An interview with the wife of the Chinese Ambassador
By Ellen Brager.
Wassenaar. 7:00 p.m. on a Wednesday evening. Representing Diplomat Magazine I had the great honor of being a guest at the residence of Mrs. Wenci Li, wife of H.E. Mr. Chen Xu, Chinese Ambassador to the Netherlands. A quick glance at her biography on the way to Wassenaar filled me with anticipation since it clearly was going to be a very interesting assignment.
Mrs. Li, who majored in English Literature and International Relations, started her career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China.
Initially, she worked in the Department of International Organizations and Conferences in the field of Arms Control and Disarmament, and later worked in the Department of West Asia and North Africa, where she focused on conflict resolution in those areas.
In 1989 she moved with her husband to New York where they both worked at the Chinese Mission to the United Nations. She was the Vice Consul-General of the Consulate-General of China in Vancouver from 2008 to 2012. In 2013, her husband was appointed Ambassador to the Netherlands, so they both moved to The Hague, while their son continued his university studies in China.
DM: For a diplomat’s spouse, it is always a challenge to find a meaningful occupation, especially having to do so in a foreign country. How did you adapt yourself to this new role and new environment?
Mrs. Li: While it is a challenge, I consider it a great honor as well. I feel very fortunate, because as the wife of the Ambassador, I get to meet many people from different walks – diplomats, academics, business people, royalty – and to benefit from their knowledge and insights.
I enjoy being part of this community, while at the same time I can have my own observations as an outsider.
DM: What are some of those observations?
Mrs. Li: When meeting people at social events that my husband and I attend, three things impress me most. First, how so many of them are concerned about peace and development in the world: where do conflicts come from, how do we deal with chemical weapons, are the mechanisms in place effective? Second, how the same group of people who discuss high-level diplomatic affairs also have their own personal concerns and interests like health problems, relationship issues and so on.
And last but not least, I found that many people are very interested in elements of Chinese culture such as martial arts, Chinese traditional medicine and even Chinese philosophy as a way of living.
DM: In addition to supporting your husband in his diplomatic role, what else do you enjoy doing? What is your personal interest?
Mrs. Li: I enjoy reading and I also practice Tai Chi and Yoga. The slow, peaceful movements executed with high precision bring me into a state of balance and harmony.
I sometimes organize events at home to share elements from my culture with others, such as the Chinese tea ritual and the art of calligraphy.
It is also a personal interest of mine to study Chinese traditional medicine, particularly its way of thinking. For example, it looks at the body as a very accurate mechanism in which all organs and systems are interconnected and perfectly synchronized.
Under guidance of such thinking, relief for minor ailments can be immediate and obvious just by pressing fingers onto the right spots of a patient’s body. A good Chinese medicine practitioner not only cures the patients with accurate diagnoses of symptoms and thorough examination of the affected parts of the body, but is also concerned with the root causes and explores and addresses connections between the mental and physical well-being of the patient, so as to help prevent future diseases.
DM: Becoming a good doctor, then, not only means acquiring the right knowledge, but also adopting a unique way of thinking. I assume this way of thinking is strongly embedded in Chinese culture. Can you tell us about the core of Chinese traditional culture?
Mrs. Li: Yes, Chinese medicine is an obvious reflection of Chinese culture. Generally speaking, there are three main philosophical schools in Chinese history.
Buddhism focuses on practicing and developing a superior state of mind. In Confucianism the pursuit lies in leading a virtuous life with ethical behavior. For Taoists, the focus rests on how to live in a purely natural way.
The word Tao literally means “way, path, truth, view of nature”. The three schools have different approaches and focus points but share the common goal of reaching a state of harmony and happiness: not illusive but real and sustainable harmony and happiness.
DM: Having lived for several years in the US and Canada and over two years in Europe you have been in a position to compare Western culture with your own. What are your thoughts on that?
Mrs. Li: Although the approaches of the two cultures are different, their pursuits of happiness are more or less the same. The world is diversified and differences exist naturally in many aspects.
Both cultures can complement each other if we can simply share and exchange ideas with an open mind and in a spirit of mutual understanding and respect.
We can learn so much from each other. I find Dutch culture especially interesting. Sometimes I wonder what makes the Netherlands so unique.
DM: In what way do you think it is unique?
Mrs. Li: Despite being a small country, the Netherlands is the home to many great figures like Spinoza, Grotius, Erasmus, Rembrandt and van Gogh. Their influence and contribution to the development of humankind’s civilization reaches far beyond this region.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands plays a leading role in many areas, particularly in agriculture, trade, science and technology, water management and more. As an inclusive and open country, the Netherlands is characterized by innovation, pragmatism, open-mindedness, pioneering spirit and hard-work. It is a country where people enjoy nature and the outdoors, sports, reading, family-gatherings and leisure times. This combination is really amazing.
DM: It is always fascinating to get the view of someone with a very different background and I thank you for sharing your insights with Diplomat Magazine. Is there anything else you would like to add to the interview?
Mrs. Li: Many thanks to Diplomat Magazine for providing such a platform for diplomats to communicate with others. The world is so diversified in many aspects, but also closely interconnected as well. How to get along with each other in a peaceful manner remains a common pursuit for all of us.
There is an old Chinese saying: “Seek harmony among diversities”. As a diplomat myself, I can deeply understand the role diplomats play to represent their own home countries, stimulate friendship with other countries and strive for peace of the whole world. In the meantime, their families and beloved ones also contribute to their work.
I think we are all duty-bound to work together so as to build a mutually beneficial and peaceful world, not only for ourselves, but for our children as well. I sincerely wish every one good health and a happy life.