Today again the main headline in the Global Times: Letters from and to Xi, which he supposedly would answer personally. This time to Arab artists. Timely fitting after the Xi-Arab summit and the SA-Iran deal as part of the Global Security Initiative, this time probably as part of the Global Civilization Initiative, or one should say; Global Xivilization Initiative. In any case, Xi presents himself as a patron and lover of fine arts, who celebrates the ancient advanced cultures of the Arab empires and China, including the Silk Road, together with a historical and traditional alleged Sino-Arab friendship. All historical and cultural connections and exchanges that one wants to build on again for the benefit of mankind.
“Reply letter from Xi evokes Arab artists of memorable China trips, inspires efforts in cultural exchanges
Bridge of two civilizations
By Huang Lanlan
Published: May 03, 2023 07:47 PM Updated: May 03, 2023 09:45 PM
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.
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
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 „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 he 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.“
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 he loves connecting with local people to learn about their daily lives during his visits, told the Global Times that in China he usually walked around, sat with people he 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 his 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
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.
With all the bourgeois art hype and interpretation-chauvinistic culture war, a portrait exhibition of Italian artists should not be missing, especially Raphael. However, the portraits and works of art or the artists as such are less interesting for the Global Times than an assumed „philosophical spirit“ that speaks from them. Accordingly, some hidden details become of special interest as a Chinese-looking vase in a portrait and Chinese silk, which would clearly show that the European Renaissance copied Chinese culture. The European Renaissance was probably unthinkable without China’s high culture, ancient civilization or had never taken place.
“China-Italy exhibition reveals shared connection between ancient cultures
By Li Yuche Published: May 03, 2023 08:43 PM
Inlaid in a velvety maroon wall at the National Museum of China (NMC), Self-Portrait, one of the Italian Renaissance master Raffaello Sanzio’s most eminent works, becomes the star of the latest China-Italy art exhibition co-lunched by the museum in Beijing and the Uffizi Galleries, a treasure house of Renaissance classics based in Florence, Italy.
The work created by the Italian artist better known as Raphael more than 500 years ago is only one of 50 self-portrait paintings at the show that Vanessa Gavioli, one of the exhibition’s curators, described to the Global Times as a „temple of artists“ that takes Chinese visitors to look closer at works representing the spirit of Italian culture.
Decoding Self-Portrait for the Global Times, Alessandra Griffo, the exhibition’s other curator, said that behind the „majestic“ look of the painting, the „real“ Raphael was a „sweet young man“ with a slight melancholy look in his eyes.
Raphael gained the title of „Renaissance pioneer“ while he was still staggeringly young. Passing at the age of 37, he left behind this legacy that became an important part of Western art until the second half of the 19th century.
„It shows Italy was a fulcrum to the development of the whole European Renaissance,“ she remarked.
Besides Raphael, the show is also crowded with works from other big names such as Flemish Renaissance-Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, the Dutch „master of light“ Rembrandt, Russian-French dreamy modernist Chagall and Chinese contemporary artists such as Cai Guoqiang.
Unlike many other cross-cultural shows in China that present works done in various mediums and styles, the current Beijing exhibition focuses on self-portraits. For this reason, how to curate the exhibition was „not an easy job,“ Gavioli said.
The 50 paintings were selected from the Italian art house’s nearly 2,000 artworks. The way these iconic works are threaded together reveals an art landscape that has evolved from the 16th to the 21st century.
Gavioli told the Global Times that the new exhibition is more spiritual in nature compared to the Uffizi’s previous collaboration with Shanghai’s Bund One Art Museum.
„At the Shanghai show, we placed self-portraits in chronological order, but for the Beijing one, we want to highlight the philosophical nature of these paintings,“ Gavioli told the Global Times.
Addressing this „philosophical nature,“ Gavioli said that artists paint portraits as if they are looking at themselves in a mirror while staying conscious of the fact this self-depiction will one day be seen by someone else.
„So to some extent, we are eye to eye,“ Gavioli said, adding that these portraits allow audiences to freely imagine the character of these Renaissance figures while „privately“ connecting with European fine cultures.
Art expert Qu Fei told the Global Times that a self-portrait can provide rich information about the artist’s cultural and social environment through details such as side decoration, the figure’s facial expression and their clothes and accessories.
„This is also an opportunity for us to look into the prime of Italy’s historical culture,“ Qu noted.
A visitor explores the exhibition at the National Museum of China in Beijing. Photo: Li Hao/Global Times
At the exhibition, a porcelain ware with Chinese aesthetics can be seen in the bottom-left corner of a self-portrait by Antonio Cioci.
The artwork was painted in Italy over 200 years ago, during the 18th century. The Chinese-looking porcelain piece was actually Italian porcelain, Griffo noted, saying that it epitomizes the West’s desire to imitate Chinese ceramics.
„The Western world longed for fine Chinese ceramics for a long time, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that they managed to recreate porcelain wares that looked Chinese,“ Griffo noted.
Porcelain was not the only cultural inspiration from the Far East that had a huge impact on Western art.
Fresco Flora, a fresco discovered in Italy’s Pompeii, depicts the Goddess of Spring picking the flower. The fairy-like Goddess is wearing a sheer garment that many scholars believe was made of Chinese silk.
Li Jun, vice president of the School of Humanities at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, said that ancient China-Rome exchanges boomed during the 15th century and that fine silk from China was considered a treasure among Italian nobles.
Li said that in 2018 he curated an exhibition at the NMC that traced the exchanges between China and Italy made possible due to the Silk Road. The Embracing the Orient and the Occident: When the Silk Road Meets the Renaissance explored stories such as how Italian explorer Marco Polo came to China and witnessed Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) culture and a comparison between the Western painting Madonna and Child and the Chinese scroll painting Child-giving Guanyin. It guided visitors to look into how the Silk Road prompted cultural exchanges between East and the West for more than 2,000 years.
„I see that Chinese visitors are truly curious about Italian art and culture,“ Griffo said.
The curator also told the Global Times that she is conceiving a new exhibition, which is scheduled to open in Shanghai by September, and will focus on 18th century art and classic Chinese fans and paper handicrafts.
With this mutual cultural-chauvinistic boasting, which ascribes a certain right to exist as ancient cultures to the Italians as the Roman Empire and the place of origin of the European Renaissance, like the Arabs and their empires, especially as part of the Silk Road of the time, unlike the Germans and Teutons as forest people, who also already regarded as barbarians by the Romans and the uncultured cowboy nation USA, China wants to be perceived again as the cultural center of the world, to which other barbarians or subordinate cultures should pay tribute, the Middle Kingdom and supposedly the oldest advanced civilization in the world. And Xi as incarnation and reincarnation of this sort of national rejuvenation.
In the case of Italy, there has always been a debate as to whether Marco Polo brought the Italian noodles to China as an act of civilization or whether Marco Polo brought the Chinese noodles to Italy. By no means a harmless question, as shown by the efforts of the post-fascist front woman of Fratelli de Italia, Giorgia Meloni, who wants to declare spaghetti carbonara as Italy’s national UN cultural heritage and is now arguing with the USA about whether this is the case. At least the Global Xivilization Initiative, as part of the national renaissance and rejuvenation after the short interlude of western colonialism and US cowboy hegemony, aims to resurrect the similarities and glories of the old empires of the Global South with cultural references – this in contrast to the cultureless USA, which would be a very young, nation without real ancient culture and traditions, yes these Americans were the real new barbarians, were world trouble makers and did not accept other cultures and looked down on them arrogantly – unlike China which wants to present itself as the crown of civilizational and cultural creativity and its creations as the oldest and most ancient high culture in the world. Especially since the Wesetn is more likely to be seen as a robber of art and cultural treasures from other countries and the looting of the national museum in Baghdad during the Iraq war in 2003 has not yet been forgotten.But the whole thing is not so unrivaled, since India also comes into play with a new archaeological discovery: A Buddha statue in Egypt with Sanskrit writing. Apparently the old trade route Roman Empire / Europe – India with the Arabs and Egypt as a hub. Certainly, with the current India hype as a result of the Sino-American conflict, derisking and diversification, it will be again hyped as a cultural soft power argument that not only did Chinese high culture exist, but that it was actually significantly influenced by India. In any case, the old trade routes and empires will now be resurrected, as Parag Khanna already pointed out in his book „The future is Asian“, that the Asian-Arabian region formed and will now form a historical entity again, which is why many now do not speak of the Greater Middle East or Near or Middle East anymore, but now talking about West Asia.
“Buddha statue uncovered in Egypt’s Red Sea reveals ancient trade route
This discovery also showed that Egypt was a gateway between the East and the Roman Empire.
‘Smiling Buddha (Buddha Looking at Old Candle TV),’ 1992, by Korean-American artist Nam June Paik
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Published: MAY 3, 2023 22:16
In the Egyptian port city of Berenike, situated near the nation’s southernmost point of the Red Sea, archaeologists have uncovered an ancient Buddha statue, which is uncommon for the region.
The statue dated back to the 2nd century AD, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
The statue was made of Mediterranean marble, highlighting possible trade routes between ancient Rome and India. It is also the first of its kind found west of Afghanistan, the New York Review of Books reported.
Archaeologists from the University of Delaware and the University of Warsaw found the statue during an excavation of an ancient temple in the city of Berenike.
The statue may be small, but it certainly does not lack character. Standing just over two feet tall, the statue shows Buddha standing and holding his garments in one of his hands, with a halo around his head as well as a lotus flower. According to researchers, they believe the statue was created in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria in the second century.
Buddha found in Egypt was found alongside a tablet with Sanskrit inscribed
Along with a Sanskrit inscription dating back to a Roman emperor known as „Philip the Arab,“ who ruled from 244-249 CE and came from present-day Syria, two coins from the Indian Kingdom of Satavahana dating back to the same period of time were found, Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said.
These discoveries show a connection between three ancient societies that helped build the modern world. Ancient Rome, India, and Egypt were more connected than previously thought and had intricate trade routes never previously imagined.
This discovery also showed that Egypt was a gateway between the East and the Roman Empire.
These finds indicate a greater connection than previously known between Ancient Rome, Egypt, and India. Due to its central location along Roman trade routes, Egypt served as a gateway between the Roman Empire and its ancient counterparts.
The city where the Buddha was uncovered, Berenike, was founded in the third century BCE and became one of the largest ports in the region under Roman rule until it was abandoned in the sixth century CE.
If you look at the paintings, pictures , architecture and the concept of art of the CP China and the Arabs exhibited or the Global South, then these are more traditional paintings, landscape paintings, representational art, portraits, a bit of Chinese modernized classicism, mostly apolitical, if it is not propaganda arts of the authotarian regimes, if it gets adventurous with a little bit of imperssionism and expressionism or partly with the aesthetics of socialist realism or, if it has to appear completely modern, some technology-savvy and futuristic elements, poster art of alienated, colorfully overpainted Coke cans and film stars ala Andy Warhol, whose pop art is not understood as social criticism but as a call for even more consumption, but otherwise most of these art works are rather value-conservative and apolitical.This also applies to the architecture: The Huawei headquarter is a copy of all global architectural styles and traditional and neoclassical Chinese along with futuristic Disney World Dubai buildings such as the Pudong skyline, which exceed the limits of unbearable kitsch. An Ai Weiwei is allowed to design a futuristic bird’s nest for the Olympics, but political art such as backpacks for earthquake victims are quickly perceived as anti-system dissident art, a beating thug squad from the State Security was sent to him and the disruptor is expelled from the country. Similarly in the 90s the „Mao goes Pop“ wave.Insofar as portraits of Xi should be drawn, but not in the style of Goya’s parodying portraits of arictocrats and their ugly aristocratic women as Xi already doesn’t understand the fun of youthful comparisons of his person on social media with Winnie the Pooh. Goya’s giant should then probably only represent the USA and not China. And if something political from Europe were to be exhibited, then Picasso’s Guernica or John Heartfiled’s photo collage of the Shanghai Chinese child in bomb ruins in view of the atrocities of Japanese militarism (which is now rearing its head again, which is why China must now arm itself to become a world power) would probably be the best with a reference on the Nanking Massacre and is best exhibited in the Museum for China’s Oskar Schindler, John Rabe in Nanking.
It is quite possible that in the populations of countries that are currently growing out of tribal and agricultural societies with extended family and clan structures and are going through modernity and urbanization at a rapid pace, so-called beautiful, more handcrafted and traditional art is more familiar and also as a nostalgic, identity-creating refuge and reminder of the good old days, while western art is seen as degenerated, incomprehensible, unhealthy, dadaistic, sick, maybe even mentally ill, crazy and confused. Germans may regard Themselves with their Documenta as the navel and center of the worldnut there are gathering more urban-modern artists from the metropolitan upper class of the Global South and not the traditional artists, but it is likely that traditional folk art is better received by broad sections of the population of the Global South than the more abstract, politically bold, modern works that the average Joe Doe finds rather decadent and incomprehensible, and also trigger such anti-Western reflexes. Even if Beuss once said that everyone is an artist and actually everything is art. But you don’t even have to go to the Global South, just ask BILD and the German public feeling, which partly rightly criticizes the elitist and quasi-sacred-authoritarian concept of art of the arrogant educated middle-class bubble, which believes itself to be in unreachable intellectual heights, and its highly subsidized culture business and art market.