Thousands of Chinese tourists visit Great Britain every year, more than from any other nation. The numbers have soared in the last couple of years. What is driving this trend?
Museums are one of the top things associated with the UK, as well as the romantic impression of the country as seen thorough our cultural output - putting London at the very top of the traveller's agenda. The main attractions of the capital - Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and Westminster are so popular that they can even be found replicated in scaled-down versions at theWindow of the World theme park in Shenzhen, Southern China. Alongside London, Cambridge is a main target for travellers. This university town attracts many Chinese investors, and around 1000 Chinese students are enrolled in its prestigious university. Why is Cambridge such a draw? The answer is certainly more romantic than you'd expect.
Inconspicuously placed at the edge of Scholar’s Piece behind King’s College is a curious stone, inscribed with the beginning and ending of Chinese poet Xu Zhimo’s poem about leaving Cambridge:
輕輕的我走了， 正如我輕輕的來； 我輕輕的招手， 作別西天的雲彩
Quietly now I leave the Cam As mute as I arrived; Waving sleeve so slight, lest sky Of cloudspeck be deprived.
Xu Zhimo spent his student years in Cambridge, arriving from China in the 1920s to study at King’s College. He fell in love with the town and in particular its river, and most of all with romantic poetry; discovering the likes of Shelley and Keats. Years later, on departing Cambridge once more, he wrote this poem expressing his sorrow at leaving it behind. Xu Zhimo returned to China to become one of the most renowned romantic poets of 20th century Chinese literature.
His early death in a plane crash at the tender age of 34 cemented his cult status, and his poem Farewell to Cambridgeis now part of China’s national curriculum - an element of every schoolchild’s literary education. When a Chinese student is accepted to one of the world's top universities, such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT or Oxford, this is certainly seen as a great achievement, whereas getting in to Cambridge is seen as the equivalent of realising a dream.
Chinese visitors today, as visitors from all other nations, seek out the spectacular King’s College and to go punting through the river, but their pilgrimage to find the stone which has become a shrine to lost youth sets them apart, and Mandarin is becoming a familiar language echoing across the river Cam.
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