ZHU Rui: Bon voyage to Gotheborg

Zhu Rui, Assistant Research Fellow at the Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 

The article was originally published in  China Daily on June 11, 2022. The article has been authorized. 


File photo of Gothenburg Sweden set sail to return to Guangzhou, China on Oct 2, 2005. [Photo/VCG]  

Gotheborg of Sweden, the world's largest ocean-going wooden sailing ship, is now heading out again, attracting extensive attention wherever she goes. After leaving the home port on June 8, 2022, Gotheborg has been sailing in northern Europe and the Baltic Sea, planning to cross the North Sea after some Mediterranean rendezvous during the winter of 2022/2023 and head toward the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal to finally Shanghai before autumn.  

Good stories are worth being told, particularly the story of Gotheborg. The open-mindedness and pioneering spirits has long been driving those precursors off from Gothenburg until making their name known among the Eurasians. As early as 1740, a group of sailors risked their lives to open the way for the widespread European engagement with the trading network known as Maritime Silk Road. The first-ever contact sowed the seeds of the people-to-people relationship that was formalized by the memorandum of cooperation between Gothenburg and Shanghai in 1986, and upgraded to the sister-city relations in 2003, furthering mutual cooperation from trade to sports.  

A sister city or a friendship city relationship is a form of social agreement between two geographically and politically distinct localities for the purpose of promoting cultural and commercial ties and thus has been encouraged by the UN and adopted globally. The modern concept of city twinning has its roots in the World War II when solidarity links between cities in allied countries were established in response to battles. Similar links were continuously launched to foster friendship and understanding among former foes as an act of peace and reconciliation postwar. The purpose of twinning then got expanded to encourage trade and tourism, to form strategic international business links, and, especially in most recent years, to tackle COVID-19 by supporting response and recovery efforts mutually.  

Regrettably, in 2020, the authorities of Gothenburg driven by political motives unilaterally announced the end of its friendship city relationship with Shanghai, departing from the determination to stand together in the face of common crisis and abandoning the original intention of this twinning partnership. However, the intention of some people to politicize people-to-people relationship can neither undo the efforts of the majority of both peoples nor cast into shades the 34-year friendship between them.  

The public interest in archaeology of shipwrecks prevailed throughout the 1980s and 1990s, bringing back to life the glory of Gotheborg, which foundered on a reef on her way back from China with loads of chinaware, silk, tea and all kinds of hot sellers when the maritime trade was in full swing. Ever since, reviving the ship and heading out for China again has become the Swedish people's constant wish as part of their vision of the Far East.  

Construction of the replica started in 1995 with the hull launched in 2003. In 2005, the ship was welcomed with loud cheers after her 10 months' adventure when Shanghai residents flocked to the port to see her. Shanghai's warm-hearted hospitality was hard to turn down and Gotheborg extended her stay there again and again. A ship from afar has become the bridge between the two peoples and the symbol of their years of friendship.  

The common development of human society is taking shape greatly with the cooperation and interconnection among countries and regions. Like between Shanghai and Gothenburg, the fruitful exchanges and collaborations under the friendship city relationship has witnessed comprehensive development, with mutual trust and understanding growing ever deeper and cooperation in various areas expanding continuously in such fields as energy, economy and trade – the inauguration of Volvo's first-ever overseas research and development center battery lab in Jiading district, the increased investment by Chinese enterprises represented by Geely in Gothenburg… If you are a sports enthusiast, you must have been impressed by Tobias Hysen, who scored 19 goals and made 10 assists in 28 matches for Shanghai SIPG. If you get to know that Hysen was from Gothenburg, you may see more in the relations between the two cities and their peoples and appreciate better.  

Shanghai has so far established twinning partnerships not only with Gothenburg but with nearly a hundred places and keeps receiving offers from all sides. And since 2020, together with Barcelona, Oslo, Milano, Hamburg and many other cities, Shanghai has been developing a roadmap, and driving those solutions forward as to recover from the shocks caused by the pandemic. It is because we all deeply understand that we are at a critical juncture in the history of humanity that would be a turning point as well as an opportunity to write the next chapter together, and create shared prosperity for all and with all.  

We therefore look forward to the return of Gotheborg to Shanghai, to the reinvention of cooperation pattern that covers such areas as from trade to sports and even beyond.  

Bon voyage to Gotheborg. We will wish her great adventure. And we will be expecting her with warmest cheers here in China.