Scotland and China forge cultural agreement

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By a Newsnet reporter

First Minister Alex Salmond, currently visiting China as part of a Scottish government delegation, has overseen a series of agreements which he says have strengthened business and cultural ties between the two countries.

Mr Salmond said the links are helping to “open doors” which are bringing “lasting benefits” to Scotland.

By a Newsnet reporter

First Minister Alex Salmond, currently visiting China as part of a Scottish government delegation, has overseen a series of agreements which he says have strengthened business and cultural ties between the two countries.

Mr Salmond said the links are helping to “open doors” which are bringing “lasting benefits” to Scotland.

The Scottish government has signed the first of three memorandums of understanding, committing the governments in Beijing and Edinburgh to greater cultural exchange and collaboration across the arts, heritage and national collections. 

Mr Salmond also witnessed the signing of an agreement on the arts between Edinburgh International Festival and the China International Culture Association.

Historic Scotland and China’s state administration of cultural heritage formally adopted a plan to digitally map the historic Eastern Qing Tombs, an ancient resting place for Chinese emperors.

This is the First Minister’s third trip to China, having previously discussed ways to strengthen links with China’s Minister of Culture, Cai Wu.

The First Minister said: “Since I met Mr Cai last year, the opportunities for increasing the scope and level of cultural exchanges between our two nations have multiplied.

“Across a wide range of cultural and heritage activities, doors are swinging open, enabling people in both countries to discover more about our respective cultures.

“These links add value to educational, scientific and business activities that can bring lasting benefits to Scotland and to China.”

When The First Minister met Chinese vice-premier Li Keqiang Monday, to discuss further business links, he personally thanked Vice Premier Li Keqiang for the “generous gift” of loaning two giant pandas to Edinburgh zoo.  Mr Salmond said the loan of the two pandas to Scotland, as well as the agreements on other cultural exchanges between Scotland and China will help to “enhance mutual understanding”.

To mark the new agreement on culture and the arts, Scottish Opera and students from Beijing No 4 School performed an opera, Tale O Tam, based on the Burns poem Tam O’Shanter.  Prior to this, in 2009, Scottish Ballet toured China.

This year The National Ballet of China and Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe came to Edinburgh to the delight of Scottish audiences. 

Jonathan Mills, director of the Edinburgh International Festival, said: “Having introduced festival audiences in Edinburgh to the stunning, astonishing and articulate performances of the National Ballet of China and the Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe in Festival 2011, we wish to maintain artistic links with China and deepen our relationship with this incredibly rich, diverse and profoundly important culture.”

Lloyd Anderson, director of British Council Scotland, said: “With offices in five of China’s biggest cities, the British Council is uniquely placed to help build the cultural connections between Scotland and China which we hope will flow from the memorandum of understanding.

“We’re very hopeful the trip will result in more exhibitions from China coming to Scotland and vice-versa – a tangible expression of the kinds of links we can expect to see more of.”

Scottish Opera general director Alex Reedijk said: “Our work with No 4 School this week is a great illustration of the cultural collaboration our countries aspire to.

“We’ve been able to share our best practice in arts education, built up over 40 years, and have been impressed by the pupils’ commitment to achieving so much in such a short period of time.”

The First Minister has also used the visit to highlighted the work of Adam Smith and his relevance to modern China in both his keynote address to the party school of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Beijing and in the presentation of a bronze of the famous Scots philosopher.

Mr Salmond used the teachings of Adam Smith to raise the critical issue of climate justice, referencing the vital ongoing UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

The FM cited the Scottish philosopher’s first masterpiece, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, during his address to some of China’s emerging political figures – and highlighted Smith’s contribution to the Enlightenment as an example of the kind of moral courage needed now to fight climate change.

Meanwhile the two giant pandas are adapting “very well” to their new environment in Edinburgh Zoo but are reported to be “jet lagged” after their nine-hour flight to Edinburgh. 

Gary Wilson, Edinburgh Zoo’s director of business operations, said: “They are getting on very well. We were really surprised how well they settled into their enclosure.

“They are obviously quite jet lagged.  They are in a strange sequence of sleeping for two hours and eating for two hours, a bit like most humans when they fly half way around the world.  They are very active within the internal area, they are walking around, they are doing a lot of eating of bamboo, scenting the area and getting familiarised, just like when you have a new home yourself.”

Bringing the pandas to Edinburgh has involved a five-year effort by the zoo – the eight-year-old pair will stay at the zoo for at least 10 years.  Tian Tian and Yang Guang are the first giant pandas to live in the UK for 17 years. 

They go on public display from Friday 16 December.