When the first Irish Columban missionaries went to China, nearly 100 years ago, they went by boat and it took them three to four months. With so much time spent on the journey, it meant that in those early days they got home only every ten years. Later, even as the jet era began, the journey could take days as stops had to be made along the way.
Now, from mid-June, China’s Hainan Airline is going to have directs flights between Dublin and Beijing, taking about 13 hours. There was a rumour that the Chinese government was making this gesture as part of the Columban 2018 Centenary celebrations!
However the missionary traffic alone would no longer justify direct flights, rather it is a sign of how much business between the two countries has increased, as well as the flow of tourists and students going both ways.
Actually Hainan Island, where the airline is based, is a long way south of Beijing — about four and a half hours flight. The company began as a domestic carrier but has grown dramatically in recent years, taking on international flights, due to the business acumen of a man who happens to be a friend of President Xi.
Now it is business that drives closer contact and while hopefully it will be good for both economies, the increased exchange of tourists and students will provide both countries with an opportunity to know each other better.
However, this wont happen automatically, except in a very superficial manner.
The Chinese who stay in Ireland for more than a month usually spend their time within the confines of a virtual ‘China town’ and rarely experience much of Irish life or culture beyond one or two visits to a pub. The equivalent Irish in China do something similar and in their virtual ‘Irish Town’ will soon find a ‘genuine’ Irish pub.
The fact is, people like to live within their comfort zones and the possibility of learning from others is rarely enough to jolt them out of it.