I was lucky enough to attend an event at the recent Oxford Literary Festival that I so enjoyed I thought I’d share some words on it here.

It was a talk by one of my favourite historians, Michael Wood, who spoke about his new book recounting a journey he made in the footsteps of the Chinese poet, Du Fu. The talk took place at the Sheldonian Theatre on March 22nd.


What do you do if you want to write a book about your favourite Chinese poet? Well, if you’re historian Michael Wood, you travel to China to make a journey following in the poet’s footsteps. That’s what this talk by former Oriel College student and current Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester was all about.

Du Fu is considered by many to be both China’s greatest ever poet and one of the finest the world has seen. Born to relatively high status, Du Fu’s life did not turn out as expected, in no small part because he was unfortunate enough to live through what historians see as the most violent and disastrous period in Chinese history during the middle of the seventh-century, a time when the country was overwhelmed by civil war.

During this dark period Du Fu was forced to move himself and his family on many occasions, resulting in a long and arduous journey that lasted for the remainder of his life. It did though contribute to a flowering of his poetry writing and Michael Wood sought to capture the essence of this experience by following in the poet’s footsteps.

The academic’s deep love and respect for Du Fu and his work shone through as he brought several poems to life with deeply felt readings and gave great colour, energy and emotion to his descriptions of the poet’s turbulent life.

The effervescent and ever young academic is a mesmerising presenter, who would quickly have an audience enraptured even if he was reduced to describing how to boil an egg. Du Fu has been a life-time’s obsession and this showed from beginning to end in this talk. It’s hard to imagine that anyone left the Sheldonian Theatre without feeling a strong urge to find out more about China’s greatest poet.










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