A Dragon on the River of Painted Birds: Culture as a Factor in Trade Between China and Uruguay

A Dragon on the River of Painted Birds: Culture as a Factor in Trade Between China and Uruguay

Martín Pérez Bañasco (Independent Researcher, Uruguay)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3503-5.ch005

Abstract

China is a country with a history that spans more than 5000 years, a civilization that has maintained its customs and art throughout that period, and a nation that is known to the world as the “Dragon of Asia.” Uruguay is a small country in South America with a similarly rich cultural background, whose name, in the indigenous language of the Guaraní people, means the “River of the Painted Birds.” Uruguay has a comparatively small history of only 200 years, but it is a nation defined by the diversity of its population and their experiences – from the indigenous people to the colonizers and immigrants. Uruguay is also a land of revolutions, marked by the search for social equality and freedom.
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Introduction

China is a country with a history that spans more than 5000 years, a civilization which has maintained its customs and art throughout that period, and a nation which is known to the world as the “Dragon of Asia.” Uruguay is a small country in South America with a similarly rich cultural background, whose name, in the indigenous language of the Guaraní people, means the “River of the Painted Birds.” Uruguay has a comparatively small history of only 200 years, but it is a nation defined by the diversity of its population and their experiences - from the indigenous people to the colonizers and immigrants. Uruguay is also a land of revolutions, marked by the search for social equality and freedom.

In the current century, Uruguay stands out on the global stage as a nation searching for a more egalitarian and free society. During their last administration, the Uruguayan government passed many progressive laws, such as the law on Equal Marriage (Law 19.075), the bill allowing for the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy (Law 18.987), the law on the Integral Protection of Persons with Disabilities (Law 18.651), among others. Uruguay has consequently cited these policies as evidence that it is one of the most socially progressive of countries and redefined itself both in the eyes of Latin America and of the world. However, for this small nation - its population was calculated at just over three million people according to the last census of 2011 - there is still more work to be done and great room for development.

China is also characterized by its diversity, with a population made up of many different ethnicities that coexist and cooperate. The 'Chinese miracle' has shocked and impressed the world, as China has become one of the globe's most significant economic powers in record time with decades of consistently growth. Uruguay and China re-established diplomatic relations in 1988, and since that time the two country's trading links and cooperation have continued to grow.

Since the beginning of the new millennium, China has become a strategic trade partner for Latin America, mainly through the establishment of bilateral agreements, economic cooperation in the region and integration into the 'BRICS' group of nations. Consequently, Uruguay and China have become close economic allies and China is now Uruguay's largest trading partner, overtaking Brazil and Argentina, neighbors who have traditionally been very important for Uruguayan foreign trade.

This article seeks to explore the cultural dimension of the Chinese-Uruguayan trade relationship. Have cultural factors acted as a barrier or a bridge for China's triumphant rise to become Uruguay's foremost trading partner? How have attitudes changed over the course of the relationship? What is revealed by comparing China's status in the early stages of its ties with Uruguay to its later success? How much of China's success in the region is based on socio-cultural factors? How have cultural differences or similarities impacted or prevented economic development between Uruguay and China? Just how did this meeting of distant and unknown cultures occur? How was this sharp divergence experienced and managed by the first Chinese and Uruguayan merchants and their followers? What were the main social and cultural barriers they encountered? How have immigration policies affected this commercial evolution, and does an inclusive socio-cultural development exist within the legal framework? To attempt to answer some of these questions, we have conducted interviews with some of the protagonists who played a role in the development of Chinese-Uruguayan relations and lived and experienced this “cultural shock,” as well as the Uruguayans who are currently encountering this cultural crossroads. We will try to answer the questions that worry us and address others as they arise - particularly those relating to the role of the law and issues around immigration as they have also had a significant effect on the relationship in addition to the cultural factors mentioned above.

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