China and Afghanistan both issued their first stamps in the 1870s, at a time both countries faced upheaval, writes China’s Ambassador to Kabul Liu Jinsong.
Small Stamps, Big History
On World Post Day, October 9, the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan co-hosted a China-Afghanistan Post Stamp Exhibition. It was the largest exhibition of its kind held in Afghanistan in the past decade and turned out to be a great success, attracting a dazzling array of people and unprecedented publicity.
Stamps are not only the name-card of a country but also the microcosm of its history and culture. To collect and enjoy the beauty of Afghan stamps is to learn Afghanistan’s great history and experience its hospitality. I like collecting and studying Afghan stamps because they are well-known for their exquisite printing and abundant subjects.
Both China and Afghanistan issued their first ever stamp in the 1870s, namely “Large Dragon Stamp” and “Lion Head Stamp”. During that period, both countries were faced with internal revolt and foreign invasion. The elite of the two countries tried to achieve economic prosperity and military capacity by emulating western systems, the postal system included. They tried very hard but failed to change their country's destiny.
On the stamps of both countries, one can always find images of national heroes who resisted foreign aggression and strove for national independence, which is a vivid reflection of the country’s history of anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles as well as its people’s pursuit of freedom, peace and prosperity. Both countries sprang up countless brave men and women, and both people worship heroes and patriots. Chairman Mao Zedong, major founder of the People’s Republic of China, once spoke highly of the struggle of the Afghan people: “Afghanistan is a heroic country and never has it yielded to anyone throughout history”.
On the stamps of both countries, one can also find many of the country’s rivers and mountains, cultural relics, rare animals as well as some newly built economic and livelihood facilities. This shows that the people of our two countries have strong cultural confidence and patriotism, and are striving to build the country by exploring a development path matching the national conditions.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Afghanistan in 2005, the postal authorities of China and Afghanistan jointly printed a commemorative stamp. It was the first stamp that was made of silk ever since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and converged the mutual trust and deep friendship of our two ancient silk road civilizations into a square-inch stamp.
Today, the Belt and Road Initiative, brought up by Chinese President Xi Jinping and supported by all walks of life of Afghanistan, is bringing concrete benefits to the people of our two countries, and will help Afghanistan rise once again to its glory in free trade, connectivity, economic globalization and regional economic integration.
I am not only a diplomat, but also a philatelist. I always collect and study the country’s stamps wherever I am posted. Besides personal interest, it’s also because there are so many similarities between stamp collection and being a diplomat. Firstly, stamp collection needs love, patience, consistent input and never giving up, which is the same as how the relationship between two countries should be dealt with. Secondly, a philatelist needs to pay attention to newly issued stamps but also cherish the old ones. Similarly, it is also the tradition of the Chinese diplomacy to make new friends while never forgetting the old ones. Thirdly, stamp collection requires an open and fair environment, friendly communications, and exchanges based on equal terms.
We need to satisfy our own needs while tending to other people’s concerns. Unilateralism, isolationism and egoism are welcome neither in the philatelic community nor in the international community.
My friends in Beijing once told me a story that was related to postal service and stamps.
An Afghan audience whose name is Kutwal once sent a letter to the China Radio International in Beijing. When they opened the envelope, they found it was a 6-meter long hand-written letter. Kutwal said in the letter that although he and his friends were living in a different country, they still insisted on listening to CRI Pashto broadcast.
He had strong good feelings for China and hoped that Afghanistan could also achieve peace and prosperity. In the letter, he sent greetings to every Pashto host of CRI and wrote down in detail about his comments and suggestions for each program. He said that the CRI Pashto service was the sound of friendship between Afghanistan and China and wished that more and more Afghan compatriots could listen to it.
I was deeply moved by this story as it reflects the spiritual connection and true feelings between the people of our two countries. Nowadays, we write and send fewer and fewer letters.
Children born in the new century seldom use stamps. They are already used to turning to WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and WeChat for instant communication, and even think that writing letters is outdated.
However, postal service, letters and post stamps will never die and disappear, because communication is needed among the people and friendship is needed between countries.
China and Afghanistan have always been a community of shared future. We should always cherish each other’s common values, deepen our friendship, and hope that in the near future, our two countries will again jointly issue post stamps to commemorate this friendship!
- Liu Jinsong, China’s Ambassador to Kabul, is not only a diplomat but is also a keen philatelist.