As the Chinese see the Italians: “You are always late and behave like eternal children”

from Guido Santevecchi

President Xi likes to quote Dante and Petrarch. “Men give too much praise, sometimes not very sincere.” “The sense of family and love for culture unite us”


From our correspondent

They are «zuqiù», culture, gondola, genius and slowness, good life and chaos
, artistic superpower and even shoes are the words that come to mind to the Chinese when they talk about Italy. Let’s go in order, sometimes even of importance in the Mandarin perception of Italianness: “zuqiù” means foot-ball, football which is also an expression of political-cultural prestige. It is not for nothing that Xi Jinping has ordered to build twenty thousand football schools to pursue the dream of seeing China as world champion. The general secretary is said to have a passion for Inter, which blossomed in 1978, well before his birth by young president Steven Zhangwhen the Nerazzurri adventurously landed in Beijing (29-hour flight) for a series of performances in the Stadio dei Lavoratori and Sandro Mazzola, who had retired for a year, once played at the risk of heart attack. In the stands was Xi University. The fact is that Italy is always considered by the Chinese to be a teacher of football, so much so that Marcello Lippi, renamed Yin Hu (Silver Fox) was called to lead the red national team for years, highly respected despite the less than brilliant results. The coach has wonderful Chinese memories: “President Xi sent me congratulations and greetings through the sport ministers.” In addition to the greetings, Silver Fox got a fabulous gig. “Yidalì”: that’s what Italy says in Chinese. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Because the three ideograms that make up the Yi-da-there sound have created some uncertainty for sinologists.

Giuliano Bertaccioli pointed this out in a 1961 essay, diplomatic and academic: no doubt about the sound “from”, provided by the character that identifies “great”; and on “there”, rendered by what is used for “interest” or even “gain”. The dilemma comes with “Yì”: there are several homophones and therefore it can give the idea of ​​”thought” or “justice”. Here Yidalì can sound like a “Country that thinks of big gains”; or “a country that derives a great deal from being just”. An Italy of merchants, or of great ethical ideals. However, trade is in the DNA of the Chinese, who know better than we who did it Marco Polothey consider him a “colleague” and often cite him.

Beijing friends remind me that a nickname is also circulating, for us, a play on words based on the assonance between Yidalì and yidaì (without the elle) which means «naive, likeable and spontaneous». Let’s take it as a compliment. Every speech between Mandarin politicians and guests from Rome invariably starts from the affirmation that “China and Italy are similar, two superpowers of culture united by thousands of years of history”. Memories of Marco Polo and Matteo Ricci and a reference to the Silk Road towards Venice follow.
Xi likes to quote Dante and Petrarch, which he read as a boy. But what does a Beijing government official think in his heart of our country? “I lived in Italy and had problems with bureaucracy “begins a friend we can’t name (“you know, I don’t want to embarrass my department”).

I too have known the Chinese bureaucracy and it is everywhere, I reply. “Yes, but here in Beijing it works well and everything is online.” One to zero for the Chinese bureaucracy. The official, however, really suffers «the fascination for your art and culture, factors that you project very well abroad, even here». In the Chinese middle class (more than 350 million souls) “the Italian lifestyle is popular, we also appreciate your cuisine and it is not taken for granted for us”. The ministerial leader is a seasoned politician: “We consider you friends, we offered you help at the beginning of the pandemic by sending some of our doctors who had experienced in the tragic days of Wuhan and then we cannot forget your support when there was the terrible earthquake in Sichuan“. But ordinary people? «Well, he thinks of you passionate, relaxed, creative, design artists but also accustomed to being late: you know, there is a joke: “In Italy, apart from Ferrari, everything is slow” ».

The last consideration is a dig: «The problem, seen by our government, is that you never really know where to stay, jokingly, with irony, we remember your role in the Second World War, starting with one alliance and arriving with another». The reference is to the great enthusiasm of our government for joining the New Silk Road
proclaimed in 2018 with the Memorandum of Understanding soon abandoned in the archive: “Yes, in this we do not feel exactly satisfied”.

After politics, let’s venture into the psychology of the masses. We borrow a “field investigation” conducted in the streets of Beijing from Federico Roberto Antonelli, designated director of the Italian Cultural Institute in China. Dr. Antonelli, the son of a Sinologist, attended primary school in Beijing in the 1980s, speaks Mandarin with a Pekingese accent and was a refined and gritty legal advisor in the embassy. «I have collected in a notebook the dialogues in a taxi in Beijing. As in all countries of the world, even Pekingese taxi drivers love to chat and as the dead times get longer in monstrous traffic, the speeches are in proportion. I enjoyed asking about Italy: the topics in order of citation were 1) football; 2) shoes; 3) culture. A taxi driver told me about Boccaccio and his short stories translated into Chinese, another about Pavarotti and the opera, even Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor is in his memory. Someone told me about an Albanian film from the 50s with the quote
one “Mussolini is always right”. And then everyone dreams of Monica Bellucci of Malena ». And the shoes? «They represent the made in Italy, elegant but solid
“. What faults do they blame us for? “The most experienced blame us for the lack of continuity.”

After the metered survey, one conducted from Guangdong University. The teacher shows it to us Zhang Haihong44, director of the Italian Department: «We interviewed a sample of Chinese women born in the 90s: Italians are considered enthusiastic and creative, but they don’t seem very serious. The men are nice and kind, but they still live in the pride of being the cradle of the Renaissance, they are good at communicating and they talk fast and loud, they gesticulate, they seem to be dancing or even arguing. They are used to encouraging others and giving lots of compliments. If they want, they can give unlimited praise, which makes them feel they are not sincere enough. ‘ Chen Ou, a 40-year-old Beijing journalist, is clear in his analysis. Defects: «On the political front, the Italians almost always follow the Americans; in welfare, the burden on the state budget has become too heavy; social security is a problem, there are too many thieves and scammers on the streets ». You deserve: «You are warm and friendlyyou have a healthy attitude towards life and love sports. The cuisine is fabulous ».

Sun Yeli, 60, chief economist of Shanghai Sunpower investment Group has an anecdote: «In 1990 I took a vacation in Venice. We took the gondola. The gondolier was gentle, with a dark, sculptural face and a strong figure. He rowed and sang, he enthusiastically explained the attractions of Venice to us. In my opinion this gondolier was a living intangible cultural heritage of Venice. We had nicknamed it “The beauty on the gondola”. I am now running an urban renewal project in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province. Here we have rebuilt Piazza San Marco with a small canal where I put two gondolas. I can’t wait to have the real Venetian gondoliers here. They will surely be a hit on the web! ». But do we have a flaw? “A little presumptuous, a little too stingy about money.” Zhang NaA 47-year-old Beijing tech entrepreneur has traveled between China and Italy 50 times in 20 years. «The lifestyle won me over, with that beautiful habit of getting together for coffee in the morning and an aperitif in the afternoon. One merit of the Italians is to do only one thing at a time, so you concentrate better, even if in the Chinese perception this is often considered as a lack of efficiency. Incompatibility? We have dinner at 17.30, you have to wait until 20, or even until 21. Even the professors often arrive after hours and say that 15 minutes are “academic delay” ».

Blanche Wang works in design: «You are sunny, greet before the others, strike up a conversation and are witty. Of course, the slowness is sometimes exasperating and it is useless to look for you during the August holidays, even the ministers go to the sea to get a tan ». Zhang Gangfeng, graduated in sociology in Trento, was struck by the “sense of the family that unites us, the Italian mother takes care of the children very much, like ours, even too much. Culture matters a lot to us and we see you as the guardians of the ancient garden of Europe ». After Trento, Zhang studied social economics, moved on to foreign investments in China and is now a professor at the School of Management at the University of Zhejiang: “You rely on small businesses, which are flexible but are too in a hurry to earn immediately, with few strategic investments. Often in the minds of the Chinese you are innovative and ingenious, but not very persevering, which is why you are second class compared to the Germans, the French and the English ». Zhang recalls that already in the 90s Prime Minister Zhu Rongji explained that “Italians are undoubtedly very intelligent, but they lack long-term vision ”.

Summarizes Guido Giacconi, engineer, veteran of China with his consulting firm In3act and Vice President of the European Chamber of Commerce: «They see us as inventive, brilliant, hedonistic, politically unstable; when I go on stage for a conference they introduce me as a descendant of a centuries-old culture, naturally elegant, then if we are prepared in the field of new technologies they are surprised ». Yu Weiwei, who has worked in the correspondence office of the Courier he got to know us for better or for worse. “There is an eternal child in the hearts of Italians, which leads them to be close to the essence of life. They don’t like to pretend. A great Chinese entrepreneur once told me that “the integration between art and industry makes Italian creativity unique, a gift to be envied for all other peoples”. I have learned working with you that “making a good impression is very important”. The Italians are contradictory. They seem very cheerful and even superficial but in the meantime very deep in their thoughts and reflections, they always judge. They seem perpetually late, but they often do a great quality job at the last moment ».

Dr. Cristiana Barbatelli has deserved the praise of Chinese TV, an investment consultant for small and medium-sized enterprises in Shanghai for thirty years. During the lockdown she wore the white airtight suit and volunteered to support the elderly stuck in the house. Why did she do it herself? «I have decided to live a love story with this country that hosts me, in love there are ups and downs, misunderstandings that are overcome with the trust that always comes from love for the people around us. Doing the dabai (big white, in the jargon of the Chinese fight against Covid,
ed)

I have I met all the elderly people in my building, now we call each other by name, I also won them over with my gnocchi with duck sauce ». Last line for the ministerial official friend: “We are very close, now we are even closer in football, no world cup for you and for us.”

August 25, 2022 (change August 25, 2022 | 23:28)

As the Chinese see the Italians: “You are always late and behave like eternal children”