By Xuefei Chen Axelsson
At a press conference in 2010 when Chinese President, then vice President Xi Jinping and former Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfelt gave a joint press conference, Prime Minister Reinfelt said May Sweden China relations to go forward for the next 60 years. President Xi invited that Swedish journalists to visit China to have a look. I like to say today may China Sweden relations ot go forward to the next 71 years. Today it marks the 71 year anniversary of bilateral relations.
That was the second time Xi visited Sweden. He visited Sweden in 1979 when Vice Premier Geng Biao visited Sweden. Geng Biao was the first Chinese Ambassador to Sweden in 1950.
Geng Biao loved to play Ping Pong. An old man recalled that when he was 16 years old, he used to go to Chinese Embassy to play Ping Pong.
Geng Biao visited Sweden in 1979 and met then foreign minsiter Hans Blix. Blix was the focul person for UN nuclear arms inspection team in Iraq. It was he who said there was no weapons of mass destruction.
It was during late May 1981 then Vice Chairman of the National People’s Congress Xi Zhongxun, Xi Jinping’s father visited Sweden. He invited Swedish Parliament delegation to visit China marking a very important visit.
Recalling the past, one can trace back to over 400 years ago when Sweden and China began to have trade. If you visit Drottningholm in Stockholm, you will find a lot of trace of Sino-Swedish relations or at least Chinese influence in Sweden.
According to Swedish researchers, Sweden signed trade agreements with Manchurian government in 1841, right after the Opium War. Swedish missionaries have been very active in China and one of them biptized one important figure of Hong Xiuquan’s group. Hong Xiuquan fought with the Manchurian government for a long time and almost conquered half of the south China. Only when Shi Dakai was defeated by Zeng Guofan along the Yangtze River, Taiping Heavenly State movement came to en end. That movement shook the Qing Dynasty too.
Even during the 17th century, Swedish Gothenburg Boat went to China to import silk, tea and poselain which are still dear to Swedish even today. A lot of antiques are traded for millions of kronor in the auction shop today. And they were produced in China in those days.
If you visited Asian Museum in Stockholm, you can find a whole set of Chinese antique since Shang Dynasty. That was unearthened by Andesson, a Swedish archeologist with Chinese counterparts. He mainly took part in the work in Zhou Koudian in Beijing where Peking man was found.
In Drottningholm, there is a China Pavillion still attracting a lot of tourists. Of course during the Pandemic, that might not open, but one can still see from outside to see the Chinese Jiangnan Style. I once visited inside and found a lot of Chinese characters were carved on the wall. Apparently it looked like a Chinese, but if you read carefully, there is no meaning in it. Maybe the workers had their own meaning. It was said that architects there never went to China and they just build it according to paintings and imagination.
Surprisingly on the second floor of the Chinese Pavillion, there is echo effect in addition to a lot of Chinese books.
That echo effect is similar to the echo wall in Tiantan Temple in Beijing.
Near Drottningholm, there are several places where people used to make silk products.
In Gothenburg museum, there are still the paintings from the Qing Dynasty where the traders traded in Guangzhou with Machurian people there.
If you visit Haga Park in Stockholm, you can see another Chinese Pavillion which is much simpler.
Again Asian Museum in Stockholm is the largest museum where they store Chinese books. It was there the famous sinologist Hallgren used to work in. It was there Professor Goran Malmqvist began his Chinese learning journey and for his whole life.
Chinese culture and language attracted so many Swedish people. China was old and mysterious, therefore, many curious Swedish liked to study it.
Unfortunately when China became modernized and more and more similar to the west, the westerners felt lost interest maybe because they felt it was not much difference any more.
New China was founded in October 1, 1949. Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai decided that New China will clean up the old ties and reestablish new relations. Thus, after various consideration, Sweden became the first western country to establish relations with China. And then it was Denmark, Norway and other European countries.
In 1953, when Swedish Finance Minister Dag Hammarskold was elected as the second Secretary General of the United Nations, his first job was to rescue the American pilot from China. During the Korean War, Chinese voluntary soldiers suffered a lot of lives, but the US also suffered a lot. Over 20 pilots were arrested as prisoners. According to memoir from his colleague, Hammarskold ringde Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and then he visited Beijing. He had a good talk with Zhou Enlai. And soon, China set free those American pilots and sent them back to America.
It was also during the Korean War, China invited Swedish medical expert Andrin as one of the six international experts to investigate about the bacteria or biological war in the Korean Peninsula.
China was grateful for that.
As China-US relations became bad and then Sino-Soviet relations became sour, only few people could go to China. And during that time, Swedish journalist Myrdal and art researcher Cecilia Lingqvist visited China by overcoming a lot of difficulties. At that time, there was no airplane. She had to take train to Moscow and from Moscow to take train to Beijing.
Cecilia then studied Chinese Qin from Guan Pinghu and Wang Di, Chinese founders of Qin Academy. Later, Cecilia wrote three books about China. One is Chinese Tecken describing Chinese charactors helping a lot of people to learn Chinese. Then second book is Qin which introduced about Qin and thanks to her China opened new waves of Qin production and studying. Many young generation learn Qin. Both books won Swedish highest literature award August Awards. Her third book is about her experience in China in 1961 and 1962. At that time she took a lot of photos and that book published these black and white photos.
Cecilia said she loved to publish a papper cutting book too. But I don’t know how much she has prepared. Age is like a knife cutting us. Hope she can do what she loves to do.
Swedish telecommunication company Ericsson has been in Shanghai since 1920s. And it has established strong business relations with their Chinese counterparts.
Volvo went to China also earlier. Thus, Li Shufu put his eyes on Volvo very early and purchased Volvo with love. This “marriage “has lasted 11 years and is still very well. The two sides can discuss with each other and decide jointly how to develop further. It can be called a healthy marriage.
Volvos investment to Sweden can be seen as one of the largest investments. In addition to that, there are many other companies investing in Sweden. In the past, it was always China who attracts outside investment to China.
In recent years, Chinese companies began to invest in the west. This can be seen as a sign that China has developed a lot and is capable of investing abroad. Some westerner describe it as “China threat”. I think that is a very short sighted comment. Think of how China developed? When China attracted foreign investment, they even gave foreign companies favorable policies. They might be afraid too, then they decide to allow 49% of foreign investment and 51 % of Chinese share holding.
In the long run, that helped China to develop. Now the capital can be invest back to the west, western countries should feel happy. Without investment, it is difficult to develop. To have good development, man must have enough labor, investment and market. China has it all.
In the west there is also market. But people need people and investment.
China and Sweden can continue to trade and invest with each other and enjoy their mutually beneficial relations.
Nicolas Svanstrom used to say that China and Sweden relations are good because they can criticise each other, but the relations are still good. That shows that we can tolerate sincerity.
How can we reach a new balance? I think both sides should continue to keep differences and not mention that too much. The other is to continue to develop the areas we can develop for mutual benefits sake.
I still see great mutually beneficial cooperation field. Over the past years, we can say that bilateral relations have developed deeper and deeper. Many Chinese and Swedish got married. It was not like before, only the high-level officials visit each other. Nowadays ordinary people can visit each other freely. This has been great progress.
One should see that there has been great progress in the openness, fairness and many aspects in China because I couldn’t imagine this would happen in 1980s. At that time if we contacted foreigners, it would be seen as a traiter. Now people can contact with whoever you like.
One should not be restricted by ideological thinking because ideology sometimes is a hinderance for our development. It is not that money is everything. But it is also not ideology decides everything. Man should be a bit programatic and the purpose is to meet demands from both sides. Thus I look forward to a brighter future! Even though there is pessimism among many people, I am still optimistic about the future. Life must go on no matter what has happened. Especially now with the pandemic, mankind must join hands to work together to deal with the challenges and disaster.