By Roger Tagholm
China’s Wu Shulin, Vice Minister of General Administration of Press and Publication, impressed everyone with a powerful rendition in English of Ben Jonson’s lovely poem “The Noble Nature” at Tuesday night’s party at the Kensington Roof Gardens hosted by the British Council and the London Book Fair to celebrate what has been, in the words of British Council Chief Executive Martin Davidson “one of the most extraordinary cultural exchanges between the UK and China ever.”
With his trademark smile and occasional punches of the air, and looking first to one side of the room, then the other in the manner of President Obama, he gave a declamatory performance full of oratorical flourishes. Here’s the poem in full:
It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make Man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night –
It was the plant and flower of Light
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures life may perfect be.
LBF Director Alistair Burtenshaw spoke of the “real friendship” between the UK and China and the “mutual understanding driving forward our two publishing industries.”
More than a few guests asked themselves if they could you imagine saying the poems in Mandarin. Perhaps it shouldn’t be Wu Shulin, but Wow Shulin.