Over 600 years ago, Zheng He made multiple voyages past today's Indonesia on Java island during his voyages to the "Western Oceans", leaving many cultural relics from China on this Southeastern Asian island. Throughout ancient times and today, Indonesia has continuously deepened cultural exchanges and mutual learning with China while developing its splendid civilization.
In February 2022, Lu Kang was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People's Republic of China to the Republic of Indonesia. In his address on the embassy's website, he proposed expanding people-to-people exchanges between China and Indonesia. How can China better promote its culture going global and tell China's stories well? Recently, an interview team led by Du Chuangui, President of the Yangcheng Evening News Group, conducted an exclusive interview with Ambassador Lu Kang at the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta. Lu Kang said that as cooperation between China and Indonesia deepens, cultural and trade exchanges are becoming more complementary, and China's culture and stories have a strong appeal in Indonesia.
Cultural origins are connected across mountains and seas, finding common ground between the two countries
"Historically, the entire Southeast Asia region, including Indonesia, has had very close cultural exchanges with China," Lu Kang mentioned. He has visited many places in Indonesia and could sense cultural relics left by China there.
In Semarang, Central Java, Zheng He is known as "Sanbao Daren" (Admiral Sanbao) and is beloved by locals. The local Tay Kak Sie Temple has an enshrined hall dedicated to Zheng He. The bay where Zheng He sheltered during his voyage – Sam Poh Tong – is also a Chinese cultural heritage site and a popular check-in spot for tourists.
The Hoabinhian discovered on Sumatra island is believed by archaeologists to have originated from the upper reaches of the Lancang River-Mekong River in China's Yunnan province. Lu Kang said that walking on the local streets, the architectural styles are "almost identical" to those in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, and the wedding and funeral customs of locals are also very similar.
Currently, China has become one of the main sources of tourists to Indonesia and the second largest overseas education destination country for Indonesian students.
In addition to Chinese food and martial arts, popular Chinese elements in Indonesia include games from China. Lu Kang jokingly said, "Many young Indonesians may not have a deep understanding of China, but they are very familiar with Chinese video games."
In Lu Kang's view, the historical origins of cultural exchanges between the two countries can be traced far back with deep roots, providing a good foundation for better promoting Chinese culture in Indonesia. "The local Chinese community plays an active role in Indonesia's national development. Their willingness to promote cultural exchanges between the two countries is also very strong and they have rich experience." Lu Kang believes that in addition to appreciating the contributions of local Chinese people, common ground also needs to be found between the peoples of the two countries.
Indonesia has a population of over 270 million, making it the fourth most populous country in the world. Since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the Indonesian government has made continuous efforts through various measures to address structural poverty issues.
In February 2021, China announced the complete victory of its battle against absolute poverty, fulfilling the arduous task of eliminating extreme poverty and building a society of moderate prosperity across the nation. During his 20 months of duty in Indonesia, Lu Kang found that Indonesian society is generally very interested in China's story of poverty alleviation. "They want to know: also as a populous country, how did China manage to lift 700 million people out of poverty in such a short time? This is an excellent chance for telling good China’s stories."
Cultural appeal boosted by strong national strengths
2023 holds special significance for China-Indonesia relations: it marks both the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Indonesia, and the 10th anniversary of President Xi Jinping's first proposal of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative in Indonesia. In October, the Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Railway, a flagship project of China-Indonesia cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, officially began operations, with a maximum speed of 350 km/h, reducing the travel time between Jakarta and Bandung from 3.5 hours to just 40 minutes.
The construction of the Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Railway encountered interference from abroad, but its effects were evident upon opening: tickets were hard to get with carriages almost full. The "Chinese speed" and "Chinese technology" received widespread praise and recognition from the Indonesian public, giving Indonesian society a more tangible understanding of China. Lu Kang said that in addition to greatly improving transportation and people's quality of life in Indonesia, it will also strongly boost Indonesian social and economic development. "It was not easy for the project to materialize, but the benefits are real and substantial."
Today, China is the world's second largest economy and Indonesia's largest trading partner. In Lu Kang's view, cultural soft power is an important component of comprehensive national strength. Many Indonesian officials and businesspeople visit China, visiting world-class companies like Huawei and BYD to learn about China's economic development experience while also understanding corporate culture. "They learn from China's experience in economic development while also appreciating the underlining Chinese culture."
Telling China's stories that overseas audiences can understand
Yangcheng Evening News is a mainstream Chinese media outlet renowned in the Chinese-language media world, with "prioritizing news and upholding culture" as one of its major characteristics and missions of telling China's stories and spreading the Chinese voice well. Since its official launch in November 2020, Yangcheng Evening News' internationally focused "Ling Nan on the Cloud" platform has produced widespread and in-depth influence with remarkable cultural communication outcomes, supported by multi-language capabilities including Indonesian.
Upon learning from Du Chuangui about Yangcheng Evening News' cooperation with prominent Indonesian media Guo Ji Ri Bao, Lu Kang expressed great interest and inquired further.
Regarding international cultural communication, Lu Kang said, "When targeting overseas audiences, it is crucial to understand and use their language systems. Chinese history is very long and our language system is complex. If stories are told entirely according to Chinese linguistic conventions, they may not be understood. Only stories that local people can understand are good stories of China." Lu Kang acknowledged Yangcheng Evening News' prominence in China, saying that it will certainly achieve a great deal in the future.
文、图 | 羊城晚报特派雅加达记者 付怡 王漫琪
翻译 | 陈书君
责编 | 王楠 戚美青
校对 | 桂晴