Vintage photos witness Sino-Finnish friendship

By Guan Kejiang from People’s Daily

A group of old photos on people-to-people exchanges between China and Finland were recently sent to People’s Daily upon Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Finnish visit, serving as the latest witness and evidence of traditional friendship between the two countries.

President Xi, in a signed article entitled “Our Enduring Friendship” published on Finnish newspaper Helsinki Times ahead of his visit, pointed out that China and Finland share a friendly relationship passing the test of time and international changes.

It sets an example for peaceful co-existence and friendly exchanges between two countries that are different in size, culture and development level, Xi noted.

The photos were sent by Annika Heikinheimo, an official with Finland-China Friendship Association, one of the earliest friendship associations between China and a European country. It is also the oldest and most active one in Finland. The society was founded on June 15, 1951, only eight months after the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, with an aim to promote cultural exchanges.

The founders of the association were big names in Finland, such as composer Ahti Sonninen, author Helvi Hämäläinen, politician V.J.Sukselainen, writer Urho Kekkonen and former first lady of Finland Sylvi Kekkonen.

Heikinheimo noted that these photos were taken in 1953 when Finland’s first large cultural delegation visited China. In these vintage photos, delegation members were visiting Chinese tourist spots, talking with Chinese friends, or inspecting a construction site in straw hats.

The delegation, headed by Kekkonen, consisted of representatives from all walks of life including senators, actors, writers, poets and workers, who were received by then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai as well.

“Scholars studying the history of exchanges between China and Finland have all noticed that almost every Finnish delegation has been received by top Chinese leaders,” Heikinheimo said, adding that it reflected the attention paid by Chinese leaders on the development of bilateral relations.

“In the tight schedule, we visited Beijing, Hefei, Nanjing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Wuhan in one and a half months and attended all kinds of exchange activities,” she recalled.

The official added that the members were astonished after learning that Lu Xun, a leading figure of modern Chinese literature, had translated the works of female Finnish author Minna Canth when visiting the Beijing Lu Xun Museum.

Finland, after the delegation concluded their visit, designed a student exchange plan with China. The University of Helsinki opened a course of Chinese studies, and two delegation members wrote monographs about China after returning to homeland.

In addition, the delegation delivered tens of speeches after returning to their country, introducing the achievements made by the new China.

Actor and director Ritva Arvelo translated and directed the Chinese opera the White Haired Girl. A great number of Chinese movies, books and artworks spread in Finland. Meanwhile, more Finnish novels have also been translated into Chinese. In 1955, the first Sibelius concert was held in Shanghai.

Heikinheimo also noted that the visit has not only brought China-Finland cultural exchange onto a new stage, but opened a new chapter in bilateral economic and trade relations. The two countries have inked inter-governmental trade and payment agreement, which is the first of its kind signed between China and a Western country.

Both countries also intensified their exchanges since then. Back to 1956, the then Finnish Speaker of Parliament Vieno Sukselainen visited China with a parliament delegation at the invitation of the Chinese side, during which they met with Chairman Mao Zedong, Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee Liu Shaoqi and Premier Zhou Enlai.

One photo also recorded the moment Mao and Liu walking out of the Great Hall of the People with the delegation.

Finland held an art exhibition in the autumn of 1958 in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. It was the largest overseas art exhibition held by Finland. Finnish delegation members were impressed by China, describing the country as a happy nation.

Artist Sven Grönvall once wrote in his diary after he arrived in China by train that “we must have reached China since I can feel the relaxed, happy, friendly, young, diligent and historic atmosphere.”

Heikinheimo said that her association never stopped its efforts to propel bilateral exchanges despite of changing international arena.

Now the Spring Festival temple fair organized by the association has become a well-anticipated annual event for Finnish people, she said, adding that the 11th event was held in the downtown Helsinki last year.

In addition, a cultural festival themed “Hello Helsinki” was held in Beijing in May, 2016. Heikinheimo spoke highly of the friendship between the two countries, saying they are close despite of the long distance.