'Dear Grandpa Xi': UAE pupils write letters in Mandarin to Chinese President

President Xi Jinping thanks 'little ambassadors’ for letters of friendship that celebrate 40 years of diplomatic ties

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Emirati pupils have written 40 letters to President Xi Jinping to mark President Sheikh Mohamed’s state visit.

Several letters written in Mandarin were addressed “Dear Xi Yeye” or “Dear Grandpa Xi” by Abu Dhabi pupils who refer to the countries as “best friends”.

The pupils, between 10 and 18-years-old, told the Chinese leader they wanted to see a giant panda, walk on the Great Wall, study in China and work on joint environment projects.

The letters were written by pupils of Hamdan Bin Zayed and Yas schools in Abu Dhabi to mark 40 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the UAE and China.

I hope to become the UAE ambassador to China. I wish you good health and success in your work.
Hamdan Mubarak Al Nahyan, 11-years-old, grade 6, Hamdan Bin Zayed School in a letter to President Xi Jinping

President Xi has thanked the young Emiratis describing them as “little ambassadors”.

“I have read each letter from you, from the lines and drawings I felt all your love for Chinese culture and your expectation for friendship between the two countries,” President Xi said in a response shared by the Chinese embassy in Abu Dhabi.

“Now seeing that learning Chinese has become a new trend in UAE, and a group of little ambassadors for China-UAE exchanges, like you, have been cultivated, I’m very pleased.

“In your letters, you say China and UAE have held hands for 40 years, and hope that our two countries will always be good friends, the Chinese people also share the same wish.”

Studying Mandarin

The President said the young represented the future of the China-UAE friendship and welcomed them to visit China, according to the Xinhua news agency.

The UAE pupils have been studying Mandarin for several years as part of a project that began in 2006 to introduce the Chinese language to UAE public schools.

In one letter, an 11-year-old says, “Dear Grandpa Xi, I am Hamdan from the UAE,” and expressed his ambition to become a diplomat.

“My grandfather is very happy when he hears me speak Chinese,” wrote Hamdan Al Nahyan, a Year 6 pupil.

“This year marks 40 years of hand-in-hand relations between China and the UAE.

“I hope to become the UAE ambassador to China. I wish you good health and success in your work.”

The programme to integrate teaching the Chinese language in the UAE education system began 18 years ago in a school in Abu Dhabi.

It reaches more than 63,000 pupils in 155 public schools across the country who learn Mandarin from nursery until high school as part of the Hundred Schools Project launched in 2019 by Sheikh Mohamed and President Xi.

Jowaireyah Al Ali, a Year 12 pupil, was among those who wrote to President Xi.

The teenager hoped that business, tourism, and cultural ties would gain strength through Sheikh Mohamed’s visit.

“I’m interested in learning more about Chinese traditions, celebrations and food,” the 18-year-old told The National.

“I really like learning Chinese and making conversation when I meet people here. Most people are shocked to see an Emirati speak Chinese.

I think it’s important after university to know another language and Chinese is becoming an important language.

“Sheikh Mohamed’s visit is important because there will be even more collaboration.”

College in China

The pupils wrote their thoughts on colourful drawings of dragons and date palms painted by schoolchildren.

Ahmed Al Hammadi, a Year 10 pupil, hopes to study computer science at a Chinese college.

“It is the first time I wrote to a world leader,” the 15-year-old said.

“I talked about how important it is to strengthen the relations between our countries.”

Fatma Al Bastaki, project manager of the Chinese language expansion programme with the Emirates Schools Establishment, said learning Mandarin in school broadens the knowledge and horizons of young Emiratis.

“This decision to include Mandarin teaching is creating UAE citizens who become global citizens as they are better able to understand and absorb traditions of another culture while maintaining the UAE heritage,” said Ms Al Bastaki, who leads a project that has grown from two teachers to recruiting 254 Chinese nationals to teach the language.

“We are focusing on a trilingual approach of Arabic English and Mandarin to expand the number of existing public schools with the Chinese language programme.

“Learning another language broadens opportunities for higher education, it encourages the students to become open-minded.”

Understand the culture

Qiangwei Du, a Chinese teacher from Wuhan, also teaches traditional musical instruments such as the guzheng, a string instrument, so her pupils gain a sense of culture.

“When some students want to participate in a Chinese talent show, I show them how to play Chinese instruments,” said Ms Qiangwei, who previously taught Mandarin in Spain before moving to the UAE.

People who want to learn Chinese are usually from East or South Asia so I was very excited to know that students from an Arab country wanted to learn.

“I tell my students to feel the music as music is a common language – they can feel the emotion if it’s happy, exciting or peaceful.”

“Once you understand the cultural background then language can be used to communicate.”

Learning the language has sparked an interest in travel in Emirati teenager Meera Al Suwaidi.

“I wrote to the president about how I enjoyed learning Chinese for 10 years since kindergarten, how I wanted to learn more about the culture,” the 13-year-old said.

Her twin brother Khalifa Al Suwaidi wished ‘Grandpa Xi’ a happy Year of the Dragon.

“I wrote about how my school celebrated the Spring Festival and that I perform martial arts,” he said.

“I feel more children should get to study Chinese in our schools – it’s very good for people of both our countries.”

Updated: May 31, 2024, 3:00 AM