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A retired Aussie programmer from Sydney, I am an ardent traveller, student of things Chinese, and in retirement both an online teacher and online MOOC student. I write mostly about travel and experiences in China, and of interaction with Asian culture and people. Don’t expect controversy because, like a cat in a puddle, I tread carefully - but sometimes I just might throw in a ‘googly’!
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Can someone explain to me Xu Zhimo's reputation and popularity?    

By LaoGui 老鬼的博客
895 Views | 7 Comments | 11/2/2019 12:12:28 PM

Wiki commons xu zhimo

Could someone who has been through the Chinese education explain to me how Xu Zhimo's poetry is taught and analysed and explained in the Chinese schooling system?  As part of my never-ending Chinese study I recently followed up on the brief poem By Chance 偶然 which I had liked so much,  and read others of Xu Zhimo, including the mandatory Second Farewell to Cambridge.  Xu Zhimo seems to be rated as a great modern Chinese poet, and is studied in junior or middle schools in China.  My reading of him reveals no strong reason for such a high rating, pleasant reading but not much more.  So why is he rated highly and spoon or force fed to Chinese students?

I asked one of my students whether she had studied this particular poem and what had been said of it, to which she replied she had, but had never understood why it was important.

Of my own early schooling I recall a poem which was also force-fed to us and which those of my vintage probably recall  - the 1908 poem of Dorothea McKellar: My Country.  It is apt for two reasons: firstly it commences set in England, but then turns to the Australian drought-stricken countryside, which provides the second reason, the dire and unbroken drought our farmers are suffering right now.  Unlike the poem My Country, there is no sign of a break in the drought.

Xu Zhimo's poem (1921?) is also set in England, Cambridge to be precise, but there is no sign of China in this poem, which yet is acclaimed by Chinese commentators claiming that the Chinese sentiment and feelings cannot be revealed in English.  I cannot see any deep significance in the Chinese either, but it goes without saying that a laowai cannot understand the deep hidden richness of the Chinese even if he can read it.  

So my question is: Why is a light, pleasant, sentimental Chinese poem set in an English university held in such high regard?  Can anyone help me in my understanding?


Zai bie kam qiao 再別康橋 - Farewell to Cambridge again

The youtube below is a vocal and piano version, followed by the last verse:






The poem is said to stem from an affair with Lin Huiyin, and the following youtube is just for interest, providing something of the background to the affair which led to a historic and scandalous Western divorce...


Ouran - By Chance. An extract

I am a cloud in the sky,

that shadows your stirred heart by chance.

No need for you to feel surprise,

still less to be delighted,

in a flash, every trace of me will be gone.

Several musical versions may be heard at:


My Country

Reading and hearing My Country again after 60 years I feel it is also rather sentimental, and the insistence on the rhythmic pattern a little obvious, but the imagery is evocative.

Core of my heart, my country!

Her pitiless blue sky,

When, sick at heart, around us

We see the cattle die

But then the grey clouds gather,

And we can bless again

The drumming of an army,

The steady soaking rain.

Below is a choral adaptation, and the full poem:

Cambridge Image attribution:By Cmglee - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
(Showing 1 to 7 of 7) 1
#2019-11-02 12:17:04 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

I don't have anything to add to this posting because I am not aware of the poet nor familiar with his work. 

But I do want members to please not try to take the discussion into political matters or criticism of China nor Chinese people. Comments that attempt to do that will not be approved.

#2019-11-03 08:02:13 by paulfox1 @paulfox1

There are many reasons as to why certain poems, phrases, sayings, etc, are used in certain cultures as well as all over the world.

For instance, who has never heard 'Row, row, row your boat....'?

Why are we all familiar with the question, 'If a tree falls in a forest and no-one's there to hear it, does it make a sound?'

Or why is it that some of the most critically acclaimed literary works are nothing but complete garbage?

Riding on a bus yesterday I saw a billboard that had the words, 'Let us all enjoy the blue sky together' (In CHINA? Blue Sky?, haha)

China does have some very 'flowery' sayings, and, like many cultures, pays reverance to certain cultural figures who are notorious for their non-sensical sayings and phrases.

Why is Shakespeare so famous? 90% of what he wrote is complete rubbish.

I could offer my reasons for some of these 'anomolies', but I fear they may be too 'deep' for some readers.





#2019-11-23 21:47:01 by oldghost @oldghost

@Paulfox1 So 'rubbish' and 'garbage' and 'row your boat' are the highwater marks of your literary knowledge and appreciation. Deep thoughts on 'anomalies'?  Mmmm methinks you have a highly refracted concept of depth, too.

#2019-11-23 21:55:21 by oldghost @oldghost

@paulfox1 oh, but course, thanks for taking the time and trouble to respond. 

Never an avid or able fishermen nonetheless I was angling to get a female of the Chinese species to nibble here, but alas alack nary a one, the nibbles are naught.


#2019-11-24 15:28:33 by paulfox1 @paulfox1


Did you know that 'SCHOOLMASTER' is a perfect anagram for 'THE CLASSROOM'?

My literary knowledge is prodigious; my appreciation is somewhat ungracious.

#2019-11-24 20:13:24 by paulfox1 @paulfox1


Nay, nay, nay, my friend. You should try again, during your retirement, to be a 'ghotier-man'

As for the works of Shakespeare, they are not to be tossed away lightly. They should be thrown away with force!

#2019-12-04 13:38:05 by oldghost @oldghost

Claims of prodigious literary knowledge bolstered by dismissal of 90% of Shakespeare and hand-waving criticism of other unnamed but acclaimed works does not convince.  On the other hand, Clive James, lately late, was indeed an accomplished critic.

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