The Peruvian Xi “Paid High Tribute to” Once Taught at Nanjing University and Became Fascinated with China from Then on
On November 21, 2016, President Xi Jinping made a speech at Peruvian Congress titled “Working Cooperatively, Setting Sail for a Better Sino-Latin American Relationship,” in which he particularly mentioned and paid high tribute to Guillermo Danino Ribatto, the Peruvian sinologist and translator who has contributed significantly to the friendship between the two peoples.
Teaching at Nanjing University in the early years of the Reform and Opening-up
A witness to China’s development
Guillermo at home in Lima, Peru (photographed by Shen Hong, Xinhua Press)
In 1979, Guillermo received an invitation from the Chinese government when he was teaching literature and linguistics in Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. He was invited to teach at the Department of Spanish, Nanjing University.
“I received an invitation,” he recalled. “There were some Chinese teachers who could speak Spanish, and the Chinese government wanted me to help polishing their Spanish. I took an international flight, transferred in Paris and finally arrived in Beijing. That was the beginning of my story with China.”
Guillermo, now 87 years old, always has a lot to say about China. He came to China for the first time when he was 50, and soon he found himself fascinated with this fast-developing oriental country.
“My first impression of China is the fine quality of its people. They are friendly, willing to learn and with an enterprising spirit.”
Guillermo could not say a word of Chinese when he first came to China. As he recalled, there were 15 students in his class and they took turns to treat him in their homes during his first fortnight in Nanjing.
“When I first came,” he recalled, “China was a poor country with dim prospects. Everyone I met wore the same clothes. All my students lived in small one-room apartments, sharing the toilet and kitchen in the corridor. But now, things are utterly different. I am astonished by the development of China. No country in the history of the world has developed so rapidly in such a short time, but I myself have witnessed the great change of China."
Old picture: Xinjiekou Plaza of Nanjing, in the 1980s
Guillermo taught successively at Nanjing University and University of International Business and Economics for a total of 12 years. Afterwards, he was settled in Beijing and devoted himself to the study of Chinese culture until he returned to Peru in 2002. Now he comes to China occasionally for various activities.
The connection between Nanjing University and Peruvians is more than that. In the Peruvian Sinology circle, there is a pair of good friends who are 27 years apart in age. Guillermo and Alesa, the official translator authorized by the Peruvian Foreign Ministry, who are well-known local China hands.
In 1983, when they met at Nanjing University, Guillermo had taught there for four years while Alesa had just started to study for his baccalaureate in the Department of Geology. At that time, they were the only Peruvians in this university as well as in Nanjing.
Alesa showing the Spanish version of Tao Te Ching, which he co-translated with others
Upon return to Peru in 2002, Guillermo and Alesa became colleagues at the Center for Oriental Studies. With their enlightenment, many Peruvian students became interested in China and Chinese culture and thus started a different path of life.
Their own lives joined together at Nanjing University because of their shared love for Chinese culture. They are living in the era of increasingly closer Sino-Peruvian relationship. They are also eye-witnesses and promoters of this era.
The Journey as an Actor Started in Nanjing Accidentally
“Leighton Stuart” in Chinese Films
CCTV News on “Sinologist Guillermo’s Memory of China”
The journey of Guillermo as a sinologist started as he taught at Nanjing University, so did his unexpected journey as a movie actor in the 1980s, when China’s movie industry was revitalized.
The crew of a movie about China’s women fencers approached Guillermo after they learned that there was an expatriate at Nanjing University, who was exactly the person they needed to play the president of the International Fencing Federation.
“I could not even differentiate a knife from a sword when I played that role in the movie,” Guillermo recalled.
Hurley (middle) played by Guillermo in Chongqing Negotiations
After the first show on the screen, Guillermo could not stop in the next 20 years or so, during which he played different roles in 25 movies.
With the appearance highly resembling Leighton Stuart, Guillermo played the former US ambassador to China in the movie Decisive Engagement nearly without any makeup.
As he participated in a series of movies on subjects of the War of Resistance Against Japan and the Cival War, Guillermo felt as if he had relived that part of Chinese history.
“It was the darkest period of Chinese history,” Guillermo said. “People suffered a lot and many laid down their lives.”
Guillermo said that in order to act better, he needed to learn a lot of the background information, and that greatly improved his understanding of Chinese history and culture.
Being “Homesick” When Away from China
Contemporary “Matteo Ricci”
Of the many roles Guillermo played, his favorite is the Italian missionary Matteo Ricci.
“Matteo Ricci was a legendary person,” he said. “He made important contributions to the cultural exchange between the East and the West.”
Guillermo hopes he can be the Matteo Ricci of today.
“I wish I could be a Chinese in my next life, so that I can study the five-thousand-year Chinese civilization all my life and spread what I have learned to more people who like Chinese culture.”
Guillermo spent nine years in translating nine books of poems of the Tang dynasty, making him one of the Latin American sinologists who have translated the greatest number of Tang poems.
Guillermo with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang in Sino-Peruvian Cultural Exchange Activities, 2015
Among his many books on China, the one he valued most was his latest work, Encyclopedia of Chinese Culture, which has 600,000 words and was published in 2013.
This volume introduces many aspects of China like history, religion, culture and important figures, serving as a bridge for Spanish readers to learn about Chinese culture.
Guillermo regards China as his second home. He often says, “I feel homesick when I am away from China.”
About to enter his nineties, Guillermo still comes to China to do research every year, and when back in Peru, he will visit universities and Confucius colleges to share his journey.
May the friendship between the Chinese and Peruvian peoples prosper like Guillermo’s affection for China, which is in full blossom but started out with encounters at Nanjing University.
Sources: People’s Daily, CCTV News, Xinhuanet.com, Huanqiu.com, Chinanews.com, Chinese Culture, etc.
Graphic designer & Commissioning editor: Liu Xiaoyi