“‘To be or not to be, that is the question.’ That line from “Hamlet” has left a lasting impression on me,” Xi Jinping said at a dinner hosted by The Lord Mayor of the City of London. “As a young man I often pondered the question.” 

A trip to the U.K. 21 years prior brought the Chinese president “into contact with the long history, unique traditions and brimming vigour of this country.” Xi listed a variety of uniquely British places, people, and experiences that have had an impact on him, and on the Chinese people.


(Image: Michael Levine-Clark / flickr)


The Bard had a particular hold on Xi when, at 16, he left Beijing to become a farmer for seven years in a rural village. 

“Back in those days, I tried every means to lay my hands on William Shakespeare’s works, reading “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “The Twelfth Night,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet,” “Othello,” “King Lear” and “Macbeth.” I was captivated by their dramatic plots, vivid characters and emotional intensity,” Xi said.

“Standing on the barren loess land of Shaanxi as a young man, I often pondered the question of to be or not to be. Eventually I made up my mind that I shall dedicate myself to serving my country and my people. I am sure that Shakespeare not only appeals to readers with his literary talents, but also inspires people’s lives in profound ways.”



big ben river thames
(Photo: Alan Newman on flickr.)

“Coming back here and seeing the towering Big Ben and rippling River Thames, I feel very much at home,” Xi said.  This picture shows Big Ben, the clock on the right of the image, across from the River Thames. The river runs through the south of the country, and is the longest river entirely in the U.K. Big Ben sits on the north end of the Palace of Westminster, and was built in 1858.


Historical Events
Industrial Revolution
A portion of “Iron and Coal,” 1855–60, by William Bell Scott. It illustrates the rise of coal and iron working in the Industrial Revolution and the heavy engineering projects they made possible. (Image: Public Domain)

“China sees in the U.K. an important partner and a sincere friend. Since the end of World War II, China’s relations with the U.K. have on the whole led the way in the relations between China and Western countries,” he said. 

Xi also referenced the following historical events and themes:

  • The English Bourgeois Revolution
  • The Industrial Revolution
  • Chartism
  • The Normandy landings
  • WWII


Sir Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill, 1942 (Public Domain / Library of Congress)

“China is vigorously promoting an innovation-driven development strategy. In his series of books entitled ‘Science and Civilization in China,’ Joseph Needham discussed the achievements in science and technology of ancient China,” Xi said. “China will closely follow the trend of science and technological revolution and work hard to achieve first-class results in this field.”

Other people Xi mentioned:

  • Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Francis Bacon
  • Oliver Cromwell
  • Winston Churchill
  • Thomas More
  • John Locke
  • Adam Smith
  • Charles Darwin
  • Arnold Toynbee
  • Joseph Needham 
  • Karl Marx
  • Friedrich Engels
  • William Shakespeare
  • William Wordsworth
  • Jane Austen
  • Charles Dickens
  • Deng Xiaoping
  • Margaret Thatcher


Culture and Art
"Cats" cast, Roma Musical Theatre in Warsaw, 2007. (Image: Effie via Wikimedia Commons)
“Cats” cast, Roma Musical Theatre in Warsaw, 2007. (Image: Effie via Wikimedia Commons)

“In the course of history, the Chinese and British peoples both created splendid civilizations that had far-reaching impact on human progress,” the president said. “Tea originated in China. Yet it was the British who enriched the culture of tea by creating the ritual of the afternoon tea.” 

Other cultural and art references include books, movies, and television programs:  

  • “The Tale of Two Cities”
  • “Oliver Twist”
  • “Jane Eyre”
  • “Robinson Crusoe”
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • “Cats”
  • “James Bond” 
  • “Harry Potter”
  • “Sherlock”
  • “Downton Abbey”


Arsenal’s Theo Walcott fires a shot during a match against Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium, in London. (Image: Associated Press)

“In China you can find countless fans of football stars such as David Beckham and clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal,” Xi said.