The Sri Lanka CCC is the 16th overseas China Cultural Centre established globally under the patronage of China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which was inaugurated on 16th September 2014 by his Excellency the Chinese President Xi Jinping and then Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The preparations and establishment of the CCC was carried out by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Sri Lanka, and it is run and operated by a working team from China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
This article attempts to highlight the significance of this cultural relationship, and the establishment of a path for cultural exchange between the peoples of China and Sri Lanka.
A 1000-year-old friendship refreshed and renewed
Although the formal bilateral relationship between Sri Lanka and China was established only 63 years ago, the history of the friendship between the two countries dates back far beyond. The recorded history origins from the times of Jin Dynasty of China, where such information is found in the written stories of famous Chinese buddhist monk Faxian, who travelled to Sri Lanka between 410 – 415. Sri Lanka has been a very important partner during the ancient times where significant trade was carried out through the maritime silk route, used as a gateway to bridge East Asia and South Asia. The archaeological findings in Sri Lanka are evident to this trade and exchange of cultural values taking place between Sri Lanka and China.
The establishment of the China Cultural Centre in the year 2014 has significantly brought the bilateral cultural exchange to a totally different level. Across the world, the Chinese Cultural Centres have contributed immensely to establish the meaning and significance of authentic cultural values of China, which is often misinterpreted by many. It is evident that the world has not enough chances to experience the traditional culture and values of China. Hence the 60+ cultural centres established in various countries have attempted to bridge this gap of understanding the real cultural values of China without infiltrating to the local culture but supporting and thriving together with the customs of respective ways and norms.
As the 16th overseas China Cultural Centre amongst the 60+ other centres across the world, and as the first center inaugurated by the two presidents of the respective countries, the CCC in Sri Lanka highlights its importance and the value placed on the friendship of the two countries, which was created many centuries ago between China and Sri Lanka.
Cultural exchange – continued effort with variation
The China Cultural Centre has now become a fully functional apparatus that enables cultural exchange through many different facets and complementing programs. The CCC is in a constant drive to educate the society at large how cultural exchange helps to bridge the gaps and bring the peoples of the countries much closer to each other.
During the past six years, the Sri Lankan culture-loving society was exposed to some of the unique experiences of traditional Chinese art, music and dancing, calligraphy, cinema, drama, authentic Chinese cuisine, photography and intangible cultural heritage through the commitment of China Cultural Centre in Sri Lanka.
The events carried out by the CCC are aligned to the diverse cultural heritage of many different parts of China, and many of them are held in the form of “Cultural Week”, planned by the CCC and organised together with some local partners, including scholars, artists, painters, photographers and journalists who have travelled across China. The “cultural weeks” reflect many aspects of Chinese cultural heritage from different areas. Based on the need, the CCC sponsors and brings down the respective professional artists who are highly regarded as unique contributors of nurturing and preserving the authentic cultural heritage of China. The CCC also accommodates Chinese scholars, journalists and media personnel to be a part of these “cultural weeks”, thus enabling the knowledge sharing amongst different audiences.
The cultural footprint of China is not only limited to events of cultural exchange, but also is extended to long standing relationships through memorandums of understanding (MOU) with many local institutions such as libraries, museums and various friendship associations. The contribution through the Confucius institutions established at various universities in Sri Lanka, such as the University of Kelaniya, is another approach adopted by the CCC to provide greater access to resources and scholarships for the students who pursue higher studies in Chinese language, literature and culture.
Appreciation of the communities across Sri Lanka
The educational knowledge and unique experience achieved from those programs and events organized by the CCC can meet various appetites of a wider spectrum of the society and intellects. Moreover, the officials of the CCC have made every attempt to reach out to most remote communities in Sri Lanka creating value for all age groups who witness and engage with the programs. This is highly commendable since most international cultural programs are being focused only on a limited crowd in a major city in Sri Lanka. The CCC has done the opposite way and concentrated on both urban and rural areas, which benefited more people here.
At present, the CCC has carried out over 100 programmes, including more than 300 various types of activities and events (including performances, exhibitions, lectures, workshops, teaching programmes, and etc.). More than half of Chinese provinces (Jiangsu, Hubei, Canton, Jiangxi, Shanxi, Yunnan…and etc.), provincial-level autonomous regions (such as Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Xinjiang, and Ningxia), provincial-level municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin) , and Chinese SAR Hong Kong have been invited by the CCC to conduct different cultural exchange programmes in Sri Lanka.
On the other hand, the events organized by the CCC have reached people in all 9 provinces of Sri Lanka as well, where specially skilled artists are not hesitant to delight an audience of students or parents at a Sunday school, a university, a school in a remote part of a district, government institutions, and even a military camp. All events of cultural heritage are held with complete sponsorship of the CCC, thus enabling all Sri Lankans to experience most of these high-level events free of charge.
These events are a first to many where most Sri Lankans are amused and appreciative of the skill and professionalism of the artists and performers, who participate in these events and create positive vibes about China and its friendly people.
The efforts of the CCC are also extended to enable and strengthen the ties between the media and journalist forums of Sri Lanka and China. The cordial sponsorship of professional programmes conducted for the benefit of the Sri Lanka journalists in China is such an instance that the CCC extends their hand to build friendship and confidence among all stakeholders.
The future of the friendship
It is obvious that the expectation of the CCC is to build a cultural relationship amongst the peoples of both countries. The CCC has successfully created an atmosphere of understanding the true nature of authentic Chinese culture whilst respecting and appreciating the Sri Lankan values and traditions.
With the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), which attempts to bring economic and cultural prosperity to all the nations from far East to Africa and Europe, there is no doubt that the China Cultural Centres will go on playing a vital role in defusing the misconceptions level against the great efforts of the People’s Republic of China. Sri Lanka, being part of the BRI through the maritime silk route and having a better understanding of China and its people, will also play an important role in bridging the gaps between the countries of the BRI.
The future road will probably be a challenging one! However, as proven in the past, the sincere friendship between the two countries and the mutual respect to each other’s culture and value will be the north star for both of our nations to follow during challenging and dark times. With the efforts of past six years, the China Cultural Centre has contributed much more to Sri Lanka and its people, and surely enough, it will continue to do so, nurturing the friendship which China and Sri Lanka value so dearly.
By Chamara Ranmandala
Consultant – local Affairs
China Cultural Centre in Sri Lanka
(Based on an interview with Liwen Yue, Director China Cultural Centre in Sri Lanka)