Liam Bates, originally from Morges in the canton of Vaud, beat out 26,000 other applicants to become a modern-day “Marco Polo” for the Chinese city with a population of more than six million.
He secured a €40,000 salary and will spend a year promoting Hangzhou on social media with the aim of encouraging more visitors the city in southeastern China, according a news release issued on behalf of the city.
The son of a British expat father and American expat mother, Bates developed an interest in martial arts at the age of 13, which led to his first visit to China four year later to learn about kung fu.
The Hangzhou tourist commission launched its “Be the Modern Marco Polo Programme” on its Facebook page in 2013.
Bates came out top in a competition that involved a Hangzhou quiz and various other challenges, including posting a video on social media and outlining plans for the job.
The three-minute video shows him climbing, scuba-diving and performing a backward somersault dive into a river, among other images.
In explaining why he wants the job he expresses his interest in travel and adventure and quotes Mark Twain who once said, "Twenty years from now you will regret the things you didn't do, not the things you did."
Bates says he has travelled across China but admits to not knowing much about Hangzhou.
“It’s great news,” Bates said in a statement after being officially anointed to the ambassador job in a ceremony Wednesday on the banks of Hangzou’s Grand Canal.
“I’m really excited and look forward to learning more about Hangzhou and telling the world about the many attractions of both the city and Chinese culture,” he said.
“I think one of the fascinating things about Marco Polo was his bridging of two cultures, teaching the East and West about each other,” Bates aded.
Italian explorer Polo was one of the first westerners to visit Hangzhou in the 13th century, describing it as “the most beautiful and magnificent city in the world”.
One of China's largest cities, with a metropolitan region of more than 20 million people, it is also known for its scenery and attractions such as its West Lake, designated as a Unesco world heritage site.
Following in Marco Polo's footsteps
“It’s a privilege to be able to follow in (Polo's) footsteps and act as a 21st century source of information about China,” Bates said.
The new ambassador comes well equipped to his new job.
After studying at an international school in Switzerland he headed to the the University of British Columbia in Canada, where he studied filmmaking and Chinese.
He has travelled extensively and once spent a month living with a tribe in Indonesia.
Now residing in Beijing, he is fluent in Mandarin, as well as French and English, and has worked as a TV host for The Chinese Travel Channel.
He has a well-honed interest in Chinese culture, whether it’s about tea, cuisine or cross-talk (traditional Chinese comedy).
“We have searched across the globe for the ‘modern Marco Polo’ and have been looking for someone who is energetic, adventurous and loves a challenge,” Zhao Hongzhong, spokesperson for the Hangzhou Tourism Commission said in a news release.
“We are delighted to appoint Liam to the role,” he said.
“He possesses all of the right qualities and we have no doubt that he will be an excellent representative for Hangzhou over the coming year.
“Our city is an ideal destination for tourists and we look forward to Liam telling the world about all that Chinese culture has to offer.”
More information about Hangzhou is available in English on its Facebook page, where Bates has already begun to post content,
Also, check out the video below that helped him win the contest: