Global Times on Bei Dao

Bei Dao Photo: IC
It’s usually best to avoid The Global Times. Nevertheless, they’ve reported on a recent poetry festival in Xiamen, so…

Wearing a white suit and standing at a prominent spot, the 67-year-old Bei read his lines at the closing ceremony on October 24 for the first time in front of the public since his homecoming, except for some small-scale personal gatherings.

Having lived overseas for 20 years, Bei moved to Hong Kong in 2007, working as Chair Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Qilu Xing [歧路行], literally meaning walking in the wrong way, was composed in 2009 in what was his first shot at long poems, before which he only created short poems. However, the writing process was interrupted by a stroke after he finished the 500th line and it remains an unfinished business.

The article also covers a brief and cleansed history of Jintian 今天 (Today) magazine, Shu Ting 舒婷, Mang Ke 芒克, and others. Click the image for the full article.

Heather Inwood at China Digital Times

Heather Inwood (image courtesy interviewee)The China Digital Times interviews Heather Inwood over her new book, Verse Going Viral (University of Washington Press, 2014). Here’s a sample Q & A:

CDT: Your book addresses the question of whether Chinese poetry is a “literature in crisis” in a “poetry country.” Other nations also pride themselves on their poetic traditions but scorn contemporary poetry. Do you see any parallels between the struggles of poetry communities in China and in other countries, such as the UK?

Inwood: The “death of poetry” has been a recurring theme for many years in most parts of the world; China is by no means alone in worrying about the state of the nation of poetry … Equally, in every instance this turns out to be simply not true: people will always write poetry, regardless of who is reading or listening or what other media temptations may exist, and as long as poetry is being written it will be continue to be relevant to lives around the world.

What makes China such an interesting case study is that modern poetry was a part of mainstream culture as recently as the 1980s, when poets like Gu Cheng and Shu Ting were seen as national celebrities–at least among a significant portion of China’s educated population. Up until just over 100 years ago, the importance of poetry was institutionalized through its inclusion in the civil service examinations, meaning that poetry was not just a highly respected art form and way of life, but also a direct channel to employment in the highest levels of the imperial bureaucracy.

This enduring association between poetry and elite society is another reason why poetry’s loss of readership in the last couple of decades has been felt so keenly in China. It also explains the ongoing efforts of writers and critics to expand the social reach of poetry, for example by advocating the poetry of migrant workers (打工诗歌 dagong shige) or championing “popular” (民间 minjian) poetry over “intellectual writing” (知识分子写作 zhishi fenzi xiezuo), as we saw in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Click on the image for the full interview.


Insistent Voices Modern Chinese Poetry at Asia Literary Review

The new Asia Literary Review is hosting a feature on modern (I think they mean contemporary) Chinese poetry. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction by Zheng Danyi 鄭單衣 (translated with Martin Alexander and Shirley Lee):

For us, poetry wasn’t just a social tool or a political weapon. We worked to create an independent literary movement, inspired by T. S. Eliot and other Modernists, and to form a new sense of beauty from Chinese and Western traditions. We wrote in the music of our own southern languages – and edited with an ear for Mandarin. A vernacular approach was therefore also important – what Coleridge called “the language of ordinary men”. This had been a feature of China’s New Culture Movement, which flourished from 1917 to 1919. It aimed, as we did, to build on the literary traditions of the past and to speak directly to a broad audience in its own language.

The feature includes new translations of old poems by Zheng along with Bei Dao 北島, Duo Duo 多多, Shu Ting 舒婷, Yang Lian 楊煉, Gu Cheng 顧城, Zhai Yongming 翟永明, Bai Hua 柏樺, Zhang Zao 張棗, and Chen Dongdong 陳東東.

Click the image above for the full feature.

Julia Lin Obituary

Julia Lin Julia Chang Lin, a scholar of Chinese literature who brought a forgotten generation of women poets in China and a new generation of post-war Chinese women poets to a western audience, died on Thursday, Aug. 1, of complications from neuroendocrine cancer in New York City. She was 85.

At Washington, she developed her skills as a writer and translator of poetry. She spoke Mandarin, Shanghainese, an Amoy dialect (her summer language), English, Cantonese, French, Fukienese (her husband’s native tongue), and a bit of Japanese. One of her teachers, Theodore Roethke, liked one of her poems, “Song of the Crazy Monk,” so much that he mailed it off to the prominent literary journal Botteghe Oscure, which published it. It was Julia’s first publication. Her thesis advisor at UW was so impressed with her PhD thesis that he helped secure its publication as “Modern Chinese Poetry: An Introduction.”

Dr. Lin made groundbreaking contributions to the field of modern and contemporary Chinese poetry. “Modern Chinese Poetry: An Introduction,” completed shortly after the Nixon detente made visits to China possible, enabled her to go to China to gather poetic materials and small literary journals and produce pioneering scholarly/critical studies of modern and contemporary Chinese poetry. Lin became friends with many of these poets, including Shu-Ting, who was persecuted during the “anti-spiritual pollution” movement that was launched in 1983. Among the poets translated in her first book, was Ping Hsin and Lin Huiyin whose short lyric mini-poems were pioneering works in modern China. At Ohio University she helped inaugurate Chinese language courses and, in her courses and colloquiums, she was the one-person Asian Studies department, introducing students to “The Tale of Genji” and “Journey to the West.” After retiring in 1998, she continued to champion the works of women writers in China. Her four books have been influential in bringing recognition to, and appreciation of, Chinese women poets from mainland China and Taiwan.

She is survived by a daughter, Maya, the artist who created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and a son, Tan, a poet and English professor, both of New York City; a brother Ke-Heng of Beijing; a stepsister, Yining Zhang of Lawrenceville, N.J.; and three grandchildren, Ahn Churchouse Lin, Rachel Ming Wolf and India Lin Wolf.

Click the image for the full article.

Inferno Tango on Dissertation Reviews

Dissertation Reviews has posted Dun Wang’s review of Meng Liansu‘s The Inferno Tango: Gender Politics and Modern Chinese Poetry, 1917-1980. Here’s how it begins:

The Inferno Tango analyzes the gender politics of modern Chinese intellectuals through examining modern Chinese poetry from the 1910s to the 1980s. The author focuses on selected poets and closely examines their figurations of gender that refract the construction of modern subjectivity in phases of China’s modernization. To this end, the author combines close readings of poetry with detailed analyses of the larger historical contexts, which include the poets’ biographical narratives and archival and first-hand materials that are excavated by other scholars and the author. Meng’s research focuses mainly on Guo Moruo, Wen Yiduo, and Chen Jingrong among the earlier generations, and more recent poets such as Bei Dao, Mang Ke, and Shu Ting who emerged from the literary activism of Today! in the late 1970s. The title’s central phrase, “the inferno tango,” is taken from female Chinese poet Chen Jingrong’s 1946 poem “Diyu de tangewu” (“The Inferno Tango”), vividly capturing the discursive tension between love and violence. Through sensitive and close readings, Meng fruitfully delineates manifold factors that have contributed to the Chinese poets’ construction of their gendered subjectivities in times of profound national crisis. Meng argues that the masculinity of the poetic canon in modern China was “naturalized and perpetuated by the discourses of love, marriage, nationalism, revolution and industrial progress as well as by the indigenous literati tradition” (p. ix).

Click here for the whole review.

Michelle Yeh on Dan Murphy’s translation of Over Autumn Rooftops: Poems by Hai Zi

200At Modern Chinese Literature & Culture, esteemed scholar Michelle Yeh 溪密 has a review of Dan Murphy‘s translations of Hai Zi 海子 (an early friend of Xi Chuan’s) in the collection Over Autumn Rooftops. A fan of the translations overall, Yeh’s enthusiasm emerges most when she discusses the poetry, as follows:

What readers will find–and enjoy–in Over Autumn Rooftops is a poetry of considerable complexity. Hai Zi draws on a wide range of literary sources: from the Book of Odes and Qu Yuan to Homer and Greek mythology, from canonical works to folk literature. His early poetry suggests influences by his older contemporaries, such as Shu Ting and Duo Duo. His images exhibit a tendency toward the primal (water, fire, sky, earth, fish, bird, seasons) and the sublime (“the king,” God), and he often identifies with village, sun, prairie, and wheat (“beautiful, wounded wheat” [237], “wheat in despair”). His language is simple yet tinged with mysticism, effortlessly crossing the boundary between the inner and the external world.

Click here or the image above for the review.

Chinese Names in Push Open the Window

When I first wrote about the Copper Canyon anthology Push Open the Window, I said, “My only quibble with the book so far is that, while everything is printed with Chinese and English en face, for some reason the Chinese characters of none of the poets’ names made it into the book.” Co-translation editor Sylvia Lin has worked to address this, writing in a recent post to the Modern Chinese Literature & Culture email list:

List members may be interested in a new bilingual anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry, Push Open the Window, the third volume in a larger project of bilingual anthologies of contemporary poetry funded by the NEA. The poems were selected by the Chinese editor, Qingping Wang, with Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt as translation editors.

Despite our objections, the publisher, Copper Canyon Press, chose not to include the poets’ names in Chinese. We are making them available here; feel free to share the list with other users of the anthology.

Shi Zhi 食指
Mang Ke 芒克
Shu Ting 舒婷
Yu Jian 于坚
Zhai Yongming 翟永明
Wang Xiaoni 王小妮
Sun Wenbo 孙文波
Gu Cheng 顾城
Bai Hua 柏桦
Zhang Shuguang 张曙光
Wang Jiaxin 王家新
Song Lin 宋琳
Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚
Han Dong 韩东
Chen Dongdong 陈东东
Zhang Zao 张枣
Qing Ping 清平
Sen Zi 森子
Huang Canran 黄灿然
Xi Chuan 西川
Huang Fan 黄梵
Cai Tianxin 蔡天新
Zang Di 臧棣
Hai Zi 海子
Ye Hui 叶辉
Ma Yongbo 马永波
Shu Cai 树才
Yi Sha 伊沙
Yu Nu 余怒
Ge Mai 戈麦
Lan Lan 蓝蓝
Xi Du 西渡
Yang Jian 杨键
Sang Ke 桑克
Chen Xianfa 陈先发
Lin Mu 林木
Zhou Zan 周瓒
Zhu Zhu 朱朱
Jiang Tao 姜涛
Yan Wo 燕窝
Jiang Hao 蒋浩
Ma Hua 马骅
Han Bo 韩博
Leng Shuang 冷霜
Duo Yu 朵渔
Hu Xudong 胡续冬
Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇
Shen Muqin 沈木槿*
Wang Ao 王敖

* The book prints this name as Shen Mujin; the character can be pronounced either jǐn or qín.