Trilogy of “Off the Shelf” activities—Kun Qu Opera, Chinese Poems, Chinese Stories—successfully held by the Confucius Institute at the University of Sheffield

[Source]    Confucius Institute at the University of Sheffield [Time]    2014-01-14 15:24:57 

From October to November in 2013, the Confucius Institute at the University of Sheffield successfully participated in the “Off the Shelf” Literary Festival, organized by the Sheffield City Council. This year, the Confucius Institute has prepared Kun Qu Opera, Chinese Poems and Chinese stories as the trilogy of the activities, which were well received by more than 200 attendees.

First part of the Trilogy: “The music from a string instrument is no better than that from a bamboo instrument, which in turn is no better than that from human singing”—Kun Qu Opera(“Father of Chinese Operas”) made its appearance

On the afternoon of October 23rd, 2013, the Confucius Institute at the University of Sheffield invited Miss Kathy Hall, founder of London Jing Kun Opera Association, to showcase Kun Qu Opera by delivering a talk on the topic of “The Art of Kun Qu Opera” to the teachers, students and the local residents who love Chinese culture, with a hope of arousing the public’s awareness in preserving traditional cultural heritages. Named after its birth place in Kunshan (Jiangsu Province), Kun Qu Opera has been honored as the “Father of Chinese Operas” and has been listed as one of the 19 masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2001.

“The music from a string instrument is no better than that from a bamboo instrument and the music from a bamboo instrument is no better than that from human singing”, Miss Hall started her talk with this concise and succinct Chinese saying and gradually drew the audience into the charm of sound and music in Kun Qu Opera. Then, she introduced the brief history, the types of roles and the performing techniques and skills of Kun Qu Opera. About 200 years before Peking Opera was born, Kun Qu Opera started to make earliest appearances in the Tang Dynasty. Between the 14th and 17th centuries in the Ming Dynasty, it formed its shape and reached the maturity of its artistic charm. But, it gradually lost its dominant popularity to Peking Opera in the Qing Dynasty. As the ancestor to all Chinese operas, Kun Qu Opera was famous for its cadence in lyrics and music, exquisite and melodious singing, well-polished performance, mild rhythms and an integration of stage scenes and accompaniments. Also, Miss Hall explained some terms in Kun Qu Opera, like the type of singing as “Shui Mo Qiang” (well-polished music), five major types of characters as Sheng (male characters), Dan (female characters), Jing (characters with a“painted face”), Mo (Middle-aged or old male characters), and Chou (clown characters)”, and the major type of musical melody as “Er Huang”. All these helped the audience understand more about the Kun Qu Opera.

Some audience practicing “Shui xiu” (long sleeves) in Kun Qu Opera

In the trial session, Miss Hall demonstrated how to use the basic stage props, like the “shui xiu” (long sleeves), “shan zi” (fans) and “ma bian” (horse whips). She told the audience that “shui xiu”, the piece of white silk towards the end of the sleeves of the costumes, is soft and elegant and is used to perform various postures and movements which reveal the inside world of the characters in the Kun Qu Opera. Then, the teachers and students of different ages and from different countries at the talk tried how to fold the sleeves. After that, Miss Hall, using a phrase “hao tian qi ye” (good weather) as an example, led the audience to learn the basic vocal skills. The tune of the music was elegant, graceful, mild, sensitive and melodious. Finally, she performed part of a masterpiece “Xun Meng” (dreamland revisited), in which all the unique elements like “xiu hua xie” (embroidered shoes), “lan hua zhi” (orchid fingers) and “da chang pao” (long robes) gave the audience another round of artistic shock. This around-two-hour talk provided the audience with a precious opportunity to taste the charm of Kun Qu Opera, “father of Chinese operas”.

Second part of the Trilogy: “reading a good poem is like seeing the thing with your own eyes, and you will be inspired if you are writing poems with your heart”——a taste of “English poem writing”

Prof. Sui’s attractive talk

On the afternoon of October 30th, 2013, Prof. Sui, Literature professor of the English Department at the Beijing International Studies University and the Chinese Dean of the Confucius Institute at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), was invited by the Confucius Institute at the University of Sheffield to give a talk on how to write English poems. His talk on the theme of “New Endeavours: Creative Writing in English - in China” was to help the audience to appreciate the charm in creating bilingual poems.

Professor Sui, starting with a shell as an example, asked the teachers and students at the talk to touch and feel it and express their own unique thoughts. The audience expanded their imaginations of a shell’s shape, connotation and sound and elaborated their symbolic meanings. For instance, the shell helped a Chinese student from Qingdao recall bits of the life in her hometown, which was explained by Prof. Sui as the unique images brought by the shell. Then, he continuously emphasized the importance of images. With the help of descriptive writing skills like similes or metaphors, we could re-create the content. For example, the concrete pronoun “horse” represents power and strength, while the abstract word “hope” is intangible, so some extra imagination is needed to expand the thoughts.

Prof. Sui first started teaching Chinese students how to write English poems 12 years ago. Since then, he has already published some classic textbooks, such as Poetry and Me. He hopes to stimulate students’ imagination and sharpen their minds by asking them to practice writing poems so that they could benefit in their future careers. He also showcased the audience some English poems by his Chinese students, such as I Am Part of the Whole and Mother’s Hair.

In the meantime, Prof. Sui offered the students some suggestions in writing in general. First, find inspirations for writing in our lives. Arts stem from life and the ability to appreciate ordinary beauty in life will bring good materials for writing. Second, any artistic creation starts with imitation. To be a good writer requires a lot of reading. Beginners could be inspired by the various styles of the poems written by famous western poets like William Butler Yeats, Walter Whitman and Ezra Pond. Third, write with one’s heart and get rid of all those technical skills in writing poems. Prof. Sui believed that rich connotations could only be expressed through sincere feelings, not writing skills. In addition, Prof. Sui also mentioned that Chinese characters have their graphic beauty and Chinese could enrich the expressive power of English in the form of poems. Finally, he summarized that reading a good poem is like seeing the thing with your own eyes. He also encouraged the audience to write with their heart and appreciate the beauty of poems. After the lecture, the audience couldn’t help trying writing, which was one by one reviewed by Prof. Sui.

Third Part of the Trilogy: “Vast China with Beautiful Rivers and mountains”—“Enjoyable Sightseeing in China” Story-telling Gathering Held

A scene at the “Enjoyable Sightseeing in China” Story-telling Gathering


On the morning of November 2nd, 2013, the Confucius Institute at the University of Sheffield held a story-telling gathering on the theme of “Enjoyable Sightseeing in China”, in which around 50 students and their parents from Sheffield and nearby areas had a great opportunity to appreciate the beautiful sceneries and folktales from various places in China.

Miss Guo Hong, a teacher at the Confucius Institute, using a map of China on the blackboard, took the children and their parents on a vivid and interesting “tour to Chinese rivers and mountains” by telling them unique stories of these places. The four major river systems become four giant dragons whose bodies wind all over China. Miss Guo also used pictures to tell the children the geographic and cultural knowledge of various places, such as Shanghai Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Hong Kong Disneyland, giant pandas in Sichuan, the Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses in Xi'an, as well as the Silk Road in the western parts of China. When she introduced the “Huo Yan Shan” (the Flaming Mountains), She used the story between Sun Wukong (the Monkey King) and “Tie Shan Gong Zhu” (the Princess Iron Fan) (two characters in “Xi You Ji” (Story of a Journey to the West)), which interested the young audience so much that they showed great enthusiasm in answering questions.

The children were telling stories about China

In the next session, the students were divided into seven groups and were led by the Chinese teachers at the Confucius Institute to adapt traditional Chinese stories. After heated discussion and brainstorming, they told their new stories to the teachers and their parents. Among them, the bilingual performance based on the story “Zhu Bajie Chi Xi Gua” (Zhu Bajie eats watermelons) (Zhu Bajie is one of the chief characters in Story of a Journey to the West who is supposedly incarnated through the spirit of pig) has won many rounds of laughter and praises by its vivid and lively lines and elaborated imitations. This well-received form of cultural demonstration, which teaches through lively activities, brought a perfect ending to all the events of “Off the Shelf” activities.

The Confucius Institute at the University of Sheffield has successfully bid for and participated in the “Off the Shelf” activities organized by the Sheffield City Council for consecutive seven years. These activities have provided a good platform to popularize Chinese language and culture and strengthened the influence of the Confucius Institute in local communities. As the largest and most influential literary event, the “Off the Shelf” Literature Festival has been held for 22 years and includes reading series, workshops, story-telling sessions, exhibitions, poetry activities, and contests. Every year, this event attracts many important figures from the fields of literature and media in Great Britain and is attended by around 20,000 people.

(By Cao Yuan)