Two Czechs describe how their love of China has lasted decades

By Guan Kejiang and Ren Yan Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-24 20:12:29

Tourists crowd onto Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: IC

Chinese President Xi Jinping is to kick off an official visit to the Czech Republic on Monday, the first Chinese top leader to visit the country since the two established diplomatic relations 67 years ago, when the Czech Republic was part of Czechoslovakia.

Many expect the visit will bring the two countries closer together, and the days of ideological frictions and issues concerning Taiwan and the Dalai Lama will be set aside.

Not only on the national level, the development of bilateral relations has been reflected in people's lives. The stories of Czech families and their emotional attachment with China depict two countries that are getting to know each other better.

The He family

Zdenek Hrdlicka, also known as He Zhida, has family links with China spanning four generations. His grandfather, known in Chinese as He Deli, and grandmother, He Dejia, were both famed sinologists and their names were given to them by Guo Moruo, a well-known Chinese writer and historian.

In April 1949, Guo visited the Czech Republic with China's cultural delegation and was befriended by He Deli and He Dejia. In 1950, He Deli became the first cultural counselor for the Czechoslovakian embassy in China. The couple bought hundreds of books during their stay in the country, which later became the start of the Lu Xun Library at the Czech Republic's Academy of Science.

Their son, He Huasheng, was also born during this period and they gave him his Chinese name. At that time, famous Chinese painter Qi Baishi even sent the newborn a painting.

Growing up under the influence of his grandparents, He Zhida chose sinology as his major at university and went to Nanjing to learn Chinese at his own cost. There, he met Zheng Minjia, a Chinese girl who later became his wife.

Now the couple have three children, whom they bring to China every summer holiday so they can learn Chinese and get familiar with the culture.

He Zhida played in a band at college and sang Chinese rock songs. The band has performed many times in China and still performs every year. His master's degree thesis mixed literature and music also, titled The Connection between Folk Songs in Ming and Qing Dynasties and the Chinese Culture in the 19th Century.

After graduation, He Zhida did many jobs related to translation. In 2014, he visited China as Czech President Milos Zeman's translator. As the relation between China and the Czech Republic is getting increasingly closer, he's putting all his energy into the translation between Chinese and Czech. He said he feel proud to be connected to China.

A drink for Sino-Czech friendship

"Let's drink for the friendship between China and the Czech Republic," Ladislav Salal, president of the Sino-Czech Economic Cooperation Association said right after the People's Daily reporter sat down, taking out a bottle of wine and two small cups.

"It is a Czech liquor similar to erguotou (a kind of Chinese liquor) in China, but it is not so hot. Still, it will burn your stomach," he explained. The reporter had a sip and decided to put it down, but he barred the way, saying, "You coming here is just like going back home. As a family we must drink this cup." He then emptied his glass, and the reporter followed suit.

Born in 1930, Salal was sent to study in China in 1952 and he studied Chinese at Peking University. From 1958 to 1962, Salal was the economy commissioner at the Czechoslovakian embassy to China. In the following years, he went to China many times, leading the Czechoslovakian economic delegation.

"China is my second hometown. I have special feelings for the country. Everything about it is so beautiful," Salal said while showing the photos he has taken in China in different periods.

"I also found my love in Beijing," Salal said in a voice filled with happiness. He met his wife Ai Lianna, who was then his classmate, while he was studying at Peking University.

During his stay in Beijing, he and his colleagues met then Chinese vice president Zhu De. "We wanted to take a photo with Zhu De. And Zhu De agreed without any hesitation after learning that we are from socialist country," Salal said, displaying the photo featuring Zhu De and a group of diplomats.

"Even though there were twists and turns, the friendship between China and the Czech Republic has never stopped. Particularly in recent years, the relationship between the two countries is rising," Salal is very confident about Sino-Czech relations. "The visits of top leaders from both countries have greatly enhanced our relations. After the Czech president's visit to China last year, now Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit the Czech Republic soon. I believe this visit will be historic, and will bring Sino-Czech relations to a new level," said Salal.

In 2014, the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Czech Republic, Chinese ambassador to the Czech Republic compiled and published a book called China and Me to commemorate the milestone, and invited many who used to study and work in China to share their stories. The book includes a memoir by Salal in which he wrote, "My love of China never left me since it started in my youth. I grow more interested in China the more I know about the country."

"I sympathize with everything happening in China, and I feel sincerely happy for the grand achievements China has accomplished today," he said.


Recent economic and cultural exchanges

The Czech Republic is the second-biggest trading partner of China in the Central and Eastern European region, and China is the second-biggest trading partner in the world for the Czech Republic. In 2015, two-way trade topped $11 billion.

In the last 10 years, the Czech Republic's exports to China have grown 190 percent. Chinese companies have invested a total of $300 million in the Czech Republic and created about 3,000 jobs.

In August 2014, the Czech government hosted the China-Central and Eastern European Countries Cooperation Investment Forum. Representatives from 15 provinces, cities and autonomous regions of China met with officials and CEOs from 16 Central and Eastern European countries.

Major Chinese companies, including Huawei, ZTE, Hisense and China Guodian Corporation, are doing business in the Czech Republic.

According to media reports, China CEFC Energy Company also has many projects in the Czech Republic. The company has also bought a soccer club in Prague. 

In 2015, when officials from the two countries met, they also discussed putting the cooperation into the bigger frame of the One Belt and One Road initiative.

Apart from the official level, people and organizations in China and the Czech Republic have a long history of friendly relationship.

Based on data from the Czech national tourist office, the number of Chinese tourists visiting the Czech Republic has reached 250,000 a year and is increasing rapidly. Right now, the number is increasing by 10 to 20 percent every month. 

In 2015, the first direct flight was established between China and the Czech Republic.

In February 2016, Prague and Beijing became sister cities. China also gave the Czech Republic a panda as a gift. 

There's a lot of cultural and athletic exchange between the two countries as well. For example, On September 24, 2015, the Czech national ice hockey team and the Chinese team completed a united training camp together. This is seen as Chinese preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympic games.

To mirror Xi's visit, 16 Chinese ice hockey players will arrive in Prague later this month to be trained by Czech coaches.

Newspaper headline: Czech it out

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