The Dead Poets of Chengdu: Family Letters are Worth Ten Thousand Pieces


Imagine three large museum halls set in a 24 acre manicured park dedicated to a poet from more than 1200 years ago. The Chinese love their Tang Dynasty poets, especially Du Fu. Du Fu’s thatched cottage, in Chengdu, Sichuan province, is located in the Du Fu Cao Tang Park along with other museum halls displaying panels of his most famous poems, exhibitions of ancient stylised calligraphy, and a sculpture hall for the other major poets of that era.1-dufDu Fu enthusiasts from around the world come to pay their respects, the locals to enjoy reading the famous poems they learnt as youngsters at school, or to appreciate and try to translate these ancient stylised characters and letters. A visit, including the magnificent gardens and lake, takes at least half a day.

Panels of Poems, Du Gong Bu memorial Hall, Chengdu.
Panels of Poems, Du Gong Bu memorial Hall, Chengdu.

The Tang dynasty  (7th and 8th centuries) is generally regarded as the Golden Age of Chinese Culture, and might be compared to the Renaissance cultural awakening in Europe.

Self Portrait with calligraphy.
Self portrait with calligraphy.

The art of writing characters and letters is given prominence in schools in China, despite the presence of the ubiquitous iPad or tablet. Calligraphy tables are set up with paper, ink and brushes in the hotels in Chengdu, for all to have a go.

Concentrating on Writng letters. A friends child, 6, practices calligraphy.
Concentrating on writing. A friend’s child from Chengdu, 6, practices her calligraphy.
My grandson, at school n China, leaning calligraphy.
My grandson, 11, at school this week in Nanjing China, learning calligraphy.
Spring View
Du Fu 春望
The country is broken, though hills and rivers remain,
In the city in spring, grass and trees are thick.
Moved by the moment, a flower’s splashed with tears,
Mourning parting, a bird startles the heart.
The beacon fires have joined for three months now,
Family letters are worth ten thousand pieces.
I scratch my head, its white hairs growing thinner,
And barely able now to hold a hairpin.

16 thoughts on “The Dead Poets of Chengdu: Family Letters are Worth Ten Thousand Pieces”

  1. The look of concentration on your grandson’s face says a lot! I have always enjoyed letters and typography, handwriting and our wedding invitations even used the Chinese calligraphy symbol for ‘love’. I don’t understand a word of Chinese though, so am not sure how I would go in three museums full of words I didn’t understand! Lovely post, Francesca, took me somewhere I have never been.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The architecture and atmosphere in that museum was inspiring – I had to buy a big bible of a book on Tang Dynasty poetry. Fortunately we were with a Chinese friend – she explained and translated for us and her delight in the place was infectious.
      I am so proud of young Noah- I had to slip him in to the post. It is a brave act to go for two weeks to China with the school at only 11. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your grandson is probably getting to know 6 of our G6 students! what an amazing experience for them. Nice post, I’m currently reading a novel Called Snow Flower and The Secret Fan, set in 19th Century China, it follows the lives of 2 girls from foot binding to the end of their life. What an eye opener as to what women had to endure. I hadn’t heard of the secret writings, ‘nu she’ women did, true resourcefulness in difficult times for them.


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