China Observatory has been organising during the past 11 years cinema festivals, research projects, exhibitions and solidarity missions all with the same purpose: to promote the Chinese culture in Portugal and in the Portuguese-speaking space. President Rui Lourido talks to mART about the growing need to promote more of the Chinese culture in the lusophone space, considering the increase in economic investments worldwide.

By Luciana Leitão

Considering the growth of Chinese investment worldwide, the president of China Observatory, Rui Lourido, believes it is now more important than ever to break myths and the “natural” barriers between the Portuguese and the Chinese populations. As a result, the association has been organising cinema festivals, research projects and is now committed to bringing probably a big international exhibition about China’s Treasures, that will take place in Lisbon, in 2019, featuring real artifacts from important museums.

China Observatory is a Portugal-based association of historians and people interested in Chinese culture that exists for 11 years and that “has grown a lot in its activities and dynamics”. More recently, it has focused on “using the Chinese culture to promote good relationship between Portuguese and Chinese population,” even though it operates in all the Portuguese-speaking space.

In Portugal, over the past years, Mr Lourido says China Observatory has organised cinema festivals, research projects, exhibitions and it has even participated in the area of solidarity. “During the earthquake of Sichuan, we tried to gather financial help for Sichuan’s recovery,” he recalls. Culturally wise, the association focuses on “overcoming the natural barriers that exist between different people,” for which culture is “important”.

At its foundation, 11 years ago, in Portugal, there was a “preconceived” and “untruthful” notion that “there were many Chinese selling low cost products in the streets, putting at risk traditional commerce”. “In fact, the traditional commerce starts decaying not because there is competition, but because there is another way of buying — the hypermarkets,” he explains.

Currently, however, there is no longer such notion, but there are other type of prejudices. “China is seen as a threat, because it is buying several companies [in Portugal],” he says, adding: “That is also untrue, since Portugal’s main investor is the United States and France, and not exactly China.”

So, to overcome such preconceived notions, China Observatory is focused on bringing the Chinese culture to Portugal. “In 2013, we brought the Beijing Opera, which had six shows — in Lisbon, Guimarães, Coimbra and Faro,” he says. “The population loved the Chinese culture through the opera and that is the path to follow.”

Within that global goal of “promoting the culture,” China Observatory has research projects, of which Mr Lourido highlights a digital library about Macau-China. “It has all the chronicles and books from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries published,” he says. “These are 125.000 pages, complete books with references to China, but also about the path until reaching China.” It is available online since last year.

Now they are preparing an exhibition to take place in September at Evora Museum, featuring artifacts from Guangzhou Museum. “There has never been an exhibition with true archeological pieces from China — there are exhibitions which feature copies of copies,” he explains. This is the first step for a big international exhibition to take place in 2019, in the capital city of Portugal, Lisbon, titled China’s Treasures, which will focus on China’s History and “its way of living and relationship with the East”.


China Observatory has launched a digital library with books related to Macau-China, from the XVI to the XIX century

Nowadays, Mr Lourido highlights it is “important” that people “take conscience on the geo-strategical important of China, which has also benefited Portugal”. In his opinion, during the financial crisis of the European country, which erupted in 2010, “when Europe was pressuring towards an austerity policy and closed the doors to investments in Portugal, taking money from its population to some banks, paying high interest rates that will never allow Portugal to pay its debt,” China was “investing” bringing “fresh capital”. And, contrarily to popular belief, he mentions “China has kept the boards of directors of the companies in which invested and gave such companies an international dimension”.

UCCLA and Lisbon Ibero-American Capital of Culture

Mr Lourido is also the cultural director of UCCLA — Union of Capital Cities of Portuguese Language, an association of international nature, which gathers 43 cities spread through four continents and aims at strengthening the ties between its member-cities.

For now, it is focusing on organising the VII Portuguese-Language Writers’ Summit which will take place this year in Cape Verde. Its “first stage” happened already in March, during The Script Road — Macau Literary Festival.

In addition, UCCLA is also helping to promote the cultural activities under Lisbon Capital of Ibero-American Culture. “We are not the organisers, but we organised, for instance, an exhibition which we called Afro-Ibero-American Connections, featuring 120 works of 63 Portuguese and Spanish-writing authors at UCCLA’s new headquarters,” he says. The exhibition was inaugurated on February 21.

Cape Verde

The VII Portuguese-Language Writers’ Summit will take place in Cape Verde.

For the year ahead, even though Mr Lourido still doesn’t wish to disclose many details, there will be “book launches and a filled programme of initiatives related to these events [Lisbon Capital Ibero-American and the Cape Verde’s Writers’ Meeting]”.

Mr Lourido also highlights one of UCCLA’s most important initiatives, which is the literary award to new authors. “We were surprised by seeing that, after its first edition [last year], it was already the main award of the Portuguese-speaking space — more than 800 works had entered the competition, not only from the Portuguese-speaking countries, but also from Canada, Spain,” he says. On May 5, the name of the winner of the second edition will be known.