My last post bemoaned the hordes of tourists who clogged the narrow streets of Cambridge’s historic centre during our visit a few weeks ago. Most of them appeared to hail from China, and as they came in groups of up to 50 they were impossible to miss or ignore. The days of Japanese mass tourism may be over, but in China the tour companies have found a worthy Far-Eastern successor.
The new-found wealth of the People’s Republic of China has changed the face of international tourism. We witnessed this first-hand during our trips to Tasmania (2016) and the USA’s Yellowstone National Park (2018).
In both places the bus-loads of phone-wielding, selfie-snapping Chinese tour groups were the dominant feature in the tourist landscape. It was therefore no surprise to see so many Chinese folk in Cambridge, which is, of course, one of the UK’s major tourist destinations.
What was a surprise was to learn that there is another reason why the Chinese flock there in such large numbers. In November 1928 a Chinese poet who had previously studied at Kings College, Xú Zhìmó, made a return visit to Cambridge and was moved to capture the moment in verse. Xú is considered one of the most important modern Chinese poets, and Saying Goodbye to Cambridge Again is his most popular poem.
Xú died in controversial circumstances in a plane crash in 1931. In 2018 he was commemorated through the creation, in the grounds of Kings College, Cambridge, of the China-UK Friendship Garden, also known as the Xú Zhìmó Garden. Four lines of his poem are inscribed on a rock in the Friendship Garden, close to the banks of the River Cam.
Xú’s poem, and the Garden commemorating the poet and his most famous work, appear to be a contributory factor in attracting Chinese tourists to Cambridge.
The translation (below) is sourced from the East Asia Student website.
Saying Goodbye to Cambridge Again
Lightly I leave,
as lightly I came;
I lightly wave goodbye,
to the sunlit clouds in the western sky.
The golden willows of that riverside,
are brides in the setting sun;
their glimmering reflections in the water,
ripple in the depth of my heart.
The waterlilies in the soft mud,
sway splendidly under the water.
In the gentle waves of the Cam,
I would be a water plant!
That pool in the shade of elm trees,
is not springwater, but a heavenly rainbow;
crumbling amongst the floating grasses,
the settling rainbow seems like a dream.
Looking for dreams? Push a punt
to where the grass is greener still upstream;
a boat laden with starlight,
singing freely in the glorious light of stars.
But I cannot sing freely,
silence is the music of my departure,
even the summer insects are quiet for me,
tonight's Cambridge is silent!
Quietly I leave,
as quietly I came;
I cast my sleeves a little
not taking even a strand of cloud away.
What a beautiful, evocative poem. But the tranquillity it conveys is a million miles away from the febrile tourist trap we visited recently.
I wonder what Xú Zhìmó would make of Cambridge, August 2019?