A tribute and farewell to Ambassador Wang Xuefeng and Madame Tong Xin: Two ‘gifts’ of diplomacy
by Setope Sooaemalelagi
Chinese Ambassador Wang Xuefeng and his gracious wife Madame Tong Xin have served in Samoa at a compelling stage in both nations’ histories.
A period marked by a resurgent China, now number two largest economy in the world and on its current trajectory it should be number one by conservative estimates in 2020. An unprecedented achievement in world history.
Samoa on the other hand is coming to grips with a world which has tilted from ‘West’ to ‘East’ and its economic life lines reflect this salient point. Diplomacy therefore has been at a premium because Samoa is integral to Chinas ‘Belt and Road Imitative’ which in short is China’s ‘trillion’ dollar mega project to strengthen its maritime trade routes in the South Pacific.
However this economic and historical reality obscures two most valuable ‘gifts’ which Ambassador Wang and his good wife leave for all Samoans to unwrap, hold and treasure. The first of which is ‘culture’.
Chinese culture is not all about chop sticks, steamed buns, sweet and sour and the ghost of Bruce Lee. Chinese culture is also about 5000 years of civilization, literature, ancient philosophy, 56 distinct ethnic nationalities, education, sports, drama, art, science and technology, fashion and being counted as independent people of planet earth and at the same time being respected for simply who we are. Before Ambassador Wang and his good wife arrived in Samoa in September 2015 many Samoans ‘unwittingly’ were and still are using Chinese words like chop suey, kow tow , typhoon, wok and kung fu while ignoring the words origin .
Yet, we must ask why? And my simple answer is too much ‘stereotype’ and not enough culture. Hypothetically speaking if you were to ask the Chinese Ambassador …”excuse me sir would you like some chop suey ?” (Thinking he is Chinese and assuming all Chinese supposedly eat chop suey) You would probably get a blank stare.
Not all Chinese eat noodles and not all Chinese eat rice and believe it or not …not all Chinese use chop sticks! And probably 99.9% of Chinese have never heard of Chop Suey. Chinese call Vermicelli which is the main noodle for Samoan chop suey, Mien pronounced ME AN .Just like Samoans they eat what they like and that includes Pizza and KFC. For over 100 years Samoa has been the home of descendants of Chinese indentured laborer’s many of whom now form the backbone of Samoa’s modern day economic , political and cultural life.
What is critical here is that Ambassador Wang has made it easier for Samoan families with Chinese ancestry to re-unite with long lost relatives in mainland China. This unification is central to understanding Samoan - Chinese families and their cultural history. Families such as the Leung Wai’s , Ah Mau’s , Ah Fooks , Lei Sam’s , Ng Shiu’s , Chan Tungs and many more .
Scores of newspaper articles cite Ambassador Wang’s close affinity to Samoans and how he and his wife are admired for their down to earth approach to people and rarely would you see pictures in the local papers where they are not together. Now, an Ambassador’s job is not all glamour or about high society, rubbing shoulders with Government officials, clinking champagne glasses, cutting ribbons, smiling and photo ops.
It is actually more, a lot more – the least of which is building sincere trust at all levels of Samoa’s social divisions which is complex and as any village philosopher will tell you perhaps “impossible” to understand.
Wang however handled this challenge as a high official of the Chinese Government with absolute class and sincerity. His professionalism has been perfectly aligned with Samoan culture and the dignified manner in which he has carried himself and also his wife, impeccable. According to Samoan chiefs at the kava bowl ‘exchange’ they say – ‘Mr Wang and wife are quintessential “Tama alii “(honorable people).
News of Wang’s departure was like a slow tolling of a Church bell. Samoan dignitaries expressed a deep sense of loss; it was if one of their own sons was leaving forever. Nevertheless, Wang leaves us with a new cultural vision, a vision of “win win” and not “I win and you lose”. Furthermore, “no man is an Island “and Wang’s wife is a testament to this old proverb. By profession she is a translator, linguist, university professor and a Fulbright scholar.
She has played a pivotal role in helping to translate Robert Louis Stevenson classics into Chinese and to promote works of Pacific authors in the Chinese language.
The second gift is ‘education’ .Education is just as dear to Samoans as it is to any other country. There is an old Chinese proverb It’s better to walk thousands of miles than to read thousands of books. So if you were to travel to China today you could dispel another stereotype about China, which is, China wants world domination, money or that ALL Chinese are rich.
Every building, bridge, road, school, airport, sewing machine, text book, scholarship, aid program and medical supply in Samoa funded by the Chinese Government actually comes out of the pockets of hard working Chinese workers and they include farmers, factory workers, taxi drivers, teachers, middle class and upper class. As reported in the Samoan Observer February 4 2019. Mr Xuefeng and his Good lady, Tong Xin, donated gifts for the students of Vailele Samoa Primary School and he said…..
“Last year, after I visited your school, I talked to your teachers and I promised them to bring you a projector and a screen,” he said.
“Today, I am bringing these gifts to you so you can watch movies using the projector. This morning I am also bringing New Year’s gifts of volleyball, soccer balls and pants.”
But that wasn’t all. He also gifted each student a panda teddy bear.
“China and Samoa are good friends, so I am your good friend,”
At the end of February, 30 Samoan athletes training for the South Pacific Games in July 2019 will be hosted in Beijing for 3 months, all expenses paid for by the Chinese government. They will represent the largest group of South Pacific athletes ever to train in China.
The youngest Samoan athlete is a twelve year old table tennis player! These athletes will compliment around 250 Samoan scholarship students currently in China studying engineering, computer science, maths, finance, medicine and the arts. Any scholarship to study in China is a once in a life time opportunity to view the world from the orient, something many of our parents could only dream of. Last year in December 2018 Ambassador Wang and his wife facilitated the opening of Samoa’s first Chinese Confucius Institute which is located at the National University of Samoa Campus grounds. On this and more, we owe a great deal to the Ambassador and his distinguished wife for two ‘gifts’ that’s value is unquantifiable, immeasurable and beautiful.
So I will leave readers with this quote from the famous philosopher teacher Confucius and his ideas on education (the ‘second’ gift from Wang and Tong Xin )
“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”
Chinese Ambassador Wang Xuefeng and your good wife Madame Tong Xin
Fa’afetai tele , Soifua