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Wednesday, March 27, 2019, 11:49
Ancient poems give life a rhyme
By Chen Meiling
Wednesday, March 27, 2019, 11:49 By Chen Meiling

Some of the participants with the production team after this season's contest of the Chinese Classical Poetry Quiz Show, which concluded last month. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

Chinese poems have found a way to bloom in the hearts of people centuries after the lines were written. Their beauty, philosophy and wisdom can inspire generations to go beyond their daily routines and infuse them with a passion to help them overcome the slings and arrows of misfortune.

"My daughter told us that the sentence she made was 'My dad is making tea while reciting poems'. They were the most heartwarming words I heard."

Hu Xingyue, a costume designer from Fujian province

Railway maintenance worker Ma Haoran, from Harbin, Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, is a poetry enthusiast.

He starred in China Central Television's Chinese Classical Poetry Quiz Show alongside people from all walks of life.

Ma, 23, impressed the audience at last month's final in front of a myriad of viewers, according to Yan Fang, the director.

Ma was among the hundreds of poetry lovers who were selected from some 300,000 applicants.

"Chinese classical poems have been around for thousands of years, and the poetic essence is in the blood and genes of the people," says Yan.

Poetry's rich seam of culture runs deep in society. Children learn to recite ancient poems during their preschool years. Knowledge of ancient poems is required as part of compulsory courses during primary and middle school years, Yan says.

The poetry quiz show brought a new format to the audience with competitions and games to make the poems more relevant to today's life.

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Brotherhood bonds

Ma's love for Chinese poems was influenced by his grandfather, who was also a railway worker.

"It may be an ordinary job, but it's important and I'm proud to do it," Ma says.

His grandfather started work at 18 years old to feed the family, but he managed to pass on his love of poetry.

Ma Haoran, a railway worker from Heilongjiang province. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

In Ma's eyes, poetry lets in rays of sunshine to warm him when he does routine work outside in the cold.

"I spent months with workers checking and maintaining the tracks of the Harbin-Jiamusi Rapid Railway. We were out there in the cold during Mid-Autumn Festival," recalls Ma.

"I recited a poem by the late military lyricist Yan Su at our festival celebration on that chilly moonlit night, about our hardships during the work, our homesickness, and bonds of brotherhood," says Ma.

"The poem touched them, and many of my colleagues could not hold back their tears."

Since its first season, the annual show has gained momentum in its popularity, jumping to 257 million views across all platforms in its third season in 2018 from the 50 million views when the show made its debut in 2016.

While in its fourth season that ended last month, the program has notched up over 2.1 billion views on various platforms, according to the director Yan.

"Poetry is not questions on test papers or classics kept on shelves. It's diaries of the ancient Chinese," Yan says.

"Poetry is always close to life. It can be fun. It can give you energy and help you see the world from a new angle."

Flying with grace

Pilot Ma Baoli of China Southern Airlines has a novel approach to poetry. You could say he takes his passion to new heights.

Traveling through the sky, he recites poems to passengers about the places they are flying over.

He was also a participant on this season's TV poetry show.

"I want to serve my passengers in more interesting ways," he says.

A graduate of Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Ma Baoli joined the Dalian branch of China Southern Airlines and was promoted to captain in 2016 at 28.

Ma Baoli, a pilot from Jiangsu province. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

His love for Chinese ancient poems was nurtured by his father when they fished and farmed in a village in Pizhou, East China's Jiangsu province.

His father wrote down ancient poems with pencils on the four white walls of their modest village home. The wall then became Ma Baoli's "textbook of Chinese ancient poems".

"I clearly remember the first poem I learned from my father-Mooring by Maple Bridge at Night by Zhang Ji from the Tang Dynasty (618-907)," he says.

Now a successful pilot, he is regularly invited to give lectures on corporate culture to his colleagues by the company's human resources section.

"Like my father, I put a blackboard up at home to teach Chinese poems to my two children."

Ma Baoli says poetry has become part of the family's everyday lives. On one occasion he overheard his eldest child while doing her homework which was to construct a sentence using the word "while".

"My daughter told us that the sentence she made was 'My dad is making tea while reciting poems'. They were the most heartwarming words I heard," the proud father says.

Magical medicine

Another participant of the poem show was Hu Xingyue, a costume designer from East China's Fujian province. She specializes in cheongsam, or qipao dresses. Her two passions share a sense of delicacy and resilience.

When she completes a dress for a client, she'll attach a card with an ancient poem.

Hu's love for ancient poems also originated in her childhood.

"I was living in a village with my grandmother, as my parents had to leave me to run a small clothing business in the city," Hu, now in her 30s, recalls.

Her "companion" in her childhood was a book, 300 Tang Poems, which she got from a neighbor.

As she grew up, ancient poems became a "friend" she could confide in.

"I went to a boarding school, and prepared for the college entrance examinations while my parents were away," she says. "Due to the heavy workload, I was under huge pressure, got depressed and could not sleep.

Hu Xingyue, a costume designer from Fujian province. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

"Those nights, I read poems from the Tang and Song (960-1279) dynasties, and found great comfort in them.

"Through poetry, I realized that many great poets, such as Su Shi and Xin Qiji, also underwent difficult times, when they were banished by the royal court, sent to jail or lost their loved ones, but they always held an optimistic attitude toward life."

During her participation in the show she made friends with people who love poetry, and she was impressed that so many people were influenced by it.

The poetry stays with her, the lines linger.

"Once I climbed a mist-covered mountain, and this poem suddenly jumped out of my mind, 'What do I look like, drifting on so free? A wild gull seeking shelter on the sea'," (from Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu's Mooring at Night, translated by renowned translator Xu Yuanchong).

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The mother is happy to find that her love for poetry has resonated with her child.

"One spring, I told my son: 'You see, the flowers blossom!'"

Her son was 6 at the time.

"I was surprised to hear him reply with a sentence from an ancient poem, 'A myriad of reds and violets reveal only spring'."

Contact the writer at chenmeiling@chinadaily.com.cn

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