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Cambridge garden marks city's strong links with poet Xu Zhimo
Updated: 2018-08-14 09:07:00
( China Daily )

Chinese poet Xu Zhimo (1897-1931) [Photo provided to China Daily]

The first formal Chinese garden in the English city of Cambridge has been unveiled in celebration of the growing cultural ties between China and the University of Cambridge.

The China-UK Friendship Garden, also known as Xu Zhimo Garden, memorializes the late Chinese poet Xu Zhimo (1897-1931), who was an associate member of King's College for 18 months in 1921-22.

The King's College held the opening event for the Xu Zhimo memorial garden on Friday, during the fourth annual Cambridge Xu Zhimo Poetry and Art festival.

Xu wrote the famous poem Second Farewell to Cambridge in 1928, after his third visit to the university city. Filled with his longing for Cambridge as well as thoughts about his first love affair, the poem has been learned by millions of schoolchildren in China.

The poem's first and last lines have been carved into a granite stone that has become one of Cambridge's most popular tourist attractions.

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the memorial stone placed in his honor next to a bridge about which he had fond memories, at the back of King's College. Visitors approaching the King's College Bridge from the front of the College first see the willow trees as portrayed in Xu Zhimo's Second Farewell to Cambridge, followed by the white marble memorial stone.

Dozens of poets from China and Britain gathered in the garden, reading their own works on the theme of "birds and gardens".

A granite stone at the University of Cambridge, carrying the first and last lines of a poem by Chinese poet Xu Zhimo, has become one of the university's most popular tourist attractions. [Photo/Xinhua]

Xu Shanzeng, the oldest grandson of Xu Zhimo, was invited to Cambridge and read his grandfather's best-known poem in the garden.

The garden is the first Chinese one built on any college campus in Cambridge.

The space behind the enclosure of the stone was selected for the garden.

Alan Macfarlane, chair of the Cambridge Xu Zhimo Poetry and Art festival, says that the garden is not only designed on Taoist and Buddhist principles, but also to represent a fusion of the East and the West, according to Xinhua News Agency.

"Here we have English trees around the garden and also Chinese plants native to Xu's home region in Haining (East China's Zhejiang province).

"So it is a fusion of East and West, just as Xu Zhimo was trying to bring the cultural treasures from China to England, and from England to China. I think in a world which is filled with conflicts and threats of war, this is a peaceful resolution of some of the conflicts of civilizations," Macfarlane says.

Macfarlane hopes that through both poetry and the garden, cultural links between the United Kingdom and China can be further enhanced.

"I hope Chinese guests will experience the beauty and friendship of King's College which so delighted Xu," he adds.

The idea to create the memorial garden, which took three years to plan and build, was initiated by Steven Coghill, the senior horticulturist at King's College.

Speaking about how the idea took shape, Macfarlane, who is also chairman of the Cambridge Rivers Project and a professor at the University of Cambridge, says: "As Xu is an alumnus of King's College, we wanted to express our admiration for him, and to increase (the) understanding of the links between China and Cambridge.

"The garden celebrates the shared culture of East and West. It is a fusion between philosophies and cultures, which contains special calligraphy by famous Chinese, including Mo Yan (author and winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in literature) illustrating the poem."

The celebration of Xu in Cambridge has grown to become increasingly important.

"Ten years ago, when the memorial stone arrived, nothing was known of Xu Zhimo in the West," Macfarlane says.

"Now, many people, both in Cambridge and the UK, and increasingly from Europe, America, and elsewhere, are learning about Xu Zhimo and Chinese culture. This is part of a cultural bridge of music, painting, poetry, calligraphy which is being built through this garden and through many other events."

This year's festival, which took place on Friday and Saturday, brought well-known poets and artists to King's College, as well as some of Xu's relatives.

The festival included a concert staged by the King's Men, the Choral Scholars of the Choir of King's College, during which several songs were performed, including two Chinese songs-Second Farewell to Cambridge and Jasmine Flower.

Queen Elizabeth sent a congratulatory letter to mark the opening of the garden, in which she expressed an interest to learn more about the garden and poet Xu Zhimo.

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