By Taw Kaung Min
In August 2015, I visited Beijing to attend the Awards Ceremony of the 9th Special Book Award of China. The Chinese government awarded me a Youth Award, which was recently introduced by China’s press and publication authority. I was one of five winners in this category.
During my stay in Beijing, I attended a reception dinner organized by the China Writers Association (CWA). A CWA official gave a speech and read an excerpt from a poem called To Myanmar Friends written by Chen Yi (1901-1972), one of the 10 Great Marshals of the People’s Republic of China.
The opening of the poem reads: “I live here upstream, and you live there downstream.” I was familiar with the poem, which attests to the friendship between China and Myanmar, but I couldn’t remember all the lines. Even after I returned to Myanmar, the poem still lingered in my mind. One day, I decided I should translate this poem into Myanmar language. I found the full text of the poem on the internet. The poem is a very important work in the long history of China-Myanmar friendly exchange, and I read everything I could read about it.
This poem was written on December 17, 1957 when Marshal Chen Yi served as vice-premier of China. During the Water Splashing Festival (China’s version of Myanmar’s celebration of Songkran) that year, Myanmar Prime Minister U Nu visited Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China’s Yunnan Province, to celebrate the festival. Marshal Chen Yi accompanied Premier Zhou Enlai to Xishuangbanna to greet U Nu and join him in the celebration.
Two other lines in Marshal Chen’s poem go: “China and Myanmar are paukphaw—our languages share similar roots.” The word “paukphaw” means siblings in the Myanmar language.
Since ancient times, ethnic Chinese living in Myanmar and the local majority have always lived side-by-side peacefully, so Myanmar people regard the Chinese in Myanmar as siblings and call them “paukphaw.”
Formal usage of the term “paukphaw friendship” between the Chinese and Myanmar governments dates to the era in which Marshal Chen Yi wrote To Myanmar Friends. Later, Chen made several goodwill visits to Myanmar as a vice-premier.
As the poem describes, the two peoples drink from the same river and feel the sweetness of the river water flowing through China and Myanmar. China and Myanmar, which share mountains and rivers, have long been neighbors with a long history of friendly exchanges. Furthermore, both countries oppose imperialism and colonialism and have remained good neighbors living side-by-side in peace.
China and Myanmar established diplomatic relations in 1950, and formal usage of the term “paukphaw friendship” represents recognition of the close relationship between the two countries. The ruling party of the Myanmar government has undergone several changes, but friendly relations between China and Myanmar have only continuously deepened. A convincing demonstration of the phenomenon happened in 2017, when the Yangon Region Government allowed the Chinese people to organize a grand celebration of the Chinese New Year in the Chinatown of Latha Township, Yangon. On the first day of the Chinese New Year, local Myanmar officials and Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Hong Liang attended the celebration together, presenting a vivid display of the rock solid China-Myanmar friendship.
On international issues, Myanmar has always recognized and supported the “One China” principle. Now, Myanmar is actively and enthusiastically participating in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative(BRI). Much of the international community misunderstood Myanmar’s handling of the Rohingya issue. China has always supported Myanmar in promoting domestic national reconciliation, maintaining domestic stability and promoting domestic economic and social development, and it is eager to make constructive efforts to this end. As Marshal Chen Yi wrote in his poem: “China and Myanmar are close neighbors, so they have amassed great friendship over the course of exchange. Our friendship is as solid as mountains and flows like a river.”
Road to Peace
In 1948, Myanmar became an independent republic. In 1949, the Chinese people won a great victory in the new-democratic revolution and founded the People’s Republic of China. When the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1950, the term “paukphaw,” formerly an informal mutual greeting, was raised to the national level, and the phrase “paukphaw friendship” became widely used. The phrase has also become more enriched with the deepening of friendship between the two countries. Some food names heard every day in Myanmar such as “deep-fried dough stick,” “steamed stuffed bun” and “spring roll (a thin sheet of dough, rolled, stuffed and fried)” were introduced by the Chinese people who came to Myanmar long ago.
When Myanmar had just established diplomatic relations with China, Myanmar Prime Minister U Nu said, “Some may think the friendship between China and Myanmar will not last long… China is a socialist country ruled by the Communist Party, and Myanmar is not… But the Chinese and Myanmar people have a lot in common. The diplomatic relationship between the two countries is based on the common ground they seek now.” One area of common ground for China and Myanmar is opposition to imperialism—both nations are independent and following the same path towards peace.
Throughout history, China and Myanmar have remained friendly, working together and helping each other. “China and Myanmar have officially established friendly relations,” said Prime Minister U Nu to Chinese leaders during a visit to China shortly after establishment of diplomatic relations. “Contrary to some outsiders’ opinions, Myanmar would never try to leverage this friendship for our own purposes. The reason for this development is our longstanding profound friendship with China. When we deal with powerful and rich countries, Myanmar isn’t looking to get something out of the countries. If they help us, then when the time comes, we will do everything in our power to repay any debt. This is our philosophy.”
I believe that China’s BRI will benefit its neighboring countries, and Myanmar will actively support it. In Myanmar, there is a saying that goes, “Solidarity will achieve win-win results,” and China has a similar one: “A single flower does not make spring, but a hundred flowers in full bloom herald spring in the garden.” Today, China’s BRI is the prime embodiment of this saying.
U Nu visited China many times both as Myanmar Prime Minister and party chief. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had visited Myanmar nine times. Neighbors need to visit each other’s homes often because it is the only way to remain close and friendly. Since then, leaders of the two countries have been conducting frequent friendly visits. Myanmar’s current State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited China as general secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) before she came to power. After the NLD began to rule Myanmar, her first visit to a non-ASEAN country was to China. During both the first and second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in 2017 and 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, which indicated that China-Myanmar friendship has been further deepened in the new era.