Dunhuang, a city in Northwest China's Gansu Province, is famous for having been an important stop on the Silk Road (ancient trade route that linked Asia, Africa and Europe). The city is also famous for the nearby Mogao Caves, a world heritage site that contains some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning 1,000 years. The first Silk Road International Cultural Expo, with the theme "promoting cultural exchanges, seeking cooperation and development," was held September 20-21, 2016, in Dunhuang. The expo highlighted the spirit (openness and inclusiveness) of the ancient Silk Road, and it offered a platform for the establishment of a new, long-term cultural-exchange mechanism.
Promoting High-level Cultural Exchange
Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a letter of congratulations to the expo's organizers. That letter, in which he extended a warm welcome to all participants, was read during the expo's opening ceremony.
Xi, who hailed the "glamorous Dunhuang culture," said the host city was a major Silk Road hub, where different cultures met.
The Silk Road was an important bridge for friendly exchanges between East and West more than 2,000 years ago, Xi said. The expo, he added, will become an important platform for cooperation and communications among countries along the route.
Xi lauded coexistence, mutual learning and cooperation and sharing in cultural fields. He said efforts to promote cultural exchanges and common progress are important to driving society forward.
He called for more cultural exchanges, and for the promotion of cultural equality and the protection of cultural heritage. Xi also called for cultural innovation and improvements to cultural cooperation. "Let more people benefit from the rich and colorful culture created by humankind to make the world a better place," Xi said.
In September 2013, Xi proposed the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (the Belt and Road) Initiative. During the past three years, 100 countries or international organizations have participated in the construction of the Belt and Road, and China has signed cooperation agreements with 30 countries along the route. Several important projects have been carried out, and those projects have achieved positive results.
Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong, who read Xi's letter, called for a new mechanism for state-to-state cultural cooperation. Liu delivered the keynote address.
Liu called for deeper people-to-people exchanges, respect for different civilizations, enhanced protection of cultural heritage and a boost to cultural innovation, so people in various countries can benefit from modern civilization.
The expo's organizers included the provincial government of Gansu, the Ministry of Culture, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, the National Tourism Administration and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade.
About 1,500 people, including representatives of 85 countries and five international organizations, attended.
A conference, five sub-forums and five special forums were held during the expo. Approximately 1,000 participants offered constructive suggestions on cultural exchanges and intergovernmental cooperation.
The themes of the five sub-forums included "Adhere to peace and cooperation, improve the new mechanism of cultural cooperation for countries along the Silk Road," "Persist in mutual learning to promote cultural integration and development of countries along the Silk Road" and "Contemporary value of the Dunhuang culture."
The themes of the five special forums included "Digital conservation of traditional cultural resources" and "Rewi Alley's spirit of internationalism and the Belt and Road Initiative."
Fan Jinshi, honorary head and researcher at Dunhuang Academy, told a sub-forum, with the theme "Contemporary value of the Dunhuang culture," that people should learn two things from the historical achievements of Dunhuang's culture. "First, the culture of any country in the world will develop steadily, only if it inherits its own traditional culture and absorbs diverse cultures of other countries. Second, cultural exchanges among countries have been peaceful over the long term, and exchanges have helped promote mutual understanding among people, and helped facilitate dialogue among civilizations."
During the same sub-forum, Chang Shana, a designer and art educator, called for continued research into the unique patterns on the murals of the Mogao Caves, and for better use of the patterns in modern design.
During the expo, representatives of participating countries along the Belt and Road signed the Dunhuang Declaration, in which cultural diversity, equality and inclusiveness were stressed. The signatories agreed to protect historical and cultural heritage, strengthen cultural dialogue, at all levels, and promote cultural trade and industry cooperation.
Eighty-nine agreements, involving cultural industries, worth a combined 108 billion yuan (US $16 billion), were signed during the two-day expo.
Presenting Classic Arts
An exhibition of more than 8,000 precious antiques, works of art and bespoke cultural products from national museums and private collections from 60 countries, including France, Mexico, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Italy, Germany, Greece and Iran, highlighted cultural achievements along the Belt and Road.
France was the guest of honor during the cultural exhibition. Some of the items from France were exhibited in China for the first time, and the French delegation hoped the exhibits would both represent the country's culture and reflect the relationship between its culture and the Silk Road.
Two indoor performances, Dunhuang Impression and Siluhuayu (literally means Rain of Flowers along Silk Road), which were both created based on Dunhuang's unique cultural heritage, were staged during the expo.
Wang Chaoge, who produced several outdoor performances in famous scenic spots, including West Lake (in East China's Zhejiang Province) and Pingyao (in North China's Shanxi Province), directed Dunhuang Impression.
Dunhuang Impression was a stage play that told historical stories along the ancient Silk Road.
Advanced equipment and technologies were used to create unique visual effects. During the performance, the audience needed to walk around the maze-like theater, for nearly one hour, and so they would feel like they were part of the performance.
The dance, Siluhuayu, debuted in 1979, and it was staged again in 2008. Some of China's top dancers, choreographers and fashion designers participated in the special edition of the remake for the expo.
(Executive Editor: LEI YANG, Women of China English Monthly October 2016 Issue)
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