A documentary on extraordinary life and remarkable academic achievement of 96-year-old Florence Chia-ying Yeh recently opened for limited release in Shanghai.
The film was previously nominated for the official selection of the Golden Goblet Awards at the 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival.
The English version is entitled "Like the Dyer's Hands", which is a quote from one of Shakespeare's sonnets. The original Chinese title could be translated as "the moon reflecting in the water as it is scooped up by hands." The documentary is scheduled to be premiered nationwide on Oct 16.
Focusing on Yeh's lifelong dedication to Chinese traditional literature and poetry spanning almost a centenary, the documentary demonstrates her great contribution and unyielding spirit regardless of wars, social turmoil and family tragedy, including the loss of her daughter and son-in-law .
"Heaven uses a hundred misfortunes to fashion one poet, I think you must have experienced such tribulations before you can understand the poems thoroughly," Yeh said in the film.
She described ancient Chinese poetry as gentle and indirect at the first sight, but proves penetrating and profound once explored.
According to her, the qualities of the genre enable people to be resilient and persevere through times of adversity.
"The brightness in our hearts [awakened by those poems] must be passed down. It is like a pond of lotuses, that even if all the petals wither, there remains the seeds to be preserved," she said.
Born in 1924 to a scholar's family, Yeh graduated from the Department of Chinese Literature of Fu Jen Catholic University in Hong Kong in 1945. In her ensuing career, she worked as an educator, traditional Chinese literature researcher and writer. During the 1960s, she taught traditional Chinese poetry in English at Harvard University and Michigan State University. In 1969, she settled down in Vancouver, Canada, to become a lifetime professor at the University of British Colombia.
However, she was drawn to her home country and asked for the permission to teach in China in the 1970s. The attempt ushered in her great dedication to restoring and revitalizing traditional Chinese culture on the Chinese mainland.
In her later years, she spent most of her time living in China. In 2018, she donated all of her assets (US$5.34 million) to set up the Caleb Ling Fund at the Nankai University in Tianjin to support the research of Chinese cultural heritage.
According to Chen Chuanxing, the director of the documentary, Yeh's idyllic life immersed in the beauty of ancient Chinese poetry.
Professionals in literary and art circles hope that the film can reach as many people as possible so that more Chinese people can understand that they share a unique cradle as the source of their spiritual land.