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Feature: Echoes from history: A tale of 6 generations of Britons linked to China

 

Simon Haworth is showing his grandmother's diaries and photos in the attic where he lived as a child. (Photo provided by Simon Haworth)

by Xinhua writers Sui Lixi, Yu Pei, Wu Zhi

BEIJING, Oct. 15 (Xinhua) -- Simon Haworth introduced biotechnological business in Wuhan City in central China's Hubei Province in 2013 and two years ago, was given the Yellow Crane Friendship Award by the local government, the highest honor for a non-Chinese in the city, in recognition of his contributions.

His company has fetched him another unexpected reward as well. It has led to his rediscovering his family history, especially its long link with China. The 56-year-old British entrepreneur is the fifth generation of a family that has maintained trade and other links with China over 140 years.

A FORGOTTEN LEGACY

The revelation came in 2014 when he visited his parents near Manchester. When he talked about his new venture in Wuhan, his father, Sir Philip Haworth, shot him a question.

"He asked me if I still remembered that my grandparents had been to Wuhan when I was two," Haworth described the conversation. Haworth's father also reminded him that the grandparents had also made many videos and kept journals about the trip. Simon Haworth still has a tiger doll as a souvenir from their trips.

"It was a little bit embarrassing when I realized that I started business in China without knowing this huge family connection with China long long ago," he told Xinhua with a rueful smile. "I remember seeing the diaries and videos when I was young but did not pay much attention to them."

Those journals and videos are a precious part of the family's heritage. Every time Haworth comes to China and meets people for business, he shares photographs of the journals with them. "My relationship with my Chinese partners always becomes much closer once they learn about my grandparents' visits and our long commitment to China," he said. "It is kind of an unexpected windfall for me."

He realizes how fortunate he is to have such historical ties with China, which have helped him to better understand Chinese culture and integrate.

Starting a business overseas is often difficult. As a pioneer and successful entrepreneur in China, Haworth said the family history helped him a lot. "It seems like I am simply following the path prepared so well by my grandparents," he said.

SIX GENERATIONS SINCE 1875

The connection between the Haworth family and China started in 1874, when Simon Haworth's great-great grandfather, Henry Theodore Gaddum, founded a silk trading company, H.T. Gaddum & Co.

For years, Henry Theodore imported silk from Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces in China. Then in 1887, he sent his eldest son Harry to Shanghai to learn business management and run the silk trade fair there. Harry stayed in Shanghai for two years, describing this period of time as "the most wonderful days of my life" in the family book.

The company continued to import silk thread from China till the 1990s. But it was Simon Haworth's grandparents who kept the most impressive records and took abundant footages of their China visits.

They went to China twice, in 1963 and 1967. "None of us encountered anything except kindness and friendliness," his grandmother Dorothy Haworth wrote.

Simon Haworth showed his grandmother's diaries and the drawings she had made of the sceneries encountered during the trips, along with the memorabilia they collected -- Chinese paper-cuts, postcards, stamps, invitations and even old cigarette packs carrying the image of the Wuhan Yangtze Bridge, the Chinese city's well-known landmark.

And now, walking along the actual bridge, Simon Haworth reflected that it was like following in his ancestors' footsteps across time. "I often call it echoes of history," he said reflectively. "My ancestors came here before and now, here I am."

"CHINA IS THE FUTURE"

Just like his great-great grandfather, Haworth has also sent his eldest son George to Shanghai to intern there. He calls it another "echo of history" with two fathers doing the same thing with a similar purpose, born of their same optimism about China's development potential.

Both his second son William and his 17-year-old daughter are now looking forward to coming to China. Haworth said his daughter told him that it was time she started learning Chinese.

Haworth's company is also involved in cultural exchanges between China and Britain. The project it runs, Dynasty Youth Exchange, sends Chinese teens to the UK and vice versa for both to experience the different culture and promote communication between the two countries. "I want to do some work to sweep aside misunderstandings and prejudice between China and the UK," he explained.

Haworth thinks the Belt and Road Initiative is an opportunity for everyone.

"My ancestors joined the first Silk Road trade hundreds of years ago, and now China has proposed the Belt and Road Initiative. I believe China is stepping up to its proper place now, taking its place on the world stage," he said. "Britain was the engine of the world during the first Industrial Revolution. Now is China's turn."

He sees his family's long-term commitment to China as a lesson for him.

"My responsibility is to carry the flag to the next generation," Haworth said. "My children's careers will be dominated by the growing impact of China and they will be able to elevate their own position in a competitive world if they can learn about China, differentiate themselves with language skills and begin to develop the long-term relationships that will prove so important to them."

"For my children and me, China is the future," he said.

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