Chinese civilization is highly consistent, enabling Chinese people to draw on the wisdom of their ancestors and giving them tools to tackle present-day problems, British writer Tim Clissold, author of the critically acclaimed Mr. China, has said.
“In Chinese culture…there is a connection between the past and the present,” Clissold told Xinhua in a recent interview.
In his view, Chinese civilization is very consistent, partly because of its writing system. “You can just look at a poem and understand the basic meaning even if it’s 1,000 years old.”
“I see the Yellow River water,” Clissold cited one sentence from a poem written by Huang Tingjian, a poet and calligrapher in the Song Dynasty.
“You can immediately tell what he’s saying in his calligraphy (of the poem)” which was written more than 900 years ago.
In England, a document called the Doomsday Book dates back to a similar period. “A modern person in England cannot read the Doomsday Book. You need to be trained for years to be able to read it, whereas in Chinese culture you can immediately read something that’s very, very old,” Clissold said.
Clissold has been studying Tang and Song poems for years. His latest book Cloud Chamber, a collection of English translations of Chinese poems, was published last year.
Chinese poetry is “the most extensive body of coherent literature of any culture at any time. It consists of tens of thousands — possibly hundreds of thousands — of poems running in an unbroken chain” from ancient China until the present day, Clissold wrote in Cloud Chamber.
According to him, revisiting ancient Chinese poems not only brings aesthetic pleasure but also sharpens people’s awareness of the problems in the modern-day world.
Clissold explained to Xinhua the reason why he wants to introduce the ancient Chinese poems to Westerners: “People (in the West) naturally think Chinese civilization is difficult to understand. But actually, the underlying ideas are very straightforward and (there is) something that lots of people can empathize with.”
The topics of these ancient poems are related to friendship, humans’ relationship with nature, the sense of smallness in the universe, grief on the death of a child, and so on. “All these things are something that any human being can understand and relate to.”
Clissold lived in China for more than 20 years. According to his observation over those years, the efforts to preserve China’s traditional culture “have intensified.”
“China has a lot of economic success and has lifted so many people out of great poverty. It feels quite self-confident and…more comfortable explaining those traditional values to people from outside China,” he said.
Clissold recalled his first visit to Hong Kong in the late 1980s. “As soon as I arrived, I was just fascinated by Chinese characters and different habits.” Shortly after, he took a trip to Guangzhou.
For him, mutual understanding and learning between different civilizations are of great importance. “I still have a great interest in China and a desire to help Westerners and Chinese people understand each other better.”
Clissold told Xinhua that he recently came across a book collection of Chinese poems writing about places along the ancient Silk Road. His next journey to China will be visiting on a bicycle the places where the poems were originally cited.
“I’m interested in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI),” he said, adding that he plans to translate the poems into English and try to explain the BRI in terms of poems which are nearly 1,500 years old.
Clissold hoped that through his translation, Westerners will be able to understand actually the BRI “is just a continuation of something that has been happening for a very, very long time.”
“Whatever happens, ordinary people on the planet want more cooperation rather than less…one of the completely undeniable trends in the world is globalization,” he added.