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China and Russia, Good Neighbors
Special> China and Russia, Good Neighbors
UPDATED: October 16, 2009 NO. 42 OCTOBER 22, 2009
Singing Praise for Russia
Younger generations in China and Russia need to learn more about each other


CELEBRATION: Russian artists perform at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of China-Russia diplomatic ties on October 13, 2009 (ZHANG DUO) 

Few in China's younger generations know more Russian than the names of the charismatic Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the anti-virus software brand Kaspersky or super tenor Vitas. Their parents or grandparents, however, can still name a few characters in Russian novels, or sing some Russian folk songs that were popular in China in the 1950s.

"In reviewing China-Russia relations over the past 60 years, the memory of the warm friendship between the peoples of the two countries, established in the 1950s, always comes to mind first—they are what the old generations of both countries still reminisce about," Russia's Ambassador to China Sergey Razov recently wrote in an article marking the 60th anniversary of China-Russia diplomatic relations.

Aware of the importance of promoting cultural exchanges and mutual understanding, especially among young people, the two neighboring countries expanded bilateral ties in culture, education, sports and other areas through the Year of Russia in China in 2006 and, in turn, the Year of China in Russia in 2007.

On the heels of these events, China kicked off more than 260 activities surrounding the Year of the Russian Language in 2009. Russia, meanwhile, will hold similar activities in the Year of the Chinese Language in 2010.

"We have as our mission at this phase to raise the quality of cultural exchanges and cooperation between Russia and China to a new height," Razov said.

From Katjusha to Vitas

During the past 10 months, students from the quake-hit areas in China's Sichuan Province learned to speak Russian during their recuperation trips to Russia. Russian song lovers nationwide, meanwhile, gathered for a singing competition on Russian language and culture. The "Chinese Singing Russian Songs" competition was one highlight in the Year of the Russian Language in China.

"We are happy that many Chinese people love singing Russian folk songs because these songs represent the spirit of the Russian people and could create emotional ties between the two peoples," said Razov at the launching ceremony of the competition on May 26 in Beijing.

The contest involved 12,000 contestants of all ages: from lovers of folk songs such as Katjusha and Moscow Nights to fans of Vitas.

In the end, 15 were selected for the semi-final, and performed for a Russian audience in Moscow on September 2, and 10 for the final contest in Beijing on September 21.

Among the contestants was a young man named Du Yu who enthralled the audience by imitating Vitas. The 20-something singer released his first album, which won him the nickname "Chinese Vitas."

A chorus dedicated to Russian songs competed in the northeast region's final contest of the "Chinese Singing Russian Songs" competition. Its 68 members, whose average age was 60, were retired officials, professors of Russian and translators. They had delivered more than 100 performances in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, since the chorus was founded in 2005.

The gold medal winner of the competition was Wan Shouning, who had studied vocal music for five years at the Moscow State University of Culture and Arts. He attributed his win to a clever selection of songs and his understanding of the history and feeling these songs carry. In the final contest, he chose Oh, the Road, a song depicting exhausted and starving soldiers on the road during World War II.

"It's the road that led to today's happiness," Wan said, "and only when you truly understand what these songs mean and which memory they are associated with can you touch your audience."

More participation

But traditional and emerging media had yet to feature more actively in promoting China-Russia exchanges and cultivate positive public sentiments for the two countries' cooperation, said Jiang Yi, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Movies, television, broadcasting, Internet and live performances, he said, can effectively arouse young people's interest in and curiosity for new things and unfamiliar cultures, and hence promote cross-border exchanges and understanding.

The Russian Movie Exhibition in Beijing, for example, rekindled Chinese interest in Russian movies. Eight Russian movies shot after 2000 were shown from July 3 to 8, offering a glimpse of today's Russian society and people for the Chinese audience. These included Island, a 2006 production by Pavel Lungin, who was awarded the Palme d'Or for Best Director at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival.

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