Meet the bridge-builders who developed ties between China and the UK
Half a century ago today, the Chinese and British governments agreed to exchange ambassadors, formally cementing a relationship that has become one of the most important for trade, investment, education and culture for both countries.
To mark the anniversary, CGTN Europe is producing a special series To the Future Together, showcasing some of the highest-profile voices who connect the UK and China.
The series launches on March 13 at 11:00 GMT with a virtual opening ceremony featuring addresses from China Media Group president and editor-in-chief Shen Haixiong, China's ambassador to the UK, Zheng Zeguang, The 48 Group Club Chairman Stephen Perry, former UK Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chairman of the China Chamber of Commerce in the UK Fang Wenjian.
Other contributions come from former deputy UK prime minister Michael Heseltine and documentary-maker Michael Wood, who is also President of SACU, the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding.
Building bridges across the decades
To celebrate the China-UK relationship, we will introduce you to groundbreaking people who – through their work, social or family lives – have contributed to greater understanding between the two countries. We call them the Bridge Builders. Throughout 2022, on TV and online, you can meet inspirational people from the worlds of culture, music, sport, business and academia.
In the coming weeks you can meet the following bridge-builders:
Stephen Perry isn't the first person in his family to be an icebreaker, working against the odds during difficult times to bring our two countries closer: Stephen's father Jack led the first trade mission from the west to China at the height of the Cold War in 1953. Sharing Jack's passion for Sino-UK relations, Stephen joined his father in 1972 and has played a crucial role in the globalization of Chinese trade.
During this time, he witnessed the transformation of China from agricultural economy to industrial powerhouse. It hasn't all been about trade, he also introduced football matches and musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables to Chinese audiences. So what is the legacy of the icebreaking journeys, what has he learned about dealing with China, and what role does he think the new bridge builders should play?
Historian and documentary maker Michael Wood is renowned in both countries for making China-related documentaries such as The Story of China and Du Fu. Chinese viewers have marveled at his profound understanding of their history and culture. He is famous as the Englishman who knows more about China than many Chinese people.
He is currently the president of the SACU, the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding, an organization founded by Joseph Needham in 1965 to promote understanding and friendship between the British and the Chinese people. Wood is passionate about the shared histories of China and the UK in economic development and society and after spending time making his documentaries in China, he has acquired a new affection for the Chinese people.
Guo Yi was already successful in Beijing when his sister invited him to London. A master of the free-reed sheng, an ancient musical instrument, he was a popular member of the Peking Orchestra. He decided to take his chance to see the world and arrived in London in 1983. Busking outside a tube station, he was spotted by Irish band The Chieftains, who were taken by the similarities between his Chinese music and traditional Irish accordion music.
Yi and his brother toured with The Chieftains and then joined WOMAD for a career that spanned 17 years and included writing Hollywood scores for blockbuster movies. While busking he also met his English wife Manda; their son Toto bridges the two cultures, and in 2014 went to work as an actor and model in Beijing. During the pandemic he returned to the family home and they have begun a new career live-streaming their experiences of living in a mixed Chinese-British family. Their international audience of hundreds of thousands watch their anecdotes.
Currently living in Beijing, musician and songwriter Shaun Gibson combines British and Chinese music. At a young age, Shaun learned he had an eye condition that would eventually blind him but his passion for music has driven him on. During his university years, he got to know a group of Chinese students from Suzhou, who showed him Chinese music and Chinese TV shows. And that's when his interest in Chinese culture was ignited.
After university, he decided to see China for himself. So he embarked on a journey to discover the country's scenery and ancient sounds. His biggest culture shock has been the many similarities between the two countries. Now Shaun combines Chinese music and English lyrics and he also creates music with sounds he discovered in China. He has more Chinese fans than British fans and he hopes one day he can introduce elements of Chinese music to audiences at home.
Zoe Reed is the daughter of a British mother and a Chinese father, whose heritage was hidden from her until she was an adult. Even regular weekends with Joseph Needham and his wife in Cambridge didn't prepare her for the fascinating links her father had with the establishment of modern China.
When she discovered his story, she embarked on a journey to find her father and embrace her Chinese heritage. Zoe has written a book A Bridge Between Hearts detailing her journey.