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2022 Italy-China Year of Culture and Tourism: Getting Closer through People-to-People Exchange

This article on Italy-China relations has been written to inaugurate the opening of our Italian Chapter. Stay tuned for their opening event!

Italian embassy, Beijing © MAio / CC BY-NC 2.0 / Flickr

Italy and China are two nations with a long, venerable, and complex history. These two countries came into contact with each other in ancient times: suffice it to mention Marco Polo or Matteo Ricci, respectively an explorer and a missionary, who travelled to the East in the XIII and XVI centuries and were among the first to meticulously describe China to the West.

The official diplomatic relations between Italy and China started many years after the first contacts between the two cultures: in 1970, Italy officially recognized the People’s Republic of China as a country by breaking its formal relations with the Republic of China. The two countries celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations last year. On this occasion, they decided to set up the “Italy-China Year of Culture and Tourism”, a year full of events and activities aimed at boosting cooperation, travelling, and people-to-people exchange.

The opening event was held in January 2020 and started with a Forum called “International cooperation in the tourism and cultural sector by Italy and China: a new outlook”, aimed at discussing sustainable tourism, and the changing touristic behaviours in the Age of Internet (Farnesina, 2020). This opening Forum kicked off “a programme of shows and events for promoting culture and tourism taking place during the whole year” (Farnesina, 2020), both in Chinese and Italian cities: art exhibitions, cooking events, music and dance performances, and much more. The focus of the discussion during the Forum was also on “how to broaden the number of UNESCO sites included in the tourist itineraries” (Farnesina, 2020). The two countries precisely hold 55 UNESCO heritage sites each (UNESCO, 2021), more than any other country in the world, and have a varied and worldwide famous culinary tradition: for these reasons, they attract many tourists from all over the world, or rather, they used to. Due to the pandemic outbreak and the consequent travel bans, tourism and cultural exchange were brought to a standstill and the above-listed events designed to promote exchange and tourism did not take place.

However, these events have been rescheduled and will be held in 2022. In December 2020, the Italian Ambassador in Beijing, Luca Ferrari, and the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Hu Heping, discussed the importance of boosting the Sino-Italian bilateral cooperation in the coming years, jointly promoting sustainable tourism, and encouraging travel to their respective heritages (Toschi, 2020). As outlined in an article on the website Cina in Italia, the idea to postpone the “Year of Culture and Tourism” has become the symbol of Italy’s and China’s will to pursue their cooperation (Toschi, 2020). Giovannini on CGTN, similarly, stresses that the anniversary for the year of tourism and culture “remains a demonstration of the common intent to maintain an important people-to-people exchange between two of the world's most important civilizations.” (Giovannini, 2020).

In the following sections, I will explore some figures on tourism and the most famous “twin towns”. I will conclude with some remarks and considerations.