DIPLOMACY

From one soccer fan to another: Xi gives Merkel tapestry of emperor playing early form of game

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 4:36am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 11:39am

When she visited China earlier this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel went home with more than just multibillion-dollar trade deals and a five-yuan (HK$6.30) bag of Sichuan chilli bean paste she picked up at a wet market in Chengdu.

Just a day before the German team won the most lopsided World Cup semi-final in the tournament's history, President Xi Jinping presented Merkel, an avid soccer fan, with an embroidery that depicts a Song dynasty emperor playing an ancient form of the game, the German embassy revealed.

In a speech at Tsinghua University in Beijing on Tuesday, Merkel revealed that she and former premier Wen Jiabao had discussed the German team's prospects during a private breakfast earlier that day.

The 59-year-old returned to Germany later on Tuesday, just in time to watch coach Joachim Loew's team thrash Brazil 7-1.

She will now travel to Brazil to watch the final against Argentina on Monday (Hong Kong time).

Xi, also an ardent soccer fan, was invited to watch the final with Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders. But China's foreign ministry said the president was only scheduled to arrive in Brazil for the sixth BRICS summit on Wednesday.

Xi has publicly expressed hope that China's national team can one day make it to the World Cup final.

China has claimed to be the cradle for the earliest form of soccer, known as cuju in Chinese. The game is said to have been particularly popular during the Song dynasty, founded some 1,000 years ago. One famous painting from that era depicted Emperor Song Taizu playing it with his brother Zhao Guangyi.