By Nguyen Van Tinh
Mr. Peng Shituan, cultural counselor of the Chinese Embassy in Vietnam and director of the Chinese Culture Center in Hanoi, asked me to write a few words to introduce his collection of poems and photographs titled Hanoi Without You , which would be published in both Vietnamese and Chinese. Upon reading the bilingual poems accompanied by beautiful photographs, I was engaged and excited. Throughout the 85 poems with photographs, my soul swelled with emotion, I sensed his intense feelings about love, nature, and the nation and the people of Vietnam, where he lived for some time. I was especially moved by the love he expressed for the landscape, the people of Hanoi and the other places of Vietnam, which are depicted beautifully and sincerely in the poems and described through photographs connected to beautiful memories of his loved ones.
I agree with Chinese writer Ji Jianfang, who wrote in her foreword to Peng’s book that even though Peng is not a poet or a professional photographer, his ability to capture emotion in his poems and pictures could foster a misconception that he was an expert at both. But I disagree with Ji’s opinion that Peng is not a professional translator. Peng graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University with Vietnamese and English as his majors. He has been working at the Bureau of External Cultural Relations of China’s Ministry of Culture. Peng has 20-plus years of experience working in cultural exchange. He has interpreted at conferences, worked with high-level officials from the ministries of culture of Vietnam and China and served as an interpreter for hundreds of exchange delegations between Vietnam and China over the past 20 years. Basically, he trained as a professional translator. He has published poems, pictures and essays in many cultural exchange magazines in China.
Peng’s first tenure in Vietnam lasted for nearly 10 years, from 1993 to 2002. Living and working in Vietnam, especially Hanoi, helped him deeply understand every street, hotspot and every bridge in Hanoi. It also helped him learn more about every row of giant crape-myrtle and Delonix regia in the blooming season. Peng is very familiar with the diverse daily activities and colorful people in Vietnam such as trash collectors, florists and street vendors, as well as special events in Hanoi street markets. Many events and activities are shared by both countries, such as Lunar New Year, Ancestors Day, the First Full Moon Festival, and burning Ghost money, but other ritual activities only happen in Vietnam like the flag hanging and lowering ceremonies at Ba Dinh Square in front of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Even his visits to the National History Museum and other places like Sa Pa, Lào Cai, Hi Vân Hill and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as the Firework Festival in Da Nang, became ideas for his poems and photographs. In his poems, we feel Peng’s intense and passionate longing for his loved ones. Those complicated feelings are connected to his memories of Hanoi’s landscape and people.
Ji’s foreword also stated that this collection of poems and photographs from Peng is a valuable reference for the Chinese to learn and understand more about Vietnam. The sincere, simple and lively feelings about Vietnam in the poetry and photos inspired Ji to exclaim: “Vietnam, I just want to say I’m sorry that we have misunderstood you so much.” I can feel sincerity and emotion in those words. From my point of view, I would say we are accountable if we, who work in culture and information exchange and cultural diplomacy sectors, allow friends to misunderstand and misjudge us. Recently Vietnam has been focusing more strongly and effectively on enhancing international cultural communication. In this context, the book Hanoi Without You is clearly not just a reference for Chinese people to learn about Vietnam, but also a way for Vietnamese people to understand and appreciate Peng’s love for the people and the country of Vietnam.
Vietnam and China are neighbors that share traditional friendship. People-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two countries play a very important role. This channel is no less important than exchanges in politics, economics and security. Misunderstanding and even conflict between nations always begins with a lack of cultural understanding, a void of empathy and a shortage of tolerance among cultures.
In today’s era of global sustainable development, we are upholding and honoring the role of culture in promoting friendship, cooperation and mutual understanding between nations. In the context of Vietnam and China maintaining a good relationship in cultural exchange, the bilingual poetryphotography book Hanoi Without You by Peng Shituan is a valuable contribution to Vietnamese-Chinese cultural exchange.