Hundreds of Greeks and Chinese flocked to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens to celebrate together the forthcoming Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, which falls on Feb. 5 this year.

On the occasion of the festival, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation hosted an open discussion with Chinese and Greek officials and experts on the elements that bridge China and Greece.

The past, present and future of bilateral ties with emphasis on culture were highlighted by speakers, while the artistic program of the evening included music, dance and martial arts performances.

Zhang Qiyue, Chinese Ambassador to Greece, and Zu Lijun, director of Business Confucius Institute at Athens University of Economics and Business, explained to the audience the significance of the upcoming holiday for Chinese people, the symbolism of the red color, many customs of the Spring Festival and the great importance Chinese attach to family and respect of the ancestors.

Leonidas Rokanas, Ambassador of Greece to China, and Angelos Chaniotis, Professor of Ancient History and Classics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, on their part, referred to the similarities in the teachings of Confucius and ancient Greek philosophers, both peoples’ focus on education and the mutual respect between the two nations representing two ancient civilisations.

Speakers and members of the audience also exchanged views on bilateral cooperation in economy, trade, art, science and education, expressing confidence that the deepening of Sino-Greek collaboration in the future will benefit both sides and the world.

“In a word, today’s event was very successful. The aim of the event is to get more Greek people to understand the current China-Greece relations and recognise its importance and potential development opportunities between the two countries,” the Chinese ambassador told.

Greece is a very good partner under the Belt and Road Initiative, “The cooperation between the two sides can serve as a model for mutual beneficial cooperation for countries with different cultures, different systems and different scales,” she explained.

“There are many opportunities in the development of China-Greece relations. I hope that through such activities, people will be more supportive of our cooperation,” Zhang stressed.

Greek journalist Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou who coordinated the discussion also appeared confident that attendees did learn something new about each other’s culture during the event and were offered an opportunity to further explore more.

“It was a very interesting discussion. We discussed regarding the relationship between Greece and China. The field is very huge, historically, culturally and also in the field of innovation, of investments and not only (these). We learned many things concerning China,” she said.

Wednesday’s event was part of the Dialogues series initiative by Stavros Niarchos Foundation which once a month hosts such open discussions on several aspects, she added.

Professor Chaniotis underlined the importance of investing in youth to strengthen links and bring the two peoples closer.

“The opportunity to celebrate the Chinese New Year gives us also an opportunity to think about the importance of culture which is something that both the Chinese and the Greeks share, the fact that they are two countries with a culture that goes back to millennia, two cultures that show very strong interest in education, in learning,” he explained.

The Greek professor who has taught in China was impressed by the tremendous interest Chinese students have in Greek culture. He suggests that Greek universities should also establish programs in which Chinese studies will be offered to students.

Lefteris Charteros, who was among spectators in Wednesday’s event, was one of a dozen of students who were given the opportunity to visit China through a Huawei program recently. He told that he had experienced the Chinese culture there, admired technological advancement and was impressed by the similarities between Greeks and Chinese.

“They really are a nation that tries to connect with people. They really want the other people to understand them. I think that is something that also Greeks have. They show hospitality and that’s what we felt when we visited China,” he said.