In Scotland, and all over the globe, January 25th is celebrated as Burns’ Night in honour of Scotland’s most famous poet Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns who died at the ridiculously young age of 37 over 200 years ago.
Beijing is no exception. As far as I know there are at least four major Burns’ Night dinners to choose from this year – all offering traditional Burns’ Night menus, recitations of Burns’ poems, pipers, Scottish country dancing and tartan everywhere you look.
Very few Chinese are likely to attend such high jinks, which is ironic as Rabbie Burns is highly esteemed in China. Indeed his poetry is often compared to that of the great Tang poets of the 5th and 6th century. The famous Chinese artist Chiang Yee (Jiang Yi 蒋彝) considered Burns’ works so close to Chinese culture that he said “maybe he was brought back as a baby from China by a Scottish missionary called Burns..”
During the Second World War, Chinese resistance fighters translated and adopted ‘My Heart’s in the Highlands‘ as their official marching song. And because of a Holywood film made in 1940 all Chinese, young and old, are familiar with the tune Auld Lang Syne.
The film, ‘Waterloo Bridge’, starred Vivienne Leigh and Robert Taylor; personally I think it is a rather cheesy romantic tragedy, but it is adored in China and is shown on television every New Year’s Eve. It has even been turned into a Chinese opera as well as a ballet. One of the most romantic scenes in the film has Leigh and Taylor waltzing to the music of Auld Lang Syne
In China the words have been altered somewhat but still express the sentiments of Burns’ original, known as You Yi Di Jiu Tian Chang 友谊地久天长 ‘Friendship Forever and Ever’.
Anyone for stir-fried haggis?