Fine food and art deepen understanding between Chinese and Arab youths

Wan Lixin
Generation Z students enjoy an immersive cultural experience that included tasting Arab food, drinking Moroccan tea, practicing Chinese calligraphy and making xiangnang.
Wan Lixin

Nearly 70 members of Generation Z enjoyed an immersive cultural experience on Saturday intended to deepen mutual understanding between the Chinese and Arab peoples.

They included students from Morocco, Egypt, Sudan and Yemen, as well as students from the School of Journalism and Communication and the China-Arab Research Center on Reform and Development, both under Shanghai International Studies University (SISU).

The event, hosted by the research center, the journalism school and SISU's Center of Global Public Opinion of China, as well as Shanghai Daily, and City News Service, was held in the Wool and Linen Fabrics Warehouse that used to be the Arnhold Karberg and Co Cotton Mill. After renovations the building on the Huangpu River, built in 1895, opened to public as an exhibition space in 2019.

During the event participants tasted Arab food, tried Moroccan tea, practiced Chinese calligraphy, and made xiangnang (sachets).

Fine food and art deepen understanding between Chinese and Arab youths
Dong Jun / SHINE

Participants pose for a picture on top of the Wool and Linen Fabrics Warehouse on the Huangpu River in Yangpu District.

Addressing the event that coincided with the 20th anniversary of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, Guo Ke, professor and dean of the journalism school, said it was part of a series of cultural exchanges among Generation Z youths sponsored by his institute since last year, adding that such exchanges were significantly facilitated by the leisurely and informal ambience that characterized such events.

"It is my hope that students would not only enjoy fine food here, but this sharing event might lead to further exchanges and interests in culture and arts, and informal, unrestrained, and spontaneous communications might help push China-Arab understanding to a new height," Guo said.

This sentiment was echoed by Mohamed Salaheldin, a 31-year-old student from Sudan currently pursuing his PhD in international politics at SISU.

"This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, and today we celebrate here by creating some Arab food, Arabic calligraphy and also Arabic music, and we hope that through these cultural exchanges we can help our Chinese friends know better about the Arab people and culture," Salaheldin said. He calls himself Zhou Yu in Chinese, a famed military strategist in "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms," one of four classic Chinese novels.

The event also afforded some Arab students an opportunity to impress with their skills in Chinese art.

When Zraidi El Houcine from Morocco tried his hand at Chinese calligraphy, his masterful execution of the strokes and his sense of proportion surprised many of his Chinese counterparts.

Fine food and art deepen understanding between Chinese and Arab youths
Wan Lixin / SHINE

Zraidi El Houcine (left) from Morocco tries his hand at Chinese calligraphy.

"I have been practicing (Chinese) calligraphy for many years now. I really like calligraphy because it is a very important part of Chinese culture," El Houcine, a PhD candidate in China Studies at SISU, said. He also revealed a liking for Chinese kuaiban (clapper talk).

The diversity of cultural activities at the event meant meticulous preparatory work in the run-up to the gathering on the part of the organizers.

In making Chinese xiangnang (sachets), Zheng Yaxin was coaching a number of Arab students on how to tackle the deceptively easy task of sewing small pieces of cloth together, and the challenging procedure of stuffing sachets with fragrant herbs.

Fine food and art deepen understanding between Chinese and Arab youths
Wan Lixin / SHINE

Zheng Yaxin (right) coaches a number of Arab students on how to make sachets.

Zheng's craftsmanship belied her status as a novice.

"Last night I spent quite some time learning about making sachets, and realized it was not so simple as some of us had supposed, particularly with regards to sewing the pieces of cloth together, or preparing the herbal medicine," Zheng said. She is a graduate of the research center.

"We often thought we knew about our culture, only to find us inadequate when it comes to explaining our own culture to foreigners," Zheng said.

She also expressed her best wishes for China-Arab states relationship in Arabic.

"Hi, I am Zheng Yaxin, a student from Shanghai International Studies University. I hope Sino-Arab states friendship will last forever, and China and Arab states will deepen their mutual understanding in the future."

Special Reports