Write: Ali Halit Diker
Turks’ personal relationships with China begin with middle school and high school history textbooks, but their societal ties begin several millennia ago. In honor of this cultural connection, 2012 is being celebrated as the Year of Chinese Culture in Turkey.
As Turks, our years as children and teenagers were spent learning about the societal, cultural, and political relations between the Hun Turks and the Chinese. Many of us perhaps were familiarized with China for the first time in those years. What we remember from these lessons is that while there were violent conflicts from time to time, Turkish princesses would sometimes be taken as brides in China, and likewise Chinese brides in Turkish tribes. A certain amount of cultural exchange was unavoidable with such a relationship. China, with which Turkey still has considerable commercial, political, and cultural relations, is one of the world’s leading economic powers today.
In the name of celebrating this cultural connection with China, a series of events under the umbrella of the Year of Chinese Culture project is being held in Turkey. Organized jointly by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and leading NGO Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, the events are aimed to bring the two countries, which have shared a deep-rooted history, closer together.
The events began December 12, 2011 in Ankara, with the themes “The Start of the Silk Road” and “Charming China” and ranging from literature to puppet theater. They are being held in various Anatolian cities. Minister of Culture and Tourism Ertuğrul Günay opened “The Silk Road through the Brush of Famous Chinese Painters”—the first of the more than seventy events to be held throughout the year—at CerModern. He said that the world’s attention would be focused on Turkey and China in the 21st century. Grand National Assembly Deputy Speaker Sadık Yakut, Chinese Ambassador to Ankara Xiaosheng Gong, and Chinese Deputy Minister of Culture Yang Zhijin attended the exhibition gala along with Günay.
Beyond the two-thousand-year-old historic connection between the Turkish and Chinese civilizations, 2012 is the forty-first anniversary of the initiation of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Turkey and the People’s Republic of China. 2012 has been declared Year of Chinese Culture in 2012, and 2013 will be celebrated in China as the Year of Turkish Culture. As Minister Ertuğrul Günay mentioned, Turkey and China are among the world’s most attention-grabbing countries especially with the rapid economic growth they exhibited in recent years. With a relationship stretching far back into the past, it is unavoidable that these two cultures will grow even closer. As Turkish journalist Tunca Arslan indicated in one of his stories, the number of Chinese citizen not just in large cities like Istanbul, İzmir, and China but also in medium-scale Anatolian cities like Adana, Antalya, Kayseri, and Zonguldak is increasing day by day, both for business and for tourism.
Meanwhile, efforts for fostering the cultural tie between China and Turkey are continued by media institutions from both sides in 2012 and 2013. One of these is the effort in Turkey’s Ordu province promoted as “Ordu, the Land of Oxygen” and conducted jointly by CCTV—China’s twenty-four-hour English-broadcasting international television channel—and the governorship of Ordu. A few of the events so far held within the scope of the Year of Chinese Culture in Turkey have been the “Chinese Story” dance and acrobatics show held December 17–18 in Bursa, “The Silk Road through the Brush of Famous Chinese Painters” exhibit held at Ankara CerModern, and the “Happy Spring Holiday” activities held in January and February. Among the events to be held in coming months are the Chinese Film Festival in April; a recital by world-famous Chinese pianist Yundi Li in Istanbul in June; the Chinese Shenzhen Philharmonic Orchestra’s tour of Turkey including Istanbul, Bursa, and İzmir ın July; a performance of “Madame Butterfly” in September by the State Opera of China in the amphitheater of Aspendos, Antalya; the Chinese Modern Arts Series exhibits and the Dunhuang Murals Exhibit also in September; the Chinese and Turkish National Holidays celebrations in October; and a fall exhibition at the Topkapı Palace of an exhibit named “Treasure of the State of China “. Finally, with the closing ceremony in December, the Year of Chinese Culture in Turkey will end and leave way for the start of the Year of Turkish Culture in China.
Although they are very far from each other geographically, the countries of Turkey and China are growing stronger ties in contexts both historical and contemporary. For Turks to familiarize themselves with Chinese culture, which clearly will have a significant influence in future years, 2012 presents an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.