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It is unusual to see Molly Malone push her barrow in Beijing, instead of Dublin. But there she is in the capital city of China.
Irish culture has had a far reaching influence on America, Canada and Australia. But Irish culture has been popular also in Asia, in particular Japan. This has been in part thanks to the International Association for the Study of Irish Literature (IASIL). The annual Irish Literature Translation Prize receives a phenomenal response in China.
Gaelport has been the driving force for Irish studies abroad. Under the Irish Language Fund for Third Level Institutions Overseas scheme, Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) has offered Irish language study since 2010; it also hosts other modules including culture and society, business, economics and foreign relations. The BFSU Irish Studies Centre is also joined by Shanghai’s Irish Studies Programme in the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade and the Beijing-Dublin International College, a joint venture of UCD and Beijing University of Technology was opened in 2013. These institutions along with the James Joyce societies in Japan and elsewhere are important for incorporating economic ties with cultural ties.
But despite more Chinese people being interested in Irish language and culture, a lot of people in China still don’t know Ireland is an independent country. What information exists about Ireland is absurd. According to some online factsheets in China, divorce is illegal in Ireland and we are one of the few nations that believe true love exists and can be forever.
It was estimated by Enterprise Ireland that ‘China will be Ireland’s fourth largest trading partner by 2030’. As such it will be crucial that Ireland creates the basis to ‘export agricultural products, food and drinks, high quality educational services and financial services to China’ in the coming years.
Yet Ireland has a long road ahead to secure our place with China. With this in mind, in 2014 Alan Duffy, Chief of HSBC Ireland said ‘Ireland isn’t doing enough to boost trade with China’.
Ireland has yet to acquire direct flights to China, never mind the complexity of our visa process which has already frustrated lots of Chinese tourists and investors. The Irish government must do more.
Tomás Swinburne Jing Farrelly
Hillview Zapeno House
Co Kildare Co Meath
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