by Xinhua writers Yang Zhou, Ming Dajun
BANGKOK, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- After all these years, when talking about China, the old saying "Chinese and Thais are of one family" still strikes a chord with many Thais.
Both peoples have forged a strong kinship through a millennium of friendly exchanges, centuries of Chinese migration to and assimilation in Thailand, and the current effort of jointly building the Belt and Road in the new era.
The friendship has been passed down from generation to generation, and Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn can be regarded as the most prominent example of this.
Princess Sirindhorn is among the six foreigners who were last week awarded the Medal of Friendship, an honorary title issued under a presidential decree in the lead-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC). It is awarded to foreigners who have made great contributions to supporting China's socialist modernization, promoting exchanges and cooperation between China and foreign countries and safeguarding world peace.
She told the Chinese Embassy in Thailand that she is pleased and honored to have received the medal, as well as grateful that China offers such a high honor.
The princess was born in Bangkok in April 1955. When she was 20, Thailand and China forged diplomatic ties. Five years later, she began to learn Mandarin Chinese with the help of her mother.
"I have known China as a country from a very young age. Although Thailand had yet to establish diplomatic ties with the PRC at that time, I had been able to hear the voice of New China through the radio," said the princess in a recent interview with Xinhua.
Her mother once said that the Chinese people were fond of reading and learning, and understanding Chinese would offer her more knowledge, the princess said in the interview. "The reality turned out to be just like what she said," she added.
In her book "Verses of Clear Jade" on the Thai translation of ancient Chinese poems and verses, she wrote that "Chinese and Thais, for sure are not strangers, (we are) intimate friends connected by hearts."
For the past 38 years, the princess has put her words into practice, promoting Thailand-China cooperation in culture, education and other fields. She has set foot in almost every province, autonomous region and major city in China. Her monographs on China have offered Thais a chance to learn more about the vast country.
On her first visit to China in 1981, the princess traveled to Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Kunming, and later in her travelogue book "Treading the Dragon Land" she introduced what she saw to Thai people. Her second China visit came nine years later, when she journeyed westbound along the ancient silk road from Xi'an all the way to Kashgar in China's Xinjiang, and later captured the experience in her second travelogue, "Forward afar the Sand Streams."
The princess in 1997 attended the hand-over ceremony of Hong Kong to China, introducing the historical moment to Thais in the richly illustrated book "A Return to Motherland of China." She attended the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and later donated twice for earthquake victims in China.
For her prominent contributions to China-Thailand cultural exchanges, she was awarded the Chinese Language and Culture Friendship Award by China's Ministry of Education in 2000.
In recent years, the princess' focus on China has expanded to technology and education. Under her initiative, a Confucius Institute was founded in 2006 in her alma mater, Thailand's Chulalongkorn University, with the collaboration of China's Peking University.
In April 2013, she visited the northern Chinese city of Tianjin to promote bilateral efforts in vocational education, which enabled Thai students to receive short-term training or study full-time in Tianjin funded by city scholarships, in addition to a Chinese-style educational project in Thailand's Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Technical College in 2016.
"Thailand's universities (and) research institutions could also join China's research programs, which, I think, is very important to our country," she told Xinhua.
"Chinese are independent, diligent people, which is a gift bestowed by Chinese tradition," she said. "I think in the future China will be more advanced, make breakthroughs in technology, keep developing sustainably and maintain stability and prosperity."