Shakespeare and the Chinese Premier

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Watching a scene from 'Hamlet' at Shakespeare's Birthplace

On Sunday 26 June, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was honoured to receive His Excellency Premier Wen Jiabao of China. Shakespeare’s Birthplace was the only place he visited in Stratford. It was a highly significant moment and was a clear statement that we should both like to develop and nurture contacts, partnerships, and projects.

I thought you’d like to read the speech he made on that special occasion:

‘Visiting the birthplace of Shakespeare fills me with many thoughts and emotions.

In preparation of my visit, I read a lot of articles and comments about Shakespeare and speeches of important figures about him. I remember Goethe once said something to this effect; reading Shakespeare’s first play was like a new world opening up before his eyes; and when reading Shakespeare’s last play he felt the ecstasy of a blind man finally light of the day.

I read and reread many of Shakespeare’s plays as a young man, and I have watched some of his plays such as Twelfth Night, Othello, King Lear and Hamlet. But it was not until I was much older that I was able to understand and appreciate his works more. His works were not to be read only once or even ten times. They must need be read and savoured for up to a hundred times for them to be fully understood.

It is a reality of life that among the countless works of our world, most have been lost with time. Only those which have stood the test of history and kept their appeal to people can survive the relentless passage of time. In Britain, you also have Daniel Defoe and Charles Dickens, both of whom are household names in China. I only hope that people in this country will know as much about China.

My country has a history of 5,000 years, and the first written record of China dates back to more than 2,000 years ago. We have many great works in China, too. By reading about China’s history and culture, you will learn more about my country and the road it has travelled. This includes how it has evolved over the years and the misfortune it has gone through in its modern history. I have seen politicians arguing with each other on the negotiation table, but I doubt if they really understand each other’s culture or history. I refuse to be one of them. I believe as statesmen, we need to respect history and our people’s creation if we are to build a helpful foundation for our friendship.

The one hour I spent here is well worth it. As the Chinese Premier, I have been to a lot of places, and most of the time in a hurry. I have never had the time to look carefully at a great man’s house like I did today. People of Stratford-upon-Avon should be proud, for Shakespeare not just belongs to Britain, he belongs to the whole world. He may have lived in his time, but he is celebrated in all the centuries.’

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • Anonymous

    Even cynical me was quite moved by that speech .. written though it may have been, by someone else.. Whoever it was they have knowledge, wit and language skills .Hoorah I say for all those good and valued things amongst the diplomatic phrases.

  • Diana Owen

    It was a profoundly significant moment, sitting beside Premier Wen as he discussed the importance of cultural exchange and understanding as the essential forerunner to ‘doing business’. And a very clear message that it had to be a two-way dialogue and we had much to learn about Chinese culture.

  • Christian Smith

    This blog includes a few ironies that made me giggle. First, Mao Tse Tung hated Hamlet, the play, because Hamlet, the character, did not organize the Danish peasants against the corrupt court. He was, for Mao, an example of an ineffectual revolutionary because he tried to fight alone. Second, it is interesting to me that Wen Jiabao cites Daniel Defoe, whose Robinson Crusoe is the favourite novel of capitalists, and Charles Dickens, whose novels are the favourites of Marxists, as being household names in China.  This might explain China’s confusion right now about whether it is a communist or a capitalist state. And lastly, I wonder what Wen Jiabao, who presides over a police state, makes of Shakespeare’s depiction of Claudius’ panoptican police state – ‘stay in the cheer and comfort of our eye’. 

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