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Mission focus on Chinatown

The city’s Chinese mission office is keen to act as a catalyst to enthuse corporate bosses back home to participate in a renewal of Chinatown in Tangra, blighted by squalor and decay and deprived of basic amenities like filtered drinking water, streetlights and garbage disposal.

“Calcutta’s Chinatown is the largest settlement of Chinese migrants in India and we are proud of their efforts to popularise our culture and cuisine in these parts. We must make the value of this unique precinct known to our corporate bosses,” Zhang Li Zhong, the consul-general of China in Calcutta, tells Metro.

Zhong believes if the tale of Tangra is succinctly communicated to top business entities in China, it may encourage someone to make a big investment to help preserve the area’s “heritage character” and turn it into a global tourist destination. “It’s our job to make that connect,” he stresses.

The diplomat feels the best way to achieve this is to augment people-to-people ties. With a second direct flight to China (Shenzhen) from the city being launched by Hainan Airlines next month, two-way tourist and business traffic is bound to increase, Zhong hopes.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s recent pledge to correct “a serious aberration” and extend basic civic infrastructure to Chinatown has brought into focus the plight of the city’s ethnic Chinese community, that has shrunk from 15,000-plus around three decades back to a mere 1,500-odd.

“Neither the state government nor the corporation has ever done anything for us. We live in the same neglect today as we did five decades ago when I arrived here,” complains 69-year-old Chee Chieng. The lanky leather merchant landed at Dum Dum airport a 13-year-old, making the journey from Hong Kong cramped with dozens of others on a small propeller plane.

Most Chinatown settlers came from the Meihsien district in the state of Canton. It was an arduous bus ride from Meihsien to Guang Zhou, from where they took the boat to Hong Kong. The Chinese consulate office wants to help the elderly in Chinatown re-establish contact with their ancestral hometowns and keep them abreast with changes there.

The Chinese mission head is also working to boost educational and cultural ties between Bengal and mainland China, with student-exchange programmes, like the one between St. Xavier’s and the Yunnan province, topping the agenda.

The Chinese ministry of culture has approved a grant of Rs 56 lakh to set up a China Hall inside Tagore House in Jorasanko, which will showcase elements from Tagore’s 1924 visit of China. It is expected to be ready by the year-end.

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