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The understatement central to British tourist attractions

 The understatement central to British tourist attractions

 

 

 

 

By Cecily Liu

Standing on a hilltop overlooking Cliveden Gardens on a bright wintry day, its dark-green lake surrounded woodland stippled with red and gold leaves and centuries old trees took my breath away.

Cliveden is no famous holiday destination, but a "local park" Auntie Zhao took me for a casual afternoon walk. Located just 30 miles west of London, the 350-year-old stately home and its 150 hectares of garden is a hidden gem that I never heard of during my eight years living in the UK.

As I stood at the heart of this tranquil garden, I understood why the English countryside has inspired generations of artists and writers.

It also taught me a lesson about the British culture of understatement, a certain modesty linked to confidence, evident in Auntie Zhao's casual remarks about the walk, which has become a natural part of her relaxed life in Berkshire.

Despite its history as the home of an earl, three countesses, two dukes and a Prince of Wales, Cliveden is hardly known to the hundreds and thousands of Chinese visitors arriving in the UK every year.

"The English landscape is more beautiful because its beauty is understated," my friend Will said to me later as we walked through a Paul Nash exhibition at Tate Britain.

He pointed out a Nash painting of a pastoral Buckinghamshire scene featuring expansive field of green woodland and golden sunshine in the distance. "This is the landscape I grew up with," said Will.

I looked at the simple painting and reflected on its tranquility which is utterly different from the magnificence of the roaring Niagara Falls or the wild beauty of the Amazon rainforest. The Buckinghamshire woodland does not sing its own praises too loudly but the more I looked at it, the more its elegance came alive for me.

I wonder if the hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists coming to London every year will increasingly venture beyond London, beyond the famous university towns such as Oxford and Cambridge, and beyond the well-loved Lake District National Park, to discover a piece of less well-known English landscape.

Over the years, I also became familiar with British reticence and modesty. I remember a straight-A classmate once telling me he "survived exams" and another friend from Oxford introducing himself as "studying in the countryside".

This modesty also has its mirror in Chinese culture, as I remember my parents' telling me to work hard but restrain from talking too much about my achievements. Chinese culture is full of proverbs such as "good wine needs no bush" and "real gold will shine sooner or later", to encourage long-term dedication to one's chosen area of expertise.

This mindset has helped me to appreciate the English way of understatement. I have learnt that the wild and open uplands in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and the lush and unspoilt meadows in John Constable's beautiful paintings are not just scenes in English history but are very much a part of British life today, waiting to be discovered by every one of its visitors.


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