Chinese students out in force to greet President and First Lady

Updated: 2015-10-20 23:04


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Chinese students out in force to greet President and First Lady

Chinese students wait for the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping who is on a state visit to the UK in front of the Buckingham Palace, London, Oct 20, 2015. [Peng Yining/China Daily]

It is two hours before dawn outside Buckingham Palace. In the chilly morning breeze, I am surrounded by excited Chinese students awaiting the arrival of President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, in the Queen's royal carriage.

"I am freezing," one complained to a companion. Without saying a word, the woman wrapped her friend in a big Chinese national flag. Together, two 20-year-old college students shared the warmth of the giant banner with its five yellow stars.

Homesickness always strikes at vulnerable moments and, for young people living in a foreign land, those moments can be frequent.

Li Yijing, a 23-year-old student from northwestern China's Gansu province, said she misses everything back home since she came to London for her education a year ago.

"I miss Chinese food, television programs. I cook as much as I can, which is weird, because I didn't like Chinese food that much before I came to the UK," she said. "It seems that I love my country more after I left it."

When she was told the president would be visiting in October, Li said she was thrilled.

"It is not just watching the president passing in front of me. The state visit also brings a lot of Chinese signatures to London," said Li, referring to the Chinese flags along The Mall, the lanterns in Chinatown and numerous events related to China.

"It feels like Spring Festival came earlier this year," she said. "Usually I'd feel a little bit sad spending Spring Festival in a foreign country, but this time I am happy."

And it is always nice to welcome visitors from home.

Before and during the president's visit, signs of China could be seen everywhere in London. Xi's book, The Governance of China, was on display at the city's bookstores, along with other Chinese literary classics. I was surprised to see Three Bodies, the most popular sci-fi book in China, at Hatchards, one of the oldest British bookstores. It was like being back in Beijing.

Jiang Zhihong, a 20-year-old student, said she skipped two classes to come to The Mall, the avenue that leads to the palace. "I am studying politics, and this is like a historic moment in China-UK relations. I am sure my professor will understand," she said. "It is such a rare opportunity to see the president myself. My home is in Beijing, but I didn't get a chance to see him."

Jiang said she is also a big fan of Peng, the first lady. "I like her style, very elegant, very Chinese," she said.

Luo Dongyang, a 21-year-old student from Hong Kong, said he didn't know there was such a big Chinese community in London. "So many Chinese people are here, it's like Tian'anmen Square," he said. "It is always good to meet people from my hometown."

At midday, more than six hours after I arrived at The Mall, the ceremony began. The cavalry and marching soldiers in the cavalcade prompted a chorus of camera clicks. Chinese flags turned the thoroughfare into an ocean of red.

Finally the president and his wife came into view in the gilded carriage, smiling and waving to people crowded on either side. Amid the swelling sound of greetings, three students in front of me suddenly began to sing the Chinese national anthem.

"This is a moment when you want to sing the anthem proudly," one of them told me. "This is a moment you feel strongly connected with your country."

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