Building peace in the minds of men and women

Hao Ping recalls the last speech given by Mandela in China

This is an extract of the article written by Dr. Hao Ping, President of the General Conference of UNESCO in memory of Nelson Mandela. The article is published on December 7 in China Youth Daily.


On the 18th of November, in my role as President of the UNESCO General Conference, I had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Phil Miwara, Chairperson of the Science of Commission of the General Conference. Mr Miwara is South African and during our meeting the discussion happened to turn to the topic of  Nelson Mandela, who was ill, and we each recalled our respective memories of our moments with Mandela.

Mandela visited Peking University during both of his visits to China in 1992 and 1999. On his first visit to the University on October 6, 1992, Mandela spoke highly of the nationwide revolution led by the May 4th Movement which broke out at Peking University and said that he was “visiting China now in a crucial moment for South Africa. I want to express my gratitude to the Chinese people because since the founding of China in 1949, you’ve always been fighting against oppression, colonialism and apartheid with us.” He also spoke of his admiration for China, being a civilization with a rich culture and long history, and that he hoped that South Africa could “draw strength from the country’s achievements and use that power to continue our long march toward freedom and democracy.”

On May 6, 1999, Mandela visited the University for the second time and gave a speech in the Library of Peking University where crowds of students came to admire this great leader.

I had the great honor of helping to arrange his visit. He was a tall man; he walked slowly, but he was in high spirits and was extremely amiable. When we shook hands, his grip was very strong, and I could see the confidence and friendship in his eyes.

The theme of Mandela’s speech was “International situation and challenges facing South Africa”. He came straight to the point, “I was honored indeed with the honorary degree you awarded me in 1992. It is an exceptional and indeed unique privilege to be invited today as an honorary alumnus to address members of this distinguished institution of learning.” He stressed the importance of people’s livelihoods and said that after achieving democracy, the basic needs of the South African people, especially those most in need, had been met. “Our freedom will remain fragile and our rights empty shells if millions of South Africans continue to be cursed by the legacy of homelessness and hunger, ill-health and illiteracy. We have made remarkable progress in improving the lives of our people, but it will take many years to complete the task.”

Mandela highlighted a number of global challenges, one of them being the widening gap between rich and poor countries. Economic globalization should not only benefit the powerful countries but those still struggling with poverty. He said, “today a new Asia is emerging. Africa is renewing herself. As they do so, a new relationship between Africa and Asia must take shape. For that to happen, the new world order will have to emerge to promote equity and to safeguard world peace…”

This speech was breathtaking and the audience listened closely to a great leader reflecting on his political legacy, which was made all the more poignant as it was taking place just before his retirement. His passionate speech had an immense emotional effect on all those present and his words echoed alongside the “Unnamed Lake” of the University.  

Mandela spent his entire life fighting for equality, peace and justice in the international community. His untiring contributions to the elimination of apartheid have won him respect all over the world and he earned a reputation as “the global president”.  

We all remember this giant among men, who exposed in an impassioned manner the sins of apartheid to the whole world. He said, “during my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Over the past half century, the great name Mandela has come to be known and respected by people all over China. Today, all of South Africa and the peoples of the world are mourning his passing.

Full text in Chinese