Let me first express my thanks to the Chairman, Mr. Yang Xueyi and the President, Mr. Chen Yulu of the Beijing Foreign Studies University for the invitation extended to me to participate in these memorable events of this important institute of learning.
I am deeply touched and most grateful for the honour conferred on me today, on this historic occasion in the annals of the Beijing Foreign Studies University. I consider this to be a significant recognition of the long and healthy friendship between China and Sri Lanka, as well as a symbol of the commitment between our two countries to foster better understanding among youth, specially through the promotion of educational exchanges.
Seventy years is a commendable record for a university that is committed to the promotion of understanding and better relations among countries and nations through the study of language. Language plays a prime role as a means of communication not only within a country but also between diverse cultures. Our literature reflects our valuable traditions and the legacy of our development practices in the ancient times. It is language that builds a link between our literature and religious culture.
The temple was the centre of the educational practices in our village society. Many of our great writers, poets and ideologists were well read Buddhist monks, nurtured by the valued concepts of Buddhism. Likewise, our folklore was nourished by religion.
Unlike today, our ancestors learnt languages through an oral tradition passed on from generation to generation. Those who possessed a vast amount of knowledge and experience were considered called the erudite.
Further, other cultural aspects such as theatre, music and other forms of art were shaped and embellished by elements of language. Knowledge of language is an essential requirement to understand and deeply study the core values of a nation.
The importance that China has given to the study of foreign languages is underlined by this university being established just twenty years after the great Chinese Revolution that marks its 90th anniversary this year.
It is also of much significance that today’s events mark the 50th anniversary or Golden Jubilee of the Sinhala Language Department of this university. My congratulations are extended to the University for its proud record of service in education and to the Sinhala Department to its commitment to the study and spread of the Sinhala language in China.
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,
This university is the first in China to offer foreign language programmes, and, I am pleased to know that it offers the most number of foreign language programmes than any other university in China.
The Sinhala Language Department established in 1961 has been a great source of understanding of China by the Sri Lankan people, and of Sri Lanka by the Chinese people. It is, therefore, most fitting that this important anniversary is also the occasion when the Sri Lanka Centre will be established in this university. This is a further expression of the importance that China, its academics and its policies on education, place on the study of Sinhala, as part of its wider global reach in understanding the cultures and traditions of other nations.
I think it would be proper to refer here to the very long links that have existed between Sri Lanka and China. These date back to the 4th Century when Roman historians recorded the trade links that China had with Sri Lanka.
Buddhism also contributed to the strengthening of these links with the two visits in the 4th and 5th centuries by Fa Hsien the Chinese Buddhist monk, who traveled to Sri Lanka to acquire knowledge of Buddhism and Buddhist scriptures.
These links continued for many centuries and during the Tang Dynasty several Chinese monks visited Sri Lanka in search of Buddhist teaching.
When talking of this, we cannot ignore the significance of the Silk Route. Sri Lanka was also linked to this Route that traversed from Qian in China to Constantinople in Turkey. Therefore, East-West Trade was at the zenith during that time, and the knowledge of different languages was necessary.
Coming to the more recent past the friendship between our two countries had a great boost with the signing of the Rubber-Rice Pact in 1952. It is worth recalling that Sri Lanka signed this pact despite much opposition from our former colonial rulers and the countries of the West that were opposed to the People’s Republic of China. This is also the first trade agreement that the People’s Republic of China signed with a country outside the Socialist Bloc.
Our relations have been growing ever since and took a further step ahead when Diplomatic Relations were established between our two countries in 1957.
Today, there are many landmarks in my country that symbolize this great friendship that covers many areas of development and progress. These include the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall – a gift of China that brought Sri Lanka to the conventions market in the world. Our Supreme Court is housed in a building gifted by China and very soon we will be opening the Centre for Performing Arts in Colombo, which is an important gift from China for the development of artistic expression in Sri Lanka.
China is also engaged in considerable work on infrastructure development in many parts of the country, that contribute to the rapid economic development that we seek to achieve after the successful defeat of terrorism.
I must also record here the deep gratitude of the people of Sri Lanka to China for their commitment to support Sri Lanka in the battle against terrorism that we concluded with success; and for the assistance given for reconstruction and resettlement in the former conflict zone in our country.
At this important seat of learning, I wish to state that since peace was restored in Sri Lanka, we have given great importance to the expansion of good education among the people in the North and East of our country. Rehabilitated cadres of the terrorists are now attending schools and some have entered universities, too. We have provided them with the opportunity to follow different language courses, too.
China holds a dominant position in international trade today. The development of China has contributed to many countries including Sri Lanka, moving towards development through economic policies. When considering the relationship between economic development and social equality, it is clear that the former should be achieved by seeking better understanding between the cultures and traditions of the people of a country and their future expectations. I believe we can learn much from China in this regard.
I am glad to know of the presence here of the first Sinhala language student of China in the modern period – Mr. Zheng Yuzhong. I understand that he worked in the Chinese Embassy in Colombo from 1959 to 1972, and was the interpreter to Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai during his first visit to Sri Lanka 1964, with his deep knowledge of the Sinhala language Mr. Zheng was the first Sinhala language lecturer and Associate Professor of Sinhala at this great university. I wish Mr. Zheng Yuzhong good health and many more years service in the cause of good relations though the study of language.
The very existence of the Sinhala Language Department in this university is an important sign of China’s interest in fostering and strengthening friendship between our two countries. I note with great satisfaction that more than 100 Chinese students have mastered the Sinhala language in this Department.
The study of a language brings a natural interest among students in the country from which that language comes and of its people. Having met many a Chinese Diplomat in Sri Lanka, I have been greatly impressed by their knowledge of Sinhala and see in this the success of this Department. I believe the Sri Lanka Centre will also contribute to this deeper understanding of Sri Lanka among the Chinese people.
I must also mention here the important contribution to understanding made by the Chinese International Broadcasting Service, which also celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. The Sinhala language service of this station has also done much to build good understanding between Sri Lanka and China. I trust it has also benefited from the Sinhala Language Department of this university.
It is necessary to mention here the student and teacher exchange programmes between China and Sri Lanka that are in operation today. This university has two agreements with the University of Kelaniya and the University of Colombo for productive student - teacher exchange. I believe we could develop these programmes further with more openings in Sri Lankan universities for Chinese students to further their studies, not only in Sinhala but in other disciplines, too. I trust there could be a mutual exchange of such opportunities between our two countries.
In conclusion let me once again extend my thanks to this university, as well as to the Government and to the people of China for the continued support extended to Sri Lanka. I look forward to the friendship between our two countries growing stronger in the years to come.
I wish you all a bright future.