American Charles Stone loves classical Chinese poetry. He is a lawyer who in his spare time immerses himself in the study of classical Chinese literature. He also writes poetry in a medieval style.
Video and photos by Lin Jianping except otherwise stated 视频、摄影：林建平
A laowai who loves to write
Do you know how to write a 五言绝句 quatrain (a poetic form consisting of four lines of five syllables, with rhymes on the first, second and fourth lines)? You might not be able to believe that such beautiful verses can be the work of a “laowai.”
A 五言绝句 quatrain written by Charles Stone.
There is a “laowai” in Shenzhen who loves immersing himself in the study of classical Chinese literature, and can also write beautiful 五言绝句 quatrains.
Charles Stone at an exhibition featuring works related to flowers in the Forbidden City.
Charles Stone’s Chinese name is Shi Mingxuan. He spent five years in China’s Taiwan studying Chinese, and later studied under David Roy, a prominent sinologist who spent 30 years translating “The Plum in the Golden Vase (Jin Ping Mei),” a classical Chinese novel, into English. Stone received his Ph.D. in Chinese language and literature at the University of Chicago and is affectionately known as “Dr. Shi” by his Chinese friends.
After graduating from the University of Chicago, he enrolled in one of the best law schools in the U.S. where he obtained his J.D., cum laude.
Amazing changes on Chinese mainland
China’s rapid development during the past decades has attracted the attention of the world and also aroused Stone’s interest. With a love for the Chinese language and curiosity about the country’s rapid growth, he chose to work on the Chinese mainland.
Charles Stone during an interview with Shenzhen Daily.
Stone said, “Modern China has changed so much. It is amazing. None of the countries in the world has developed so rapidly in the past 2,000 years and I wanted to know for myself the reasons behind it.”
In eight years since he came to China, Stone has worked in law firms in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. He currently serves as a legal counsel for a law firm in Shenzhen.
In Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, Stone saw different sceneries and witnessed different ways of life and communication. He recorded what he saw, heard and thought in his own way. Every once in a while, his colleagues and friends can read his new verses posted on his WeChat Moments. Sometimes he posts his views on poetry creation on his Douyin (the Chinese version of the short videos platform TikTok) account.
Embracing traditional culture with an open mind
Studying Chinese culture and creating 五言绝句 quatrains made Stone feel content. He said that he particularly likes Wang Wei’s poems and wrote a 五言绝句 quatrain by imitating Wang’s poem “Bamboo-Midst Cottage.”
Charles Stone admires a painting with poems written on it at an exhibition featuring works related to flowers in the Forbidden City.
Stone always communicates with others openly and is not “stubborn.” He said his mentor, Professor Roy, taught him to think independently and speak with evidence, rather than “following the crowd.” He also adheres to this attitude when explaining Chinese classics such as “The Analects of Confucius” and “Zuo Zhuan,” as well as Chinese poetry and novels to his students in the U.S. He told his students to try to draw their own conclusions based on the context.
In recent years, China-U.S. relations have faced new challenges, but people-to-people cultural exchanges between the two countries have continued, according to the American lawyer. Stone said that he has encountered no problems at all living and working in Shenzhen. “People-to-people communication is very important, more important than you think.”
Charles Stone shares his views on classical Chinese poetry with Shenzhen Daily journalists.
When he discovers that his friends have different interpretations of classical Chinese works, he said he is interested in sharing his ideas with them. If he researches and finds out that he is wrong, he will be delighted because he “has learned something new.”
Like most people, Stone misses his pre-pandemic life, when he could go to a café, bar, or go to a friend’s home for drinks and music as he liked. He would improvise a poem, and his friends helped him change it, asking him to change one word or another in the poem. He said that he was happy to occasionally “experience” the living situations of the ancient Chinese.