhao's remark (to a foreign audience). Do you agree with Mr. Zhao?

Foreign audience member 6: I think Mr. Zhao is too polite with Germans. I'm afraid that the real reason is that they simply cannot find a suitable picture.

Zhao: Humor can also help communication, so I encourage you to comprehend the humor of the American, British style and German styles. The British style is like red wine, which leaves an aftertaste half an hour later; the American is like Coca-Cola, like a necessity that you can find everywhere; while the German is like whiskey, which cannot be appreciated by everyone, but you will not forget the taste.   

Sun: I agree with the idea that one should pay attention to each nation's special features when introducing China to foreign countries, but I think this is not the most important thing. In my opinion, one should bear in mind that we possess similarities as human beings. Since we are different, we need to communicate with each other, but the reason why communication is possible lies in our similarities. All nations around the world cherish the same virtues, such as goodness, justice and honesty. Once I paid a visit to an ordinary American family in Atlanta. The couple had three children: the oldest was five years old, the second, three and the little one could only crawl around on the floor. To the children we are strangers speaking a different language, with different complexions and different eye color. When they first saw us, they hid behind their parents. But after just an hour, we became good friends. The oldest child dragged us to his toy room and one child hurried to me when he saw I was feeding another child. When we said goodbye, the oldest child came out and led the way, while the second followed us unsteadily and the little one crawled to the door. Why could we communicate more easily with children without any words? Because they felt that we were friendly people who could do them no harm. So, to abandon bias is the first thing when we communicate with each other. Communication will is easier when we hold no bias towards each other.

Shen: I remember Mr. Zhao had an interview with the media when he was abroad. He said that the foreign media had little coverage on China and some of the few reports held a biased view.     

Zhao: About a quarter of those reports are facts, while another quarter take a friendly approach. The rest, which have a biased tone, may be misunderstood. It seems to me that many foreign analysts who claim to be experts on China have not been to China themselves. So, I want to invite those who have compiled the 50 percent of bias reports to come to China and see for themselves.

Shen: Where do you want them to visit?

Zhao: They can visit whatever interests except the confidential places of national defense. I want them to write accurately about the facts. For example, in China, some people do not follow traffic rules and cross the streets at will. They can write about such facts, but they are wrong if they say China has no cars. I don't mind how the foreign media comment as long as they keep the facts straight.  

Pan Jieke: From the cultural perspective, should we promote cultural transparency to a higher level through cultural exchange and communication?  

Zhao: I feel this program is very transparent and sincere. Indeed, we should tell foreigners both our good and bad sides and give them a complete picture of China.

Sun: We need not choose a big topic when talking about cultural communication; maybe we can start with a specific detail. I want to share with you such a detail. The last time we organized the Chinese Culture Tour in the United States, the China National Orchestra planned to give a concert to the American audience on September 8, 2000. That very night, the most prestigious guest, then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin, arrived at the concert hall 15 minutes before the scheduled time. On that day, New York was under martial law due to the Millennium Summit Meeting, so many audiences could not arrive on time. When the time for performance rolled around, about one-third of the audience had not yet arrived. I asked president Jiang for instructions and he told me to wait for them, saying it was not easy for ordinary Americans to listen to a Chinese concert. 

Shen: He asked you to wait for the ordinary audience?

Sun: Yes, wait for the ordinary audience. I was deeply moved at that moment. After a discussion with the conductor, Chen Xieyang, and the head of our orchestra, we announced the situation to the audience, asking them to wait for the latecomers. To compensate, we decided to add some pieces of music to the repertoire. I think we had not only let the American audience get a better understanding of Chinese culture through our performance, but also showed them a considerate Chinese president. They may feel that Chinese organizers did an excellent job by giving early-comers an additional performance as they waited for the latecomers. They may have the impression that Chinese people are considerate and care for others, and then one part of Chinese culture was passed onto the rest of the world through such a small detail.

Shen: Was Mr. Zhao present then and there? Did you have anything to add?

Zhao: I was present at the concert. That night, many VIPs attended, including many leaders of American Top 500 Corporations. I was worried about the latecomers since it is a bad habit to be late. I think we came up with the perfect solution.

Chinese audience member: I think the incident you've just mentioned reflects the magnanimous manner of a great country. It is the true refection of our rich and profound culture that I appreciate and admire very much. Minister Sun has said that we should have self-confidence in cultural communications. This incident is a good illustration of such self-confidence.

Shen: Can anybody give us his/her opinions on introducing China to the world in a better way?

Foreign audience member 9: We have talked about many channels in which we can explain or show China, but we have forgotten one efficient way -- the film industry; I am now working in this trade and I think it is an important channel. When I was studying in the United States, I began to take an interest in China and learn more about the country by watching Chinese films. 

Shen: You began to take an interest in China by watching Chinese films? Mr. Zhao has said that Chinese people get to know the United States through its films, but it was not the same case the other way round. (To Zhao) Do you still think so?

Zhao: Yes. There are very few Americans who watch Chinese films, and he is one of them. He is also an observant and conscientious one, for he has been fascinated by Chinese culture after watching those films. We can hardly find such a person, so I want to pay my respects to him.

Foreign audience member 10: I have a question. It's about the Olympic Games in 2008. How will Beijing hold the Olympics? How will the organizers use this opportunity to introduce China to the world? What do the two ministers think about this question?

Zhao: I think there are two purposes: one is to conduct a successful Olympic games and the other is to let the world know the real China.

Sun: To let the world know China is one thing, but, at the same time, we should learn from the rest of the world during this process. It's a process of mutual learning, not limited to the carrying on of Chinese culture. 

Sun: Actually, as Mr. Lu Xun has said, there is no better way to bridge people's hearts than culture and art. This should be a two-way bridge between China and the rest of the world. I hope more people can join in the construction of such a bridge. By doing so, we will be able to know more about the world and let the world know more about China. Thank you!