Words from a leader: How reply letters from Xi warm and encourage China’s international friends
Published: Oct 17, 2022 08:56 PM
Foreign experts at the Foreign Languages Press discuss during work. Photo: Foreign Languages Press

Foreign experts at the Foreign Languages Press discuss during work. Photo: Foreign Languages Press

Chinese people believe that letters are as valuable as gold. For thousands of years, letters, across mountains and oceans, have been delivering the writers' sentiments, friendship, and expectations.

During the past decade, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Chinese president, has managed to find time to reply to some letters from ordinary people despite his busy work schedule.

Through his letters, Xi has also corresponded with international friends from all walks of life on numerous occasions, part of a series of excellent stories of China's international exchanges in the new era. The letters have also added vivid color to the diplomacy between China and other countries in the last decade.

He replied to the descendants of the international friends to China's revolution and construction, whose contributions are still highly appreciated in China today; he replied to international students in Chinese universities, who he encouraged to learn about China and share what they see here with their people back home; he also replied to primary school students who are benefiting from Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects and looking forward to seeing China with their own eyes someday.

Ahead of the 20th CPC National Congress and over the last few months, the Global Times reporters traced and contacted some of the recipients of Xi's letters, to hear the inspiring stories behind the letters and their contents.

In the courtyard of a Beijing hutong, Zhou Youma, the son of George Hatem, the first foreigner to be granted Chinese citizenship and join the CPC, told reporters how proud he was of his father's choice to forge ahead side by side with the CPC and the Chinese people, and how deeply moved he was that the Chinese state leader remembered the international friends who made valuable contributions to China's development.

Inside the beautiful campus of Xiamen University in East China's Fujian, an American professor who is dedicated to telling the world the real story about China, is still over-surprised after receiving a reply letter from Xi, and clearly remembers that immediately after, about 500 congratulatory messages flooded his phone.

In an hour-long phone call, a Peking University student from Italy, who speaks fluent Putonghua with a local Beijing accent, shared his experience of growing up in China and how Xi's reply letter to him and his peers has further affirmed his determination to stay in the country and witness its future development and prosperity.

In a Lao village primary school with "China" in its name, its retired principal could not hide her happiness and pride at receiving a reply letter from Xi, while recalling how the BRI projects have greatly improved local residents' livelihoods and expressed her wish that the long-lasting friendship between the two neighbor countries will continue.

A letter weighs much more than one may think. It can not only tell a story of a person, a family, or a group of people, but can also illustrate the story of a nation.

We will publish two installments to share some stories on how replies from Xi have encouraged China's international friends. This is the first installment.

"I firmly believe that the CPC has maintained its original aspiration of striving for the people's welfare." 

Zhou Youma, son of George Hatem, the first foreigner granted Chinese citizenship and joined the CPC

On September 14, 2021, Xi replied to a letter from family members of some international friends, including Edgar and Helen Snow, George Hatem, Rewi Alley, and Israel Epstein, paying high tribute to said international friends who had stood and fought shoulder to shoulder with the CPC and the Chinese people through thick and thin, and made invaluable contributions to China's revolution, construction, and reform.

China, Xi said, has always remembered their invaluable contributions to China's revolution, construction, and reform and their earnest friendship toward the CPC and the Chinese people, and will always cherish their memory.

In August 2021, 16 family members of international friends jointly penned and sent a letter to Xi. In the letter, they said they are proud that their family members chose to stand with the CPC and the Chinese people, and are willing to carry forward the internationalist spirit in the new era under the guidance of the initiative of building a community with a shared future for mankind, and make new contributions to enhancing the friendship between Chinese and foreign people and supporting China in realizing the second centenary goal.

"I am warmed and encouraged by the reply letter from Xi. I will always follow my father's example, actively promoting the spirit of internationalism, and cooperate with international friends to enhance the friendship between the Chinese people and the people of the world, making the image of China and the CPC more vivid and lovely," Zhou said.

"President Xi encouraged us to continue these efforts that we are trying to do in the bilateral relationship… It was a really exciting moment for our family. I hope that relationship continues."

Adam Foster, president of the Helen Foster Snow Foundation

"We wrote a letter to President Xi, and that was signed by 66 members of the Foster family, and just thanking the Chinese people for what they've done to celebrate Helen and to honor her legacy," Adam Foster told the Global Times. Helen Foster Snow was the great-aunt of Adam Foster.  

On January 27, 2022, Xi sent a reply letter to Foster, pointing out that Edgar and Helen Snow actively promoted the Chinese Gong He (Gung Ho) movement of industrial cooperatives, and played an important role in establishing the Shandan Peili School in China's Gansu Province.

The Chinese people, he added, bear in mind the contributions made by international friends, including the Snows, to China's revolution and construction, as well as their sincere friendship with the CPC and the Chinese people.

In the interview, he expressed his hope that Foster and the foundation will continue to follow the example of the Snows and make new contributions to enhancing the friendship and cooperation between the Chinese and American people.

"I was greatly touched to receive a reply from the head of the state. It moved me and at the same time I understood that the responsibility on my shoulders as a foreign expert now is even bigger than before."

Timofey Bakhvalov, a Russian expert at the Foreign Languages Press

In his letter of reply to the foreign experts with the Foreign Languages Press in August this year, Xi encouraged foreign experts to contribute more to the promotion of exchanges, and to communication between China and other countries, in building a community with a shared future for humanity.

When talking with the Global Times about reasons for writing a letter to Xi, the foreign experts, including Burkhard Risse from Germany, who has been a German expert at the Foreign Languages Press since 2020, and English expert David Ferguson from the UK, said that they wanted to tell Xi about their works and how they feel honored to be participants in conveying China's voice to the world.

Many foreign experts have also joined in the translation works of Xi Jinping: The Governance of China.

"I told President Xi in my letter that I was optimistic about China's future. Now I am even more confident, and more than willing to observe China's development and tell the world what the real China is like in the following decades."

William N. Brown, a business professor at Xiamen University

"Witnessing China's development and changes and sharing them with the world makes me feel fulfilled, happy, and proud," Brown told the Global Times.

On February 1, 2019, Xi sent a reply letter to Brown, lauding the professor's dedication of 30 years to the educational cause of China, and said he was touched by Brown's deep affection for Xiamen and the country.

"As an eyewitness to China's reform and opening-up, you have represented Xiamen and Fujian Province, and painted a real picture of China for the world. I really appreciate your attitude of integrating into the Chinese community," Xi said in his letter, media reported. 

Xi's reply came after receiving the book Off the Wall - How We Fell for China authored by Brown, which is a compilation of roughly 50 letters detailing his life in China to his family and friends in the US.

"It was a surprise and an honor that as a state leader shouldering such huge responsibility, President Xi still managed to write back to me, an ordinary foreign teacher..." Brown said, who believes that the Chinese stories he tells in the future will be even more wonderful.