Premier Zhou Enlai’s visit to Ceylon in 1957
Posted on April 25th, 2021

Tony Donaldson, with underlining emphasis inserted bt The Editor, Thuppahi Courtesy Thuppahi’s Blog

On 1 October 1949, the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed by Mao Zedong. Two months later, on 6 January 1950 the Ceylon government recognised Red China– one of the first countries to do so. Seven years later, in early 1957, the Premier of China, Zhou Enlai, made an historic five-day visit to the island, which paved the way for the establishing of diplomatic relations between Ceylon and China. Before exploring Zhou’s visit to Ceylon, it is worth diverting for a moment to briefly sketch the key events that led to his historic visit.

Zhou Enlai in China relaxing shortly after his trip to Ceylon.The story begins in 1950. A few months after Mao’s proclamation, a remarkable telex from Hong Kong arrived on the desk of Terence de Soysa at the C. W. Mackie & Co in Colombo.[1] The telex was offering a deal to purchase rubber from Ceylon to be shipped to Red China. At the time however, the US and UK did not recognize China and frowned on countries having anything to do with China. Fully realising the dilemma, Terence de Sosya went to meet the Prime Minister of Ceylon D. S. Senanayake to seek his advice on the proposed rubber deal, as described by his son Rohan:

He [my father Terence] related how he came to office one morning, in 1950, if I remember right, to find a telex from a Hong Kong agent. He was offering to pay 8 old pence per pound of rubber more than the then world-market price of 40 old pence per pound — if he would ship to Red China. None of the other rubber producing countries, for example, Thailand and Malaysia, would do so. Ceylon was a friend of America, which was then at war with China, in the Korean War. Thus, my father was in a quandary.

Having ascertained it was not a joke, he went and met the Prime Minister, D. S. Senanayake, and asked him what action to take in view of the ongoing Korean War. D.S. asked him, Terence, is it good for our country?” When my father told him it was very good, D. S. told him to go ahead  it was in our interest to do so.[2]

This was the beginning of trade ties between Ceylon and China. While it cannot be ascertained whether Terence de Soysa’s rubber deal with Red China occurred before or after the Ceylon government’s recognition of China in 1950 — it doesn’t matter as a country can freely trade with another country even if it doesn’t recognise the government of that country. Whatever the circumstances, Terence de Soysa’s deal with China was the foundation stone” of the Rubber-Rice Pact, which was signed in Peking two years later on 4 October 1952. During the signing of the Pact, the leader of the Ceylon delegation to Peking, R. G. Senanayake, a cousin of D.S., marked the occasion by inviting Premier Zhou Enlai to visit to Ceylon. These developments indirectly helped to accelerate decolonialisation in Ceylon.

However, the invitation to Premier Zhou fell into abeyance the following year after Sir John Kotelawala became Prime Minister of Ceylon. Pro-Western, and staunchly anti-communist, Sir John refused to allow Zhou Enlai’s goodwill delegation to visit Ceylon. The situation reverted back again however, after Sir John lost power to SWRD Bandaranaike in 1956. Shortly after coming to power, SWRD rekindled R. G. Senanayake’s invitation to Zhou Enlai, and it was agreed that Premier Zhou Enlai and a Chinese delegation would visit Ceylon during Independence Day celebrations in February 1957.

Zhou Enlai arrived in Ceylon on 31 January 1957. The next day (1 February), Premier Zhou and his delegation, which included Deputy Premier Ho Lung, began a provincial tour to the hill country, including Kandy and Peradeniya. The party travelled by road from Colombo – occasionally stopping at a village for refreshments and to greet local villagers.

On visiting the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Premier Zhou planted a sapling to commemorate his visit to the island. He and the Chinese delegation also visited Peradeniya University. Here, they met the Vice-Chancellor Sir Nicholas Attygalle and senior university officials. These visits and meetings were recorded in black and white photographs published in the Ceylon Daily News, which remain a valuable historical record of Zhou Enlai’s visit to the island.

  A visit to the Peradeniya University: Premier Zhou Enlai is seen (left) with the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Nicholas Attygalle and the Chinese Vice-Premier, Mr. Ho Lung (right).

 The Vice-Chancellor of Peradeniya University Sir Nicholas Attygalle receives a gift from Premier Zhou Enlai on behalf of the University.

 Premier Zhou Enlai plants a sapling at Peradeniya Botanical Gardens to commemorate his visit – a tradition which all important visitors follow.

In Kandy, Mr. Zhou visited the Sri Dalada Maligawa and handed over a cheque to the Diyawadana Nilame, Mr. C. B. Nugawela and the Nayake Theros as a gift for work on the temple. As noted in the Ceylon Daily News, at the time, Zhou’s donation to the Maligawa was the biggest single donation ever offered by a distinguished visitor, royal or commoner, Buddhist or non-Buddhist.” Mr. Zhou also presented the Maligawa with a set of valuable Buddhist books containing pictures of paintings and statues of Gautama Buddha, edited by the Chinese Buddhists’ Association, and published by the National Publishing House of Peking.

Premier Zhou also met the Mayor of Kandy, Mr. E. L. Senanayake. After a civic address of welcome given by the Mayor, Mr. Zhou delivered a speech to the citizens of Kandy thanking them for their warm and enthusiastic welcome and went on to predict a successful future for Ceylon-China relations.

 Premier Zhou Enlai is accorded a civic reception as he enters the city of Kandy. Here, Mr. E. L. Senanayake, the Mayor, is seen with the visiting Premier, who spoke to the vast gathering that turned out to welcome him.

Press conference with Premier Zhou Enlai in Colombo

Premier Zhou and his party returned to Colombo on 3 February to attend Independence Day events on the following day. Before leaving Ceylon, on the afternoon of Tuesday 5 February, Zhou Enlai held a one-hour press conference at Queen’s House. During the press conference, Zhou declared: The peace and prosperity of Asia must be planned and worked out by Asians themselves – on the principles adumbrated at Bandung.”[3]

He disliked the idea of Asian countries obtaining foreign assistance with strings attached,” as such assistance inevitably led to military packs.” This process, he said, was bad for the economy of the country receiving assistance. He also discussed Hungary, the US, India, Pakistan, and the Kashmir problem. The following are edited extracts from the press conference, taken from the article ‘Beware Foreign Aid with Strings’, published in the Ceylon Daily News on 6 February 1957.

What are conditions like in China for the Catholic Church?

China has no particular dislike for the Catholic Church. There are 3,000,000 Catholics in China. China allows people of various religious persuasions to practice their religions without hindrance.

What is the purpose of your present tour of Asia?

My visit has three purposes: (a) to seek friendship, (b) to seek for peace, and (c) to seek for knowledge. We have achieved all three purposes in our visits to eight Asian countries.[4] We have found that the people of the eight Asian countries strongly want peace and friendship. We have learnt much from these countries. We have always thought that we have something good in our own countries which can be learned from other countries. We also contacted the leaders of the eight Asian countries for discussing matters of mutual interest on the basis of the Bandung Principles of peaceful coexistence. Efforts for the promotion of peace and cooperation will be continued.

What agreements have been reached for economic cooperation between Ceylon and China?

Nothing specific has been finalised between Ceylon and China.

Do you think UN mediators will settle the problem of Kashmir?

We were always of the opinion that no good result can be achieved by referring the question to the UN. We are also not in favour of UN forces being sent to Kashmir. We appeal to India and Pakistan to seek a peaceful solution by themselves. At present, the Western countries are exploiting the situation to create conflict between the two countries. The attention of the world is now focused on the Middle East and Asian countries. I appeal to these countries to stand united on the basis of the Bandung Principles in order to shake off the shackles left behind by colonialism.

In your meeting with the two Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, have you discussed the basis of a mutual settlement?

The Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan did not reject our appeal and of course, for the two sides to have direct negotiations it is probably not an easy thing. It is because there are difficulties in the way of such direct negotiations that we are trying to promote such direct negotiations instead of allowing Western countries to sow dissension.

What is your view of Mr Eisenhower’s Middle East Doctrine?

The purpose of the Middle East program of Mr Eisenhower is to take the place of Britain and France in the Middle East, and the Near East. The US President’s State of the Nation speech also revealed this plan.

People of Asian countries want to live in peace and friendship with other countries, and for this purpose they need the help of other countries. Such help must come without strings. Some countries want to make use of such help to ask for privileges, to ask for military bases, to ask the countries receiving such help to join blocs. Although such a policy of giving help might be effective in some places for a period of time, eventually the aggressive purpose of such a policy will be revealed.

The harm in accepting help, under such a policy, to the people in the receiving countries will also be revealed in time. It will become a burden to those countries. They will have to pay the price in granting privileges to those countries giving them help and this will ultimately impoverish the receiving countries. So, in short, Mr Eisenhower’s Middle East policy will, in the long run, bring no good results.

Could you comment on Israel’s refusal to leave Gaza, and the tension created as a result?

We always anticipated that Israel would give trouble over this matter. The West is now trying to exploit this situation to maintain tension in the Middle East and in the Near East.

Will China consider making a fresh approach to bringing about an understanding with the US by releasing the Americans held in prisons in China?

Why should we always listen to the words of the President of the US. The US does not recognise China and has always obstructed China being recognised by the United Nations. The US is still carrying on that policy. The US is still hostile to China. Why do not our Asian friends appeal to the United States to change its policy towards China? We Asians have all suffered from colonialism, and why should we pay so much attention to the Western countries, still less to the US government? Even without the US government we will continue to exist – to live well. Let the US continue not to recognise China for ten years, for 100 years, but China will not topple down just for that!

What is your view about the Afro-Asian Secretariat?

The proposed Afro-Asian Secretariat will be a very helpful thing for solving Asian economic problems.

What are your relations with General Chiang Kai-shek and the position of Formosa?

That is a delicate question on which I do not like to speak.

What is your view about the situation in Hungary?

Last year [1956], from the end of October to the middle of November, Western countries exploited discontent of the Hungarian people. Western countries carried on their propaganda by the despatch of agents through Vienna. Such agents worked with the counterrevolutionaries in Hungary. They succeeded in taking control of the Government by massacring the people. Bishop Mindszenty was directing such activities, and the Bishop eventually escaped to the American Embassy in Budapest. There were enough documents to prove such activities.[5]

Could you say more about the suggested collective security pack for Asia?

We proposed this idea some time back, but it is not developed yet. To develop that we want the cooperation of all the countries in Asia, and the Pacific region, because no country can be left out.

At the conclusion of the press conference, Zhou Enlai freely gave his autograph to those attending. When one pressman offered his visiting card, Mr Zhou autographed it and said: Now you can come to China with this.END NOTES

***** *****


[1] Terence de Soysa acquired C. W. Mackie & Co in 1946. It was the first major British company to be Ceylonised.

[2] Rohan de Soysa, Decolonisation in the Rubber Trade, 1946 to 1954,” in Slow-Cooked Thoughts: Articles, Talks, Essays, One Old Poem and Two Tales. Singapore: Partridge, 2019.

[3] This refers to the Bandung Conference, also known as the Afro-Asian Conference, which was held in Bandung in April 1955 with 29 countries participating. The Conference paved the way for the formation of the Non-Aligned movement.

[4] The eight countries were Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Burma, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Ceylon. Zhou’s tour of Asia went from late 1956 to early 1957.

[5] A few weeks before his visit to Ceylon, Zhou Enlai led a Chinese delegation to the Soviet Union on 7 – 10 January 1957. The delegation met separately with officials from the East German government and visited Poland from 11 to 16 January. On 16 January, Zhou visited Hungry to meet with senior government leaders and to give speeches at mass rallies. Thus, he was well-informed about the Hungarian revolution in 1956.


JB Kelegama 2020 [from 2002] A Landmark Trade Pact: Rubber-Rice Deal between Sri Lanka and China, 1952,” 23 July 2020,

Wikipedia n. d.

Ananda Kannangara 2017 Rubber-Rice Pact – An Agreement of Friendship,” 29 December 2017, …………………………………………….

3 Responses to “Premier Zhou Enlai’s visit to Ceylon in 1957”

  1. Nimal Says:

    I remember going to his reception at the gardens of the Queen’s palace in Kandy.My father took me whenever a leader came to Kandy.Happy to see the name of our ancestor from my mum’s side,Sir Artygalle.Mr EL Senanayake is a close friend of my father and his nephew Gotabaya was a close friend of mine.This bring back memories. I wonder one could present the photos of the visits of Tito and Uri Gagarin where I managed to get an invitation with my father. Met the queen too at the garden party.Meeting people is one of my interests.

  2. Ratanapala Says:

    What stands out through and through is the wisdom of Premier Zhou En Lai and his vision of the world at the time. Much of what he foresaw has happened and the world put into greater turmoil by the neocolonial forays into the affairs of the newly independent countries in Asia. Since that time what happened is now history.

    The West has not been of much assistance to these nations other than to reinforce their military standing in the region with various loan structures, effected mainly through the IMF and the World Bank.

    At the present time China were to repeat the same mistakes of the West, then it will be their folly

  3. Nimal Says:

    Sadly Western countries never helped like Soviet Union and China to set up ventures to give employment to our people.Mrs Thatcher set up the Victoria dam and so was the Yugoslavians who set up the Ukkuwela generating station by diverting mahvali at Katugasthota,where they lost a few of their employee when the tunnel collapsed. I went to their funerals at Mahiyawa where I was surprised to see a white Muslim buried at the Muslim cemetery in Kandy.Yugoslavia was a diverse country and three Muslim ladies worked for me, took my son to school and all three came from Pristina and they were very modern and very intelligent, couldn’t say that they were Muslims..

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