Reply letter from Xi evokes Arab artists of memorable China trips, inspires efforts in cultural exchanges
Bridge of two civilizations
Published: May 03, 2023 07:47 PM Updated: May 03, 2023 09:45 PM
People visit an exhibition of a collection of artwork by famous Chinese and Arab artists in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, on April 3, 2023.Photo: Xinhua

People visit an exhibition of a collection of artwork by famous Chinese and Arab artists in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, on April 3, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

Editor's Note:

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

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 different parts of society and the world despite his busy work schedule.

Through his letters, Xi has 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.

The Global Times traced and contacted some of the recipients of Xi's letters, to hear the inspiring stories behind the letters and their communication with the president.

In this installment, we talked to four Arab artists who received a reply letter from President Xi, along with his encouragement to Arab artists to create more artworks reflecting China-Arab friendship, and to make new contributions to promoting exchanges and mutual learning between the two civilizations.

An impressive, inspiring reply

After receiving a reply letter from Chinese President Xi Jinping, Omani artist Saud Al Hunaini said he felt overwhelmed with pride and happiness.

"It was an incredible honor," he recalled.

Days earlier, with nostalgia from beautiful days spent in China, Al Hunaini wrote a letter to Xi along with over 50 famous Arab artists after visiting China under the "Silk Road Artists' Rendezvous" program. 

Al Hunaini and his peers talked about what they gained from and how they were inspired by their unforgettable trips to China in the joint letter to Xi. They mentioned impressive China's natural and cultural beauty, as well as the wonderful experience of working together with Chinese artists during the trips.

In his reply, Xi encouraged them to create more artworks that reflect China-Arab friendship, and make new contributions that enhance friendship between their people.

"I was deeply grateful that President Xi had taken the time to respond to our letter," Al Hunaini told the Global Times. The reply "was an acknowledgement of the importance of promoting cultural and humanitarian ties between China and Arab nations," he added.

Al Hunaini said that in Xi's reply letter, he was mostly impressed by Xi's vision of respecting the diversity of civilizations and enhancing mutual learning between different cultures. "It was a reminder that our shared humanity is greater than our differences, and that by working together, we can build a better world for all," he noted. 

Omani artist Saud Al Hunaini poses with his artwork which he produced during a visit to China under the

Omani artist Saud Al Hunaini poses with his artwork which he produced during a visit to China under the "Silk Road Artists' Rendezvous" program. Photo: Courtesy of Saud Al Hunaini

Some other co-authors of the letter also shared with the Global Times their excitement at receiving Xi's reply. They said the letter inspired them to make continuous efforts in promoting exchanges between the Chinese and Arab cultures.

Lebanese artist Nizar Daher said Xi's reply was a "great encouragement for Arab artists to interact and to meet Chinese artists through the Silk Roads."

"That has been instrumental in stimulating encounters and working to build a better tomorrow, and peace and friendship among the Chinese, Arab, and Lebanese societies," said Daher.

After receiving Xi's reply, Egyptian artist Hala Elsharouny said she was deeply honored and appreciative.  

"I fell in love with China," Elsharouny told the Global Times. "I am planning to learn the [Chinese] language in the future."

Hala Elsharouny makes artworks with artists from Macao Special Administrative Region SAR. (Photo: Courtesy of Hala Elsharouny)

Hala Elsharouny makes artworks with artists from Macao Special Administrative Region. (Photo: Courtesy of Hala Elsharouny)

Fond memories in China

In 2009, the "Silk Road Artists' Rendezvous" program held by Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism was launched and has since invited more than 170 artists from 22 Arab countries to visit China. 

These visits have inspired the Arab artists to create 487 artworks in the form of painting, sculpture, and ceramic art with Chinese elements, according the ministry's data.

China-Arab relations are now at a new historical starting point, Xi said in the letter, voicing his hope that more  artists will visit China and create, using their exquisite skills, more artworks that can promote cultural exchanges, according to Xinhua.

Culture can connect hearts, and art can interlink the world, Xi noted. Some artists reached by the Global Times said that Xi's reply letter reminded them of their fond memories of days spent in this remote and beautiful Eastern country.

Al Hunaini has been to various Chinese cities through "Silk Road Artists' Rendezvous" visits both in 2009 and 2019. China's rich cultural heritage and diverse landscapes left a lasting impression on him.

He praised Hangzhou in East China's Zhejiang Province as one of the most beautiful destinations he'd visited during his trips to China. "I was impressed by the picturesque West Lake, which is surrounded by lush green hills and dotted with traditional Chinese pagodas and temples," he recalled. "The scenery was breathtaking, and I was struck by the tranquility of the place."

Al Hunaini highlighted Hangzhou's Lingyin Temple, saying it "had a significant impact" on his art. "The intricate carvings and sculptures of Buddha and the serene atmosphere of the temple complex inspired me to use traditional Chinese colors, such as red, black, and gold, in the decorations and designs of the temple," he told the Global Times.

Having been to China numerous times, Daher said he was particularly impressed by ancient Chinese architecture, which he believes has the fragrance and greatness of history. "I visited the Great Wall on each one of my trips to China," he said.

China's natural beauty also provided inspiration for Daher's artwork. During his visits to the Chinese provinces rich in natural landscapes such as green forests, Daher said he discovered multi-colored and gradient greenery from the warmest of greens to the coolest. "Undoubtedly, a certain magical haze influenced my paintings after my visit to China," he joked.

Apart from picturesque sceneries, the kindness and warmth of Chinese people also left a deep impress on many artists.

Elsharouny, who said she loves connecting with local people to learn about their daily lives during her visits, told the Global Times that in China she usually walked around, sat with people she didn't know and had a cup of tea with them. Scenes of local residents enjoying life, such as sharing food together on a round table, or playing mahjong after a hard day at work, were some of the most beautiful moments in her China trips.

"I was surprised by their hospitality, and how everyone there wanted to help us," said Elsharouny. "What a beautiful people. I've learned a lot from them."

Envoys of cultural exchanges

Lebanese artist Nizar Daher signs a booklet for a Chinese audience member. Photo: Courtesy of Nizar Daher

Lebanese artist Nizar Daher signs a booklet for a Chinese audience member. Photo: Courtesy of Nizar Daher

From the beginning of the ancient Silk Road to the Belt and Road cooperation, exchanges between the Chinese and Arab civilizations have spanned thousands of years with mutual appreciation, writing a historical legacy of mutual learning, Xi said in the reply letter to the Arab artists.

Culture and art are essential bridges for the two great civilizations to further promote exchanges between their peoples, and the Arab artists who introduced China with their artworks are envoys that contribute to the construction of cultural bridges, noted observers.

Some artists told the Global Times that they are actively devoted to the promotion of Arab-China cultural exchanges.

Moroccan artist Khalid El Bekay said that he is likely to launch a workshop in Shenzhen in South China's Guangdong Province later this year, "maybe in June," he said.

Daher, who is also a professor from the Department of Fine Arts at Lebanese University and President of the syndicate of Lebanese Fine Artists, said he held an exhibition of Chinese art posters and folklore at the Lebanese Academy of Art in 2018 in cooperation with the Chinese Embassy.

He also made a proposal to the Ambassador of China to Lebanon to hold a Chinese cultural week at the UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Palace at the Ministry of Culture in Lebanon.

To many people in the Arab world, China is no longer a distant and unfamiliar Eastern country with the improvement of mutual understanding. They know a little Chinese culture, have heard about or use some Chinese products, and may be curious about people's lives there.

"Many Moroccan [friends] usually ask me about my [travelling] experiences in China," said El Bekay.

Al Hunaini said there are many people around him who are interested in Chinese culture and products, particularly Chinese cuisine, language, and traditional arts such as calligraphy and painting; "they have gained popularity in recent years."

On this basis, Al Hunaini believes there is potential for further collaboration between China and Arab countries, in not only art and culture, but also in broader fields including trade, technology, and education.

"By fostering greater mutual understanding and cooperation, we can build stronger relationships between our two civilizations and contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous world," he noted.

In March, Xi proposed the Global Civilization Initiative at the opening ceremony of the CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-Level Meeting. As another important public good provided to the world, the initiative advocates for the respect of the diversity of civilizations and the principles of equality, mutual learning, dialogue, and inclusivity, and promotes the strengthening of international people-to-people exchanges that foster mutual understanding.

The Global Civilization Initiative is a great step toward building stronger cultural ties between different civilizations, noted Al Hunaini. 

The initiative encourages dialogue, mutual learning, and cooperation among countries and civilizations, which is essential for building a harmonious and inclusive global community, Al Hunaini added. "Its emphasis that mutual respect and understanding of different civilizations can help break down cultural barriers and promote peace and prosperity in the world."

"I believe that, by strengthening our ties, we can create a more prosperous and harmonious future for both China and Arab countries," he told the Global Times.