“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Famous China Comparisons Continued: Kunming is like the countryside around Rome

Posted: May 2nd, 2019 | 1 Comment »

Regular readers will know I am a great lover of famous men (and it is all men so far I’m afraid but submissions are open from all periods and genders) making comparisons between China and other places (invariably provincial England). Here is a round up of the best so far:

  • The usually erudite and brilliant W Somerset Maugham wrote ‘…the bamboo, the Chinese bamboo, transformed by some magic of the mist, look just like the hops of a Kentish field’;
  • The American comedian Will Rogers compared the countryside around Harbin to Nebraska when he visited in the early 1930s;
  • In the 1870s Jules Verne compared Hong Kong to a town in Kent or Surrey;
  • In 1933 Peter Fleming toured China and compared Chengde to Windsor;
  • He then compared Peking with Oxford for some reason! – gotta love the Flemster!!;
  • Later in 1938 Auden and Isherwood described the countryside around Canton as reminiscent of the Severn Valley;
  • And then during his stay in China during the Second World War the (yet to be at the time) famous Sinologist Joseph Needham compared Fuzhou to Clapham and, perhaps most bizarrely, wartime Chongqing to the charming Devon seaside resort of Torquay!
  • Noel Coward’s excellent comparison of 1921 Shanghai as ‘a cross between Brussels and Huddersfield’
  • EM Forster’s science fiction short story from 1909 called The Machine Stops where he writes, ‘What was the good of going to Peking when it was just like Shrewsbury? Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all be like Peking?’

And now we can add the great French explorer of the Mekong, Francis Garnier, who, in 1870, noted that the city of Kunming evoked the countryside around Rome….he may have been on to something…

Lush Kunming, 1940s…

The Roman countryside….
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One Comment on “Famous China Comparisons Continued: Kunming is like the countryside around Rome”

  1. 1 traffic people said at 1:27 am on May 11th, 2019:

    In 1986-1987, as a student at Peking University, at an exhilarating time when literature and the arts in China enjoyed unprecedented diversity and there was much room for experimentation, I made the acquaintance of several Chinese poets, scholars and critics. Correspondence over the next few years enabled fruitful work together in the summer of 1991, when the cultural purge that had started in mid-1989 had once again raised the significance of the unofficial scene, and demonstrated its resilience. My PhD research thus started with a trip in every sense of the word, during a good two breathless months of interviews with poets and other stakeholders in Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai and Hangzhou, and of collecting poetry publications and criticism, making audio and video recordings of recitals and taking photographs. These things laid the foundations of what has since grown into an archive of avant-garde poetry from China, including that written by authors in exile. Sometimes through correspondence, but mostly during regular research trips that have taken me to other cities in addition to the above – Kunming, Xi’an, Guangzhou, Harbin, Tianjin, Nanjing – I have continued collecting: unofficial journals as well as books, the latter including both individual collections and multiple-author anthologies. This would have been impossible without the active help of Chinese poets, scholars and critics. In addition to informing me of new publications, they helped me identify and locate material from the 19 and indeed the late 19.


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