Forum ignites cultural connections

Updated: Nov 9, 2023 By Meng Wenjie China Daily Print
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Top: (from left to right) Amanda Makombe, a creative strategist from Zimbabwe; Liu Qingyao, a Chinese pipa performer; and Feng Jing, a Chinese global traveler. Middle: (from left to right) Liang Xiaosheng, a Chinese writer; and Shahbaz Khan, the director of UNESCO Multisectoral Regional Office for East Asia. Above: Youth from different countries met at the 2023 World Youth Development Forum, held from Oct 30 to Nov 1. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Youth from around the world share inspiring tales of cultural exchange and perseverance at the 2023 World Youth Development Forum.

During the 2023 World Youth Development Forum in Beijing, held from Oct 30 to Nov 1, renowned contemporary Chinese writer Liang Xiaosheng expressed the value of cultural exchange, stating, "Through the vibrant, sincere, and heartfelt exchange of culture, literature, and art among nations, I have personally benefited from both China's wonderful culture and literary concepts as well as those of other countries. As a result, I hope that each of the young friends gathered here today can take on the role of cultural exchange ambassadors."

The thematic forum, titled "Enriching the Cultural Diversity Through Youth Innovation", took place on Nov 1 with the goal of igniting the inherent enthusiasm of youth who wish to engage in fostering cultural exchanges and mutual understanding among the world's diverse civilizations.

Shahbaz Khan, the director of UNESCO Multisectoral Regional Office for East Asia, eloquently emphasized the significance of embracing diverse cultures.

"Not a single flower can bring spring. This is why we must recognize and appreciate the beauty of different cultures," he said.

Khan also highlighted the pivotal role that China's abundant cultural resources play in facilitating cross-cultural relationships globally. "China is a beautiful country with more than 5,000 years of history and 57 world heritage sites. This leadership from China for young people can bring confidence, hope, and peace, which we need more than ever before."

Since Khan's first visit to China in 1999, he has devoted over two decades to the country and observed the remarkable development of Chinese youth. "There is a lot more confidence and hope coming from China, and there is increased participation in international initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative among young people who are connecting with the world," he said.

Feng Jing is one of those young people. As a global traveler, she has visited over 140 countries worldwide. During the Youth Dialogue, part of the thematic forum, Feng recounted her extraordinary trek to the Pole of Inaccessibility (POI) in the heart of Antarctica, a feat that made her the first human to achieve this remarkable journey on foot.

Despite her petite and unassuming appearance, Feng, along with her two assistants, accomplished an 80-day trek spanning over 1,800 kilometers, starting from the Princess Astrid Coast in Antarctica and culminating at the POI on Jan 25, 2020.

Commercially available travel routes to the South Pole exist; however, these do not align with Feng's vision of Antarctica. "The true Antarctic continent should be a place that can be reached but not fully conquered," Feng explained. This principle is why she selected the POI as her destination.

Feng pointed out that the Soviet expedition first reached the POI in 1958. But due to its remote location and harsh conditions, the simple wooden hut left by the team was completely abandoned in 1967.

"From 1967 to 2019, no one had ever ventured there on foot," she said.

Feng was driven by her passion to embrace the unforgiving environment. "Due to the below-freezing temperatures, I had to layer up with seven tops and six pairs of pants," she said. "Unfortunately, my right thumb got stuck in the waistband of my pants and became dislocated."

Even though it didn't sound life-threatening, the absence of research stations or advanced medical facilities for immediate help made the adventure more precarious.

What was even more distressing, the inconvenience caused by her right-hand injury led Feng to accidentally cut her chin and lips with a shovel while pitching a tent. The harsh environment presented even greater challenges for her in properly tending to the wound.

"What began as a minor cut had worsened by the time I reached the POI, forcing me to cut short my original plan of staying for a week to just two days, as I urgently needed to return to the Russian research station for treatment," she explained.

Feng spent five years preparing for this journey, from learning skiing from scratch to eventually becoming the first human to hike to the POI. Along the way, she faced numerous doubters who questioned her audacious dream.

"There was no one but me who believed it was worth a try," she said. "But as an experienced globe-trotter, I knew I excelled at something — persistence. Maybe I walk slower, but I can continue doing what I'm passionate about."

Now, Feng has silenced those mocking voices with her remarkable achievements. During her travels, she has connected with many young people from diverse cultural backgrounds. "I hope to use my own experiences to inspire them to fearlessly pursue their dreams," she said. "There is something incredibly captivating about the spirit of expedition — never giving up."

This spirit of cultural exchange was further exemplified by Liu Qingyao, a Chinese pipa performer, who has introduced young people from around the world to the enchanting traditional Chinese musical instrument, pipa.

"Pipa has a rich multicultural history. It was introduced to China along the ancient Silk Road, reaching its pinnacle during the Tang Dynasty (618-907)," Liu explained. "Today, the Belt and Road Initiative serves as a cultural exchange platform that encompasses numerous countries and ethnicities."

During her presentation, Liu sang the renowned Chinese folk song, Jasmine, which is one of the theme melodies in the internationally acclaimed opera Turandot, composed by Italian musician Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924). "This is the power of music," Liu said. "Chinese folk music melodies not only convey stories of China but also resonate with stories from around the world."

Amanda Makombe is a creative strategist from Zimbabwe. She runs a creative club program that provides classes in writing, painting, music, and other artistic modalities to enrich the lives of youths in Africa and address unemployment. "Our funding is making a positive impact on a great number of individuals, including young people and content creators focusing on youth-related topics," she said.

Makombe believes that youth should embrace different cultures to ignite innovative ideas. "Each of us holds a wealth of stories from our own nations, and it's imperative that we share them with the international community. This is not just about offering local perspectives but also providing a global viewpoint."

Feng, Liu, and Makombe were three of the eight young people participating in the Youth Dialogue. They came from six countries: Brazil, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and China, and they all shared their unique perspectives and personal stories.

For Khan, these types of cultural exchanges have immense significance. "We need to instill confidence in young people that their own cultures and civilizations are of utmost importance," he stressed. "The youth aren't just the leaders of the future; they are leaders for today."

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