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The first British attempt to build trade links with China took place as far back as 1596.
Unfortunately the three ships involved, under the command of Captain Benjamin Wood, failed to reach their destination and were lost without trace.
One of those ships was called The Bear.
Four centuries later, British traders have once again travelled East with a bear – but this time it’s one named Paddington!
Much more successful than Captain Wood’s ill-fated journey was the experience of the first the Chinese visitor to Britain.
He was a man by the name of Shen Fu-Tsung, and he arrived in about 1685.
Shen’s arrival caused such a sensation that King James II didn’t just demand an audience with him, he also had his portrait painted and hung it in his bedroom!
Well over three centuries later that painting, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, is still a part of the Royal Collection.
I don’t know if our very special guest the Duke of Cambridge has seen it!
But I do know that it was shared with literally millions of visitors when it went on show at London’s National Portrait Gallery.
And that painting is not the only example of China finding a receptive audience in Britain’s cultural life.
At the Victoria & Albert Museum you can engage with more than 5,000 years of history and culture, in one of the world’s largest collections of Chinese art.
A spectacular Ming exhibition at the British Museum closed in January after a hugely successful run.
That followed on from the sensational visit of the Terracotta Warriors, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that drew visitors from across the UK and Europe.
London galleries do a roaring trade in contemporary Chinese art.
A few days ago the British Film Institute hosted a night of exciting new Chinese cinema.
And the annual China Visual Festival will tour the UK later this year.
This cultural love affair is not unreciprocated.
For many years, British art, music and drama have been winning fans in China.
I know Shakespeare is particularly popular, which is why the British Government is proud to be investing £1 million in a new Mandarin translation of his complete works.
Meanwhile, work is underway to open a design museum in Shenzhen backed by the V&A.
Due to open in December next year, it’s a truly pioneering international collaboration.
British television is extraordinarily popular here.
Huge audiences are regularly gripped by the likes of Sherlock and Downton Abbey.
Local versions of British staples like X-Factor and Top Gear are enjoyed by millions of Chinese viewers.
Aardman Animations, home of Wallace & Gromit, is already a big name here, and it’s set to get even bigger when Shaun The Sheep is released shortly.
Together Britain’s creative industries are worth almost
£80 billion to our economy.
That’s almost three-quarters of a trillion yuan, or about five per cent of the UK’s GDP.
China has a similar success story to tell.
After a period of unprecedented growth, the creative sector here now contributes 3.6 per cent of GDP.
That’s why 2015 isn’t just the Year of the Sheep.
And it’s not just the year of Shaun the Sheep, either!
2015 is first-ever UK/China Year of Cultural Exchange.
It all kicks off here in Shanghai at the GREAT Festival of Creativity.
And in the weeks and months ahead there will be many more opportunities to celebrate the creative industries of both our countries.
To showcase the very best of UK and Chinese culture.
To pave the way for long-term partnership and collaboration.
Above all, the events taking place this year will allow us to learn from each other’s successes, and find solutions to our common creative challenges.
It’s particularly important at this moment in time, as the Chinese economy begins to diversity from one driven by manufacturing and exports to one powered by knowledge and ideas.
When China’s economic growth was based on industrial expansion, it made sense to forge close relations with other industrial nations.
But in this next phase, as you build a more creative, innovative economy, you need to work with creative, innovative nations.
And no country fits the bill better than the UK.
When great nations come together in a spirit of co-operation, great things can happen.
That’s why I was so delighted to see that the UK/China treaty on film co-production has been ratified.
The UK and China are home to two of the biggest and best film industries in the world, so both our countries have much to gain from forging closer links.
That’s why the British Government is creating a new set of Chevening scholarships for Chinese students who want to study art and design in the UK.
And that’s why a whole team from the UK government, myself included, are here to share what we’ve learned about how the state can nurture creative talent.
We can tell you about our tax relief programme that helped make last year the most successful ever for British film.
We can tell you about the £3 billion of public funding that this Government has invested in art and culture over the past five years, including half a million pounds to translate great works of Chinese literature into English.
And we can tell you how we’re tearing up red tape, so that that the regulatory regime works for everyone who works in the media and everyone who consumes it.
Some of our most creative, most innovative businesses are here too.
I’m sure you’ve already heard of big names like the BBC.
But our creativity isn’t limited to famous television programmes.
So we’ve also brought smaller firms as diverse as Saville Row tailors Gieves & Hawkes and range-makers Aga.
Their products don’t have much in common, and the companies themselves have very different histories.
But, like all the British businesses gathered here in Shanghai, they are powered by creative minds that allow them to be world leaders in their fields.
And they’re here to share what they know and explore new ways of working together.
Because in an interconnected world the key to success is international co-operation and understanding.
And when we share our ideas about art and culture, the benefits are magnified.
Such an exchange isn’t just good for the bottom line, it also boosts our understanding of each other’s nations.
It allows us to see a little of each other’s lives, to base our impressions on facts rather than out-dated assumptions.
And when we better understand each other, we can better do business together.
That exchange of ideas and cultures began with Shen Fu-Tsung’s visit more than three centuries ago.
This festival, and this year of events, will help it to continue for many more years to come.