People-to-People – The Fundament Romania and China
Chinese pencils, Chinese pen cases for school, Chinese erasers, Chinese sneakers, Chinese toys - these are some of the symbols associated with China which are still present in the collective memory of the Romanian people. It is a real fact that, on the grounds of the great diplomatic relations that our country has built with China, we have all received with great joy these things, as children. On the other side, Romanian Music, Dance, Dacia, Roman, furniture as a symbol of luxury… But the relations among our countries have gone beyond diplomacy, trade, and mutual support in times of need. And these are perhaps the richest we ever build in the last 70 years, somehow different than any others. Because they are built on a strong, unique foundation: emotional connection between our peoples and sympathy.
Touching the deepest corners
I have been in China for 8 months now, but I came here with more than 20 years serving as a diplomat, either in the Romanian MFA or in the European Service, and with more than 30 years dedicated to my passion for Asia. I have spent most of this period in Asia, trying to figure out China’s profile as the “Middle Kingdom” in an endless journey of intimate understanding, respect and admiration. All this experience has strengthened my conviction that, in its external relations, Romania has always had its priorities, but also constants, and the relation with China is the best example of the latter.
I have always liked to believe, as an external observer, that Romania’s relationship with China can be considered one of the richest relationships our country has ever built and that the richness and consistency of this does not come from the official political dialogue, or the economic and commercial spheres, but from the people-to-people and cultural contacts. Being in China for 8 months, I am inclined to believe that the high level of sympathy and mutual respect represents the most important capital of our connection, which needs to be preserved, nourished and consolidated. In general terms, we can say that Romania is the country with the most well-defined presence in the collective memory of the cohort of the Chinese people who are now between 40 and 70 years old. The most important vehicles that have kept this alive were arts and culture and above all, the Romanian movies.
A soul-song, a soul treasure of 40 years
Just days before the end of last year, I found out that Simona Halep and five other Romanian players will be in Shenzhen for the annual tennis tournament organized across the New Year. Because I was new in China, I asked for the officials’ support to get there and the help came from a local official, who offered immediately to be our companion. Upon arrival and entering his car, I was taken aback by the most impressive collection of classical music I have ever experienced. After three days spent together enjoying a daily 3-hour ride to the tennis court and back, on our last day before departure, he asked me to listen to a special piece, a song with a special place in his heart, one that he deeply and intimately carried with him for 40 years. He then asked me to recognize the song, which was a soundtrack from a movie, rather different from the elevated collection of classical music he played for us before. The music did not sound familiar to me and was really different from what we had been listening to for the past three days. I did not want to disappoint him, so I discreetly recorded the song and sent it via WhatsApp to a good friend, a fine music connoisseur in Bucharest. To buy time, I asked him to play it once more while waiting for a hint. My friend replied on time saying that the song sounds like a Temistocle Popa composition. I shared this with my companion and he then asked the movie in which the song features on the soundtrack. He indicated that the movie is very popular in China, just as popular as the Romanian movies “Valurile Dunării” (Waves of the Danube) or “Mihai Viteazul” (Michael the Brave). For him, this was the most important, since it was the first one he had ever seen in a cinema as a gift from his father when he turned 14 years old. He was so impressed with this movie that he worked, as a child, to get money for tickets just to see it over and over again for the 3 weeks that the cinema ran it.
Realizing that I cannot recall the name of the movie based only on the soundtrack, he started to recount the movie: a director sent to a town at the Black Sea, with a wonderful actress riding a horse on the beach, and he told me that he was going to tell me the name after we will arrive at destination if I cannot remember it. I and my wife both said that the movie was “Eu, tu și... Ovidiu” (Me, you and… Ovidiu). Our Chinese friend contested our guess immediately telling us that the movie he was referring to was released in 1978, and starred Florin Piersic (?!)! What we heard was from a movie launched in the summer of 1977, exactly 40 years ago. He then underlined the fact that the soundtrack has been his soul-song, his emotional companion for 40 years, as well as the actress’ image.
When we finally arrived, he showed me a folder in his phone, filled with the movie in its original version in Romanian, a second one with Chinese subtitle and another one doubled in Chinese, but also some short karaoke videos with the entire movie soundtracks in Chinese and Romanian. I was literally speechless. To take me out of the shock he said few words: “Hot Days”, with Ileana Popovici.
It was only then when I realized the great emotion inspired by the Romanian movies for an entire country for decades. Movies have served as an iconic symbol which still lives in the collective memory, no matter the times, the circumstances and the new features, and embody the Chinese idea of a classic. In addition, it was the vehicle through which, for decade,s the Chinese people formulated their idea of how “The Western world” looked like…
The deep emotion he inspired in me was unique. I was deeply touched by his intimate confession and by the love he showed for something which most of our countrymen can barely remember. I promised loudly that I will try somehow to reciprocate one day, giving him a similar emotion. This was the incentive that drove me to look, once back in Beijing, for Ileana Popovici. I found her in Sanremo, I shared the story and she accepted to come from Italy to Romania to make copies of the original movie and write an autograph for my friend in Shenzhen. I realized something that few have known: the great Romanian actress knew how to write by herself in Chinese, with a perfect calligraphy the words: “For my Chinese admirer”.
Towards a special relationship
This special relationship I had the privilege to witness would further confirm that, beyond the common topics, the usual stories that people use to describe the relationship between Romania and China, the substance of this relationship stands on its profoundly human dimension, built upon a great capital of sympathy, respect and admiration from the Chinese side.
From the Director of the National Center for Cinematography of China I have learned that the all-times block-buster of China’s cinematographic history is “Mihai Viteazul”. The movie was viewed more than any other Chinese or international movie. And it is still growing because daily, all around China, there are at least 50 cinemas screening this movie in the mornings for the aged and retired audience at half price and the halls are full.
Celebrating 70 years of bilateral relations in 2019
Many Chinese in their fifties, sixties and seventies recall that Romania has been a great friend to China, the second country that contributed to its industrialization and that contributed to the normalization of the Sino-American relations. Many recall that the first and last visit of a Chinese Premier to an Embassy resident in Beijing was Zhou Enlai’s visit to the Romanian Embassy, first to show support for our position against the invasion of Czechoslovakia and second to thank Romanians on Romanian territory for their help in the normalization of their relations with the US.
Romania and China will celebrate, next year, 70 years of bilateral diplomatic relations. They will celebrate a real friendship, enriched by people-to-people relationships and special contacts that have gained us not only a great openness to any kind of projects, but also a solid foundation on which to build further. My 8 months here showed me that not only are there no physical, social or cultural barriers between Romania and China that cannot be surpassed, but also that Romania has a direct line to China, that can be used as a valuable path to reinforce a special relationship.