Minister: Culture is the strongest bond linking China, US

Updated: 2014-06-30 07:28

By Chen Weihua(China Daily USA)

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China's Minister of Culture, Cai Wu, was visiting the United States, when he joined the crowds at the National Mall in Washington on Saturday for the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The annual folklife festival is probably the largest cultural event in Washington, drawing more than 1 million visitors. And unlike previous years which featured multiple countries, this year only two countries -- China and Kenya -- are on show.

Minister: Culture is the strongest bond linking China, US

After a period of growing tensions over maritime territorial disputes between China and Vietnam two US allies of Japan and the Philippines, and between China and the US over cyber espionage, the festival shows a totally different aspect of the bilateral relationship. It is clearly winning the hearts and minds of Americans, as they came in droves including many families with children.

The 108 Chinese folk artists and craftsmen that attended the festival are among the top in the country. For example, Chinese paper cut artist, Gao Fenglian, in her late 70s, is described as China's Picasso, for creating complicated paper cuts without drawing sketches.

Even in China, it's rare for these artists to assemble in one place. In this sense, visitors to the National Mall are really lucky.

On Saturday morning, Cai went from tent to tent, from the Moonrise to Dragon-Lion Cart and chatted with the artists and craftsmen and watched them perform in front of visitors. He said he wanted to express his gratitude to them.

"I hope the introduction of Chinese folk art can help Americans better understand Chinese culture and the Chinese people, and promote mutual understanding," he said.

Cai believes such exchanges will lay a solid foundation of people-to-people exchange for bilateral cooperation and the building of a new type of major country relationship, a concept agreed upon by Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama when they met in California last June.

While many have called to inject content to such a great concept to defy the historical rivalry between the rising power and the existing power, there is no doubt that a people-to-people exchange is the most tangible content and a consequential part of the relationship.

"The strongest bond linking the two nations I think should be culture," said the 64-year-old Cai, who assumed his current post in 2008.

Speaking at the June 25 hearings before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said the US is now reflecting on the considerable progress attained in 35 years of bilateral diplomatic relations.

"One key lesson is that to ensure that our relationship grows and matures, we need to build up the links among our two peoples. People-to-people exchanges are essential to enhancing mutual understanding and furthering US strategic and economic goals," Russel said.

Besides meeting Chinese artists and craftsmen, Cai also took time to chat with American visitors, asking them how they like the games and programs.

The Chinese participation in the folklife festival was decided last November at the 4th China-US High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange held in Washington.

Last Friday, Cai met Russel and Evan Ryan, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, to discuss the extension of a bilateral cultural exchange agreement expected to be signed in Beijing next month.

He also interacted with representatives from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowments for the Arts and Virginia Museum of Fine Arts about how to advance bilateral cultural exchanges.

On July 2, Cai is expected to address the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in Los Angeles to discuss the growth of popular culture in China as a younger, more affluent, and overwhelmingly online generation seek new forms of artistic expression that differ from traditional Chinese culture. Former Chinese President Yang Shangkun and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen spoke at the council before.

Cai is also scheduled to visit cultural institutions such as the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and hold talks with executives from DreamWorks and the Walt Disney Corp. Both companies have been expanding in China.

While the US government really has no counterpart for Cai's position, the US boasts a powerful cultural industry that is the envy of the world.

For one thing, while free concerts and performances are everywhere in US cities throughout the year, especially in summer, such events are rare in China.

Many observers feel that the huge potential for bilateral cultural cooperation and exchange is yet to be fully explored.