Opinion / China Daily Bureau Chiefs

More young British people should visit China

By Tan Yingzi (chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2015-10-26 17:05

More young British people should visit China

President Xi Jinping shakes hands with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron in Beijing, Dec 2, 2013. [Photo/Xinhua] 

Ten years ago I was studying in London for my master’s degree in journalism. I made friends with many local students who asked a lot of questions about my motherland, which none had ever been to.

Once, during an evening shopping trip to a local supermarket, my flat-mate Ann, a girl from Belfast who also majored in journalism, asked a surprising question: “Do Chinese really sell and eat babies?”

“What?” I couldn’t believe my ears.

“I read it in a newspaper. Is that true?” she replied.

The other thing she knew about China was that there is a river which floods every year and kills many people.

In the following days I found that ignorance about China is very common among British youth and even among some of our professors.

As China and the UK are entering a “golden era” in their bilateral relationship, the young generation of our two nations should use this opportunity to build a common future together.

The basis for cooperation is knowledge and understanding of each other.

The state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Britain paid great attention to people-to-people exchanges.

Both sides declared that “people-people exchanges are a vibrant and promising area of bilateral cooperation, which strengthen creativity and innovation on both sides and promote the steady and sound growth of bilateral relations. Both sides commit to boost cultural and educational links and to enhance sporting and media exchanges.”

Young people will have easier access to travel and study and new competitively priced multiple year, multi-entry UK visit visas have been promised.

For the past decade, Chinese young people have shown a strong desire to learn about the island country. Now China is the largest source of overseas students in the UK. By the end of last year, more than 150,000 Chinese are studying there while there are only about 6,000 British students in China, according to the Ministry of Education.

To encourage more UK young people to visit China, the British Council launched Generation UK - China in 2013. It aims to “help students from the UK boost their employability, enhance long-term job prospects and develop a global mindset through study and work experience opportunities in China.” It plans to support 80,000 UK students by 2020.

But this scale of exchange is still not enough if the two nations are building an all-around strategic partnership.

Look at the United States. During Xi’s state visit there in September, Washington announced it would expand the 100,000 Strong Initiative from US universities to elementary and high schools to achieve the goal of having one million US students studying Chinese by 2020.

US President Barack Obama launched the initiative in Nov 2009, aiming to send 100,000 US students to China by the end of 2014. At that time, only about 13,000 Americans were studying in China. Thanks to the efforts of the government and society, the goal was accomplished by last July.

I really hope Ann could come and visit my country, taste real Chinese cuisine and find out I was a really lousy cook.