Chinese love British culture but will they embrace Prince William?

Story highlights

  • Prince William arrives in China on Sunday after visiting Japan
  • China has embraced British culture, especially TV shows like "Downton Abbey"
  • Trip presents diplomatic test for Prince William

(CNN)Prince William arrived in Beijing on Sunday -- the first visit to China by a senior member of the British Royal Family in three decades -- and he might have been expecting a dose of culture shock.

But chances are he'll feel right at home.
    From television shows and etiquette lessons to private schools and mock Tudor housing developments, China has been embracing British culture with a passion.
    Chinese viewers are captivated in their millions by shows like "Sherlock Holmes" and "Downton Abbey," with the former's star, Benedict Cumberbatch, so popular he has his own Chinese nickname -- Curly Blessing.
    The fascination with Edwardian England depicted in Downton has created a growing demand for butlers, and the country's elite are donning tweeds and taking up deer stalking.
    "Downton Abbey depicts traditional British, high-class lives. It something that I and many other Chinese are curious about," said student Cherrie Zhang.
    It's not just television shows.
    Affluent Chinese parents are sending their children to British schools after some of the most notable names in British education have established campuses in China. Harrow, Wellington College and Dulwich College have all opened sister schools in the country.
    And the obsession with British culture has taken a bizarre turn in Thames Town, a housing development on the outskirts of Shanghai that resembles a quaint English town, complete with replica red telephone booths.
    Thames Town

    Diplomatic test

    It's crucial that Prince William capitalizes on these cultural ties during his high-profile visit, which is being viewed as the first real test of his diplomatic skills.
    "It will tell us something about how he will handle one of the most important diplomatic relationships when he comes to throne," said Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Sydney and a former British diplomat.
    "And I think China will put some capital in his visit because this guy is not a politician, who come and go, but (someone who) will be around for quite a while."
    Cultural exports are viewed as a growth area that the prince can promote. China spent 17 million pounds on UK TV programs and formats in 2013, a 40% increase on the year before, but they form a small part of the overall trade balance.
    "Downton Abbey" has been a massive hit in China.
    And while London has been successful in attracting Chinese investment, UK companies have not thrived in China the same way as some of their U.S. and German counterparts.

    Gaffes

    Previous trips by Royals have been gaffe ridden. When the Queen and Prince Philip spent time in China in 1986, the Queen's husband caused offense when he told a group of British students: "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed."
    Prince Charles, William's father, has never visited China but described the country's leaders as "appalling old waxworks" during his visit to Hong Kong in 1997.
    His close ties with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, have also angered China's leaders.
    Benedict Cumberbatch, known in China as Curly Blessing.
    Prince William will visit Beijing's Forbidden City, attend the Chinese premiere of the British-produced children's animated movie "Paddington" in Shanghai and launch a campaign to celebrate British innovation during the three-day trip. Before China, he is spending three days in Japan.
    The prince will also get a chance to champion one of his favorite causes -- combating the illegal trade in wildlife -- when he visits an elephant sanctuary in southwestern China
    "If he can make some kind of link in China, if he can instinctively show he gets it, that could be an important thing," Brown said.
    But the relationship between the UK and China comes laden with "stacks of historic baggage," Brown adds, and the prince will have to tread carefully, particularly over the former colony of Hong Kong, where the push for a free vote has strained ties between Britain and China, the current landlords.
    British lawmakers were denied permission to visit the city on a "fact-finding" mission last year amid heated pro-democracy protests.
    What's more, it's not clear how much "star power" Prince William has in China, especially without his glamorous wife Kate, who at eight months pregnant won't make the trip, and his young son George.
    An informal survey conducted by the UK's Telegraph newspaper in Beijing showed that many struggled to recognize the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge -- one thought the couple were in the movie "Titanic" -- and there are fears his visit will struggle to attract interest among ordinary Chinese.
    "The Royal Family are not really a big deal to me," said Zhang, the Downton Abbey fan.