BBC launches its first documentary about Chinese poet Du Fu, displays charm of traditional Chinese literature

By Ji Yuqiao Published: 2020/4/16 22:39:52

A statue of Du Fu sits in the Du Fu Thatched Cottage in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. Photo: IC

After the redesign of his image in Chinese textbooks went trending on social media, famous Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Du Fu has once again grabbed the attention of netizens in China due to a new documentary from the BBC.

Du Fu: China's Greatest Poet, which aired on Britain's BBC 4 on April 6, invited well-known British actor Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings movies, to read 15 of Du's poems that have been translated into English. The documentary has helped introduce the charm and beauty of traditional Chinese literature to viewers around the globe.

The popularization of Du's poems across the globe shows that the unique charm of Chinese culture can transcend time and space, and have impact on other regions, analysts have said.

The documentary has inspired some netizens outside of China to try their own hand at translating some of Du's poems on Twitter.

"Attempted a translation of Du Fu's poem Chūn Wàng (春望). Not fully satisfied with the result, but posting anyway," netizen Aaron Novick wrote as he shared a translation of one of Du's poems on Twitter.

Some noted that Du's poetry, which often tackled the social issues of the time, were still relevant today.

"Come for the war, stay for the poetry. If raging battles are not your thing, Du Fu's verses commenting on human folly may just be what you need to reflect on these uncertain times," Twitter user "Juan Pablo de Dovitiis" wrote.

Du (712-770) had the desire to serve his country as a successful civil servant, but his life was devastated by the An Lushan Rebellion of 755. The last 15 years of his life were a time of almost constant unrest. Among the many poems he wrote, 500 have been preserved over the ages.

Shi Wenxue, a cultural critic based in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday that Du was poor and did not manage to land a good position in government, but he still cared about common people, which is reflected in lines such as "If I could get mansions covering ten thousand miles, I'd house all poor scholars and make them beam with smiles."

"That's why he was honored as a Poet Sage by later generations. A difficult life and his spirit of concern about the world helped him create so many masterpieces," Shi said.

The documentary puts Du's life in a global context to introduce him to the world, especially Western countries where people may not be familiar with him.

"Born in 712, the age of Beowulf in Britain, Du Fu lived through the violent fall of China's brilliant Tang dynasty," it said.

The documentary also compared Du to Dante and Shakespeare to help audiences better understand the poet's great achievements in literature.

Michael David Wood, host of the documentary, went to Du's former residence in Changsha, Central China's Hunan Province to explore his life and discover what the poet means to China and the Chinese people.

For the Chinese, Du is "more than a poet. For generations he has been the guardian of the moral conscience of the nation."

The BBC also noted poetry's long tradition in China, noting that its 3,000-year-old history makes it the oldest living tradition of poetry in the world, older than Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

The documentary also sparked a wave of nostalgia for Du's poems among Chinese netizens. "The good rain knows its season when spring arrives," "Great literature is for a thousand ages, whether it succeeds or not, you know in the heart," were just some of the comments on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

During an interview with the Global Times, Canadian director Mostafa Keshvari also quoted a line from Du to encourage people who are suffering under the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Stay strong during these hard times. As the Chinese poet Du Fu said, 'This morning's scene is good and fine, Long rain has not harmed the land,'" the director said.

The documentary starts with Du and the core spirit of Chinese culture runs through it, which is sure to help further spread the country's traditional culture, Shi noted.

He added that Du can become a cultural symbol of the ancient country through this documentary and his brilliant works are also a precious cultural heritage for the entire world, not just China.

Posted in: ART

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