The China-Greece Year of Culture and Tourism began last week with an official opening ceremony at the archaeological site of the Ancient Agora in Athens.
The ceremony, attended by Greek and Chinese officials, presented a rich program of events over the forthcoming months, designed to enhance collaboration between the two countries. It ended with the unveiling of life-sized statues of Socrates and Confucius – a symbolic meeting of the two ancient cultures in the commercial, social and political hub of Classical Athens.
Unable to attend in person, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and his Chinese counterpart, Prime Minister Li Keqiang, sent video messages, both referring to the close ties of friendship and cooperation between the two countries, and the completion in 2022 of 50 years of Greek-Chinese diplomatic relations.
“Guided by the words of Lao Tzu, ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step,’ and Socrates’ saying, ‘the most valuable acquisition is a good friend,’ I wish for a good start and the best success,” Prime Minister Mitsotakis said in his message, citing words of wisdom by the two ancient philosophers.
In his message, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang added that the forthcoming cultural and tourism events will deepen the traditional friendship between Greece and China, enhance mutual understanding, and promote practical cooperation.
Over the course of the year, a series of exhibitions will take place at museums in both countries, including a digital tour of the famous mausoleum of the first Chinese emperor via the website of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
Running through February 2022, the digital exhibition, “Parallel Space: Meet the Terracotta Warriors in Greece,” will bring online visitors face-to-face with the famous terracotta army, a collection of 2,000 life-sized sculptures of terracotta warriors entombed in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in Xi’an, central China, in 210-209 BCE. The digital exhibition also features one of the terracotta warriors in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, a 1.95 m-tall high-ranking military commander, standing opposite the Kroisos Kouros, a funerary statue of a nude male youth (kouros) from Anavyssosa in east Attica. Dating to 540-515 BC, the kouros, also standing at 1.95 m, is widely considered a pioneer of late Archaic Greek art.
The exhibition was formally inaugurated at the ceremony by Anna Vasiliki Karapanagiotou, director of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, and Wang Qiang, charge d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Greece.
In her speech at the ceremony, Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni highlighted the symbolic meeting between Greece and China, and the shared values that connect the two ancient cultures, embodied by the iconic philosophers Socrates and Confucius.
“We highlight the past of our two countries, we shape the present together and we plan for the future,” the Culture Minister said. “We treat our traditions with respect, recognizing that culture is the oxygen of our societies, but also the most convenient way for peoples to get closer to each other.”
Socrates, an Athenian philosopher of the late 5th century BC, is widely regarded as a founder of Western philosophy and the first moral philosopher of the Western ethical tradition of thought. His impact on later Greek philosophers was immense, notably Plato and Aristotle, and almost all philosophical currents traced their roots to him. Likewise, the teachings of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher and politician of the late 6th and early 5th century BCE, formed the basis of East Asian culture and society, and remain highly influential today.
Mendoni went on to discuss the ambitious translation program of Greek literary works into Chinese, the participation of Greece in the Beijing International Book Fair, and as an honored country at the International Film Festival in Beijing.
Bilateral exchanges between the National Theaters of the two countries will also take place during the year, as well as film screenings, including the first Greek-Chinese co-production, and other public and online events.
This article first appeared in Greece Is (www.greece-is.com), a Kathimerini publishing initiative.