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Mexican Sinologist shows China's culture to world

China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-18 08:31

The name "Bai Peilan" stands out on the list of winners of the inaugural Orchid Awards, its classical Chinese quality contrasting with the names of other foreigners honored for fostering cultural exchanges between China and the rest of the world.

Bai Peilan is the Chinese name of Mexican academic Flora Botton Beja, a professor at the Center for Asian and African Studies at El Colegio de Mexico. The Chinese character lan in her name stands for orchid in English. In traditional Chinese culture, the orchid symbolizes elegance, nobility and friendship.

Now in her 90s, she was honored with the outstanding achievement award at the Orchid Awards on Sept 8, in recognition of decades of dedication to studying and introducing China to not only Mexico, but to all Spanish-speaking countries.

Born in Greece, Botton moved to Mexico with her family at the age of 15, where she embarked on a remarkable journey that ultimately tied her destiny to that of China. She is now revered as one of the founding figures in the field of Sinology in Mexico. For her, what started out as a suitable academic arrangement eventually blossomed into a profound love affair with China.

As one of the first academics in Mexico to focus on China in the 1960s, Botton chose to delve into the rich tapestry of traditional Chinese culture, reflecting her belief that "knowing about the past is necessary to understand the present".

Botton first traveled to China in 1975, and she later worked at the Mexican embassy in China, actively engaging in cultural exchange efforts.

After her diplomatic tenure, she continued promoting cultural exchanges between China and Mexico through translation, teaching and writing. She translated Chinese classics into Spanish, such as Mencius, Xunzi, and Mozi, as well as Tang Dynasty (618-907) stories, enriching the understanding of Chinese culture among Spanish-speaking readers.

Throughout her teaching career, Botton's classroom was a hub of knowledge, from which she imparted Chinese philosophy and history to her students. She also dealt with modern and contemporary China, conducting research on society, family and women.

Navigating seamlessly between two distinct cultures, Botton has concluded that Mexico and China share traditional values of family ties and solidarity, as well as respect for the elderly and for regional cultures.

Botton has revisited China multiple times over the past four decades, and has been astonished by the achievements the country has made in every area. Today, cultural exchanges between Mexico and China are flourishing, she says, noting that young Mexicans now have more opportunities to explore China through avenues like Chinese-manufactured products and technology.

"My students are attracted to the Chinese Studies program because of China's economic success and its importance as a world power," she adds.

Botton has worked tirelessly to introduce China to the world through her writing. Her Spanish-language works, including one on the history of China, have been instrumental in building a solid bridge for cultural exchanges between China and Mexico.

When asked what the greatest motivation is that fuels her writing, Botton's answer is simple yet profound. "I love China," she says. "It has been my life's work."


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