Pioneers who promoted Sri Lanka - China Friendship
The People's Republic of China is undoubtedly pre-eminent amongst all
international friends of Sri Lanka. China is our paramount protector in
the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Chinese assistance was utmost in the war against separatist terrorism.
Moreover, China provides the broadest possible contributions for our
development projects. Hence the era of President Mahinda Rajapaksa will
go into history as the most glorious episode in the relationship between
Sri Lanka and China.
This certainly is not a spontaneous situation. Chinese Leader Deng
Ziao Ping addressing the United Nations summit in 1974 stated that,
"Those who fetch water from a well must never forget the people who dug
the well", directly indicating the initiators of international
Hence there is no better occasion than today to commemorate the
pioneers of friendship between Sri Lanka and China.
Even though our nations share a rich heritage, including the visit of
Venerable Fa-Hsien during the Anuradhapura era, the steady development
of Sri Lanka - China relations commenced only after the victory of the
Chinese Revolution in 1949.
Three types of international relations are practiced in the People's
Republic of China, namely: state to state, party to party and people to
people. By about the year of 1949, the Ceylon Communist Party had
established bi-lateral relations with the Communist Party of China,
arranged through the "Communist Information Bureau" headquartered in
This brought to fruition an endearing friendship. The victorious
march of the Red Army of the Chinese Communists towards the Kuoumintang
capital- Nanjing, was reported promptly in the pages of "Mawbima", the
weekly organ of the Ceylon Communist Party. A search through the
National Archives will prove how informative these large articles are.
From L-R Sudharman De Silva
Dharmawardena (Treasurer-Sri Lanka China Friendship
Association) Theja Gunawardena (President - Sri Lanka China
Friendship Association) Ananda Kumara (General Secretary -
Sri Lanka China Friendship Association) Badra Gunathilake-
Asst. Secretary with Lin Lin the President of the Chinese
People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries
and with Chinese diplomats in 1957 establishment of
Diplomatic Relationship between two countries.
The Government of Ceylon recognized the Peoples' Republic of China as
a sovereign state on January 6, 1950. After such recognition, the
development of cultural, trade, economic and diplomatic ties would have
followed. But the United National Party Government in 1950, who
obviously followed British interests in recognizing the new born state -
China, was never so keen to develop further bilateral relations. The
necessity of a broad mass movement to pressurize the Government was
No one can suppress the fact that the organizational and publicity
process to introduce People's Republic of China to the people of Sri
Lanka was inaugurated by the Ceylon Communist Party.
Friends of China
The weekly "Mawbima" and magazine "Navalokaya" edited by respected
progressive Buddhist Monk - Ven Udakendawela Saranankara Thera
spearheaded the publicity campaign to promote New China. The Ceylon
Trade Union Federation of the Communist Party published a 130 page book
called "Peking Panividaya" and distributed it for 50 cents a copy in
1950. The next obvious step was to unite all friends of China who were
inspired by the movement of publicity in to a single organization.
Mrs Theja Gunawardena, a well known intellectual, who had a close
friendship with the Communist Party was the leader who pioneered this
The plumule of the present Sri Lanka China Friendship Association was
inaugurated by Theja Gunawardena and the Ceylon Communist Party as,
"Lanka-China Friendship Union" in 1950. Dr G V S de Silva, an economist
attached to the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, who was a Central
Committee Member of the Communist Party was the first secretary of
"Lanka China Friendship Union". Mrs Kusuma Gunawardena, Member of
Parliament who was one of the leaders of 'Viplawakaari Samsamaja
Party'(VLSSP) was appointed as the President, as there was an alliance
between Communist Party and the VLSSP in 1950.
This "Union" did not last long and was soon defunct. Finally on
Monday the September 22, 1952, it was completely reorganized at the
residence of Dr Kumaran Ratnam as "Lanka-China Friendship Association"
with Theja Gunawardena the dynamic live wire of the movement being
elected as the President.
1952 was a period of severe economic turbulence in this country. We
could not market our rubber to the world. Ceylon faced a food problem
due to the high price of rice in the world market. In order to surmount
this situation the Lanka - China Friendship Association and Communist
Party launched a mass movement to agitate to sell our rubber to China
and to buy Chinese rice. This movement was led by Ven, Udakendawela
"Nawalokaya" magazine edited by Saranankera Thera, which was very
popular among Sinhala reading public, published a special issue and it
was advertised in "Mawbima" with a simple heading, "China Rice!".
Agitations for "China Rice" were organized in all big cities to
protest against the rising cost of food.
The largest agitation for "China Rice" was held at Peliyagoda in
September 1952 under the direction of the Ven Thalpawila Seelawansa
Thera, who was an active friend of China. In the cabinet of the U N P
Government J R Jayawardena, Finance Minister, strongly opposed buying
Chinese rice but the Minister of Trade R G Senanayake represented the
aspirations of the starving masses.
On December 18, 1952 the famous Ceylon - China Rubber - Rice
Agreement was signed in Peking. This bilateral trade and economic pact
was the first state level agreement signed between Sri Lanka and China
and it was a direct and clear result of the island wide mass movement
led by the friends of China.
Friends of China in Sri Lanka who were elated by the Rubber - Rice
Pact launched their next demand to establish full diplomatic ties
between our nations as soon as possible. An uninterrupted mass movement
was carried on from 1952 up to 1957 for this demand. It was launched by
Lanka-China Friendship Association and was actively supported by the
left parties led by the Communist Party and the newly formed Sri Lanka
Freedom Party. Respected Buddhist priests, well known artists and
intellectuals took part in the movement. When S W R D Bandaranaike
openly promised that he would establish diplomatic ties with Socialist
countries once he becomes the Prime Minister, this movement became a
vanguard to promote Bandaranaike for the Premiership. Ven Udakendawela
Saranankara, Ven Naththandiya Pannakara, Ven Bambarende Siriseevali, Ven
Thalpawila Seelawansa, Ven B Narada, Theja Gunawardena, Badra
Gunathilake, Ananda Kumara, Sudharman de Silva Dharmawardana and Dr G V
S de Silva were the leading friends of China who tirelessly worked in
Victorious Bandaranaike who became the Prime Minister on April 12,
1956, promptly fulfilled the promise he had given to the friends of
China within just nine months. The legendary Chinese Prime Minister Chou
En-lai visited Sri Lanka on January 31, 1957 to sign the agreement of
establishing diplomatic ties.
The Lanka - China Friendship Association organized a very successful
meeting in the New Town Hall, Colombo 7, to celebrate this occasion, and
the fact that both Prime Ministers, Bandaranaike and Chou En-Lai
addressed this meeting was a historic and significant event.
After the demise of Premier - Bandaranaike, friends of China rallied
their forces behind Prime Minister Sirimawo Bandaranaike and launched a
dynamic political movement in most of the cities and around the country
at the General Election of 1965.
Many leaders of Lanka - China Friendship Association including Ratne
Deshapriya Senanayake (former President of the Association) contested
the 1965 election representing the United Front led by the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party. Kandy, Galle, Kegalle, Jaffna and Anuradhapura branches
of the Friendship Association along with Ven Naththandiya Pannakara
Thera, Theja Gunawardena, Ananda Kumara, Sudharman de Silva
Dharmawardena, Bhadra Gunathilake, Yasa de Lanerole, Ratna Deshapriya
Senanayaka and other leaders actively took part in a tireless, sleepless
election campaign to guarantee the victory of Prime Minister Sirimawo
The defeat of Bandaranaike and the SLFP led United Front paved way
for utmost difficulties to the friends of China from 1965 onwards. The
U.N.P. led reactionary coalition who took office on March 22, 1965
launched an open persecution campaign against China and also friends of
China. Ratna Deshapriya Senanayaka was framed and dragged in to a
commission of inquiry into CWE (Sathosa) activities.
The propaganda machinery of the U N P Government highlighted an
incorrect story backed by some photographs and alleged that two Chinese
persons were trying to harm Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake. This story
caused a situation of white terror to the local Chinese elements who
were residing in Sri Lanka from the 1930's.
The U N P Government used the Customs Department to prevent the
release of Mao Ze Dong badges, little red books which carried Mao's
quotations, other Chinese publications and popular Chinese magazines
which were sent to the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Sri
Lanka under normal diplomatic channels, which was covered by the Vienna
Praja Bookshop (Praja Prakashakayo) and Praja Printing Press of Lanka
- China Friendship Association administered by Ananda Kumara and
Sudharman de Silva Dharmawardena on behalf of the Association were
constantly watched by the agents of the C I D of the U N P regime and
they were personally harassed.
The 1965/66 era was the only period where a Government of Sri Lanka
openly launched an anti Chinese campaign since the establishment of
diplomatic ties between two countries.
The trustful trio who bravely fought against this campaign of anti -
Chinese terror to safeguard all friends of China with the able
assistance of the other members of the Friendship Association, who
worked through day and night for the release of Chinese publications and
who also fought against the baseless persecution of local Chinese dental
mechanics, shopkeepers and hoteliers were Theja Gunawardena, Ananda
Kumara and Sudharman de Silva Dharmawardena.
Pro U N P anti-Chinese elements and reactionary religious and
monitoring circles tried their best to unleash a reign of terror against
the friends of China during the period of Tibetan rebellion in March
1959 and also during the Chinese - Indian border war of 1962. But Prime
Minister Sirimawao Bandaranaike and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
Government effectively prevented all such endeavours.
Some reactionary politicians and certain police officers tried their
best to create an anti - China campaign during the period of 1971
insurgency. But Theja Gunawardena and Sudharman de Silva Dharmawardena
tirelessly worked pell - mell, keeping constant contact with Prime
Minister Bandaranaike, and her Secretary Makie Ratwatta to save the
friends of China. Theja and Sudharman are eternally admired for their
energetic endeavours to pave way for freedom to the friends of China who
were arrested and detained under emergency regulations including the
writer Karunasena Jayalath, journalist Dharmasiri Jayakody, scholar
professor Pushpakumara Premaratne, and Attorney Kalyananda Thiranagama
Defeat of the Anti-Chinese
Anti Chinese conspirators were forced to retreat in 1971 after the
famous statement issued by Chinese Premier Chou En-lai criticizing the
1971 insurgency. China achieved her lawful position in the United
Nations in 1971 and the Government of Sri Lanka campaigned for China in
all international lobbies.
The vehement propaganda organizational campaigns of Lanka - China
Friendship Association and all friends of China in Sri Lanka carried out
for 21 years had quite definitely created the staunch foundation for the
governing party and also for the Government of Sri Lanka to uphold its
principled stand to promote China in the United Nations in 1971.
The friendly feelings cultivated among the people of Sri Lanka by the
friends of China was so strong, that the U N P Government that assumed
power after 1977 practiced a policy that was very friendly towards the
People's Republic of China.
Those good sentiments were clearly elaborated when Dr Wickrama
Weerasooriya who spearheaded the U N P propaganda campaign that brought
a massive victory to the U N P in 1977 and who was promoted to a very
powerful position of the secretary to the Ministry of Plan
Implementation in the U N P regime officially called a meeting at the
National Operations Room in the Ministry in 1981 to organize a society
to develop friendship between Sri Lanka and China.