Prince William and Shaun the Sheep Take China by Storm

Prince William in China - H 2015
Associated Press

The first visit to China by a member of the British royal family in nearly three decades also includes an exhibition of the Aardman Animation character.

Prince William has begun the first visit to China by a member of the British royal family in nearly three decades, heading up a delegation that is hoping to promote the U.K.'s entertainment industry.

William officially launched the U.K.-China Year of Cultural Exchange in Beijing, which is aimed at showcasing innovative U.K. culture in China and Chinese culture in the U.K., by dotting the eye of a Union Jack-themed sculpture of Aardman Animation's character, Shaun the Sheep.

Aardman and its Chinese partners UYoung Culture and Media will feature 50 Shaun the Sheep sculptures with designs by British and Chinese artists in five cities across China.

The Shaun the Sheep exhibition is part of Animate U.K. — a wider animation program within the U.K.-China Year of Culture Exchange. Animate U.K. will celebrate the best of U.K. animation, including the premiere of Aardman's Shaun the Sheep feature film in China.

"We are incredibly proud of our creative industries. They are one of our biggest success stories and a tremendous driver of economic growth," said William.

Taking part in the delegation was the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), which announced that it will offer scholarships to enable talented Chinese and British nationals in financial need to study film, television or games as an international student in the U.K. or China.

The new scholarships, which will begin next year, aim to encourage creative collaboration and cultural exchange between British and Asian practitioners in the film, television and games industries, BAFTA said in a statement.

"The film, television and games industries in the United Kingdom and China have much to learn from one another, and there is no one better placed to help facilitate that than BAFTA," said William, who is also president of BAFTA.

William's trip to China is the first since Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, came in 1986, when Philip made some remarks about the Chinese that caused controversy. There has also been some tension between London and Beijing over pro-democracy demonstrations last year in the former British colony of Hong Kong.

William met China's President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where he invited him to come to Britain for a state visit.

During his trip, William will also visit finance hub Shanghai and an elephant sanctuary in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

William's wife, Kate, a popular figure in China, did not accompany him. She is due to give birth to the couple's second child in April.