Hands across the water (China Daily)

Hands across the water (China Daily)

Whether on a diplomatic mission or in an academic position, Guillermo Pulido Gonzalez heeds the calling to act as a bridge for the cultures of Mexico and China, writes Raymond Zhou.

When Guillermo Pulido Gonzalez first worked in China from 2008 to 2010, he was amazed that the Chinese people he encountered had been exposed to such Mexican writers as Carlos Fuentes, Elena Poniatowska and Octavio Paz through Chinese translations. Then again, he himself studied Confucius and Lao Tzu while still a high school student in Mexico.

It does not escape him that both China and Mexico have cultures that hark back thousands of years. The similarities could be striking, he points out, when he visited Chinese places like the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces and compared the way textiles were crafted with the work of native people in Mexico. “We are just like you in that we have a mosaic of cultures.”

“I was surprised that the first impressions that some Chinese have of Mexico are of the pyramids, the Mayan culture and the millennium history,” he says in his office on the top floor of the main building at Beijing Foreign Studies University, where the Mexican Studies Center is located.

A two-way bridge

Now the director of the center, he continues to promote Mexican culture in China and, somewhat surprisingly, Chinese culture in his home country. It is a two-way bridge of communication, he likes to emphasize.

Pulido is not frustrated when some mistake one Spanish-speaking country for another.

“I’m proud that Chinese people realize we all share the Spanish language, 21 countries in the whole world. Sometimes they are surprised we do not speak English. We use that as the start of a dialogue. After they learn something about Latin America, I’ll shift to Mexico.”

He finds China’s young people not only “creative and innovative”, but also very open to other cultures.

The first year Pulido taught at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1979, he noticed many Chinese students there and on other Mexican campuses. “They came to Mexico to study the language, politics, literature, among other things. When they returned to China, they helped us open the door to their country,” he says.

Some Chinese students found themselves “so sunny and happy” after spending six, seven months in Mexico because the people there are very similar in temperament to their own. Likewise, his Chinese friends enjoyed going out to share a hearty meal and a laugh. The only barrier he has is the Chinese language.

“Fortunately you have 80 universities in China that teach Spanish,” he says. “We in Latin America have to do our job. We have certain centers, such as the one at UNAM, that teach Chinese language and culture. Mexico has more Confucius Institutes than any other Latin-American country and we look forward to opening more of them.”

Pulido explains that Mexicans used to obtain information on China through the United States, Germany and other third-party countries, but “now we can get it directly without the filter of other languages”, he says.

Exchange with music

Pulido is extremely proud of a program for Chinese and Mexican musicians who toured each other’s country with performances and lectures: not classical musicians, but folk musicians who brought their sounds to new audiences, including Lan Weiwei, a pipa player from the Central Conservatory of Music.

Lan has worked with the center for several years. She met Pulido at the Shanghai Expo in 2010, when the diplomat introduced her to a Mexican folk band called White Monkey. They ended up playing a few gigs at the Beijing-based conservatory, which were “so successful” that the musicology department invited them to do a workshop.

A year and half later, Lan and her colleagues went to the National Music School of Mexico and met musicologists there.

More exchanges ensued. Interest ran so high that a Mexican music festival was launched in 2013 in Beijing with two bands and more than 20 Mexican musicians participating. In 2015, right after the Chinese New Year, 15 Chinese musicians and music scholars returned the favor, giving seven lectures and three concerts in Mexico City.

Lan and her peers savored the pride Mexicans have in their own culture and achievements. She recalls an incident in which her group went to visit Mexico’s national library on a day off. Finding out about their origin and purpose, the guard showed them around and explained in detail about the facilities, despite the fact their understanding of Spanish was limited.

Although mainly at the academic level, exchanges initiated by Pulido’s center, a collaboration between UNAM and BFSU, are reaching an ever-widening audience.

In 2014, there were 87 international events that attracted 5,889 people, 80 percent of which were Chinese students and teachers. The cultural events include photography exhibitions, film festivals and the showcasing of classical Mexican songs.

Mexican movies enjoyed great popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when China first opened up and started importing foreign films. Such images give visceral and dynamic impressions of the country, but Pulido cautions that they represent only a slice of the rich diversity Mexico embodies.

Pablo Mendoza, who works at the center, is actually a filmmaker who graduated from the Beijing Film Academy. He is developing a project about a Mexican pilot who works for a Chinese airline. With seeds like this cross-pollinating and tended by Pulido and his staff, it seems the sky is the limit across the Pacific Ocean for the two cultures to embrace each other.

Contact the writer at raymondzhou@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 04/10/2015 page21)