Three generations of British family play important role in warming China-UK trade relations

Source:Xinhua Published: 2015-10-20 17:48:53

"My family is involved with China in every sense ... that is just part of our DNA," Stephen Perry told Xinhua when fondly recalling his family legacy of interacting with the remote country in East Asia.

Together with his father Jack, Stephen is part of a select group of people who played a major role in what one could call "breaking the ice" regarding China's trade with the world.

Stephen Perry has now taken over from Jack the helm of the 48 Group Club, an independent British business network committed to promoting links with China.


In 1953, a group of far-sighted people from the British business community overcame one obstacle after another, and made a famous ice-breaking trip to China, thus establishing mutually beneficial trade relations with the country.

Jack Perry was one of the pioneer icebreakers.

"My father met Ji Chaoding, the representative of (then Chinese) Premier Zhou Enlai, in Cambridge University in 1952," Perry said.

"They (the Chinese representatives) said they needed our help to reopen the trade," he said.

After the Cambridge meeting, "my father went home and learnt about China. And then he eventually decided ... this is an opportunity of a lifetime to do something different," Perry said.

A year later, the elder Perry and some other Westerners went to China to discuss trade. "They called themselves the 48 Group later," Perry said.

The trip to China was tough. It took them seven days to fly to Hong Kong, as Americans "were trying hard to stop people going to China." Then, the team spent three days in getting to Beijing.

But as the family business grew, its ties with the West foundered. Many people threatened them and local newspapers even called Jack and his peers "the Communist Reds."

"That was not easy for me when I was a school boy that people were all talking about my family," he recalled.

"They thought my family was doing something wrong and dirty for the Chinese. I don't understand why they were thinking that way," Perry said. "We were isolated from the community. Lots of people didn't want to know us."

He mentioned that there was an American boy living on the same street with them. "We just enjoyed playing together, but his parents never talked with my parents," he said.

The family's ties with the United States also broke down. Their firm was banned from doing business with the United States during 1956-1971.

But the Americans who initially opposed the Perry family never expected that they would one day need their help to get in touch with China.


In 1972, then US President Richard Nixon made a historic visit to China. The first big deal between the United States and China was done with the help of the 48 Group Club. In this sense, the Perry family can also be credited with being China-US trade icebreakers.

"My first visit to China was in 1972. I went because Nixon was going to China ... they asked us to help to prepare big business deals between the United States and China," Perry said, adding that his first work was helping conduct "icebreaking deals" between the United States and China, which he described as "quite exciting and interesting."

Perry witnessed a China that was quite different from his expectations.

"People were very poor then, but they were trying to give the best impressions to foreigners," he said.

"China is a very pleasant country. To go back to Britain, I dragged luggage across the bridge from Shenzhen to Hong Kong. I stopped to look back at this old continent and suddenly cried. Immediately, I admitted I was attracted by China," he said.

Since then, Perry has visited China numerous times and also helped facilitate business between China and the United States.

In 1977, the family sold 10,000 tons of American polyester to China. "I was lucky to have a place in history to help create the connection between China and America," Perry said.


In 2008, the Young Icebreakers was established as part of the 48 Group Club. It is a leading and respected network for young Britain-China business leaders, continuing to reflect and enhance strong heritage from the 48 Group Club.

Perry's son Jack, who was named after his grandfather, is a member of the Young Icebreakers.

The Young Icebreakers act as a bridge between China and Britain by providing a channel to share ideas, raise awareness and promote the achievements of British and Chinese young people, while creating a sense of collaboration and community among young professionals who are interested in China and the broader community.

The Young Icebreakers came into being following then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Britain in 2006.

During a meeting with Perry and representatives of the Young Icebreakers in London in January 2009, Wen said that the "Young Icebreakers" represents a spirit of forging a long-term friendly cooperation as well as a driving force for a comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Britain.

For the young people from both countries, it is a shared duty to continue and develop positive relations between China and Britain in the 21st century.

"When I was still in university, my father was very concerned that the 48 Group should be maintained. He felt it needed the younger blood," Perry said.

"I think the Young Icebreakers can help youngsters to understand China, and also help them to understand each other. And now it is a quite strong group," he said.


Looking ahead, Perry said Britain needs Chinese investment in infrastructure and other fields. "These are very important to Britain," he said.

Meanwhile, Perry said China needs to push forward the internationalization of the renminbi (RMB) and the Belt and Road Initiatives, adding that Britain "can be very helpful" to China in these regards.

"It can be a truly golden year for Britain and China," British Prime Minister David Cameron said at the beginning of this year.

"Let's stick together to make Britain China's best partner in the West. Let's stick together and create a golden decade for both of our countries," said British chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in a speech at the Shanghai Stock Exchange last month.

However, Perry pointed out that the level of "gold" would depend on how well British people know China.

"It is very important for the British to understand China, including the country's history, policies and the rule of law," he said.

He believed that Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Britain would offer a great chance for British people to understand China better.

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