Sister act leads to china magazine

Updated: 2013-03-15 09:06

By Tuo Yannan and Fu Jing in Brussels, Belgium (China Daily)

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Sister act leads to china magazine

 Sister act leads to china magazine

Top: Lin (left) and An Tengrootenhuysen have many fans in China; Above: the sisters' Flemish-language magazine China Vantaag. Fu Jing / China Daily

When Two sisters began caring for Chinese children in Antwerp many years ago, the experience led to a fascination with China that spurred them to set up their homeland's first Flemish language magazine focused on the country

From the outside it looks like a typical Belgian house, but inside the building, in Antwerp, lies an Aladdin's Cave of Chinese paintings, calligraphy, books and decorations.

Surprisingly the owners are not Chinese but Belgians with a "Chinese heart" who 30 years ago, in this house, published the first edition of the Flemish-language magazine China Vantaag (China Today).

Lin Tengrootenhuysen and her younger sister An developed an interest in China as kindergarten teachers when they began looking after the children of some local Chinese restaurant owners during weekends.

Despite the passing of time, memories of those times are still fresh in their minds. "These kids were in our classes, but their parents were working in Chinese restaurants and had to work during weekends, so the community came to us to ask if we were willing to look after them," Lin says.

Pictures of the first child they looked after, a girl, hang on the wall of the house.

"They still visit us every year, and bring their kids here," Lin says.

Through the children and their families the sisters' interest in Chinese culture grew, and to further their understanding of the country they began taking Mandarin lessons at the Belgium China Association.

The year 1979 remains imprinted on their memories: it is when they first set foot in China, as part of a Belgium China Association delegation, to see the hometown of the children they had been taking care of and grown to love.

The visit fascinated them, and fuelled their enthusiasm for China further. On returning to Belgium they were keen to learn more about the country and keep abreast of goings on there, but information proved hard to find. Flemish newspapers and magazines carried almost nothing about China, and so the sisters' hatched a plan to found the first Flemish-language magazine aimed at introducing Chinese culture to Belgium.

It was 1982 when they put their plan into action and began collecting and translating articles about China. The job was tough because of a lack of information.

"We couldn't find anything in the newspapers about China except negative news," An says. "Western media did not mention Chinese people's local life or information."

Despite having no knowledge about the publishing business, in January 1983 the first issue of China Vantaag was printed in the sisters' home, which acted as the newsroom, design studio and print room. The pair are now in their 60s and 70s but they continue to publish the magazine from the house and do all the work on it themselves.

Initially, they printed the magazine at home, page by page. The first issue was a 16-page black and white booklet with a simple binding, but when they held it in their hands it was enough to make both sisters cry with joy.

The cover story was about Chinese New Year and there was a photograph of a smiling farmer holding a large pig because it was the beginning of the Year of the Pig.

The sisters decided to steer clear of political issues and concentrate on culture, local news and travel stories, using the Spring Festival as a start.

One thousand copies were produced, most of them sent to schools and libraries.

"At first, many people didn't believe the stories they read and came to us to confirm them," An says. That spurred them on and they have maintained the magazine since, with support from the association.

Producing the publication throughout the years has been difficult, but with regular trips to China and growing interest in the country across Europe, they have persisted.

Over 30 years the sisters have produced more than 500 issues and taken thousands of photographs for them.

China Vantaag crystallized their youth, love, tears and laughter, and across three decades, although many domestic Chinese magazines with a similar focus have come and gone, they have continued to publish.

Today the magazine is published five times a year, with much of the information gathered during an annual month-long trip to China. In total 2,500 copies of each issue are printed in full color and the magazine has grown to more than 45 pages.

Articles talk about development hotspots in China, and there are regular comment pieces from association members.

The sisters' love of China continues to grow. Last year, Lin celebrated her 70th birthday in Beijing. "China has changed tremendously in the past 30 years, but the people there haven't changed; they are so lovely."

The sisters' work has gained them some important fans in China. They have been visited by a number of Chinese ambassadors and thanked for their work in encouraging friendship between China and Belgium.

And they encourage others to visit the country and learn for themselves about China.

"Some people see China as 30 years ago, but everyone who has taken advice and visited China has come back with very positive options about the country," An says.

Contact the writers at and

(China Daily 03/15/2013 page29)