THE CONDUIT for FRIENDSHIP
A look at how the Shanghai People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries has for the past 60 years been playing an integral role in Shanghai’s relations with the outside world
Founded on September 13, 1956, the Shanghai People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (SPAFFC) is one of the earliest of its kind in China, and it held a photo exhibition in November to celebrate its 60th anniversary.
The SPAFFC often organizes and conducts exchange programs to promote mutually beneficial cooperation between Shanghai and foreign nations. The SPAFFC had as of the end of 2015 forged exchange partnerships in a wide variety of fields such as culture, education, science and technology, with 345 organizations in 100 countries.
“The SPAFFC will continue to expand its people-to-people exchanges and cooperation and work to promote cultural and economic dialogue between the city and other parts of the world,” said Zhang Xiaosong, the president of SPAFFC at the opening ceremony of the photo exhibition.
“We’ve always believed that it is essential to make active contributions to fostering understanding and friendship between the Shanghai people and those from other countries all over world through continuous Sino-foreign events,” added Lin Xiaoying, deputy director of European and US department at SPAFFC.
Standing beside a photo at the exhibition, Xia Yongfang, former director of the European and US department at SPAFFC, recalled how he once walked beside Michael Blumenthal, the former United States Secretary of the Treasury, in Hongkou district.
“It was a sunny afternoon and we were walking along Zhoushan Road where Blumenthal had lived on for eight years. He could still remember all the places he used to play at when he was a teenager and his favorite diner on the road,” said Xia.
Blumenthal was one of the over 20,000 Jewish refugees who took refuge in Shanghai’s Hongkou district, the designated Jewish quarter, during World War II.
“Blumenthal is not the only one to return for a visit. We have welcomed thousands of Jews and their families from all over the world to revisit the memories and reminisce of the beginning of Sino-Jewish friendship,” said Xia.
For Dong Zhiqiang, also formerly a director of the European and US department at SPAFFC, it was the memory of Chinese ballerina Shi Zhongqin’s visit to Tokyo with the Shanghai Dance Troupe that stood out the most. The trip was considered such a success in strengthening Sino-Japan ties that it was later dubbed “ballet diplomacy”.
“The trip to Japan in 1972 left both parties with precious photos of Chinese and Japanese artists making conversation and attending gala parties. It was a remarkable enhancement of diplomatic relations between Japan and China,” said Dong.
China has had relations with Japan for hundreds of years and one of the most notable instances is illustrated in the friendship between famous Chinese freehand artist Wu Changshuo and Torajiro Kojima, a well-known Japanese painter. Wu, who helped reshape Chinese painting and was hailed as one of four masters of the Shanghai painting school in the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911), was Kojima’s tutor.
“According to the diary of Kojima which was kept by his grandson, Wu and Kojima had four meetings between 1914 and 1916, following which Chinese painting techniques and elements could be found in some of Kojima’s works,” said Wu Yue, the great-grandson of Wu Changshuo and the director of Wu Changshuo Memorial, who was reconnected with Kojima’s grandson Kaitaro in 2007 with the help of SPAFFC. The two men are also artists.
A joint exhibition featuring works by the four artists from past and present was held in Japan in 2014. This year, the Wu Changshuo-Torajiro Kojima Art Heritage Exhibition took place at the Wu Changshuo Memorial.
“It was a unique reunion of the Wu and Kojima families after generations, and it also signified the early interactions and communication between Chinese and Japanese artists,” said Wu of the art exhibition this year.
The SPAFFC has over the past six decades received nearly 10,000 delegations from over 100 countries and regions, including leaders of foreign governments, former highranking political figures, artists and students. It has also hosted hundreds of high profile events such as ballet performances, circuses, symphony orchestras, art shows, exhibitions and film events.
“I still remember the first Earth Run that took place in Shanghai with hundreds of people of different skin colors running around the city and passing on the hope of world peace to the next destination before the event culminated in New York in 1986,” said Dong, pointing to the photo of the running group during the exhibition.
The SPAFFC is also an important platform that helps facilitate economic and trade matters for foreign firms entering Shanghai, for domestic medium- and small-sized enterprises attempting to go global and for districts and counties that intend to establish relations with foreign counterparts.
For example, the organization often cooperates with domestic and foreign business organizations to host business-related activities including economic seminars, investment briefings and exhibitions. It also regularly provides consultancy and information to foreign businesses that are in search of local partners.
The first Earth Run takes place in Shanghai in 1986 with hundreds of people of different skin colors taking part.
Xia Yongfang (left), former director of the European and US department at SPAFFC, walks with Michael Blumenthal (middle), the former United States Secretary of the Treasury, during their visit to a home at Zhoushan Road in Hongkou district where Blumenthal used to live for eight years as a Jewish refugee in late 1990s.
Kaitaro Kojima (left), the grandson of Japanese painter Torajiro Kojima, visits the Wu Changshuo-Torajiro Kojima Art Heritage Exhibition in June 2016 with Wu Yue (middle), the great-grandson of famous painter Wu Changshuo and the director of Wu Changshuo Memorial.
Chinese ballerina Shi Zhongqin (second from left) visits Tokyo with the Shanghai Dance Troupe in 1972. The trip was later coined “ballet diplomacy”.
Members of a Democratic People's Republic of Korea art troupe gives performance in Shanghai in 1958.