A late learner's insights into splendors of China

Academic finds great inspiration by delving into country's culture

By ZHENG WANYIN in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-29 09:42
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Alan Macfarlane, emeritus professor of anthropological science at the University of Cambridge, in his King's College office. CHINA DAILY

Editor's note: As the People's Republic of China celebrates the 75th anniversary of its founding this year, China Daily asked prominent international figures to reflect on their relationship with the country and to talk of the direction in which they see it going.

"I'd been totally ignorant of China, more or less, through my education," Alan Macfarlane says.

Yet the 83-year-old anthropologist is now committed to building a cultural bridge between China and the West, through the exchange of shared enjoyment of culture.

An example of his commitment is the fact that, in addition to his titles of emeritus professor of anthropological science at the University of Cambridge and life fellow of King's College, he is guardian of a granite stone standing on the bank of the River Cam that commemorates the Chinese poet Xu Zhimo.

Xu, who lived from 1897 to 1931, was an associate member of King's College for 18 months in the early 1920s. In 1928, he wrote his most famous poem, Saying Goodbye to Cambridge Again, which has been learned by millions of schoolchildren in China.

It was Macfarlane who set the stage for the installation of the stone, and who founded a poetry and art festival in the name of Xu that has brought together poets, literati, artists and scholars from around the world each year for the past 10 years, with the aim of promoting exchanges between East and West.

The festival is by no means Macfarlane's only project aimed at increasing understanding.

Cam Rivers Publishing, a company in Cambridge that Macfarlane co-founded with one of his Chinese students nine years ago, has been translating and publishing books by Chinese scholars in the United Kingdom and organizing exhibitions that feature influential local figures who have been deeply engaged with Chinese art, as well as hosting tea-tasting ceremonies that feature selections of fine Chinese teas.

Contemplating his journey, Macfarlane now realizes that one-third of his life has centered on China, and he says he knew little about the country before he turned 50.

His China story began in 1996 when he first undertook a visit to the country.

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