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Chinese Language

Proverbs | 10

You peng zi yuan fang lai, bu yi le hu! : To have friends coming in from afar, how delightful!

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Zhong wen

To have friends coming in from afar, how delightful
有朋自远访来, 不亦乐乎

Remember the way Mr. Ho Yaobang, the late Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, was greeted by Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Britain, on his official visit to Britain in 1986? Maggie's opening gambit was:

'How delightful it is to have friends visiting us from afar!' Didn't it ring a bell? If Chairman Ho had paused to ponder over the subtle significance of the greeting, he could not have failed to be impressed by Maggie's grasp of the linguistic niceties of the Chinese language. 'Yu peng zi yuan fang lai, bu yi le hu' is a quote from the Confucian Analects and constitutes part of a greeting from Confucius to his flock of students who had gathered from the four corners of the Middle Kingdom -'high achievers' as they would be called today - to sit at the Master's feet, hanging on every word of wisdom from his lips. Confucius, having failed to make it to the top in politics, had then settled down to a life of teaching in the style of Socrates. The first paragraph of the first chapter of the Analects records the greeting the Master uttered to welcome his newly gathered class of students as follows:

'To learn and then review what one has learned, how pleasant! To have friends coming in from afar, how delightful! Not being ruffled when a man finds himself unappreciated, what a gentleman!'- the last remark being undoubtedly a sad comment on his own experience.

I was surprised at the time that neither the English newspapers over here, nor the Chinese Press in China so far as I know, had singled out this Prime Ministerial 'throwaway' line for commendation. To give credit where credit is due, perhaps some Foreign Office backroom boy had done his homework and put in a good wording in his memo to No. 10 as a PR exercise to impress a distinguished visitor from afar.

It seems that not all the moles in Whitehall are subversive, especially when they start digging into the Confucian passages.

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001 reprinted from SACU's China Now 120, Page 41, March 1987

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