A Poem for You – Yeats2015 in China

The Embassy of Ireland in Beijing and A Poem for You celebrate Yeats2015 in China.

A Poem for You is a well-resourced non-profit initiative to promote poetry in China, run by a company on behalf of a group of well-known Chinese cultural and business figures.  Their main public activity is the release of a poetry recording every night at 10pm on their Wechat account which has almost 2 million followers.  Wechat is the most widely used Chinese social media platform and could be described as a combination of What’s App and Facebook.

In June, A Poem for You released recordings of A Prayer for My Daughter read by President Higgins, a recording in English of When You Are Old read by Ambassador Kavanagh, and a recording in Chinese of When You Are Old read by Baidu founder Robin Li.   The various recordings were promoted by A Poem for You via Chinese social media platforms Wechat, Tencent, Youku (youtube equivalent), and Ximalaya (China’s main podcast app).   The organisation’s reach to millions of listeners and viewers proved to be an ideal platform during the year of celebrating Yeats.

On November 22, the Embassy of Ireland and Poem for You jointly organised a poetry concert entitled ‘When You Are Old’ which was held at the brand new Tianqiao Performing Arts Centre in Beijing. An audience of over 1,000 people attended the ticketed event and over 50,000 people accessed online coverage on the organisation’s Wechat platform which included videos recorded at the event. The Embassy contributed a harpist to the concert pre-event and sourced a message of support from the Áras which was greatly appreciated by the organisers. The Embassy also heavily promoted the event on social media channels and among cultural and business contacts.

Before the concert began, the Ambassador Kavanagh read a message of support from President Higgins and thanked the audience for having demonstrated their great interest in Yeats and Irish culture more broadly.

The 90 minute concert commenced with video footage of Yeats when in Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, images of the major European historical events which shaped his life and an audio recording of Yeats reading The Lake Isle of Innisfree which was kindly provided by Yeats2015. A range of famous actors and musicians collaborated on the night’s poetry and musical performances, the theme of the concert was love with readings in Chinese of The Lake Isle of Innisfree, The Wild Swans at Coole accompanied by ballet performance, and Sailing to Byzantium. A Kun Que Opera performance was an interesting feature of the evening in which the ancient Chinese art form explored and expressed the themes of Down by the Sally Gardens which was then both read and sung.  The renowned Chinese violinist Lü Siqing performed a number of solo pieces inspired by Yeats and together with other musicians performed The Last Rose of Summer. The final performance was an updated version of the musical performance of When You are Old which last year during the Spring Festival Gala Show was performed to several hundred million people and which continues to have huge resonance for audiences across the country.

The concert was followed by a VIP networking dinner for 80 guests including key contacts from government, the arts, business and the Chairman of the Bank of China Tian Guoli.

The event was an excellent example of collaboration with a Chinese partner and The Embassy of Ireland, Beijing in promoting a major Irish historical and literary figure who continues to have broad appeal here in China. Yeats’ work is very well known as his poems feature on the high school curriculum.