President invokes Oscar Wilde during China address

Michael D Higgins travels to Great Wall during high-profile state visit

President Michael D Higgins shared a stage with musician Sharon Shannon and her band, the poet Paula Meehan, erhu player Sun Huang and cellist Zhao Xuyang, and Riverdance performers at the Forbidden City concert hall for a rousing evening of Irish culture in Beijing.

The President and his wife Sabina Higgins kicked off the day with a bracing visit to the Great Wall of China at Badaling, near Beijing, where they were met by Chen Fei, deputy director of the special zone of the popular site.

Later he visited the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in the 798 Art District in Beijing, a former munitions factory built by the East Germans which has been transformed into a hip art gallery area.

They were met by Zhang Guohua, director of the Art District and May Xue, CEO of UCCA.

The mission has a strong theme of promoting trade between Ireland and China, which is the world's second largest economy.

During the visit, Irish creative excellence was showcased at an exhibition of Irish design, called the 'Weathering Exhibition' organised by the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, and President Higgins toured the UCCA gallery and visited a children's creative studio.

“I am delighted to be here today at the Weathering Exhibition to not only celebrate the beautiful work on display in this gallery, but to recognise and pay tribute to the many talented and sought after Irish designers and craftworkers who enhance our reputation across the globe as a nation associated with creativity and artistic achievement,” he said.

The President said he agreed wholeheartedly with a speech that President Xi Jinping gave in Bruges in April, in which he said: "To move our relationship forward, China needs to know more about Europe, and Europe needs to know more about China."

He went on to tell the audience of how culture was central to the Irish experience, which in recent years had included “poverty, illusory affluence and then poverty again”.

He also invoked Oscar Wilde when addressing the Chinese audiences, saying how his 1891 essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism had been very influential on the early revolutionaries in China, including the 1911 Movement, which led to the removal of China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing, and established a republican state.

Later in the day, the President met with guests, many of them from the financial services industry and the pharmaceutical sector, who had earlier attended a dinner organised by the IDA and hosted by the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan was also in attendance.

On Tuesday, the President is due to attend a business breakfast hosted by Enterprise Ireland and the IDA, and he will also meet President Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan later in the day.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing