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How China-proposed BRI helps incense-makers go global


Pu Lianggong knows the art of incense-making, just like his Arab ancestors.

Now nearly 70 years old, Pu produces incense in Yongchun County in Quanzhou, a coastal city in east China's Fujian Province.

The incense-making craft has its roots in the ancient Maritime Silk Road, which served as a vital conduit for both trade and cultural exchange between China's southeastern coastal regions and foreign countries.

Pu belongs to a 10th-generation family of Arab descent who settled in Quanzhou, known as the starting point of the ancient Maritime Silk Road, in 1646. As China's seaborne trade thrived during Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, Quanzhou became the largest port in eastern China.

Pu's Arab ancestors brought aromatic ingredients with them along the ancient Maritime Silk Road, made a living by selling them and gradually integrated into life in Quanzhou, marrying locals and adopting the Chinese surname Pu.

The Pu family made incense with bamboo and aromatic ingredients from their homeland, which is different from the scented chips called "bakhoor" in most Arab countries. It is similar to a Chinese incense stick, with bamboo sticks wrapped in ground aromatic ingredients.

Boosted by the Pu family's influence, incense has become a thriving industry in Yongchun. At present, there are nearly 300 incense-producing factories there, selling products to both domestic and foreign markets.

Thanks to the increase in international orders, workers and their families are enjoying more comfortable lives, an improvement partly driven by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Proposed by China in 2013, the initiative aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and beyond along the ancient Silk Road trade routes for common development and prosperity.

Serving as a platform to foster cross-cultural exchange and mutual understanding as well, the initiative presents an opportunity to promote diversity and inclusivity.

Chinese President Xi Jinping once quoted an ancient Chinese saying, "Delicious soup is made by combining different ingredients," to explain the importance of diversity.

A shared future for mankind

"Delicious soup is made by combining different ingredients."

The saying comes from the Chinese classic "History of the Three Kingdoms," literally reflecting the Chinese culinary tradition of using a variety of ingredients, such as herbs, spices and vegetables, to create a flavorful soup. It highlights the power of collaboration and that the value of diversity in human civilization is the source of human progress.

Xi cited it in a keynote speech at the United Nations Office at Geneva in January 2017, saying diversity is "an engine driving the advance of human civilizations."

"There are more than 200 countries and regions, over 2,500 ethnic groups and multiple religions in our world. Different histories, national conditions, ethnic groups and customs give birth to different civilizations and make the world a colorful one," said Xi.

"We should make exchanges among civilizations a source of inspiration for advancing human society and a bond that keeps the world in peace."

Xi emphasized the necessity of building an open and inclusive world through exchanges and mutual learning, adding that exchange among civilizations is "a source of inspiration for advancing human society" and "a bond to keep the world in peace."

The old Chinese saying is very much in line with the history of incense-making in Yongchun. Centuries ago, Arabic aromatic ingredients came to China as "messengers," integrated and developed with Chinese aromatic ingredients, and finally spread around the world.

Nowadays, the Arab states, which were important participants along the ancient Silk Road trade routes, are crucial partners with China in the BRI.

Over the past decade, the BRI has positively impacted local residents in partner countries by providing them with job opportunities, as well as facilitating international trade.

From 2013 to 2022, the total trade between China and BRI partner countries reached $19.1 trillion, with an average annual growth rate of 6.4 percent, according to a white paper. By June 2023, China had signed more than 200 BRI cooperation agreements with more than 150 countries and 30 international organizations across five continents, yielding a number of signature projects and small-scale yet impactful projects.

China has also worked to bring BRI partner countries and organizations together through joint cultural activities, including the establishment of international alliances of theaters, museums, art festivals and libraries such as the International Alliance of Museums of the Silk Road and the Silk Road International League of Theaters.

By connecting diverse cultures and different countries, the BRI promotes cooperation, openness and inclusivity around the world, bringing China closer to its goal of building a community with a shared future for mankind to promote common development.

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