Chinese premier Wen Jiabao visits Shakespeare’s birthplace

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Premier Jiabao
Image: World Economic Forum.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao paid a visit to the birthplace of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare on Sunday. The visit to Stratford-upon-Avon was included in his three-day tour of various industries in Britain. The UK is one of China’s biggest trading partners, second only to the EU.

Cquote1.svg [Stratford-upon-Avon] has produced a figure who belongs not only to the UK but to the world. A great man who belongs not just to his era but to entire history. Cquote2.svg

—Premier Wen Jiabao

The 68-year-old Wen, reportedly a fan of Shakespeare, was met upon his arrival at Stratford-upon-Avon by dozens of flag-waving individuals from the UK’s Chinese community. He visited Shakespeare’s birthplace, which is now a museum and then attended a scene from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet“, his favourite play, while sitting in the “sun-drenched” garden. He toured the collection of treasures at the town’s Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. On his tour at the Trust, lasting half an hour longer than planned, he looked through a 17th-century folio of Shakespeare’s famous plays. Trust director Diana Owen, who talked with Wen during his informal tour, said Wen described Shakespeare as “the greatest writer of all time.”

Wen told Sky News that his love of Shakespeare began as a child.

“The local people here have every reason to take pride that this place has produced a figure who belongs not only to the UK but to the world,” Mr Wen said to Sky News. “A great man who belongs not just to his era but to entire history.”

The Chinese leader’s arrival in England came days after the announcement of activist and dissident sculptor Ai Weiwei‘s release by Beijing last Wednesday, after a global call for his release. The announcement, made before Wen’s meeting today with British Prime Minister David Cameron, was likely discussed along with the issue of China’s record on human rights and trade deals. There were several protesters outside Downing Street, who held a banner that read “Cameron and Wen: human rights before trade”.

The goal of the visit, part of a three-nation tour of Europe, is the strengthening of economic ties between the two countries. China is increasingly outsourcing its own manufacturing to less costly labour markets and wants to increase its investments in established European brands. Today, China and Britain announced contracts worth over one billion pounds.

John Shakespeare’s house, believed to be Shakespeare’s birthplace, in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Image: File Upload Bot (Magnus Manske).

Cquote1.svg I am hoping that a billion Chinese might see some pictures on their TV of their premier coming and visiting the birthplace of Shakespeare, and thinking: ‘Well, I’d like to go there as well.’ Cquote2.svg

—Jeremy Hunt, British Culture Secretary

British Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, whose wife is Chinese, was hopeful that Wen’s visit would have a positive effect on the country’s tourism industry. He told Sky News, “I am hoping that a billion Chinese might see some pictures on their TV of their premier coming and visiting the birthplace of Shakespeare, and thinking: ‘Well, I’d like to go there as well.’ ” Hunt noted that 150,000 Chinese visit the UK yearly and thinks that is “the tip of the iceberg”.

Hunt stressed that Wen’s visit is not only about jobs. It is also about developing broader cultural ties “which is the best possible way to make sure we understand each other and avoid the kind of misunderstanding that so can bedevil relationships, as has happened in the past,” he told the BBC.

The Chinese are interested in British happenings. About 30 million Chinese watched the recent Royal wedding.



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