Cultural center bridges Chinese, Serbian peoples, breeds friendship
Beautiful window
Published: May 09, 2024 12:07 AM
The China Cultural Center in Belgrade, Serbia Photo: Zhang Han/GT

The China Cultural Center in Belgrade, Serbia Photo: Zhang Han/GT

In Belgrade, capital of Serbia, a white and modern-looking building shines in the bright sun of early May alongside the Confucius street. In 2016 during his first state visit to the country, Chinese President Xi Jinping laid a foundation stone for the building. 

It is the China Cultural Center built on the ruins of the Chinese embassy in former Yugoslavia by China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the provincial government of Shandong. 

As Xi pays a second visit to Serbia, Global Times reporter went to the center to find out how the place has gained a new life while retaining the sentiment of friendship.  

Statues of two ancient Chinese philosophers Laozi, the founder of Taoism, and Confucius stand on ­either side of the entrance, depicting a classic scenario of Confucius asking Laozi about rites and rituals. 

Great minds are born through communication with others and great civilizations value mutual learning. 

The center, covering an area of 6,000 square meters, displays Chinese-style furniture transported all the way from China via China-Europe Railway Express. It is more than a beautiful building, but a lively stage for local Serbians to learn about China, a bridge connecting the two peoples and a cradle for bilateral friendship. 

Vladimir Roglic, an IT professional in Belgrade, learns tai chi course at the center. Roglic first developed an interest in China in primary school as a karate practitioner after getting a tai chi brochure from his neighbor. 

A scene inside the China Cultural Center in Belgrade, Serbia Photo: Zhang Han/GT

A view inside the China Cultural Center in Belgrade, Serbia Photo: Zhang Han/GT

'A perfect balance'

Roglic followed the movement step by step, and fell in love with it for its "meditation in movement."

"It is not like yoga that you take a position and meditate; it is not fierce sports where you 'fight'; but it is a perfect middle way, just like the symbol of tai chi. It's all about achieving a perfect balance between black and white, yin and yang," Roglic told the Global Times. 

Roglic, who speaks fluent Chinese, looks forward to visiting Wudang Mountains in Central China's Hubei Province one day to improve his martial arts techniques at the "sacred place" of Taoism.   

Of all courses, tai chi is the most popular one while the center also offers classes on Chinese language, calligraphy, guzheng (a traditional Chinese musical instrument), and the cooking and tea ceremony courses would soon to be added to the curriculum. 

Roglic's calligraphy classmate Danijela Radanovic is a police officer from Serbia's Ministry of Interior. She has studied Chinese language for about one year and started the calligraphy in April to help her language learning process.

Radanovic has long been interested in Chinese culture, the calligraphy, music and architecture. But she started studying Chinese for a particular reason for she wanted to help more Chinese tourists and business people who encounter difficulties in Serbia. 

As she is getting ready to visit China in September on an exchange program, Radanovic shared with the Global Times her excitement that she will see the country with her own eyes and try authentic Chinese food. 

"I ­really want to visit Sichuan [Province] to see the pandas. But there are also other places I want to go  … Maybe I will live in China one day," Radanovic said. 

A strong sense of friendship and warmth can be felt through conversations with students attending classes at the center.

The cultural center has only entered its trial operation very recently, and Milica Milovic is the first local employee. Milovic said that she is proud to be part of the China-Serbia ironclad friendship by working at the center. When asked about the first thing that came up to her mind related to China, Milovic sang the famous "Bella Ciao," an Italian folk song which became a Chinese street melody in 1977, when Yugoslavian film The Bridge was introduced to China. 

Milovic mentioned the tragic bombing of the Chinese embassy in 1999 as an early strong bond connecting China and Serbia, noting that the friendship has been enriched and fortified over the years. 

President Xi, in his signed article published Tuesday in local media Politika, wrote "The China-Serbia friendship, forged with the blood of our compatriots, will stay in the shared memory of the Chinese and Serbian peoples, and will inspire us to march forward with big strides."

The giant painting decorates the entrance hall of the cultural center, peony blossoms with the title "a peaceful and prosperous time," speaks of a common wish that China and Serbia could make their mutual progress a reality and join hands to build a human community of shared future in the new era.   

Real friends

Milovic recalled her stay in Changsha, a relaxing city in Central China's Hunan Province, in 2023 to improve her Chinese, during which she "started learning more about Chinese culture." 

"Even though I like Chinese culture, music and food, the thing that makes me love China the most are the Chinese people," she said.

Milovic's remarks are a testament that amid exchanges on food, music and art, culture, or other sectors like trade and technology, what matters the most are the people.

As Confucius said 2,500 years ago that "it is such a delight to have friends coming from afar," in Belgrade, Chinese people are treated as real friends.