A "China hand" from Iceland

A “China hand” from Iceland

A "China hand" from Iceland
He is the first translator who translated The Analects of Confucius into Icelandic for publishing. He is one of the first students to study in Peking University in the late period of the “Cultural Revolution”. He is Mr. Ragnar Baldsson, the current Minister Plenipotentiary of Iceland in China, who is praised as a “China hand”.

In 1975, at the age of 19, Bao Desong, a “Red Youth” with a strong curiosity about Chinese socialism, traveled more than 8,000 kilometers from the Island of Ice and Fire to study in the ancient capital of Beijing. Under the moving lake light pagoda of Peking University, you can appreciate the traditional Chinese culture, witness the social changes in China, and learn to see the changing world with “Chinese thinking”.

The unique spirit and profound cultural heritage of Peking University not only nourished this foreign student’s love for China, but also had a profound influence on his life. “It has even changed me as a person.” “Said Mr Baldsson.

The road of the “red youth” to China

Born into an intellectual family, Baldesson was very interested in politics at an early age. He not only carefully read the Communist Manifesto, State and Revolution and other Marxist-Leninist works, but also participated in the Marxist-Leninist Communist Organization and founded the “Icelandic Red Youth League”.

As a high school student in the 1970s, Baldsson was exposed to the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong Thought as the French “May Storm” spread widely in Iceland. Since then, he has carried on the proletarian revolution of the ancient eastern country full of reverie, looking forward to one day to see for himself what China is really like.

In 1975, after learning that the Icelandic government would send two students to study in China, Baldesson submitted the application materials at the first time, and successfully passed the selection by the Chinese government with excellent academic performance and excellent comprehensive ability, becoming the first group of Icelandic students to study in China. Since then, this young man from Iceland has forged an indissoluble bond with China.

Weiming Lake good reading

After arriving in Beijing, he first studied Chinese for a year at the Beijing Language and Culture Institute (now Beijing language and culture university). At that time, China advocated “opening the door to run schools”, so he had to go to the factory or the countryside every week to do voluntary labor and receive further education. Although these studies were monotonous, they gave Baldesson opportunities to learn about China from different angles.

After graduating from Beijing Language and Culture Institute, Bao Desong was assigned directly to Peking University to study. In order to gain a deeper understanding of Mao Zedong Thought and Chinese social system, Baldesong chose esoteric philosophy as his major.

At that time, the philosophy department of Peking University was full of stars. Zhu Desheng, Zhu Bokun, Feng Youlan, Ren Jiyu and other leading scholars had taught Bao Desong one after another. It is appropriate for masters to be taught by their side. The diligent Bao Desong understands Chinese thinking from dialectical logic and feels Chinese wisdom from the Analects of Confucius and the Tao Te Ching.

At Peking University, Baldesong also made full use of his linguistic advantages by offering a course in Esperanto during the winter semester of 1978-1979. “About 20 students from the philosophy, Chinese and history departments took my course, and one of the students who impressed me most was Huang Nubo,” Baldesson recalls. It is worth mentioning that because of the common love of Chinese literature, Baldesong and Huang Nubo of the Chinese Department became lifelong friends. “Every time Bao Desong’s mother knitted a sweater for him, she would also knit one for me to wear and keep warm in her heart,” Huang recalls. Passionate and upright, he got along very well with Chinese students, and it was this deep friendship between them that added to his deep attachment to Peking University.

Although he studied at Peking University during the latter stages of China’s Cultural Revolution, the living conditions for international students at Peking University were relatively good. “At that time, the Chinese government offered 100 yuan for undergraduates and 120 yuan for postgraduates. In China, teachers’ salary should be 56 yuan, professors’ salary may be more than 100 yuan, and ordinary people’s salary will be lower. So we have enough to live on and we can buy whatever we want. We can buy bikes soon.” Mr Baldson says with satisfaction.

In his spare time, Bao Desong, an “artistic youth”, often rides his bicycle around Beijing. “In the summer, I often go to the Summer Palace to read books, and then after the afternoon I go to dinner. I usually have a little beer outside and eat dishes like kung pao chicken and double-cooked pork.” In addition, in order to let the international students know the local customs and beautiful rivers and mountains of China, Peking University will organize the international students to go to the Ming Tombs, Shidu, Lingshan and other Beijing outing regularly at their own expense. Recalling his college life in Peking University, Bao desong felt that both the picnic by Weiming Lake under the moon and the outings in the countryside with his classmates in twos and twos were very happy and romantic memories.

Understanding the world with Chinese thinking

While studying at Peking University, he experienced the changes in Chinese politics firsthand. He remembers the confusion and dismay on the faces in the Peking University cafeteria after the announcement of Chairman Mao’s death. I remember how, after the Gang of Four was crushed, celebrants emptied restaurants and shops of beer. I remember that after Hua Guofeng was elected chairman of the CPC Central Committee, the crowd in Tiananmen Square held up a poster inscribed by Chairman Mao with the words “You handle affairs, I will rest assured”.

But more importantly, his studies at Peking University gave him an understanding of Chinese culture as a whole. “From then on, I became more interested in thinking about China and thinking in a Chinese way,” he said.

In Baldesson’s view, “many of the differences between China and the West stem not from national interests or ideologies, but from their cultural differences”. “Jesus had a saying that you should do to others as you like them to do to you,” he explained further, “so Westerners promote the concept of democracy and human rights to other countries. The Chinese people say, ‘Don’t do to others what you don’t want others to do to you.’ They also pay more attention to ‘don’t do to others what you want others to do to you.’ This is the expression of the principle of harmony without uniformity among gentlemen.”

The thinking pattern and dialectics he learned in China also changed his career plan and made him an outstanding career diplomat. “My learning experience in China enabled me to do a good job in diplomacy,” Baldesson recalled. I remember that in December 2012, China and Iceland held the last negotiation on a free trade agreement. At the time, the Icelandic side did not understand China’s insistence on the free movement of Chinese cooks, martial arts athletes, traditional Chinese medicine and other practitioners being included in the negotiations. Iceland’s trade unions, worried about the cost of jobs in the country, put pressure on the government and stalled negotiations for a while. When I asked the Chinese negotiators privately why they were so adamant, they replied that China had no intention of attacking the Icelandic labor market, but only wanted to incorporate Chinese traditional culture into the free trade. I reported China’s position to the Icelandic government and the two sides successfully concluded the negotiations.”

It can be seen that in international exchanges, in order to reduce misunderstanding between the two sides, foreigners need to understand China with Chinese thinking, and Chinese should also learn to understand foreign countries with foreign thinking. This is the essence of “harmony without uniformity” in traditional Chinese culture.

Now he has reached the age of knowing his destiny. From Peking University student to Icelandic Minister Plenipotentiary in China, Baldesson has had close contact with China for most of his life. The silver-haired “China hand”, as the media put it, “looks like a skilled tailor, tirelessly using thread by thread to draw the land of snow and ice and the loess closer…”

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