With a broad readership at home and abroad, Yu Qiuyu is perhaps one of the best-known Chinese cultural and literary figures in contemporary China on the Chinese mainland and in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and overseas Chinese communities. His cultural explorations linking China with the rest of the world and his bold and direct criticisms of some culture phenomena sometimes make him the favorite of some readers and the disdain of others.
China, very few book lovers don't know the name of Yu Qiuyu. His collection of essays, including Stressful Cultural Journeying, Notes Made While Living in the Hills and Mountain Home Journal, are all bestsellers. These prose works have tugged at the heartstrings of many Chinese intellectuals.
Yu Qiuyu was born in a country village in eastern China's Zhejiang province in 1946.When he was only seven years old, he started helping illiterate farmers write letters and keep accounts. This prepared him for his writing career at an early age--experiences that he is grateful for.
"Judging from the outside, I didn't have a lot of spare time after school. However, these activities helped me to learn a lot about my hometown and my responsibilities toward it. I should thank my mother for letting me know culture is also a kind of obligation and responsibility from which we should not ask for rewards. She also helped me understand the misery and distress our land has suffered, enabling me to work, speak, think and go forward with inspiration from the land. She did all this without even knowing it."
After graduating from the literature department of Shanghai Theater Academy, he became interested in Chinese and world culture research. In 1968, he went to recuperate in a mountain area in Zhejiang province due to bad health. Over the next several years, he stayed at a library there and read through all of the Chinese classics. After returning to Shanghai, he read all the books about foreign ideologists and philosophers he could buy, borrow or find. Thanks to this accumulation of global thoughts, Yu Qiuyu later published many works on drama and art, including Drama Ideology History and Chinese Drama History. In 1985, Yu Qiuyu became the youngest art professor in mainland Chinese history, causing a great stir at the time. Later, he became the head of Shanghai Theater Academy.
Although everything went smoothly in his administrative career, Yu Qiuyu says he could not suppress his inner calling to concentrate on Chinese culture. He thinks China is rich in cultural legacy, but that very legacy is gradually disappearing. He ultimately resigned and started to embark on a difficult journey looking for disappearing civilizations in old haunts in China and the rest of the world.
"I am happy with my decision now. My choice was to find the relics and remains of past Chinese glory and put my own feelings and emotions into my books so that all Chinese around the world would be able to feel them just like I did. I also wanted to visit all of these types of relics in the world and note my impressions about them. I never planned where or when I would stop at that time. I only wanted to go on visiting cultural scenic spots and see them with my own eyes."
Yu Qiuyu visited most of the cultural relics in the country, reaching Dunhuang to the northwest and Guangzhou to the southeast. His ensuing publication, Stressful Cultural Journeying, became a huge hit immediately when it was released in 1992. The book even became a cultural popularization book for the Chinese people. People found something new in his book because he treated Chinese culture from a novel angle. His reflections on Chinese culture and his emotional writing style even aroused the popularization of a new literary style called "cultural meditation essay."
At the turn of the new century, Yu Qiuyu embarked on another journey to visit the cradles of three great civilizations of the world. From 1999 to 2000, Yu Qiuyu drove along with Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV in tow from Greece and visited more than 10 countries, including Egypt, Israel and India. His travel notes and personal reflections of these civilizations were collected into another book called A Sigh in Millennium. In the six months after that, he traveled to another 26 countries alone and completed his book Travel No End. These travel experiences helped him complete his meditation about different cultures.
"You will not know the true face of one thing if you are involved in it, just like you can't get a whole picture of a mountain if you're inside it. I try to understand Chinese civilization through visiting other civilization's relics. I visited all the ancient civilizations. After that, I traveled to 97 European cities and compared their civilizations with ours. Through comparing to other ancient civilizations, I found the advantages of Chinese civilization, but with European culture, I also noticed the shortcomings of Chinese culture. Based on this, I finished my extensive thinking on culture."
This year, Yu Qiuyu has worked on a TV program called Qiuyu's Time for Hong Kong Phoenix TV. In a quiet and poetic atmosphere, he analyzes cultural misunderstandings and discusses hot issues, people and thoughts. He said TV programs, as a transmission medium, inspired his excitement of communication with the audience.
"There must be a reason for the vitality of our culture because it has existed for thousands of years. What I am most interested in is whether it is possible to deduce the reason for the longevity of Chinese culture and its shortcomings to the world. I wanted to tell it in a most easy way that everybody can understand."
In communication with other world cultures, the scholar believes Chinese people should readjust their look at their own culture from an international perspective. This will help them better communicate with the rest of the world in every aspect.
"For a long period of time, Chinese people have communicated with the world in a habitual unilateral way instead of from a responsive way. Now we need real integration and two-way communication with other cultures. It'll be a reciprocal process, one that we are still working on. Before that, we need to have another look at our Chinese culture, which is very important in my view."
Yu Qiuyu admits he is a different kind of intellectual who combines the sensible with knowledge. Although there may be those who don't like his style, Yu Qiuyu's name will be forever linked with the promotion of public understanding of Chinese and world cultures.
(CRI.com December 7, 2006)