Today we had a pleasure to have an interview with Qi Peicheng, professor of Binzhou University, director of Binzhou University’s South Caucasus Research Center, PhD scholar of Tianjin Normal University, deputy secretary of Shandong Provincial Committee of World History, director of Ancient and Medieval World History, China. In this interview we talked about Mr. Qi’s works on Armenian history and civilization, his impressions of Armenia, centuries-old Armenian-Chinese historical-cultural and trade relations.
– Professor Qi, thank you for giving an interview. You came to Armenia in 2021, when the war had just ended and the coronavirus pandemic was not over yet. What was the purpose of your visit?
– On March 21, 2021, I arrived in Armenia and returned to China on June 5, 2022. Living and studying in Armenia was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. When I was planning to visit Armenia at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, my family and colleagues advised me not to travel. However, Armenia is a very attractive country, and I decided to revisit Armenia to finish my work “History of the Armenian Civilization.” After coming to Armenia, some of my ideas about the country have changed. Armenians are filled with new impetus and diligence after the difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Armenia has completely lifted the coronavirus-related restrictions, and I believe Armenia’s economy will get better and better.
– What prompted you to study Armenian history?
– Armenia is one of the world’s most ancient civilizations with a long-standing history. Along with Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, it is one of the cradles of human civilization. Armenia has been at the focus of the Roman and Persian empires, both of which attempted to take Armenia under their control. However, Armenia is one of the few countries that has survived till the present day and Armenian civilization continues until today without interruptions. This gave me a great interest and I decided to find out how Armenia, Armenian civilization survived. I have been studying the history of the Armenian civilization for 13 years.
– Are there any Chinese historical sources related to Armenia? How well have they been studied?
– In fact, Armenia was recorded in ancient Chinese historical books, in which Armenia was called “A-man”, “Ya-mei”, “A-mei”, “Mu State”, “A-er-ma-ni”, “Ya-li-wan” and “A-li-min”. Nowadays only few scholars study Armenian history and I am the only one who has devoted more than a decade to the study of Armenian history. However, I believe that with the increasing exchanges between China and Armenia, more Chinese scholars would study Armenian history and culture.
– As far as we know, you have studied the history of Armenia from the origins to modern days. What period of history mostly interests you and why?
– My research “History of Armenian Civilization” starts from the prehistoric Caucasus and lasts until the Second Karabakh War in 2020. It’s over one million Chinese words, and will be published in 2023. The Bagratid Dynasty and Cilician Armenia interest me the most. Both historical stages were the golden ages of the Armenian Civilization. Many valuable historical and cultural heritages can be found from those periods. In particular, I am fascinated with the ideas of many philosophers of Cilicia.
– What information can you give us on Armenia’s role in the Silk Road during different eras?
– Armenia has played an important role in the history of Silk Road. As we know, the Silk Road was not only a road to economic transportation but also a center of cross-cultural communication. In fact, one of the reasons the Romans and Persians fought over Armenia was to control the Silk Road, because Armenia was the gateway to Rome through Persia. According to Strabo, Armenia was an important hub between India and the Scythian of the North Caucasus. The historian notes that these tribes received silks from Armenia.Many Armenian cities sprang up along the Silk Road. For instance, Artashat was located on this trade route, and was one of the most important centers of Silk Road between East and West. The Silk Road linked China and Armenia, two ancient countries.
– The Armenian and Chinese people have mutual contacts of thousands of years. What do you think is the most important event in the whole course of history?
– Chinese and Armenians are both peace-loving peoples with a long history of interaction. I think there are three events that are of great significance in the history of Sino-Armenian exchanges. First, the Mamikonian family came to Armenia from China. This migration shows China and Armenia have had close political, economic, and cultural exchanges since ancient times. The second major event concerns the formation of the Armenian community in Harbin after the 1915 Genocide. Harbin’s Armenians had an important role in China’s economic and cultural development through the establishment of a Christian church in Harbin. They also made an important contribution to China’s anti-fascist war, fighting alongside the Chinese people; about 5,000 Armenians gave their lives. The third one is related to China’s establishment of diplomatic relations with independent Armenia in the 1990s. Since that time political, economic, and cultural exchanges between the two countries have become increasingly close. Most importantly, the two countries have achieved an agreement on mutual visa exemption for ordinary passport holders, which has undoubtedly greatly promoted the exchanges between the two peoples. Currently many Chinese are doing business, studying, and living in Armenia. There are also many Armenians living, studying and doing business in China. The two peoples have lots of positive feelings toward each other and the relationship will be even better in the future.
– Movses Khorenatsi, prominent Armenian historian, in his History of Armenia, notes about the Mamikonian dynasty’s Chinese origin. What do you think about that and are there such findings in Chinese sources?
– The Mamikonians are very famous in Armenia and China. Now, many Chinese people know the ancestors of the Mamikonians were Chinese living in the Later Han dynasty. Unfortunately, there were no records in Chinese history books. However, Movses Khorenatsi and many other historians such as Faustus of Byzantium, Edward Gibbon, etc., mention about this. “The Primary History of Armenia” also includes such findings. Although controversial, the fact that the Mamikonian dynasty comes from China, is generally accepted.
– Have you studied the presence of Chinese people in the Armenian Highlands and their role in Armenian civilization in different eras?
– Yes, I have. The most famous one were the Mamikonians. As for others, I think few Chinese lived in Armenia. However, many Chinese have come to Armenia in recent years. Some open factories, others build roads for Armenia. I am sure, with the development of mutual relations, more Chinese will choose Armenia for living and doing business.
– Armenians and Chinese are ancient peoples. What similarities and differences are there in their culture and mentality?
– From my observation, the two peoples have many characteristics in common. First, the history is similar. Both are peace-loving peoples and have rarely invaded other countries in their own history. However, they have often been conquered by others many times. In the first half of the 20th century, both nations experienced tragedies such as Genocide. They also share similar customs and habits. Armenians pay attention to the maintenance of family relations, while Chinese are also traditional, family-oriented people. Both peoples are hardworking and hospitable. Both like to give toasts for family, country and future. I also want to mention that Armenia and China are very safe countries. There are also many differences between the peoples of the two countries. Armenians’ cuisine is closer to the European one, while eastern cuisine is typical of Chinese. The divorce rate in China is very high now, but in Armenia, it is very low. All in all, both nations have many advantages and need to learn from each other.
– Currently you are working on the History of Armenian Civilization. Are there any large Armenian communities in China? If yes, since when have they settled there?
– Yes, there has been a large Armenian community in Harbin, China. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, China became a refuge for many Armenians. A considerable number of them hoped to reach the United States from northeast China. In late 1918, Ernest Yarrow, an American missionary, met about 200 Armenian refugees at Haishenwei (Vladivostok), most of whom had friends in America and hoped to somehow get there. After the World War I, most Armenians chose to stay in China because of the continuous unrest in the Caucasus. Despite occasional conflicts in north-eastern China at the time, Harbin’s Armenian community remained prosperous. In 1918, the Middle East Railway Bureau allocated a plot of land at No. 18 (No. 22) Garden Street at the corner of Liaoyang Road to the Armenian community. So, Armenians began to build their own churches in Harbin. The Armenians named one of the churches the Cathedral of the Far East. In 1921, the church was completed. The first bishop became Yeghishe Rostomiants.
– Professor Qi, you are a historian teaching at Binzhou University. Do you think Chinese students are interested in Armenia and Armenian history?
– Yes, more and more Chinese people want to know better about Armenia. As far as I know, there is a group of Chinese students who are devoted to the study of Armenian history. Some of them are studying Armenian language and history at Yerevan State University. I believe that more and more Chinese students will be interested in Armenian history.
– What places did you manage to visit in Armenia? What attracted you most?
– Armenia is a very beautiful and charming country. Armenia has many historical sites, which are not only valuable to the Armenian people, but also are one of the most important spiritual treasures of the people of the world. I love Armenia very much. In 2019, I went to Armenia and visited many monasteries. In particular, I was greatly impressed by the monasteries of Geghard, Haghartsin, Hovhanavan, Kechairs, Khor Virap, Noravank, Saghmosavank, Sevanavank and Tatev. Echmiadzin Cathedral, St. Hhripsime Church, St. Gayane church and Zvartnots Cathedral are grand and spectacular. Garni Temple is the sole surviving pre-Christian building in Armenia. I am deeply fascinated by all these historic buildings. In March 2021, I returned to my beloved Armenia and not only did I revisit the above-mentioned architectural attractions, but also almost every province of Armenia. Armenia’s natural landscape is equally spectacular and fascinating. I believe there more Chinese tourists will visit Armenia in the future. I also have great impressions from Armenians. They are tolerant and warm to people from all over the world. During my visits to Armenia, I became friends with many Armenians who helped me in many ways. All this moved me very much. I am deeply grateful to Armenia for giving me an opportunity to stay there, especially during the pandemic, when I was unable to return to China. All in all, I am mostly impressed by Armenians’ peaceful mentality and safe environment of the country.
– Everyone has a dream. What is Professor Peicheng Qi’s dream?
– That’s a good question. Everyone has their own dream. My dream is that Chinese and Armenian people live and work in peace, without war. In addition, I also dream of buying a piece of land in Armenia, drinking coffee and talking with my Armenian friends there after retirement.