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Toast at the Luncheon of Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations
2009/05/04

 

  Toast at the Luncheon of Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations  

  Stratford-upon-Avon 2009 Program  

  2009 April 24  

  Mr. President,   

  Lords,  

  Madame Mayor,  

  My Diplomatic Colleagues,  

  Ladies and Gentlemen,  

     

  I am sure you have sympathy for me. It is daunting to speak after Donald and after all those jokes.  

  Many years ago, when I was reading Shakespeare in the classroom, I would never have dreamed of one day standing here at Stratford speaking to a gathering of Shakespearean lovers.  

  I want to thank you very much for this honor.   

  First of all, let me express, on behalf of all the visitors, our sincere appreciation to the organizers of this event as well as all those who was involved in putting things together, for us to pay tribute to Shakespeare whose timeless influence go beyond the boundaries of age, race and country.  

  I also want to thank Donald for his excellent chairmanship.  

  Shakespeare was introduced to China between the mid 19th to the 20th century.   

  A man called Lin Shu translated into Chinese the Shakespearean Stories adapted by Charles Lamb, in 1904.  

  Mr. Lin did not know a word of English. He had an assistant to read and explained to him the stories and rewrote them in his own words.  

  You can imagine how impossible it was to keep close to the original work, but it was an important step which led to the first Chinese translation of Hamlet in 1921.   

  The interest was so high that many more translations followed, even during the difficult years of war.  

  Chinese readers were attracted to Shakespeare and his works for his humanism and idealism.  

  It was a turbulent period in China’s history when the country was in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal state and people were on the one hand embracing the new ideas coming from the West while on the other hand trying to resist being imposed by foreign powers.   

  Shakespeare, along with Western enlightenment ideals, nurtured the political and cultural awakening of the Chinese youth in the early 20th century and played a significant part in the intellectual modernization of China.  

  The staging of Shakespearean plays has since continued in China. The heroes and heroines in his play have become household names and much of his language is part of our everyday vocabulary.   

  Some years ago, I was involved in the 6-party talks. China’s role was to try to mediate between the North Koreans and the Americans, trying to convince the former that going nuclear was not an option and negotiations was the best choice and to the Americans explaining why regime change through military means was not workable and negotiation was the better option.  

  When the talks got stuck, I would quote from Hamlet by saying: this is a matter of to be or not to be.  

  I found this is the most pleasant and subtle way of saying it is essential to reach an agreement without sounding pushing.      

  With the success of economic progress in recent years and with growing demand for cultural entertainment, the adaptation of Shakespeare is making colorful progress.   

  His plays are made into different art forms, in theatre, movies and even local operas.   

  In the Chinese version of Sword of Vengeance, for example, performed during the celebrations here, you could find Hamlet not only has a Chinese face, but also a Chinese name and lives in an ancient Chinese dynasty.   

  I want to mention here that, during the same period of Shakespeare in China there was also a playwright Tang Xianzu. He and Shakespeare actually died in the same year.  

  He wrote the Peony Pavilion which is regarded as a world class play of the earliest age.  

  It’s a Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet, sweet and sad. It’s very long runs for at least 10 nights.   

  A shorter version of it, three nights for one cycle, was staged in the form of Kunqu Opera in Sadler’s Wells last summer and was very well received.   

  However, I have to say that I found his name and his play has not been very much known to a country which loves history and has a taste for good plays.   

  The Western cultural is widely taught and learnt in China.     I think it is important that China and Chinese cultural becomes more and more known to the Western world. (Applause)  

  In my enjoyable two years in Britain, I also had some difficult times. I often find many difficulties in our relations are caused or make large by the lack of knowledge.   

  Last August I was in Beijing. One day, walking on the street it started to rain and I popped into a book store on the road side.      I was quite amazed to find that there were shelves and shelves of original English books.  

  But here in Britain, it is very hard to find books written in China about China today. Even in University libraries, there are not many.   

  That may partly explains why there is this imbalance of information between China and the West.   

  However, the good news is that there is growing interest to know more of each other.     

  The Olympics brought the world closer to China and China closer to the world.  

  I am sure cultural programs such as the celebration of Shakespeare will help build the bridges of friendship and understanding among peoples.  

  What I can say is that I and am sure all my diplomatic colleagues who are present here and those who are in London will continue to support your program and support cultural exchanges between Britain and the countries we represent.   

  In conclusion, it gives me great pleasure to propose the toast to world wide appreciation of William Shakespeare.  

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