By Wang Fengjuan, Shi Guang
“I am happy and excited to be considered an old friend by the Chinese government,” declared Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand. “It’s such an honor.” The Princess called the Friendship Medal a noble honor and valuable experience in her life. She stands ready to contribute more to Thailand China friendship.
On September 29, Chinese President Xi Jinping granted Princess Sirindhorn and five other foreign nationals the Friendship Medal, the highest honor given by the Chinese government to foreigners, at a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Princess Sirindhorn wore a purple suit to the ceremony. On behalf of the medal winners, she delivered a speech in which she quoted a line from an ancient Chinese poem: Even thousands of miles cannot divide true friends who feel close at heart. “All six of us are true friends of China who offer our abilities to the cause of friendship and cooperation between our respective countries and China,” she added.
The founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) 70 years ago was a landmark event in the modern history of the world, she continued. China, as an economic power and a beacon of reform and opening-up, social development and modernization, has joined the family of nations with confidence. “We have seen fundamental historic changes to Chinese society over the last 70 years,” she illustrated. “We have also witnessed the great struggle of the Chinese people to overcome difficulties and obstacles in the face of economic, social and other transformations. According to a Chinese adage, victory can be ensured when people pool their strength; success will be secured when people pool their wisdom.”
“Once again, I would like to thank President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people for this honor,” the princess said in Chinese. “On this occasion of celebration for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, on behalf of all the Friendship Medal winners and our respective countries, I would like to express our most heartfelt congratulations and best wishes to the PRC and the Chinese people!” The audience approved of her remarks with a round of applause.
Envoy of Thailand-China Friendship
Sirindhorn is a familiar name to many Chinese people. Despite her high royal position, the princess endeavors to keep a low profile, which has won her respect and adoration from the Chinese people along with her reputation as an old friend and an envoy of Thailand-China friendship.
The princess has been building a profound friendship with China since childhood. “I knew about China from a young age,” recalled the princess. “Even before diplomatic relations had been established between Thailand and China, we could hear voices from China on Radio Beijing. My most lasting old impressions of China were goods such as inexpensive pens, delicious snacks and other items.” She first met with a Chinese national at a Chinese history and art exhibition in England. She studied Chinese history and bought many books about China as her interest in Chinese history, art and literature increased.
In May 1981, Princess Sirindhorn became the first member of the Thai royal family to visit China. Since then, she has visited China almost every year and traveled all over the country across nearly 50 visits.
The princess has always been intelligent and eager to learn. Under the guidance of the king and queen, she began to study Chinese history and literature. Her hard work paid off. She speaks fluent Chinese and understands Chinese culture profoundly. She excels at Chinese calligraphy and painting and can play traditional Chinese musical instruments such as the erhu (a two-stringed bowed instrument). She holds honorary degrees in history, ancient Chinese language, education and a doctorate in education. She has been named an emeritus professor by several Chinese universities including Wuhan University, Sichuan University and Southwest University.
“I have visited many Chinese research institutes and universities to make arrangements for Thai students, from high school students to Ph.D. candidates, to study in China,” explained Princess Sirindhorn, “Chinese universities offer Thai students scholarships for academics as well as for short-term training. Many of the students have returned home and found good jobs.” The princess also lauded the fact that Thai universities and research institutes have found new opportunities for joint research projects with their Chinese counterparts which would have been hard to perform on their own.
Over the years, Princess Sirindhorn has remained committed to cultural exchange between Thailand and China and made important contributions to the development of Confucius Institutes and Chinese education in Thailand. On March 26, 2007, the princess inaugurated the Confucius Institute at Chulalongkorn University with the Chinese inscription: “We have an arduous task and a long road ahead.” She also attended the opening ceremony of the Confucius Institute at Burapha University and the Confucius Classroom at Chitralada School.
During Chinese New Year, Princess Sirindhorn and other members of the Thai royal family visited Chinatown/Yaowarat, Bangkok to celebrate with the local community, which greatly inspired the overseas Chinese in Thailand and strengthened the friendly relations between the two peoples.
“Thai culture is similar to Chinese culture, and the two peoples understand each other,” noted Princess Sirindhorn. “I have enjoyed my visits to China. Thailand has many citizens of Chinese origin and shares many traditional Chinese customs. I have been reading Chinese history translated into Thai since childhood. Chinese books have been translated into Thai for more than 200 years.” The princess has developed profound respect for China’s 5,000-year-old civilization. She read Chinese classics such as The Romance of the Three Kingdoms when she was very young. Reaching for an even deeper understanding of Chinese culture, she studied under nine senior Chinese lecturers arranged by the Chinese Embassy in Thailand. In February 2001, she conducted a month of intensive research and study at Peking University in Beijing and earned an honorary doctorate. She wrote and published a number of books about China including Dragon’s Land, Forward A-Far the Sand Streams, Snow Flakes in Mist Streams, and Beneath the Clouds of Yunnan, earning her a reputation as a “China hand” princess.
Princess Sirindhorn also translated the literary works of Wang Meng, Tie Ning, Fang Fang and other famous Chinese writers into Thai as well as over 100 Tang Dynasty poems and Song Dynasty verses. Her systematic and in-depth study of Chinese culture and history was honored with the “Chinese Language and Culture Friendship Award” and “Understanding and Friendship International Literature Award” granted by the Chinese government.
Princess Sirindhorn cherishes her ongoing relations with China International Publishing Group (CIPG). She made her first visit to CIPG in 2015 at age 60. At a history exhibition of CIPG, she was briefed on the communication organization’s development and achievements including publication of China Report ASEAN before writing the inscription “Friendship Bridge” in Chinese.
Prior to her visit, CIPG compiled and published a picture album titled Princess Sirindhorn’s Sky Road Journey, which traced the princess’s journey to Qinghai Province and Tibet Autonomous Region along the high-altitude Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The beautiful pictures and accompanying essays capture everything the princess saw and heard on the journey, testifying to the continuous development of traditional friendship between China and Thailand in the new century.
On September 16, 2019, a CIPG delegation attended a thematic seminar on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC in Thailand. Zhao Jun, editor-in chief of China Report ASEAN, presented Princess Sirindhorn the Thai version of the book Keywords to Understand China: The Belt and Road Initiative. During their trip in Thailand, the CIPG delegation worked with the Chinese Embassy in Thailand on “Photo Exhibition of 70 Years of the People’s Republic of China and China-Thailand Relations” and “Exhibition of Princess Sirindhorn’s Works on China and Translations of Chinese Literary Works.” The delegation also organized an exhibition of CIPG’s publications including Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, Key Words to Understand China and China Report ASEAN, which were well received by Thai readers.
China and Thailand are tight, friendly neighbors. Princess Sirindhorn is an old friend and good friend of the Chinese people who has made tremendous contributions to friendly China-Thailand cooperation. Her in-depth understanding of Chinese history, culture and society has kept her dedicated to building a friendship bridge for even greater Thailand-China cooperation.