More China Daily on Xi Chuan [a/k/a “Xichuan”]

None the verseUnder the title “None the verse” (a headline I first found lame, but after a bit more reflection find reveals something interesting about Xi Chuan’s writing) is another China Daily article on Xi Chuan and his career in poetry. It took me so long to find it because it refers to Xi Chuan, inexplicably, as “Xichuan,” but it offers a decent overview of the changes of his work and quotes translations by Maghiel van Crevel (unattributed; go figure), and ends with a decent discussion about the Xi Chuan’s understanding of the place of poetry in China and the world today:

Although Xichuan admits that the Chinese have almost forgotten poetry in their pursuit of material success, he is continuing his explorations as a serious intellectual trying “to influence the quality of life in China in an indirect way”.

One of these experiments is a drama adapted from his long poem Flowers in the Mirror and the Moon on the Water in collaboration with Chinese avant-garde director Meng Jinghui. Xichuan was pleased to see that its non-traditional structure made people think from a post-modernism perspective, an approach they were unfamiliar with in the past. “Even if they felt uncomfortable, it was an important social effect,” he says.

“I have to acknowledge that the past decade has been unfavorable for Chinese poets, but they have far transcended themselves, in terms of new expression, sophisticated rhetoric, and greater growth and solidity.”

China Daily on Path Light

The China Daily has an enthusiastic review by Chitralekha Basu of the recently published Path Light: New Chinese Writing, titled “One for the Ages.” The opening paragraph matches enthusiasm with detailed context:

This is a collector’s item. And not just because of its obvious historical importance. The first edition of Pathlight: New Chinese Writing magazine is a metaphor of the cooperation between Chinese and Western agencies – in this case, the influential People’s Literature magazine, edited by Li Jingze and the Paper Republic team, helmed by Eric Abrahamsen – to showcase Chinese literature to the rest of the world. What an absolute gem this slender 160-page volume is, in terms of the range of voices it covers, some of them translated for the first time. Kudos to the translators for bringing out the varied textures, emotions, cadences and even the visual appeal in some of the lines penned by the featured Chinese writers represent.

The review says less about the poetry: only,

The poetry section features six names, most of them born on the cusp of 1970. These, including the widely translated Xi Chuan, are seasoned, well-honed voices, who have been at their craft for a while, having evolved their own poetic idiom.

I loved the minimalist poems of Yu Xiang, especially the one about making friends with fellow women and then losing them along the way. It’s a very universal theme and quite unsentimentally put across.

I’m also a fan of Yu Xiang 宇向, and of Fiona Sze-Lorrain‘s translations. I have to admit, however, that I feel a bit queasy every time I see a reference to anyone–especially Xi Chuan–in the Chinese press that makes mention of being “widely translated.” Coming from a non-Chinese national such as Basu it’s probably no more than an objective–if relative–fact, or even praise of Xi Chuan’s border-crossing quality. But–and this may seem counter-intuitive to anyone not familiar with the political context of Chinese cultural standards–very often when certain Chinese figures talk about Chinese writers being “widely translated,” it comes with an insinuation that the writer is translated because his or her work is not “Chinese” enough (as if such a thing were quantifiable, or at odds with gaining an international following). Leaving aside the question of whether Xi Chuan is in fact “widely translated,” I’ve encountered situations where people have used this observation to denigrate his work–even when referring to what I think of as his most “Chinese” pieces!