Sitting at the dining table in his home in Champaign, Illinois, Cai Zongqi recalled his career teaching Chinese literature and culture at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign (UIUC).
“I am happy, I have found a job that I love, and I am sharing Chinese culture with the world… Academic research has been my life’s goal,” he told the agency. Xinhua press with a smile on his face.
Having lived in the United States for nearly 40 years, Cai spent about 30 years sharing his understanding of Chinese literature with UIUC students.
In 2008 he edited and published a book titled How to read Chinese poetryan anthology containing 143 famous poems composed over a period from the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
At the time, Cai said he couldn’t find good teaching materials that could explain the beauty and cultural connotations of Chinese poems. Now, with the help of the anthology, students can overcome language barriers and engage with Chinese poems in a way that provides as much aesthetic pleasure and intellectual insight as the originals.
The book is so popular that it has been reprinted over and over again. Encouraged by this, Cai continued and completed books including How to Read Chinese Prose, How to Read Chinese Drama, as well as How to Read Chinese Literature jointly with Peking University professor Yuan Xingpei.
In Cai’s eyes, Chinese poems embody the Chinese people’s philosophy, ethics and attitude towards life, reflecting their rich humanistic tradition, their pursuit of the ideal of harmony and middle ground, as well as their agony. and his hatred of war.
Cai argues that Chinese poems are a source of resilience in Chinese culture. Reading Chinese poems can help readers, both Chinese and American, to see current life from a whole new perspective and live a better life.
To bring the beauty of Chinese poetry and literature to more people around the world, Cai launched a How to read Chinese poetry Podcast program in 2022, inviting a dozen renowned sinologists as presenters. The program has been listed as a priority cultural exchange project by Lingnan University in Hong Kong.
The podcast program kicked off with Professor William Nienhauser of the University of Wisconsin at Madison guest-hosting three episodes on wedding and courtship poems at the start of Chinese New Year in February.
Cai himself has hosted more than 10 episodes so far. The program airs one episode per week and plans to produce a total of 52 episodes, with selections covering major poetic genres from all Chinese dynasties. In the podcast, poems are read aloud in English and Putonghua (Standard Chinese), as well as Cantonese for Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) poetry, with classical Chinese music in background.
In one episode, Professor Li Wai-yee of Harvard University explained how a “barbarian” leader gained diplomatic advantages by reciting an ode included in the Shijing (the book of songs). In another episode, Professor Martin Kern of Princeton University discussed what Qu Yuan, a patriotic poet and minister from the former state of Chu during the Warring States period (475BC-221BC), meant to the intellectuals of the Han dynasty (206BC-AD220).
“I have already received emails with questions and requests for further reading from listeners in the United States and Europe,” Assistant Professor Lucas Rambo Bender of Yale University told Xinhua. , who also participated in the podcast series.
“I hope more people will discover the podcast series over time. I will definitely recommend it to my students and friends,” he said.
“These poems and their traditions have changed my inner life experience in many lasting ways,” said Philip Merrill, a 63-year-old retired writer.
“For me, these are new wines, good Chinese wine.”
“Men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because that they are separate from each other,” Cai quoted Martin Luther King Jr.
To help people communicate, Cai said he would make the best use of his specialty in Chinese literature and poems “to share Chinese culture with the world.”