TREVISO, Italy -- "In 1976, I traveled to China for the first time... Since then, I have been to China 157 times. I witnessed China's reform and opening-up and the gigantic progress it has brought about," Italian sinologist Adriano Madaro, dubbed the "Marco Polo" of modern times, told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Over the last 32 years, Madaro has been to many places in China. He has visited not only big cities like Shanghai, Guangdong and Beijing, but also the most far-flung and inaccessible regions, from Inner Mongolia to Tibet, from Heilongjiang to the island of Hainan.
Because of his unique experiences, the Italian expert on China has been a rare witness to the vast changes that have taken place in China's metropolitan life, as well as the people's struggle and their efforts to combat poverty in the country's rural areas over the last three decades.
"In the whole process, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, as a vanguard of reform and opening-up, played a pivotal role," said Madaro of the changes sweeping every corner of China.
"Economic development has made China more important in the international arena," he said.
Each time Madaro visited China, he would stay for no less than 10 days, sometimes even a month. Wherever he went, he always took a camera with him to capture what he saw and what he felt.
Of all his impressions about China, the changes in Beijing, among others, are the most striking.
When he arrived in Beijing for the first time in 1976, he was fascinated by the criss-crossing hutongs, and the ubiquitous bicycles that were the main means of transportation at the time, said Madaro.
Now he finds the roads full of automobiles, the subway lines much longer, and new skyscrapers shooting up everyday.
Madaro has recorded his memories of China's changing landscape in various forms.
So far, he has written more than 10 books on China. His writings include China, 700 Years After Marco Polo (1980), Journey In China (1986), In The Great Unknown Country Beyond The Wall (1989), Paper Flowers -- Poems From China (1990).
In his capacity as one of the world's leading sinologists, Madaro has been invited several times to organize Chinese exhibitions in Italy to promote cultural exchanges between the two countries.
In 2003, the Chinese Academy of International Culture and the Fondazione Cassamarca of Treviso jointly appointed Madaro the director of the great exhibition series "The Silk Road and Two Thousand Years of the Chinese Civilization" between 2005 and 2011.
In May 2003, during the SARS epidemic, Madaro was in Beijing as an international journalist. His reports and articles helped rectify some misunderstandings and prejudices about China among the Italian public.
Madaro's fascination with China began in his childhood. When he was six years old, he read of Marco Polo and since then could never stop being curious about China, even dreaming that he would walk to China from his home.
At 14, Madaro read Chinese writer Lu Xun's True Story of Ah Q, which radically changed his youth.
"It was through reading Lu Xun that I gained my first significant insight into the soul of China," he always says.
At his home in Treviso, a city in northern Italy, the bookshelves are filled with thousands of books on China written in different languages. The furniture in the living room is typically Chinese. On the floor are Chinese carpets. Chinese silverware, chinaware, tri-colored glazed pottery are displayed in prominent places in the room.
He showed Xinhua some pictures he had taken and post cards he had mailed back to Italy from China over the past 30 years.
He disclosed his dream of compiling his monumental collection of old photographs into an album by the end of the year to portray all the changes occurring in China over the last 30 years.
Madaro's family gives him strong support for his work. Besides his wife, Madaro's two daughters, both graduates of the Philosophy Department of the University of Venice, have become his close assistants. They often shuttle between the two countries with their father.
Showing a photo with her father in front of the Birds' Nest (China's National Stadium), one of his daughters said: "In China, I feel comfortable. It has become a second home for my family."