China’s Other World Of Poetry: Three Underground Poets From Sichuan (MA Thesis)
MA Thesis Introduction China’s Other World Of Poetry: Three Underground Poets From Sichuan was completed in October 1993, not quite on the second anniversary of my expulsion from China on October 30, 1991. Understandably, perhaps, the text is still infused with the seething emotions I felt at the time after being denied the life I had chosen in China and in Chinese, and being forced to accept an unwanted life in Canada in English. The text remains unchanged, except for small typographical changes, a few grammar corrections, and the addition of Chinese characters in place of Pinyin romanization. Otherwise, the appendices and bibliographies are entirely absent. As the bibliographies in the e-book China’s Second World of Poetry: The Sichuan Avant-Garde, 1982-1992 are more extensive and relevant translations can all be found here on DACHS, I felt the text alone would suffice. One appendix over 300 pages in size contained photocopies of original documents, but as most can now be found on the Internet (see the Second World bibliographies for web addresses) or here on DACHS, I felt this was also unnecessary. There may seem to be some confusion between my use of the term “unofficial” in the Second World and “underground” or “samizdat” here. However, when this text was written in 1992-1993, avant-garde poetry, most of it apolitical, truly was underground again, after a period (1986-1989) when avant-garde poetry of all sorts was for the most part merely unofficial, but officially publishable. This situation is noted in Chapters 11 and 12 of Second World, and was only beginning to return to pre-June Fourth 1989 circumstances in 1993-1994. Finally, it is true that much of the information found in this text is also in Second World. However, there is also much information that is not, in particular detail of the lives and poetry of the three poets who are the subjects of this text: Liao Yiwu 廖亦武, Li Yawei 李亚伟, and Zhou Lunyou 周伦佑. This said, when there is any conflict between this text and that of Second World, the latter should be considered definitive. Second World gave me the necessary opportunity to update, correct, and to fill in blanks. Again, as with all data on DACHS, I hope the accessibility of these documents in both English and Chinese will encourage further research into contemporary PRC poetry on the part of scholars in all relevant disciplines, but also prove equally accessible to poetry lovers and people in search of a good story. This text and Second World seek to provide the back-story to the growing dynamic presence of Chinese poetry of all types, and the avant-garde in particular, on the World Wide Web. CHINA’S OTHER WORLD OF POETRY: THREE UNDERGROUND POETS FROM SICHUAN By MICHAEL MARTIN DAY B.A., The University of British Columbia, 1985 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Department of Asian Studies) We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard Prof. R. Goldman Prof. J. Schmidt Prof. M. Duke Prof. G. McWhirter THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA October 1993 @ Michael Martin Day, 1993 TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract 3 Acknowledgement 4 Chapter 1) AN OVERVIEW OF UNDERGROUND POETRY IN CHINA 6 Chapter 2) LIAO YIWU廖亦武 AND THE CITY OF DEATH 20 Chapter 3) LI YAWEI李亚伟: THE HARD MAN OF SICHUAN 50 Chapter 4) ZHOU LUNYOU周伦佑: ON THE KNIFE'S EDGE 66 Chapter 5) CONCLUSION: UNDERGROUND POETRY IN CHINA 93 POSTSCRIPT 100 ABSTRACT The details of China's underground poetry movement during the 1980s have yet to be fully documented within or without China. This thesis is a first, partial attempt to do so by way of focusing upon three poets of Sichuan province who were both very active and influential in the poetry underground. A relatively close, semi-biographical examination of these three individuals and their poetry reveals some of the artistic and political difficulties of Chinese underground poets in general, and also brings to light the circumstances of underground poets outside of readily accessible (to Western scholars) urban centers, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The history of the three poets goes up to and beyond June Fourth 1989. Their responses to June Fourth and the results of the repression which followed, both with regard to their persons and their poetry, offer some insight into the future directions and function of underground poetry and poetry in general in China. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT Due to the "groundbreaking" nature of this thesis, many of my sources of information are not accessible to readers. Much of what I relate is based upon personal collections of relevant material and personal communication during the six years I lived in China as a student, teacher and journalist/ editor between September 1982 and October 1991. I would like to thank the three poets (Liao Yiwu, Li Yawei and Zhou Lunyou) for their friendship and willingness to supply me with an abundance of relevant material and information. I would also like to acknowledge a great debt of gratitude to Tang Xiaodu, who as one of China's foremost critics of post-1976 poetry and as a poet himself and editor of both underground and establishment poetry collections, acted as my mentor and source of materials and information without whom this thesis would not have been possible. I have tried to act as more than a mere "mouthpiece" in writing this thesis. To that end, I have translated the bulk of the poetry which I refer to within the text and have also included photocopies of the original documents themselves in the appendices. Hopefully, readers will be able to avail themselves of these materials and come to their own, possibly different assessments of the work and poets written of within the text. The three poets were not randomly chosen, but are friends, a relationship which allowed me access to material and information, and without which this thesis would not have been possible. I also possess a great deal of materials and information relating to a large number of other poets, most of whom are of my acquaintance, but time and space require that I reserve this material for later work. I am, however, willing to share any of this material with interested readers. I would like to thank Professor George McWhirter, himself a poet and translator, for his assistance in rendering my translations into a form that may be better appreciated by readers without Chinese language ability. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the patience and guidance of Professor Michael Duke. This M.A. was begun in 1985 and this is the third version of it to which he has been subjected. In conclusion, I must admit that this text would not have been forthcoming if not for my involvement in June Fourth-related activities in Beijing and Sichuan in 1989. Ultimately, some months after the arrest of Liao Yiwu, Li Yawei, and others on March 25, 1990, I found myself expelled from China on October 31, 1991. Thankfully, my Chinese wife was allowed to follow me to Canada a month later, and international attention was finally centered upon the plight of my friends. It is my belief that this attention forced the Chinese authorities to drop all charges against all those arrested, except Liao Yiwu, in February 1992. (Liao is due to be released on March 25, 1994.) The arrest of my friends and my expulsion from China are the circumstances that made this thesis possible. Otherwise, I little doubt that I would still be living in China today, writing poetry and not writing about it. I have remained in direct or indirect contact with most of my friends and I hope that I will be allowed to return to China after the release of Liao Yiwu. Needless to say, this thesis is primarily dedicated to the poets of whom I write, but also to the many other poets who have suffered persecution by the hand of the Chinese communist regime since 1949. Chapter 1) AN OVERVIEW OF UNDERGROUND POETRY IN CHINA When people think of underground literature under a communist dictatorship, they often think of the former USSR's "self-publishing" (samizdat) network, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Czechoslovakia's Vaclav Havel, and assume that similar networks or individuals must also exist in China. Others may assume that no such literature exists due to the fact that no news of such has emerged from China in recent years. Apart from clandestine reading of pre-1949 translations of foreign works, banned Chinese literature and the occasional poem written by exceptional individuals, prior to the death of Mao and the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976, there was little home-grown underground literature to speak of in China. What little there was consisted of escapist fiction (romances, detective and spy stories) none of which addressed the political situation of the time. The first appearance of domestic underground literature on any scale of note occurred during the so-called Beijing Spring of November 1978 - May 1979. Literary journals such as Beijing's Today [今天] appeared among numerous unauthorized political journals that were sold at Beijing's Democracy Wall and similar locations in other major Chinese cities. Even though they were illegal, these journals were permitted to exist by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for as long as politically necessary during Deng Xiaoping's purge of Maoists from the party. In China, all books and magazines receive permission to be published from CCP ¬controlled publishing and censorship organs. Once such permission is granted, the management of a publishing house or journal receives a "book number" (书号) and a fixed selling price both of which must be printed within the book or journal. Of course, the journals that appeared on China's democracy walls were without these two prerequisites to legality. The term "unofficial" is often used in literature on this subject when referring to these journals. Because they were in fact illegal at the time and were finally forced to go underground when all democracy wall journals were banned during the crackdown on the democracy movement in 1979, "underground" would seem to be a more accurate term for these journals and the writers who are published in them. Today was centered on a small group of young poets who had been rusticated high school graduates primarily from Beijing, and who had banded together in the wake of the April Fifth Movement in 1976. Bei Dao北岛 is the best known and most influential of the Today poets. His poem
[回答] and its refrain "I don't believe ..." marked an important turning point in the history of China's "new poetry" (新诗).
Hitherto forbidden themes of alienation, humanism, a striking use of personal symbolism and imagery, and a pervasive spirit of skepticism distinguished the best of this poetry from the staid, realist verse which after 1949 had been dominated by the CCP-dictated national mood and political ideology.
In April 1980 the Today poets and their many fellow travellers who had sprung up all over China, were termed "obscure" or "misty" (朦胧) poets as a result of their use of personal symbolism and other literary devices not common to post-1949 poetry. Older poets and readers of establishment poetry who did not share the experiences and background of rusticated youths, and whose faith in communism was not yet shattered, found Misty poetry incomprehensible, if not subversive.
The term "Misty poetry" (朦胧诗) was initially used as a term of abuse by establishment critics in essays attacking the poetry of the Today group. Only poetry which praised and bolstered the spirit of the nation (民族) and the CCP, poetry which is of the people and by the people ("the people" here is used in a traditional communist sense as referring to those people who are deemed to be supportive or useful to the revolution or the party), and in the service of the CCP could hope to encapsulate truth, goodness and beauty in their poetry.
The source of this enmity can be traced back to Mao Zedong's in May 1942. Since 1949, while interpretations of Mao's comments have varied with changes in the political climate, this document has been, and is still, held over the heads of all Chinese artists, writers and poets in an effort to have them produce morally uplifting, educational art and literature in a realist mode (socialist and revolutionary realism).
The first sentence of Mao's set the tone for what was to follow in the text itself and over the years since 1942:
The purpose of our meeting today is precisely to fit art and literature properly into the whole revolutionary machine as one of its component parts, to make them a powerful weapon for uniting and educating the people and for attacking and annihilating the enemy and to help the people to fight the enemy with one heart and one mind .......
Mao went on to state: "Our standpoint is that of the proletariat and the broad masses of the people." And "the people", who constituted over 90 per cent of the population according to Mao, were the workers, peasants and soldiers (a holy trinity referred to by the shorthand Chinese term工农兵), and the "... working masses of the urban petty bourgeoisie together with its intelligentsia, who are also allies in the revolution and are capable of lasting cooperation with us." Plainly, poets and other artists were required to fall into line with the party if they were to be welcomed into a CCP-controlled China. During wars against the Japanese, the Nationalists, the Americans (in Korea and Vietnam), in addition to continuous class warfare until 1976, the line that they had to toe was drawn both clearly and conservatively during most of those 34 years.
Therefore, the fact that Today was merely banned and none of its poets arrested and sent to labour camps, as would have been the case in previous years, indicated that some measure of tolerance now existed within the CCP literary establishment. Further evidence of this came in the form of several articles in defense of Misty poetry written by such noted establishment poetry critics as Xie Mian谢冕 and Sun Shaozhen孙绍振.
Bei Dao's was the first piece of Misty poetry to be published in an establishment journal -- the March 1979 issue of China's preeminent poetry journal, Beijing's Poetry Monthly . Several other pieces of his work and that of other Misty poets such as Shu Ting舒婷, Gu Cheng顾城, Jiang He江河, Mang Ke芒克 and Yang Lian杨炼, began to appear in establishment literary journals throughout China in the months that followed.
In Fall 1983, as part of the campaign to "eliminate spiritual pollution" (清除精神污染) launched in order to combat the spread of "bourgeois liberalism" from the West, an all-out attack was begun by establishment critics against humanism, alienation and the use of modernist techniques in Chinese literature in general and Misty poetry in particular. However, by this time it was already too late, the damage the CCP sought to prevent had already been done.
Between 1979 and 1983, a larger number of still younger poets (generally 5-10 years younger than Misty poets) in all parts of China had been reading and emulating Misty poetry and formerly forbidden Western poetry. By 1983 they had begun to find their own, very different voices and the emergence of what has become known as "third generation poets" (第三代诗人) or "the second tide of poetry" (第二次诗潮) began. Other terms occasionally used are "post-Misty poetry" (后朦胧诗), "the new born generation" (新生代) and "the fifth generation."
The term "the second tide of poetry" can be readily understood coming as it did in the wake of the "tide" of Misty poetry. "The third generation," however, is somewhat more problematic in that there are three of four possible definitions of the term. For the purposes of this paper, the third generation is best understood as following after two generations of poets who experimented with modernist techniques in Chinese poetry: poets such as Li Jinfa李金发 and Dai Wangshu戴望舒 in the 1920s and 1930s, and Misty poets such as Bei Dao, Mang Ke and Wang Xiaoni王小妮 in the 1970s.
In part, the rise of third generation poets was a response to what they viewed as the unacceptable dualistic aspect of Chinese poetry -- either establishment poetry or Misty poetry. The third generation's dissatisfaction with both types of poetry can be traced to a pronounced generation gap between these poets and earlier ones. While Misty poetry tended to belong to the "literature of wounds" (伤痕文学) that dwelled on the pains and evils of the Cultural Revolution (CR) which was also the formative period of these poets, third generation poets experienced relatively liberal (by Chinese standards), rapidly changing social environment during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and their poetry was a reflection of this background.
In his preface to a recent anthology of third generation poetry, Tang Xiaodu唐晓渡, one of China's most knowledgeable critics of post-1976 poetry, offers a useful comparison of the different socio-political circumstances and attitudes that differentiate third generation poets from Misty poets:
- Misty poetry was a manifestation of antagonism directed against the unified ideological front that had existed in all areas of Chinese society prior to 1976. The third generation, on the other hand, evolved out of a society on the road to pluralism (in the realm of the arts in any case) that had witnessed the collapse of Marxism.
- Misty poets had limited choices in terms of form and content as a result of the CCP's tight control over culture prior to the 1980s. The third generation, however, enjoyed the possibility of several choices in the environment of relative cultural liberality that accompanied Deng Xiaoping's opening to the outside world in 1979.
- Misty poetry evinced the serious crisis of values in Chinese society in the wake of the CR that had done so much to destroy the value system that the CCP had been attempting (and is still trying) to inculcate. By the time of the rise of the third generation, values of any kind were at best loose or were far removed from the realities of everyday life.
- In the wake of the CR, many Chinese artists attempted to reintroduce human and spiritual elements into commonly held morality as a direct response to the ideological and physical excesses of the preceding years. By the mid-1980s however, morality was rapidly becoming just another commodity, an object like any other that could be bought or sold when the price was right.
As a result of these different backgrounds, the poetry of the two periods also exhibited very different mental attitudes:
- Misty poetry was suffused with humanism, thoughts on human nature and lyrical strength, while third generation poetry put greater emphasis on the primal state of the life of the individual.
- The earlier poets enjoyed the lofty feelings engendered by their pursuit of freedom. The later poets, on the other hand, had to endure the weightless feeling that accompanies freedom attained, even if, by Western standards, this freedom was still of a strictly limited variety.
- Misty poets were brought together by a universally held, healthy spirit of skepticism as evinced in Bei Dao's . The sense of responsibility felt by Misty poets (lacking feelings of shared-guilt, however) was torn asunder by the self-centered, individual nature of third generation poetry that was questing after a deeper exploration of individual circumstances, perception, and language. "Man" was no longer a concept writ large as it had been by much Misty poetry as poets strove to empower the Self with the dignity and respect lost to poetry during the preceding decades, but was now writ small by the third generation, in part as a reflection of a rejection of the romantic-heroic stance of much misty-poetry and in recognition of the insignificance and powerlessness of the individual in China's modernizing state.
- Finally, Misty poetry was suffused with a tragic consciousness that accompanied the poet's revolt against alienation. Third generation poetry, however, was characterized by the sort of empty feeling which results from the acceptance of alienation and from the poet perceiving himself as an outsider.
As free individuals perceiving themselves to be outside all establishment conventions, third generation poets were also free to create or destroy poetry. There were no limitations on what could be written or on how it could be written. Everything but politics, which has been left to establishment poets, was fair game thematically. Any and all forms of diction were now the language of poetry. Standards were those that the poet set for himself based on his understanding of the modern masters (in translation or otherwise) and the often short-lived influence of other third generation poets.
Third generation links with any form of literary tradition are tenuous at best. It was easy to assail the ideological and formal constraints of the CCP literary establishment's socialist- and revolutionary-realism, and to revolt against Misty conventions and style, but much more difficult to locate a literary tradition from which to work out of themselves. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in a great deal of confusion over the importance of literary tradition, the poet's relationship with it, and even over what the term "tradition" actually refers to.
Recently published comments by the third generation poet, Han Dong韩东, are indicative of the unique difficulties China's young poets are forced to deal with:
.....Each writer gets his start from reading. Today, therefore, convincing and authoritative works are naturally translated works. We all feel deeply that there is no tradition to rely upon, the great Chinese classical literary tradition seems to have already become invalid. Actually this is in fact the case, with the exception of the 'great classical spirit' (伟大古典精神), concrete works and the classics have already been cut off from us with regard to the written language. They are of no use to the writing of today. And the so-called spirit of the classics, if it has lost the immediacy of the written word, necessarily lapses into mystical interpretation and speculation. This point is not only obvious, but it is also gladly admitted to by all. In fact, we have already become orphans of literary tradition.
In search of solace, by coincidence everyone turned to the West. In order to strengthen oneself and also to 'move towards the world' (走向世界), how to graft oneself onto the Western literary tradition has become the direction of the efforts of very many poets today. Unfortunately, this effort can only be arrived at indirectly through translated works. In terms of written texts, we study translated works and afterwards write similar things imitatively. Later, they must still be translated once again into English or other languages and promoted to the West in order to capture an 'international market' (国际市场). "...So as to remedy gaps in logic, poets have expounded an illusion: namely so-called 'cosmopolitanism' (世界主义). They think of themselves as first being a member of the human race, only afterwards are they born into a particular nationality and use a particular language in writing. In my opinion this is merely a kind of moral defense and incapable of changing the [fact of] isolation from the [Chinese] written language...
Learning from translated works is the same as learning from classical literature. It can be one of our sources of inspiration. We may speculate about and imagine the spirit, the interpretations and all the possibilities that lie behind the concrete written words .......
Here we find new evidence of what Professor Lin Yusheng 林玉笙 has dealt with in some detail in his book The Crisis of Chinese Consciousness: Radical Anti-traditionalism in the May Fourth Era (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979). Lin shows how, in fact, anti-traditional writers often attacked tradition apparently unaware that they themselves were still within it. In fact, the argument has been made that this behavior is in itself part of that tradition. How, for instance, can the modern Chinese language which derives from and still retains elements of the classical language be said to be entirely unrelated or incomprehensible? And how does tradition become mere 'inspiration' when a poet clearly goes back to it for thematic or linguistic material? Most post-1976 poets, and the majority of educated Chinese for that matter, have read and continue to read the masterpieces of China's classical tradition. That tradition must surely be of more importance and more accessible than that of the West. This state of apparently profound confusion will be further illustrated in a number of poems dealt with in the following chapters.
Han's views also go some way towards explaining why China's underground poets have a tendency to form groups around poetry journals or otherwise. Some groups were loosely based on friendships, charismatic individuals, and general poetic tendencies or commonly held (if not practiced) poetic theories. In the USSR, for example, there was only one recorded attempt to create an underground literary journal prior to the mid-1980s. Perhaps, the continued strength of and accessibility to Russian literary tradition is one of the reasons for this apparent anomaly there, and the lack of such a tradition one of the reasons behind the tendency to group together in China.
However, as a rule, associations of this kind tended to be temporary. Above all, the poet was a free, independent being who moved wherever his spirit and physical circumstances led him -- more often than not, he felt he was alone and speaking of and to himself.
Having said that third generation poets were opposed to the romanticism and heroic stance of many Misty poets, it should be pointed out that this did not preclude romanticism in their own poetry. However, given the much apparent insignificance and powerlessness of the individual and that individual's self-perceived position as an outsider within Chinese society, a situation which in itself lead to the great increase in the numbers of underground poets during the mid-1980s, many third generation poets turned to an anti-heroic stance. Self-assertion remained an important element, but now the focus was shifted from that of the Misty poets upon the human condition and society in general to a focus upon the specific details and circumstances of life and poetry. Individual truth supplanted Misty attempts to speak truth for a generation.
The first of the third generation underground journals were Nanjing's Them [他们], Sichuan's Modern Poetry Internal Exchange Materials [现代诗歌内部交流资料] and Macho Man [莽汉] which all appeared in 1984. Having been published without book numbers, these journals were banned immediately upon discovery by the authorities, not because of subversive political content, for there was none, but due primarily to the illegality of truly free expression and, secondarily, due to an intolerance for the poetic themes and diction of third generation poetry.
However, this form of repression did not result in a reduction of the number of such publications, but in a plethora of new titles as old groups dissolved after journals were banned and then reformed again in the same or new forms under new titles. It was, after all, only a simple matter of searching out a small printing operation that suffered more from economic need than fear of the authorities. Furthermore, it was only a minor inconvenience if the printing was done in towns or provinces other than the ones in which the editors resided.
For example, between December 1984 and May 1986, six of China's most influential underground poetry journals of the time came out of Sichuan despite what were arguably the most repressive conditions for underground poets in all of China:
1) Macho Man, Wan Xia万夏 editor-in-chief, Chengdu, December 1984;
2) Modern Poetry Internal Exchange Materials, Wan Xia editor-in-chief, Chengdu,
3) Each Day New [日日新], Bai Hua柏桦, Zhou Zhongling周忠陵 editors, Chongqing,
4) Chinese Modernist Experimental Poetry [中国现代实验诗], Yang Shunli杨顺礼, Lei
Mingchu雷鸣雏 editors, Fuling, July 1985;
5) Han Poetry [汉诗], Shi Guanghua石光华, Liu Taiheng刘太亨, Song Qu宋渠, Song
Wei宋炜, Zhang Yu张渝 editors, Chengdu, May 1986;
6) Not-Not [非非], Zhou Lunyou周伦佑 editor-in-chief, Xichang-Chengdu, May 1986.
By mid-1986, a small number of establishment literary journals had begun to publish third generation poetry on a regular basis. The latter half of the year was marked by the official third generation coming-out party in the pages of the Shenzhen Youth Daily [深圳青年报] and The Poetry Press [诗歌报] of Hefei, when the Misty poet and poetry critic Xu Jingya 徐敬亚organized [1986中国现代诗群体大展]. Of the eighty-four "groups" (群体) featured, many were in fact individuals masquerading as such (like Beijing's西川体consisting of the poet Xi Chuan西川), or small groups consisting of two or three poets who came together just for the occasion (such as the "New Traditionalism" [新传统主义] of Sichuan's Liao Yiwu廖亦武 and Ouyang
Jianghe欧阳江河). Most of the "groups" were represented by an abbreviated manifesto and one or more poems.
There was a method to this apparent madness, or sickness as many establishment critics later termed it. At the base of all this loud clamoring was a demand to be recognized as poets and to be taken seriously in China.
Unfortunately, not all of the participants shared this goal and the resulting confused array served to obscure some fine poetry and allowed establishment critics to dismiss the lot as immature, talent-poor boors.
During a short period of time in the mid-1980s, it seemed that all the modernist and post-modernist experiments with form and content were flooding from the West into China in a mad rush to catch up, to become part of the worldwide community of poetry once again. The same rush to catch up was occurring in many other areas of Chinese life, "The Grand Exhibition" was merely a graphic representation of the chaos that existed in the realm of poetry.
Translations of recent foreign poetry and new translations or new editions of old translations of foreign classics, both ancient and modern, had begun to flood China's bookstores and establishment literary journals in the early 1980s. Taken together with the influence and significance of Today and Misty poetry, the resulting explosion should have come as no surprise. In 1986, when modernist and post-modernist foreign verse and poetics were being published regularly in all parts of China, a response from China's younger poets was to be expected.
The apparently favourable turn of events in 1986 came to an abrupt halt in January 1987 when CCP General Secretary, Hu Yaobang was forced to resign his post and a campaign against "bourgeois liberalization" in the arts resulted in tight editorial policies weighted against third generation poetry. National examples were made of Liao Yiwu and Yi Lei伊蕾, two poets whose work had been published in the combined number 1-2 issue of People's Literature [人民文学]. Their poems were held up as examples of the kind of poetry that was not to be published in China: Liao's poem was too dark, obscure, and obscene, and Yi Lei's was considered overly lewd.
At the same time, harassment of the editors of underground poetry journals was stepped up. The first campaign against illegal publications and pornography since the 1950s, campaigns that are now annual events, began in early 1987. Underground poetry journals were specifically targeted as illegal publications. During 1987, third generation poetry disappeared from the pages of establishment literary journals, the only references to their existence appeared in numerous articles condemning their poetry. In 1988, however, the cultural atmosphere in China was once again sufficiently liberal to allow third generation poetry to begin reappearing in establishment journals and in books of poetry.
By the summer of 1989, third generation underground poetry journals appeared to have attained for their poets results comparable to those which Today had for Misty poets. The journals had brought third generation poets and poetry to the attention of other poets and poetry critics. This led to limited penetration of the establishment-controlled print media and public discussion of their poetry, and gave third generation poetry access to a broader poetry-reading public.
However, it was not until 1992, six years after the third generation was a well-established fact in China that any attempt was made to introduce their poetry to readers outside of China. The Spring 1992 edition of Renditions, a Chinese literature translation journal published in Hongkong, featured the translated poetry of nine third generation poets under the title of .
Third generation poetry is characterized in a brief introductory essay as a "reorientation ... in three directions [in the aftermath of the Misty poetry reorientation] -- inward to explore consciousness and the subconscious, outward to reveal the beauty of triviality and existential absurdity, and finally upward to encompass the realm of metaphysics and the prophetic vision."
A fourth direction not mentioned here is a "downward" shift into language and the poetic text itself, a trend which began in 1986 and has gained considerable momentum since that time.
One other aspect, which the translator-authors mention only in passing, is what Chinese critics call the escapist tendency of third generation poetry. The authors point out that the "internal" poets "sublimate a reality that is already experienced as harsh and intense," that in the work of "external" poets "depressing reality is side-stepped, its intensity diluted and even dissolved," and that "upward" oriented poets "deal with reality through visionary and metaphysical abstractions." It is precisely these preoccupations that often reduce third generation poetry to triviality and experimental gamesmanship, but it is also this very trend that has allowed their poetry to become somewhat acceptable within the CCP poetry establishment.
Reference to China's "depressing," "harsh and intense" reality begs the question, where is China's poetry of witness, testament or protest? The poetry of most third generation poets bears few traces of extremity. There seems to be little impulse to deal with the personal and social problems rampant in China today, or to address such fundamental issues as human rights, the continuing lack of certain basic liberties such as the freedom to publish or to speak on any subject which the CCP lists as being taboo.
This aversion, this fear of all things even vaguely political in the context of the CCP dictatorship over thought and the arts is the reason why the mad rush to catch up, to be modern and post-modern over the past ten years has resulted in the production of a large number of pallid, forced imitations of Western models. In some cases, however, the adaptation and use of modernist techniques and forms have met with success, but this success is achieved in the context of conscious or unconscious self-limitation which is often embodied in an attitude of neutrality in itself anathema to the true spirit_ of modernist, post-modernist or any other form of what might be considered serious art. Before 1989, there was no poetry of witness, testament, or dissent among third generation poets.
The skepticism, the doubting consciousness, and the spirit of humanism, which permeated the best Misty poetry, have been replaced by some troublesome attitudes. Misty poetry was addressed to the age of the Maoist dictatorship, but once it had disappeared and all that remained was the naked apparatus of brute force, the all-embracing utilitarianism championed by Deng Xiaoping and the re-emergence with a vengeance of age-old traditions and thought to mix with those of the CCP and the West, younger poets were swept away in the flood and unable or unwilling to respond.
Without commonly held beliefs, values and ideals, and with a growing tendency toward a neutral poetic "purity," nihilism and anarchy appear as the overarching characteristics of the third generation. Yang Xiaobin杨小滨, in a critical review of third generation poets, attempted to demonstrate that an analysis of the posture or role, which a poet adopts and manifests through his poetic diction, is proof of political tendencies among all poets. Yang proceeded to suggest that third generation poets fall into six general categories: "rebellious" (判世) and "submissive" (顺世), "escapist" (遁世) and "dismissive" (弃世), "playful" (玩世) and "enlightening" (启世).
Given the highly politicized nature of Chinese society, in which any action or inaction may be judged as political by the apparatus of CCP power, such a system of classification allows a better understanding of the political nature of third generation poets and an explanation as to why they have been faced with such difficulties. It should come as no surprise that the submissive, escapist, dismissive and the more abstract "enlightening" third generation poets are those who are most acceptable to the CCP literary establishment (all nine poets translated in "Post Misty Poetry" fall into these categories, and yet all were or still are underground poets).
The Tian'anmen Massacre of June 4, 1989 proved to be a watershed for China's underground poets. Many felt that as anti- or non-establishment poets they had an obligation to respond to the situation. However, most lost the impulse to act as a result of prolonged, circumspective contemplation during the summer of that year. For these poets, self-imposed silence was the only answer they could muster. While their professed neutrality or revulsion at all matters political was called into doubt, and while they did feel an urge to break free of their hidden shackles, almost all did no more than ponder the issue and their feelings as they shifted uncomfortably under the weight of impending responsibility. After a respectful period of silence, most third generation poets picked up where they had left off -¬habit, social, and material pressures, and fear ultimately won out over their initial reactions of outrage and horror, and pangs of conscience. A number of these poets, faced with their inability to respond, gave up writing poetry entirely.
A very small number of these underground poets, however, gave immediate voice to their feelings (such as Liao Yiwu in (屠杀) parts III & IV), some were ultimately forced to confront the issue after they were arrested during the crackdown that followed the massacre (such as Zhou Lunyou in his [红色写作] and [刀锋二十首] ), and still others followed up on their emotions at a later date, but not necessarily in the form of poetry (such as Li Yawei 李亚伟who participated in the creation of the [安魂曲] video based on Liao Yiwu's in February-March 1990).
The remainder of this thesis will deal with the three poets noted above and examine what made them underground poets, how they developed as poets through the 1980s, and their reactions to the Tian'anmen Massacre. A closer study of the weaknesses and strengths, ambitions and difficulties of these poets will lead to a clearer understanding of what it was to be both an avant-garde and an underground poet in China during the 1980s, and offer some insight into possible future developments.
Chapter 2) LIAO YIWU廖亦武 AND THE CITY OF DEATH
Through me the way into the suffering city,
Through me the way to the eternal pain,
Through me the way that runs among the lost.
These three lines are emblazoned on the title page of the final, revised version of [巨匠], Liao Yiwu's anti-epic poem. Almost all the poetry written by Liao after 1984 takes the point of view of these three lines; all the pain and suffering of mankind in general, of the Han Chinese and the poets of that nation are sifted through Liao's soul and flow like tears onto the pages of his poetry. No other Chinese poet of recent times has attempted such a feat, much less sustained it for as long or so consistently as Liao. Perhaps predictably, Liao's sustained sensitivity lead to a personal poetic apocalypse -- the final two sections of [屠杀] written by Liao on the fourth and fifth of June 1989.
Liao is unique among third generation underground poets in this respect. While others focused on intellectual philosophical details, existential circumstances and absurdities, Liao was developing a poetry centered upon the concept of a universal spirit or soul (泛灵观). Liao discovered within himself a channel to this creator or spirit of the universe, which he mined exclusively and obsessively between 1984 and 1989. Predictably, his themes ranged from the universal to the national and to the highly personalized torment and solitude of the poet-creator, who like the master creator (or master craftsman) is also alienated from his work the moment the process of creation has been completed and written language, like man, takes on a life of its own. Presumably, of course, the creator is not subject to limitations, unlike the poet who is limited by perception, language, and mortality.
Like Dylan Thomas (a major, direct influence on Liao) and Blake before him, the imagery of Liao's poetry is elemental -- of birth, energy, sex, and death. This is the cycle to which mankind has been condemned since creation and which has taken on tragic overtones ever since mankind began to aspire to the status of creator -- a transformation which occurred when man achieved self-awareness or, in Liao's terms, when man emerged from the ocean of his mother's belly. Liao does more than give voice to the dirges that spring from his soul, but also to the songs of his glands and nerves in an effort to free his poetry of what he, like Dylan Thomas, felt was poetically sterile reason.
Liao's life experience plays an important role in his development as a poet. Born June 1958 in Sichuan's Yanting County, Liao was effectively denied a university education as a result of the CR. During the latter half of the 1970s and the early 1980s, Liao worked at a variety of jobs, ranging from common laborer to work camp cook to long-distance lorry driver. He had enjoyed poetry since his childhood and began to try his hand as a writer of poetry during this period, in particular during his years as a truck diver in the Sichuan basin and on the Tibetan plateau.
The quality of his verse and his powerful imagination gained for Liao the attention of a number of respected establishment poets in Chengdu, the provincial capital, where Liao resided at that time. Liu Shahe流沙河 and Bai Hang白航 (editor-in-chief of Stars Poetry Monthly [星星诗刊]) were two of the better-known poets whom Liao asked or who offered advice and instruction. Liao's poems began to appear on a regular basis in Sichuan's literary journals during 1982, and in February 1984 his work appeared for the first time in China's largest and most influential establishment poetry journal, Poetry Monthly of Beijing.
The poetry of this early period was often rooted in the people and places of Liao's experience with titles such as (大盆地), [大高原], [挖笋的人] and [人民]. Liao's style was a blend of romanticism and realism, but recurrent themes of 'death' and 'distant travel' hinted at what would follow. Already there was an interest in the ineffable spirit of the universe:
May perhaps gather in
A rare pearl of the world of man
But is not certain of capturing
The soul of a little blade of grass
Here the reader is given a hint of Liao's future inclination towards metaphysical themes and a tendency to devalue the world of man in the face of the far greater mysteries of the universe.
Far away from Sichuan's teeming basin, on Liao's , the poet is able to vividly imagine the universe as a living, breathing thing where true creativity occurs on a massive integrated scale. The wind howls its prowess and music can be felt to flow from the stars. When "we" (mankind) can hear and feel the universe, then we are also able to become a true part of it:
And then often when we imagine that spring has come, even late at night when a boastful
wind is making a great noise
Deep in the bowels of the earth, we imagine a liquid spring welling up, warmly shooting
through the great belly
The earth's temperature gradually rising.....
We're used to wild notions, used once the high plateau is quiet to
Feeling music flowing forth from the starry mouths of flutes. We believe any myth
We even believe ourselves to be small pieces of sky scattering over the high plateau
The influence of Walt Whitman is evident in both Liao's imagery (the sexually charged forces of nature) and long line. Poems such as , and [祖国，儿子们的年代] attempt to capture the powerful overtones and clumsy eloquence of Whitman's odes to America, progress and democracy.
Whitman's attempt to embody the newness of America and its freedom from the shackles of European tradition in verse appears to have impressed Liao, who like many others read Leaves of Grass in translation for the first time after the CR. At the time he may have viewed post-CR China, where links to cultural tradition must also have seemed tenuous, as being ripe for the visitation of the long-absent creative spirit also sung of by Whitman.
By 1984, on the strength of these poems, Liao's reputation as an establishment poet was firmly established. Prior to 1989, it was the poems of this earlier period that were awarded a number of establishment poetry prizes and were anthologized in numerous poetry collections. Liao's involvement with underground poetry began in early 1984 when his poem [帽子] was published in The Same Generation [同代]. In an attempt to take up the mantel of Today that had finally ceased to publish in 1983, The Same Generation included new poems by the Today poets Bei Dao and Yan Li严力. Primarily, however, this mimeographed journal gave pride of place to the new experimental poems of those who were later to form the backbone of the third generation; Han Dong who went on to found Them in Nanjing together with Kunming's Yu Jian于坚; Wang Yin王寅, Lu Yimin陆忆敏 and Chen Dongdong陈东东 of Shanghai, who later went on to help found On The Sea [海上] and Continent [大陆]; and various other notable poets such as Beijing's Niu Bo牛波 and Xi'an's Daozi岛子.
Liao's poem was a radical departure from his earlier Whitmanesque free verse form. Now, instead of merely hinting at a spirit of the universe which man is only able to get a fleeting glimpse of, Liao has open access to it via the souls of the dead, which according to Sichuan legend roost in the hair of the living. This is Liao's hat and it allows him to surpass time, nature, society and man and wander freely over the earth. The poet gains a new appreciation of life -- life that appears towards the end of the poem in the form of a maiden.
She appears again, but this time as Liao's nearest and dearest companion in his 1984 long lyric, [情侣]. However, now she is the terrible, tyrannical lover who never, not even after corporeal death, releases one from one's vows:
Never ending ..... is this destined to be? Onward onward onward on the solid earth,
until flesh fades away
and the soul continues on, soberly walking on over the vast white continent
O such unapproachable love
was initially published in what was to be the first of four compendium-style underground journals compiled primarily by experimental modernist poets from Chengdu and Chongqing between 1984 and 1987. Modern Poetry Internal Exchange Materials, which also bore the English name Modernist's Federation, was printed in Chengdu in January 1985 with artwork and a quality of printing which matched or surpassed establishment journals of the time. The Chinese name of the journal was a device that the editors hoped would allow the journal to escape the attentions of the authorities. The journal's title indicated that it would be "internal" reading material for members of the Sichuan Young Poets Association (四川省青年诗人协会) that had been formed principally among college students and young poets in Chengdu and Chongqing during 1984. The association claimed to have already elected a president, four vice-presidents, and a secretary, and to possess over 2,000 members belonging to several supporting chapters. The association already had three "poetry research groups" (诗歌研究团体), the poets of which supplied -the bulk of the journal's poetry. Two of these groups, the Oriental Culture Research Society (东方文化研究协会) and the Wholism Research Society (整体主义研究协会), were the journal's primary sponsors (i.e.., financial sponsors), and thirty of the journal's eighty pages were given over to the third group, the Third Generation Alliance (第三代同盟). Later in the 1980s when debate arose over a suitable name by which post-Misty poets might be known, some critics referred back to the usage of "third generation" here as the initial and definitive form. At the head of the section devoted to third generation poets in this journal, the term was defined as follows:
Those who arose with the flag of the republic [in 1949] are the first generation [poets] The ten years [of the CR, 1966-1976] molded the second generation [Misty poets]
The vast backdrop of the great age [post-Mao China] gave birth to us -¬-
The Third Generation. (p.31)
In order to emphasize both the importance of the role of Misty poets in the wake of the CR and the differences between their poetry and that which now followed in its wake, the first eight pages of the journal were devoted to the work of five of these poets (including Bei Dao, Gu Cheng and Yang Lian) under the heading [结局或开始].
A few young poets from outside Sichuan, such as Niu Bo and Haizi海子 of Beijing, Guo Lijia郭力家 from Liaoning province and Yu Jian from Yunnan province, also drew in on the strength of their poetry and their association with local poets. Finally, the last four pages of the journal were devoted to translations of four of Sylvia Plath's Aeriel poems, and an introduction to her poetry and that of the American confessional school by Daozi. These translations, followed in 1987 by Daozi's book of translated poetry by Robert Lowell, Plath, Anne Sexton, and John Berryman, were to have a great influence on third generation poets.
Modernist's Federation and the poetry groupings which spawned it were an attempt by young poets in Sichuan to establish an open and orderly dialogue between each other within the province and, ultimately, between poets similar inclination throughout China. At that time, in 1984, their poetry was still unacceptable to the establishment and yet it was obvious to many that these were the poetic themes and forms that the majority of Sichuan's (not necessarily China's) young poets were devoted to. There was hope that the numbers and orderliness of these poets would impress the establishment, and that the community of Chinese poets would be expanded to include these younger, unorthodox poets in what appeared to be a new, more liberal age. This was not to be the case, however. Establishment intolerance resulted in the banning of the journal and the various poetry groups in early 1985, not long after the journal's January publication.
Liao Yiwu participated in all these activities, but remained as low-key as possible. While his new poetry was not acceptable to the literary establishment, he already had an established reputation there, just as he now appeared to have among China's underground poets. Early in 1985, Liao was given a post in Sichuan's literary establishment at the Fuling district culture bureau in Fuling, a middle-sized town at the confluence of the Wujiang and Yangzi rivers downriver from Chongqing in eastern Sichuan. Liao was assigned to work as the founding editor of a local literary journal to be published on a twice-yearly basis. In the four issues of The Literary Wind of Ba Country (eastern Sichuan) [巴国文风] published before the journal was closed down in 1987, Liao published a number of underground poets who lived in the area. Chief among these was Li Yawei who came to be a close friend of Liao's at this time. Liao also arranged for translations of writings by Freud and Jung related to poetry and literature to be published during 1985. And in 1986, he arranged for the publication of a prose work by Sylvia Plath, an article about her Aeriel poems, and an article about Dylan Thomas and his poetry. By keeping a relatively low profile as an underground poet, Liao was able to work towards the furtherance of their cause within the establishment.
Liao's arrival in Fuling marked a new, richer phase in his life as a poet and in general. He now had the confidence and strength of purpose that seemed lacking in his earlier work. To some extent this must have been related to the status he had so quickly achieved in both worlds of Chinese poetry, but was also related to his love for and marriage to Li Xia李霞, a native of Fuling. In both The Literary Wind of Ba Country's number one issues of 1985 and 1986, Liao published the first two installments of [曼纽尔的音乐] which consisted of Liao's observations on art, life, the universe and love, written in a prose form which bordered on poetry. These writings offer a key to Liao's poetry up until 1989 when he completed a tenth installment (several were published in establishment and underground literary journals other parts of China). Also in 1984, Liao began to write a series of highly successful prose poems which recorded his feelings toward life and fate which his relationship with Axia 阿霞(pet name for Li Xia) seemed to bring Liao in closer proximity with.
In this unending solitude, the tide of love swells sadly up to my ear and ebbs quietly only to several times retreat. To the sound of breaking waves, I drive ever deeper until I enter your innermost being.
Like walking into a land within a land the tempest subsides, without sun or moonlight, I can only vaguely sense the cautious changing of the seasons on a hazardous bluff. Time passes: a century as quickly as a fox's tail -- a flash at the entrance to time's tunnel and gone.
My brief life is enveloped so by your breast, threaded through by your everlasting veins. I become part of your heart, pulsing always, sending this love to you, sending this love to a deeper, distant world
During May-June 1985, Liao completed the first of a series of poetic cycles and trilogies: [大循环], a cycle of eight poems. ends where this poem picks up: an exploration of the life which lies beyond death at the core of all being, a subject Liao first touched upon in the year before. On the title page of the poem is dedicated to the Wujiang River, "my place of rebirth." Liao further expressed this appreciation of his escape from the unnaturally ordered chaos of Chengdu by liberally infusing natural and cultural images of the land of Ba [巴国], of which Fuling had been an ancient capital, throughout -this cycle and much of the his later poetry.
The title page was also graced by the final four lines of Dylan Thomas' sonnet, :
My one and noble heart has witnesses
In all love's countries, that will grope awake;
And when blind sleep drops on the spying senses,
The heart is sensual, though five eyes break.
It is with the heart that Liao will now observe the life of man, for as Thomas intimates (and as Liao also does in ), it is the most acute sense of all: It will still love when the senses warn of the pain and torment that love (and life) must inevitably bring.
In , Liao attempts to portray the cycle-like transition that is the life of individual man. The series of incantations and images that Liao presents, manifest a dramatically positive attitude toward death -- ¬the individual's inescapable fate.
In the first poem of the cycle, (循环柱], Liao introduces the sexual imagery and drive which powers these poems and are to play a major role in much of his later poetry:
The proud city has fallen low, shades of night move into place, the oceans of the
unconscious surge mistily at its island top
--that tall triumphal column standing at the center of the square damply signals a great
achievement at the last
with the epoch of empire building as a backdrop, launch the glorious seizure by force
The blood of man bedecks revelry's totem, odes to the age are merely synchronous choral
An ordinary human face is cast into a strange bronze, dividing equally with Death the
autumnal scenery of the world of man
Congregation of spirits! Unified entity of heaven and hell
My tormented hallucinations are the only hope
Great heaven-piercing devilish pillar, its base is the latent maternal body, the darkness
before my birth
After this powerful beginning, does not proceed to revolve around its potent center, but gradually falls off. If presents the reader with an image of a rigid, forceful penis, then the final two poems of the cycle offer the concluding images and sensations of the sexual act:
The water is underfoot, the flaring old lunatic licks your essence clean away
Take pity on Death!.....
It is a wearying experience, as life must be when, as Liao puts it, "upper limbs are gods, [and] lower limbs are beasts." A series of wriggles, roars, and assaults by a penis symbol are a continuous thread throughout Liao's poetry. Other content, including an even more basic strain -- death -- is often hung upon, an adjunct to, or inherent to this one. Liao divides himself into two antithetical opposites, god and the devil, a pure essence and an equally pure bestiality, within his later poetry. Over the course of where this tendency first appears, the poet attempts to sublimate and conquer pain, solitude, and death as he strives to pass beyond individual, earthbound sensibility, toward the deeper, universal truths of life.
The aims of , a poem which Liao began to write immediately upon the conclusion of , are much the same. However, here the focus is no longer upon the individual, but on all of mankind as the poet sets out to write a developmental history of human existence. Liao attempts to raise the individual's internal contradictions to the level of the nation, of all mankind. Through the life experience of an individual, Liao tries to reveal higher sets of contradictions and the even higher balance between them, the tragedy of death and the
sublimity of life, and the extremities of yearning and weariness, which are what he believes to be the basic qualities of life in its collective, universal form. The life of man, civilization and nature are of a similar pattern that reaches beyond the death of any one individual (or nation, or culture for that matter).
To the surprise of many young poets and poetry critics in China, these experimental poems of Liao's were published in establishment journals. Almost immediately upon its completion in the summer of 1985, was published in Lanzhou's Poetry Selections Monthly [诗歌选刊], and it was republished in 1986 in the pages of Plains [草原], a widely distributed literary monthly out of Huhehot, Inner Mongolia. Parts two and three of were also published in Poetry Selections Monthly during 1986. To many young poets this was a sign that a more liberal. attitude toward literature was beginning to find currency in certain sectors of the cultural establishment, even though these publications were often located in remote corners of China.
Part one of was published underground, however, in Chinese Contemporary Experimental Poetry, which was produced in Fuling, Liao's hometown, in early Fall 1985. After the banning of Modernist's Federation and Sichuan's underground poetry associations, Fuling and a new name for the journal were chosen in a successful attempt to escape the attentions of the authorities. Two local organs were found to act as sponsors (the Fuling branch of the Sichuan Developers of Intelligence Association [智力开发者协会] and the Fuling Correspondence Center of the Sichuan Correspondence University [函授大学函授中心]). A new organization going by the name of the Chinese Contemporary Experimental Poetry Research Room (中国当代实验诗歌研究室) was established by Sichuan's underground poets and took editorial responsibility for the journal. Liao was heavily involved but kept his name off the editorial board. The structure of the journal was similar to Modernist's Federation and primarily the same poets participated in the venture. Bei Dao was the only Misty representative remaining, however, and two poets from Nanjing's Them, Han Dong and Xiao Jun小君, were added along with two from Shanghai. The inclusion of Yu Jian and Haizi allowed this journal the same national scope Modernist's Federation had had. Finally, once again Daozi graced the final six pages with a translation of Allen Ginsberg's , the first published translation of this poem.
Once again, however, the journal was banned almost immediately by the authorities, the sponsoring organizations were censored and the research room was disbanded.
Over the next few months, Liao wrote two sequences of poetry, [白马] and [金翡翠], which continued to explore the internal contradictory nature of man in the search for universal spiritual truth. In May 1986, [乐土], written in late 1984, appeared in the pages of the Chengdu underground journal, Han Poetry: A Chronicle of the 20th Century—1986 [汉诗：二十世纪编年史--1986]. The journal had been 180-pages long originally, but all copies of it were confiscated at the printing plant by the authorities. Only a few photocopies of Han Poetry were in circulation before enough funding could be found to produce a slimed down, 120-page version in December 1986. With the exception of poems by Haizi and Daozi, all the poets of Han Poetry were Sichuanese. There were also thirty pages of theoretical essays in this journal, primarily written by the lead poets of Wholism (整体主义), a school of poetry founded during the summer of 1984. Han Poetry marked the end of the attempt to present a cross-section of Chinese underground poetry in one journal anywhere in China (in 1990, Beijing's Modern Han Poetry [现代汉诗] became the first non-Sichuan journal to make the attempt).
The summer of 1986 witnessed the final shattering of what in Sichuan's underground journals had appeared as peaceful coexistence among China's underground poets. It now seemed that the poets felt that the period of experimentation had come to an end, and a myriad of would be schools of poetry and poetic "-isms" burst to the surface in the form of the <1986 Grand Exhibition of Poetry> orchestrated by Xu Jingya.
Liao appeared in the , together with Ouyang Jianghe欧阳江河, a Chengdu underground poet, under the banner of . What appeared in the as a manifesto was actually a preface which Liao had written for a collection of poems by nine third generation, Sichuan poets which the editors of China [中国] literary monthly had asked him to prepare early in 1986.
Entitled [新的传统], this preface recorded many of Liao's basic attitudes toward tradition in poetry and the role of the poet in China's new age. Liao rejected outright what he saw as a tendency among former Misty poets, such as Yang Lian and Jiang He, and some third generation poets to return to the musty, discarded culture of past centuries in search of enlightenment just as poets of past eras had done:
The art of today is in essence a re-enactment of this sort of behavior. We [write] annotations on mythology, reach deductions based on The Book of Changes [易经] pursue the sense of history in contemporary poetry, do our utmost to exaggerate the effects of literature; in appearance concerned about our country and our people, in our bones all yearning to restore ancient ways. Those yearning to enter make general surveys of the realm of poetry and ten thousand voices converge into one; those who retreat take on the airs of immortals and finger valises in peach blossom gardens, using modernist methods to express a feudal consciousness of reminiscence is one of the obvious characteristics of current so-called 'national' poetry.
.... Old values, old culture, old customs and old modes of feeling have settled as sediment in the national collective unconscious and have formed a contrary internal impulse which prevents us from entering into the century of science. The new tradition is not only based upon the destruction of old forces , but is also rooted in the merciless judgment of oneself.
We deny all that the old tradition and the modern 'pigtail brigade' impose on us, we oppose channeling artistic feeling toward any religion or system of ethics, we oppose the castration of poetry ..... As a creator of art -- the poet, no matter if it be present suffering, blaspheming against oneself, tearful howls and taunts when there are no other alternatives, or songs in praise of life, issuing challenges to death, affirming an adventurous spirit or the courageous questioning and dissection of the quality of one's own people, his life experience, his contradiction¬-bound body should be a unique history of art, a special tradition [in his own right]. For at the same time that he exposes himself, he also reveals the perplexity and inevitable outcome which he holds in common with the age.
That spiritual body which has wantonly lorded it over creation for eons, sprays fresh life unceasingly onto the planet, it is more lasting than any epoch or long-standing tradition. Therefore, aside from yielding to one's innermost feelings and guiding mankind toward the dark sound which has fled into the depths of the universe, poets of new traditionalism do not yield to pressure from any external, non-artistic moral concepts, habits, directives or national inertia.
Ultimately there will come a day when we shall weary, but we can only throw ourselves forward within this, our own tradition.
was more than a preface to a disparate collection of poets who may or may not have shared Liao Yiwu's sentiments (which perhaps explains why China chose to publish it apart from the collection). Rather, it reads like Liao's personal observations on the current situation of Chinese poetry and a statement of personal intent and belief -- a manifesto, but a very personal one.
This article points up the troublesome use of the term "tradition" as referred to earlier in the previous chapter. It would seem that the tradition that Liao is claiming as his own here is the spirit of Western modernism and avant-garde art. In fact, the "new" tradition is an attitude towards art which consists of a breaking away from established rules, traditions and conventions, fresh ways of looking at man's position and function in the universe and experiments in form and style. Liao appears to be unwittingly laying claim to the May Fourth Movement's attitude of totalistic iconoclasm. Yet, just as with those writers, while borrowing heavily from Western sources, he also both consciously and unconsciously remains within Chinese tradition. Liao's later poems feature sometimes-frequent reference and allusion to Chinese history and literature, even to the point of echoing the language and, to some degree, the form of classical poets. (An obvious example being the [天问] poem within .) "Yielding to one's innermost feelings ..." and so on, certainly cannot be considered new attitudes and themes. Instead, Liao's imprecations are directed at the poetry engendered by the CCP and its literary establishment over the past 40-odd years. (A similar attitude is exhibited in some of the poetry of Li Yawei in Chapter III and Zhou Lunyou in Chapter IV. At points in their careers they too undertake what appear to be totalistic attacks upon "tradition," but in fact their attacks make sense only with regard to China's post-1949 literary "tradition.")
Thus Liao's declaration appears to be old news, but in the context of Chinese poetry in 1986, and bearing in mind that what Liao was writing was intended for publication in a major establishment literary journal, his words were both provocative and offered some insight into the attitudes of most underground poets with regard to the perceived "establishment" (a very self-conscious and defensive establishment in the case of China).
In fact, was written shortly after Liao had completed another poem, [死城], to which the manifesto is very closely related.
Liao's pledge of "the destruction of old forces" and "the merciless judgment of oneself" applies more accurately to than to or any of the other poems published together with it in the pages of China.
In , Liao turns against and does battle with himself, his earlier poetry, and the search for roots within that poetry. He takes aim at the illusory ideals of poetry, of culture and of beauty, on the mindless behavior of anti-culture poetry and the crude, utilitarian linguistic creations that were prevalent among Chinese poets of the time.
refuses to accept traditional literary form and writing habits, it strives to shake of the ideological controls of cultural semantics, it uses the suggestive powers of linguistic symbols to oppose the linguistic system of post-1949 social values, and uses the brutality and the magic of the imagination to disassemble and estrange the reality and concepts foisted onto language by cultural traditions.
Liao attempts to wreak havoc at the unconscious psychological level of language and deflate the structure built upon the psychology of traditional culture, as evinced by its aesthetic value concepts and moral ideals. This is done by a series of interrelated phenomena which permeate the text: the fall of the cultural prophet Allahfaweh; acts of incest by the cultural archetype Nü Wa女娲; the confusion of human, devilish and godly qualities; the atrophy of racial vitality; the spiritual damage done by historical holocausts (primarily the CR); the lack of temporal and spatial order in perceived existential circumstances; the violent conflict between the control of language and the imagination; and the latent contradictions between individual expression of free will and the norms of literary form.
The poem has the surface appearance of a city of cultural death: strewn throughout are its crumbling ruins; the stink of historical decay fills the air; everywhere there is illusion, deception, suspicion, jealousy and vilification; its bones are permeated by the instinct to abuse others and to accept abuse from others, and in its blood flows the inherited elements of authority and slavishness.
Liao fragments the logical structure of historical existence by composing from a series of shattered linguistic shards. Language and reality are thereby estranged and this creates a tension and disagreement between the use and meaning of language which then acts to free the imaginative powers of the writer and the reader.
The unconscious of the individual and of the race to which he belongs are both intertwined and in opposition to each other within : for example, the imprecations of "I" directed at Allahfaweh, the degenerate archetypal father figure; the incestuous feelings of "I" for Nü Wa, the archetypal mother figure; and the unconscious entangled relationship between the three. This relationship is reflected within the language of the poem by way of the poet's resistance to and separation from traditional culture (Han Dong's "spirit of the classics" and Confucianism and Chinese traditional popular culture in general) and a similar relationship between the poet's diction and traditional linguistic literary form (both classical and post-1949 realism).
Of vital importance to an accurate appreciation of are the blood ties, or sexual relationships, between "I,” Nü Wa and the imaginary cultural prophet, Allahfaweh.
Allahfaweh (阿拉法威) first appeared in Liao Yiwu's . There he was a totem symbolic of the primitive powers of nature inscribed upon "the cycle pillar" which in turn was symbolic of the intertwined nature of man, beast and god. In , Allahfaweh remains a cultural icon and an imaginative symbol of primitive vitality.
Allahfaweh makes his second appearance in part one of where he appears as the prophet of the evolutionary pattern of human existence. He is a shaman of the spiritual universe, a cultural prophet of great creative power, and is also an archetype of the collective unconscious that is also the guiding force in the poet's unconscious. However, in , Allahfaweh takes on the roles of father ("daddy of my imaginings") and a con-artist (a brothel customer). He drops out of the sky into the hellish world of man and unworthily occupies a place in it. Concentrated in his figure are a devilish nature, a source of lies and sexual abuse, sorcery, authority, and brutality. And “I,” as his "indirect seed" in the dark city of death deep within the subconscious, participates in the entire process of his depravity. When "I" is horn as a result of a magical reaction to his presence, "I" is already old and feeble because "I" is an apparition carrying the original sin of an entire race's culture upon itself. Therefore, "I" is unable to rid itself of the racial blood relationship and can do nothing but write monologues of the soul about the decline and loss of Self as a form of atonement for its crimes.
The life of the individual and that of culture further breaks down into two primary elements: sexual instinct and a certain fatalism. The former- is seen within the poem in sexual role reversal, rampant sexuality, and sexual exhaustion, and is closely associated with the internal mechanisms which led to the decline of culture and history, and the suicidal tendencies of the Self; the latter is manifest within the text by the predetermined nature of decline, the cycle of evil and the crisis of death, and is closely related to the inhibiting nature of traditional culture and self-restraint. The intertwined relationship between "I" and Allahfaweh, and the profane nature of the confrontation between the two, constitute the internal drive of the fated tragedy, which is . When Allahfaweh acts as the symbol of culture's superego and brings his power to bear in an attempt to suppress "I," under the combined pressure of both he and culture, "I" is only able to put off this life and maintain the ability to carry out linguistic acts in this hallucination by way of magical incantations, mad ravings and somniloquy. Viewed in this way, this relationship takes on Oedipal characteristics. Furthermore, the overlapping relationship between sex and culture, by way of sexual role reversal and sexual atrophy, exhibits the impotent state of traditional culture's spiritual life. Finally, the description of the profane sexual relationship reveals the innate nature of the crisis that confronted culture at its very origins.
Nü Wa appears as the object of sexual abuse in a scene where "I" is lured into by Allahfaweh:
Silently I count the inns I've overnighted in during my life. From one to a hundred. Remote ancestors. Progenitors. Great-grandfathers. Mothers. The made-up opera faces of each dynasty all flash through my mind. At the end I discover Allahfaweh, the prophet of Ba People Village, showing his green hand. Disguised as a customer groping his way into an underground brothel
YOUR HAND SIGNALS AROUSE MY PASSION SURVIVING TREES OVERGROWN WITH VINES SEARCHING FOR LONG-DESIRED BRAMBLE THICKETS PIERCE CRACKS IN THE EARTH PIERCE DOOR LINTELS PIERCE BED SHEETS PIERCE FORESTS AND GRASSLANDS A CONCEALED UNIVERSE OF AMBER'S ELECTRICAL WAVES FLOW ON FOREVER STIR UP THE BLOOD CYCLE TWO MIGHTY BOWS SHOOT AT EACH OTHER TWO SEMICIRCLES BITE INTO EACH OTHER OUTSIDE TIGHTLY WRAPPED SUMMER UNUSUALLY HOT SPRAY HEAVENLY BODIES SPEED UP IN THEIR TURNING THE WHITE DOG SWALLOWS THE ELEPHANT THE ROOF TILES BREAK STARS INTO PIECES ALL MANKIND FALLS INTO HELL ALL HELL FALLS INTO HEAVEN SMASHING OUT GOD'S BRAINS WHO'S DANCING MODERN DANCES IN THE GREASED PAN ASS GYRATING LIRE ISADORA DUNCAN'S LOUD APPLAUSE YOU'RE DEITY YOU'RE DEMON YOU'RE A TANG-DYNASTY DIEHARD OR COFFEE SHOP WAITRESS ALL LIVING THINGS ARRANGED IN A ROW ABOVE THE EVERLASTING ABYSS UNCROSSED LEGS FORMING AN ENDLESS URINE-SOAKED CORRIDOR OF HISTORY WAITING FOR THE TERRIFYING PILLAR OF FLESH TO BE RAMMED STRAIGHT IN!
The soil has been tilled my girl your entire body drunkenly limp ovaries and seed in turmoil I say I love you I love you I love you until I suddenly recognize you as my mother until I lift away your ninth layer of skin and discover Nü Wa sobbing hiding within the eardrum-shattering thunder I seize the filthy genealogy and howl wildly I desperately thrash my lower torso like a swarm of bees the curse of eighty-eight generations of forefathers stings me. I shout:
'Allahfaweh! You seducing thief!'
The prophet falls back slipping into the inner room.
Flashing a green hand
By way of hallucination and deception, the worship of the cultural archetype (or totem) of the mother becomes a scene of sexual brutality and confusion. Faith in culture becomes a kind of blind possession, an act of incest and of blasphemy against oneself. Once the mythological archetype becomes the plaything of the will to power, so-called cultural holocausts (the CR) can be looked upon as outbursts of the repressed racial libido.
Within , Liao sets about to destroy the myth of a mutually nurturing relationship between the universal female and male principles in traditional Chinese cosmology (yin yang), exposing the imbalance which in his mind has sealed the fate of Chinese culture. From this point of view, Liao's writing style and choice of subject can be seen as a self-defense mechanism, a battle within himself to prevent symbolic castration at the hands of a culture perceived to be impotent. In this battle, Liao brings the full force of his imagination to bear against his imagined adversary. With this in mind, Liao questions all commonly accepted Chinese social and linguistic conventions -- the old ones and the new ones nurtured into being by the CCP: The language of the poet must be free of all taboos in order to explore and purge himself and the reality perceived by him.
The conventions and taboos Liao seeks to shatter are primarily, however, of somewhat recent vintage: like other younger Chinese poets he has only a superficial knowledge of the classical poetry tradition and, in any case, the scraping of classical form and language for Western form and a more colloquial language had already been more-or-less completed in the 1920s and 1930s. Poetically, Liao writes in a surrealistic vein that often borders on absurdity and by so doing counters the officially encouraged poetry of realism (once 'socialist-', then 'revolutionary-' and now progressive -- as in optimistic and tacitly, if not actively, supportive of the post-1976 "new era" [新时期]). Ideologically, Liao's open sexuality and representations of psychic and physical chaos run counter to puritanical Confucian morality and the love of discipline and order in all things, traits which the CCP have always encouraged, if not required of Chinese society and its artists. Aside from sex, Liao also touches on sensitive political subjects: in , not only does the CR appear as a cultural holocaust, but a11 that came before and since are part of a far greater, 5,000 year-old cultural assault upon the human spirit. In the context of the poem, Mao and Deng appear as false gods who lead a willing people toward grandiose illusions of happiness and prosperity.
The Chinese language of today has been redefined, even recreated, by the all-pervading lies and half-truths of the CCP. Both near the beginning and the end of Liao refers to the agony of personal expression, and also to the type of verbal magic that cannot be expressed by normal language:
..... Unclear who is ghost and who is human, I want to cry out. A troop of frogs leaps up and scurries into my mouth.....
Sadly, she plucks out a tongue the size of an eggplant
She gazes fixedly by the light of the moon
Carved on it are your sins
And the history of a famous city
The first section presents a predicament in which expression is blocked; its premise is the inability to fulfill the desire to cry. Due to a sense of alienation, which comes about as a result of the inability to distinguish between men and ghosts, anything placed in these circumstances possesses a certain magical power, even frogs can prevent expression. These lines are a demonstration of the magic of the imagination. Semantic logic is collapsed by the imagination, and this applies a certain pressure to what follows and, in turn, the entire text. Worthy of note is the fact that these lines appear in the first section of after the magical birth of "I" and against the backdrop of commonly held superstitions about ghosts and other supernatural beings. Therefore, these lines may be a commentary on expression: Only expression can bring about the magical movement of objects and events within the poem into concrete form of universal spiritual [泛灵] significance.
The "she" in the second set of lines is not a spur of the moment imaginative creation. She may be an aged Nü Wa, a castrated "I," the poem itself as it approaches completion, or the poet. Here as the sky is about to brighten and the entire story of the city of death has been rendered into words, the difficulties of expression are about to come to a close. The narration of "sins" and "the destruction of a famous city" can be "plucked" from any place in the text, just like her "tongue the size of an egg-plant." The difficulties of expression are now the unforetold fate of expression, everything is now irrevocable fact as reflected by the content of expression and the concrete reality of written language.
Liao deliberately uses literary forms and a poetic diction that clash with traditional conventions, and will thereby estrange and alienate those who approach the text with traditional expectations of it (i.e.. sequential time line, realism, controlled emotions, selflessness, rationalism, etc.). In an age when China lacks a strong cultural axis, when there is also a massive incursion of outside culture and modern commercialism, the art of poetry is being pushed into a corner and becoming little more than a decoration or a piece of furniture. Under these circumstances, the poet is often led against his will to become a missionary or a sort of spiritual doctor. Beginning with , this was the role that Liao felt himself forced to play. For Liao, poetry had taken on the aspect of a religion in his life. For while can been looked upon as an analysis of the contemporary Chinese spirit, in this poem the writing of poetry becomes a form of self-analysis through which the poet may attempt to purge his spirit of accumulated cultural dross. Poetry appeared to be Liao's chosen path towards personal spiritual salvation in a struggle that continued to be played out in ever more uncompromising terms in his later poetry. This tendency was an offshoot of Liao's earlier poems such as , , and , all of which explored the theme of a spiritual universe that formed the core of all life. Now Liao was working towards a closer communion with that spirit by attempting to destroy all the man-made cultural barriers (be they poetic, linguistic, ideological) that stood in the way. This poetry demanded not only a spirit of sacrifice, but a ruthless introspection of his own personal history and way of life -- his past life as an establishment poet and functionary in particular, and the naivety of his pre-1984 poetry. Under these circumstances, blasphemy directed against all commonly accepted norms and traditions has often been a path toward purity chosen by artists, in addition to being a socially vital form of criticism. In this sense, Liao's poetry is also an indirect product of his personal ideological stance -- of his concept of a spiritual universe, a spirit of anarchy, and deep-rooted pervasive skepticism.
and Liao's later poetry are a very personal commentary on, diagnosis of, and, at times, a prescription for the illnesses of the Chinese soul. But as the poet himself predicted in his preface to the poem, [写在死城的门前], his words would not be welcomed:
...This [poetry] is obviously a far cry removed from rational and lofty human nature. However an artist's sincerity is found in that he doesn't take pleasure from this world, and in that he willfully searches out the entire developing story of a people or even all of mankind. He jabs at its fatal weaknesses and at the cost of his life sounds a warning signal. He reveals the roots of the collective sickness which under the domination of primal, supranatural forces causes people to mutilate and kill each other and themselves.
Manifestations of anxiety, crisis, despair and rebellion ensure this City of Death won't receive a ready welcome, and Liao Yiwu's value lies precisely in this fact. Once a poet achieves universal public acclaim, his artistic life is done.
His poem was welcomed by some, however, such as the Hunan author, Han Shaogong韩少功, who went so far as to refer to as "China's " (there are allusions to and borrowing from this poem in ) and who late in 1986 made use of his contacts in Beijing to arrange for the poem's publication in the pages of People's Literature, China's most influential literary monthly.
In January 1987, was published in People's Literature, but without its preface, thus serving to render an already very complex poem more incomprehensible than it otherwise might have been. No doubt, this was a result of direct references to the CR and the implication that the consequences of it were wreaking havoc still. Other direct references to the CR were removed from the poem itself.
Liao began to suffer the consequences of the poem's publication in early February. The antibourgeois liberalization campaign which began in the realm of the arts after the forced resignation of CCP general-secretary, Hu Yaobang, focused on the contents of this journal and on Liao's poem and three other literary works in particular. Almost immediately, Liao was ordered to "cease work and undertake self-criticism" (停职检查), and his small establishment literary journal, The Literary Wind of Ba Country, was permanently closed down by Sichuan's cultural authorities not long thereafter. Over the course of the next few months, a public campaign of criticism was waged against "The City of Death" in the cultural establishment media where a number of article's appeared attacking "The City of Death" for being overly obscure, depressing, obscene and generally not suited to the social needs of Deng Xiaoping's "new China" (similar articles began to appear again in 1990).
Liao, however, took the situation in stride. He refused to cooperate in his "self criticism" and was essentially left to his own devices while still drawing his regular monthly paycheck at the Fuling District Cultural Bureau. In writing , Liao had already made a conscious decision to follow his own personal muse and to turn his back upon the establishment. Also, late in 1986, Liao had already agreed to undertake the task of editing an underground poetry journal -- a clear indication that he was no longer as concerned about his status in the literary establishment as he had been earlier.
Undaunted by his plight, in February 1987, in February 1987, Liao pressed ahead with the task of collecting what he considered to be the best of Sichuan’s underground poetry during the preceding year for the underground journal, the name of which was to be The Modernist Poets of Sichuan [巴蜀现代诗群]. In a preface entitled [重返家园], Liao called out to China’s underground poets and others to look into their souls for inspiration and to cease dreaming of entry into the literary establishment. He was critical of Xu Jingya’s for appearing as a mere circus act which further encouraged young poets to abandon artistic principles in a mad rush toward the limelight, status, acceptance by the establishment and fortune. Their false hopes and expectations were predictably smashed, however, when the “everlasting hand” of authority closed the door to poetic orthodoxy upon them (a reference to the events which began to unfold within the literary establishment in February):
You must each return to your home.
There is a sound beneath your skin which says this. Since art will not bring you any real benefits, you can only return to your home. No matter whether you abandon poetry, continue to sink down or float up, you must break away from solitude and engrave yourself more deeply into the true circumstances of mankind. Although the birth of figures of permanent stature is often at the price of the silent sacrifice of one or several generations, those who understand and undertake the salvation of their own souls, even if they haven't written one line of poetry, are also qualified to console themselves with the title of poet .......
In early May, The Modernist Poets of Sichuan was ready for the printers. However, the authorities were tipped of, and late in the night after the 1,500-copy print-run was completed, the police descended upon the small Fuling printing house and confiscated all copies of the journal. The next day Liao was questioned, but not arrested. In addition, he refused to hand over the journal's printing templates (claiming that he did not have them) and, with the help of a friend elsewhere in Sichuan, was later able to use them to photocopy a limited number of copies.
Within this journal Liao published the preface to which People's Literature had not had the nerve to publish and the second poem of what Liao entitled the [阿拉法威三部曲], of which had been the first poem. Liao had completed this second poem, [黄城] during the latter half of 1986 and followed that in early 1987 with [幻城]. had recorded the perilous journey of the individual's unconscious through the ruins of Chinese culture; standing upon these ruins is (Yellow is not just a reference to skin color and earth, but also implies authority and orthodoxy), which is an empty, false cultural edifice. Following the destruction of these two cities, the entire accumulation of culture down through the centuries becomes a vacant, unreal . Taken together the three poems constitute an elegy about the life of the individual in China, and at the same time an allegory about the crisis of culture and of life in China today.
The trilogy is not, however, simply anti-culture for the sake of culture; rather Liao takes great pains to illustrate the complicated relationship between the poet and culture. When this relationship is examined within the context of life itself, it becomes possible to overcome and surpass that relationship.
All three poems are concerned with death. The gloomier, self-reflexive and authority's both expose a form of death: the passive death of an entire race. pushes the theme of death to the limit: the spirit, illusions, all possible paths out and the future are all smashed by a series of prophecies within this city of fantasy. Allahfaweh says:
I will disguise my name and live in solitude
Block off access to you all
Until the loss of language, I will partake of the offerings to the gods
The trilogy becomes a tragedy enlarged to encompass all of mankind. In "Yellow City," Allahfaweh says "You are merely doomed insects!" trying to crawl away.
....... WHAT KIND OF STRANGE BEAST IS HISTORY PEOPLE ARE ONLY BODIES AND TAILS UNABLE TO ESCAPE BEING CONTROLLED BY HEADS THE IRRESISTIBLE MOUNTAIN TORRENT STIRS THAT ONE AND ONLY NAME YELLOW EMPEROR YELLOW EMPEROR THE CHAINS WHICH BIND OUR WINGS ARE LINKED THROUGH TIME IMMEMORIAL SYMBOL OF THE CONTINENTAL DRAGON YELLOW EMPEROR YELLOW EMPEROR MUMMY I WANT TO GO OUT
Crawl, but where can one crawl to? In [曼纽尔的音乐之九：神性与挽歌], Liao says of himself that he "was born onto this earth in order to sing dirges." His tears are primarily intended for himself and the death of Allahfaweh, however, and only secondarily for his race and all of mankind.
On the strength of the friendship and admiration of Zong Renfa宗仁发, the young assistant-editor-in-chief of Author [作家], a literary monthly out of Liaoning province in the northeast of China, was eventually published in that journal's February 1989 issue. None of Liao's subsequent poetry, including , has been published in the establishment print media.
After the completion of , Liao set about rewriting during the latter half of 1987. Initially a three part poem written in 1985, Liao now expanded it to five parts, incorporating the subject matter of the three cities of death into its text. Whereas was primarily centered upon Liao's own internal contradictions and inner turmoil, the narration of the historical development of humanity in is made from a more impersonal, comprehensive point of view.
Liao was still in a state of limbo with regard to his post at the culture bureau and was thus able to turn his full attention to poetry. In early 1988, he set off on an extended trip to various parts of China with Li Yawei and Xiao Kaiyu. Liao returned to Fuling in April 1988 with an even more pessimistic perception of what he considered the two major pressures of the times on the individual and poetry: spiritual exhaustion and rampant consumerism. His immediate response was the poem [杂种], the first of three poems that would make up what Liao was later to call [屠杀三部曲]. Liao now began to tear into poets, poetry (likening the writing of poetry to defecating), and language itself, employing all manner of post-modernist literary devices in his work.
Where did the name bastard come from? Did it fall from the sky? It didn't. Is it inherent in man's brain? It isn't. The name bastard can only be derived from social practice, from the practice of class struggle (world war), the production struggle (land reform) and scientific practice (genetic engineering).
To tear out a page from a book is the same as killing a person.
You are not a genius, you are not an ordinary person, you are the kind of person between genius and ordinary.
Go on living.
What are you?
What am I? What is Ginsberg? What is Dante?
What is Li Bai? What is Confucius, Zhuangzi, Mencius, Laozi?
What is Star Wars? .....
[格言], the ninth and final part of , opens with a rewritten passage from Mao's Little Red Book [毛泽东语录本]. Mao had originally asked from where correct thinking was derived. Liao proceeds to turn this on its head in an expression of personal, mental, and spiritual limitation and exhaustion, and an all-embracing skepticism that ultimately calls into question the assignation of meaning and significance to language itself.
In [偶像], completed in August 1988 and the second poem of the trilogy, Liao continues his outright assault upon culture, here turning his attention to the idols and icons of poetry and all forms of mythology. The cultural significance of poetry and poets is dispatched in the opening and concluding poems of ( [巨镜] I & II). Sandwiched between them are a series of four poems equating Mao Zedong with the poet-creator, detailing their wanton acts of creation and destruction.
People are monkeys with ideas, before understanding cause and effect, we must wait for the rotting bodies to pile up into a mountain, business at Death's restaurant is always good.....
..... Remember, sons -- the father who eats himself to death always says this. The devil knows what he wants his ancestors to remember
REMEMBER -- and so we invented language, it is the symbol which waits in our stead. It increases, decreases, decreases, increases, from beginning to end neither too many nor too few.
And, of course, language is the greatest icon of them all.
After the completion of this poem, for almost eight months Liao's pen was silent. As the earlier poems and statements make abundantly clear, he had consciously chosen marginalization for himself and his poetry in 1986. The first two poems of had been little more than elaborations of themes he had first introduced to his poetry in . His poetry had lost the serious and, at times, insightful, and thus constructive, tones of the earlier trilogy and ; and he was no longer holding to the strictures he had laid down for himself and others in and . Instead, and appeared as light comedies of rebellion, bordering at times on mere rebellion for rebellion's sake, and denunciation for denunciation's sake.
In [屠杀], which Liao began to write in May 1989, he is singing dirges once more. During the first two parts of the poem, he cries as much for himself as for others over his personal inability to leap with his imagination and creative ability beyond the travails of Chinese social and spiritual circumstances:
Cry! Cry! Cry! Cry! Cry!
The only person this century to squander his tears
The only person this century to soar beyond mankind obstruct the tide of history
The only person this century with the courage to Crycrycrycrycrycrycrycrycrycrycrycrycrycry!
The only person this century to profane against his own mother, hate his own blood,
curse his own species, mutilate his own friends, shit, soul.. Man of the fields.
Crycrycry! Shattered myth, a wild beast that should be sliced into a million pieces, in
the end your own tears will drown you!
All you can do is reminisce and think, and in reminiscing and thinking waste away
You have no choice but to live as a parasite in a people, a home, a fatherland, a mother, a
work place, a way of thinking, a train-ticket and one fate
No room for choice, like a novel of realism
Time, place, characters, motives, desires and every sentence, all meticulously plotted
Don't dream -- ! Don't dream -- ! Don't dream --!
These damned nights, even my insomnia is planned by a director
Fatalism, self-doubt, and despair lead Liao to question his own motives and significance as a poet:
Are you Xiang Yu? Are you Qu Yuan? Are you a hero who after a thousand and one
twists and turns descends upon the world of man?
Too bad nobody knows you. The fasting, petitioning students don't know you. The capital
under martial law and the soldiers don't know you. The woman who spent last night
with you doesn't know you.
The door of the home you just stepped out of moves far away to avoid you -- you don't
even know you
This is again reminiscent of the tormented, utterly alienated character of "I" in . The second part of this poem concludes with "I" (in this poem "the real you" [真正的你] observing the results of China's cultural catastrophe:
The real you is refused entrance to a hotel because of your accent, stares eagerly at
Tailang, Gangcun, Songjing embracing your sisters as they climb the steps and
enter the room, loosen clothes and undo belts, cherry blossoms and ancient rhythms
induce dreams, your sisters call out softly 'Thank you for your attentions' after being
seduced and raped by foreign currency, jewelry, furniture and top quality woolen
Now three hundred thousand bitter souls in the war of resistance against Japan museum
shout in alarm the devils have entered the city, in our hallucination three hundred
thousand bars revolve, run wild, shatter, like horse hooves sweeping past amidst gun
In and elsewhere, Liao had made the point that one's race was one's fate. "The real you" is to be found there and must share in China's depravity and degradation. This is the ultimate cause of Liao's tears and dirges and, on June 4, 1989, more horrific evidence of the nation's plight further confirmed Liao's beliefs and led to a very different conclusion to than had been originally intended.
Now instead of the slaughter of souls, living and dead, the slaughter of human life and blood lust is graphically dramatized. As symptoms of the general malaise, there is, as always, a solution, but for a people who have already lost their souls:
We stand in brilliance but a11 people are blind
We stand on a great road but no-one is able to walk
We stand in the midst of a cacophony but all are mute
We stand in the midst of heat and thirst. but ail refuse to drink
People with no understanding of the times, people in the midst of calamity, people who
plot to shoot down the sun
You can only cry, you're still crying, you cry cryrcrycrycrycrycry! CRYCRY! CRY!
In this historically unprecedented slaughter only the spawn of dogs can survive
Of course, this was not an "unprecedented slaughter,” for greater atrocities had occurred during the CR (not to mention the results of civil wars and rebellions throughout Chinese history). However, it was unprecedented in terms of Beijing and with regard to student protest movements there this century. From this point of view, Liao's dramatic exaggeration may appear justified. In China, Liao would be classified as an "intellectual" [知识分子], and the students murdered in Beijing and elsewhere represented the naive hopes for freedom of most Chinese intellectuals, if not the rest of the populace. But it was the students who had acted on those hopes, other intellectuals had been largely immobilized by fear and anguish.
Now, as the bastard spawn of a dog, Liao went the next step in his rebel-lion against his fate, a fate which in Beijing had taken on a more concrete form than ever before in Liao's experience, and declared himself a dissident poet.
Other Chinese poets may have written poems to commemorate the Tian'anmen Massacre after the fact, or after they had already fled the country, but Liao wrote his on June 4-5 while the massacre was still being perpetrated. If other poets still resident in China wrote similar poems, they have been locked away in desk drawers or have been destroyed by the poets themselves. By making the decision to circulate copies of his poem and a voice recording of his reading of it, Liao became the first Chinese poet to consciously attempt to use his poetry as a weapon against the CCP regime.
By not putting his name to the manuscript or voice-tape, Liao was able to avoid arrest even though the authorities discovered a copy of the voice-tape in Shanghai, had questioned him, and placed him under surveillance in October 1989.
In early 1990, Liao together with five friends set about producing a videotape based on that was to take the name of [安灵曲]. Apparently, the six of them believed that Liao was no longer under surveillance, for they made little effort to conceal their actions in Shapingba, the suburb of Chongqing where they decided to produce the video. Finally, on March 25, 1990, on the very day the video was completed and ready to be distributed, the authorities moved in and arrested a11 six.
Axia was also arrested initially because she had copied out in her better handwriting the manuscript of for Liao. She was released after a period of one month. The other five participants were held for two years without trial before being released in February 1992. Liao Yiwu was eventually given a secret trial in the spring of 1992, and sentenced retroactively to four years in prison. Currently, Liao Yiwu is confined in a labour camp near Chongqing. He is in good health, is well treated, and, according to recent reports, has been allowed to resume writing poetry.
Liao Yiwu is in some respects a casualty of his era. The power of his imagination and diction, and an unusual sensitivity allowed his star to rise early and fast in the early 1980s. These qualities are the same ones which drew him to the poetry of Dylan Thomas with whom, on the surface, he appeared to share much in common:
Poetry is the rhythmic movement from an over-clothed blindness to a naked vision. My poetry is the record of my individual struggle from darkness towards some measure of light. My poetry is, or should be, useful to others for its individual recording of that same struggle with which they are necessarily acquainted.... Poetry, recording the stripping of the individual darkness, must, inevitably, cast light upon what; has been hidden for too long, and, by so doing, make clean the naked exposure.... It must drag further into the clean nakedness of light more even of the hidden causes than Freud could realize.
These words of Thomas' could just as easily be those of Liao Yiwu prior to the writing of . In 1986, Liao chose not merely to uncover what lay hidden within himself, but to also turn his poetry into a battle ground between himself and the forces of evil which he identified as being the ultimate cause of his own personal and his entire nation's suffering.
Thomas believed that self-knowledge could bring a peace of mind that resulted from a sound psychological readjustment, mental health and a fuller and more valid mode of living. Liao, on the other hand, was reacting to a much more turbulent, perilous environment than Thomas had ever experienced and by his very nature was fated to react to it just as violently as Thomas often did to his.
The criticisms of Liao also bear much in common with those of Thomas. Some have deprecated his obscurity. Others have caviled at his slipshod use of words, at the monotony of some of his rhythmic patterns, and at the limitations of his theme.
In answer to the first objection it must be granted that Liao is obscure, and must remain obscure to all whose emotional experiences are dissimilar from his, though principally so to those who will make no effort to recognize the voices of the body, and to those who demand, from everything they may encounter in life and art, mathematical equation, or a prose equivalent.
With regard to the other objections, the poet is primarily concerned with Man, through birth, copulation, to death, as has already been stated. Life is a limited process, after all, and only human conceit could make it other than it is; so, if the successions of glandular and other physical images seem tiring and unreal, then the sooner those critics turn to the poetry of others, the better. Whatever sort of poetry Liao is writing now, it seems unlikely that his talent will ever throw off these qualities completely.
Life in any poem of Liao's does not move concentrically round one central image; the life must come out of the center; an image is born and dies in another; and any sequence of images is a sequence of creations, recreations, destructions, and contradictions. But in Liao's later poetry he is unable to make a momentary peace with his images at the correct moment: the warring stream drags on until extreme exhaustion or death overtake the poet and his poem.
Perhaps Liao will emerge from his four years in prison a wiser judge of his own abilities and limitations. But this will require some modicum of readjustment to and accommodation with the art of poetry, if not with his social environment and culture in general. Liao is a singular, unique figure among Chinese poets and one who has played an active role in the development of China's underground poetry and third generation poetry in general. At the still young age of 36 (when he will be released from prison in 1994), there is no reason not to expect more and better poetry from his pen.
Chapter 3) LI YAWEI李亚伟: THE HARD MAN OF SICHUAN
Since his release from a Chongqing prison in February 1992, Li Yawei has turned away from poetry and has applied his literary talents to the writing of pulp fiction about the imaginary knights errant and daring bandit-heroes, he once wrote poetry about. A return to his days as one of China's few itinerant poets appears to have been finally precluded by marriage in the summer of 1993.
Li's apparent reaction to his post-June 4 incarceration (he was arrested on March 25, 1990) is in stark contrast with his rambunctious rise as a poet of some acclaim in China's second, underground world of poetry.
Born on March 17, 1963 in the mountains of eastern Sichuan province, Li Yawei began his career as a poet in 1981 during his first year as a student at a teacher's college in Chongqing. Prior to 1984, Li. was introduced to the serious themes and social concern of Western modernist poetry and its pale Chinese reflection in Misty poetry, in addition to those of ancient China and the CCP-era. Like many other young poets of the time, he looked to Misty poetry for early guidance in his craft. By the end of 1983, however, like many others, Li reacted against the homogenization of the Misty poetry style as it entered into establishment orthodoxy minus the penetrating skepticism and all-pervading sense of alienation of its early period. At the same time, in Sichuan at least, "poetry in search of roots" (寻根诗) was gaining popularity among a number of prominent younger poets. This "roots" poetry appeared to many as a conscious attempt to recapture and explore a poetic spirit and tradition, which was already long lost. In Li's eyes, roots poets were trying to pass off as relevant, false gentility and lifeless imagery passively derived from China's ancient traditional culture, seeking sources as they did in ancient mythology and The Book of Changes. Li was not ill disposed towards classical Chinese poetry, for he was drawn to many of its themes (drinking, women and parting, among others, were to figure prominently in his later poetry). Instead of the re-gentrification of poetry, however, he felt it necessary to write poetry in a language and in a style that he and others of his age could identify with Li also reacted against the Western modernist tradition as it was taught in China's schools. In short, Li was infused with the rebellious spirit that had gained currency on China's college campuses. However, his poetic rebellions were focused on the realist-utilitarian tendencies of establishment poetry and certain trends among younger poets. The classical tradition was still a legitimate source of inspiration for one who felt close to some aspects of it. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, there was no call to rebel against a poetic and linguistic tradition, which was already far removed from present day reality. His spirit of rebellion was directed against the literary phenomena of his experience and was probably further heightened at the time by the CCP political campaign to stamp out "spiritual pollution" (so-called "bourgeois-liberal" thought and behavior) in China's schools and literature during the fall and winter of 1983-1984.
It also appears that Li got his first look at translations of the poetry of Allan Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath and other more recent Western poetry during this time. In the emotional explosiveness, unashamed self-preoccupation, and metrical expansiveness of Ginsberg, Li and other young poets discovered possibilities for the creative freedom they craved. Here was a poetic form perfectly suited to their "screw you" attitude towards all forms of authority and the hypocritical morals, values and conventions current in Chinese society. Like Ginsberg, Li also aspired to write poetry that invited a complete emotional and physical participation by the audience. This early poetry sought to release into poetry a happy-go-lucky type of vitality that Li himself felt and which he believed common to all people not yet smothered by abstraction, orthodoxy, regulation, and the antiseptically cerebral.
A further inspiration for Li was the poetry of Carl Sandburg who also had sought to liberate verse from gentility and to speak and sing like ordinary people in his poetry. Into his poetry, Li incorporated colloquial speech, slang and even, on occasion, CCP terminology.
[我是中国] is one of Li's earliest poems of this phase and incorporates the expansive "I" of Walt Whitman in describing a China which in many ways appears to be the antithesis of Whitman's America:
I AM CHINA
But I'm probably a woman
My history is a few lovely years of wandering
I live, to forget my
Belly has just given birth to several sons,
Actually, I am a bad poet turned back by fate
I am the father of science, the son and a lab technician with a monthly salary of forty-five
I am the son-in-law of a big-footed peasant woman
I am the fatherland's present, past and future
I am the yellow emperor, a corpse, but primarily a living person
I am a map of China!
I am China!
I am a policeman's club stuck on this clump of earth a hoe, a pair of big feet or a
There are lots of me's in this earth female me's half me's
All are me and other me's
I am China.
As in the poetry of Liao Yiwu, the spirit of China is a passive, inert thing typified by the female principle (yin), sexually repressed to the point of castration. The poem's humour and tone of self-mockery are recurrent elements in Li's poetry of this period.
During the month-long January-February 1984 Spring Festival school holiday, Li Yawei made the acquaintance of a number of like-minded student-poets (Wan Xia, Yang Li杨黎 and Er Mao二毛 chief among them) in Chengdu and Chongqing. Girlfriends, alcohol., fighting, and wandering were common themes of the poetry of this group, which was later to take the name "Macho Man" (莽汉) for their style of poetry.
[中文系] is a poem that expresses the antagonistic, skeptical spirit of students on Chinese college campuses, but primarily alludes to Li's gang of restless chums: superfluous men in a college setting. Unhappy with the restrictions placed upon them, protest and rebellion is expressed through narcissistic and nihilistic activity. This portrayal finds some inspiration in Ginsberg's allusions to the Beats in "Howl," although Li is specific within his poem about the individuals involved and their experiences are much less extreme than those of the Beats.
Written in the summer of 1984 upon the graduation of most of the Macho Men from college (expulsion in a few cases), [硬汉们] was in some respects the manifesto of this group of poets. Now, no longer trapped within campus walls, they sought direct and complete engagement with the world as “porcupines with poems dangling from our waists / we're dubious characters/submerged drifting masts.” These poets sought to embody the male principle (yang) absent from the spirit of China's culture. Shamelessness and fearlessness were to be their trademark. The self (or selves) in Li's poem is both the creator of conflict and on the receiving end of it. Also, here again the prevailing tone is one of self-mockery. In contrast to the heroic stance of the self in Misty poetry, the self is crushed, collapsed, a situation revealed by the contrast between the insignificant, powerless individual and the monstrous, overpowering nature of the world that he is now entering into. Action and movement are the keys to existence in such a world. The hard men embody an anti-heroic consciousness as they refuse all the modes of existence dictated by a repressive society and dead traditions. China lies passive before them:
Go, and along with the roads choke the whole mountain
along with the trackers for the boats pull the Yangzi straight
with the Yangzi force the sea back
Set, out and see our vast world
see the waste land history has left to us
my hard men
and were the first two poems in the first edition of Macho Man, the journal, published clandestinely in Chengdu, December 1984. By this time, the Macho Men were scattered throughout the province, isolated from one another by the bureaucratic, authoritative nature of a society in which employment is assigned to students upon graduation from college.
[困兽] and [盲虎], two poems written by Li during 1985, capture a new, humorless sense of isolated, uncomprehending powerlessness which descended upon hi during his first year as a high school music teacher in a remote mountainous corner of eastern Sichuan.
It was no coincidence that was written during school summer vacation in 1985: "In flight he feels free." Aside from ridiculing himself and his attempts to ward off unreasonable manipulation by society, poetry was also an important form of self-affirmation for Li when not together with his fellow Macho Men. But Li was also well aware of the dangers that lay in store for him and others of his kind in China:
His fur brushes against brambles and past, behind there is a roar of rifles being cocked
is an expression of Li's belief that a person has no roots, that there is no true spiritual home, only life and movement within its never-ending stream. Ultimately death is the final and only repose.
In keeping with this theme, after graduation in 1984, Li Yawei began to introduce new subjects into his poetry which offered imaginative escape and freedom from China's social reality, while at the same time still commenting obliquely and humorously upon it. Now his most common themes were of knights-errant, daring bandits and famous classical Chinese poets, in addition to those of wandering, sex, and alcohol, all but sex being traditional themes inspired by popular romance novels or classical poetry. The knights, bandits, and poets offered Li some modicum of comfort and companionship now that he was isolated from his old Macho Man friends for much of the year.
Li would wander into ancient China and from there in satirical visions comment caustically on the present day:
This group of horse riding
Intellectuals wandering about in antiquity
Occasionally carry their pens in supplication to the emperor and frolic before him
Raise intricately rhymed opinions
Sometimes accepted, the land is at peace
Most of the time they become the esteemed forerunners of rightists
Li's criticism is intended as a negation of various aspects of tradition, not of culture per se. He is attracted to poets, such as Tao Yuanming and Li Bai:
Old Tao, for a long time now braised fish hasn't been a dish to eat while drinking strong
Now even those who love us only drink beer
My verse stops at the riverside and is weeping after antiquity
In this poem, [古代朋友], Li harks back to an age when poetry and poets were of greater value than they are today. Li grieves over the commercialized, depersonalized nature and forms of contemporary literature (and life):
Are you dead, Tao Yuanming
Afterwards your poetry was clothbound by a commercial print house
Your poems are dissected by old men in universities
As a poet, whose work, at the time, was circulated exclusively in underground publications and was finding a broad, enthusiastic audience, Li was confident that he would not suffer a similar fate:
But my poetry will push all this aside
Entitled as a district magistrate, my verse is commanding armies to march south
Li's lament over commercialism and the crude sensibilities of modern Chinese, takes a cue of sorts from Ginsberg's and Ginsberg's despair over Whitman's "lost America of love":
Tao Yuanming oh Tao Yuanming I have no money tonight
This evening my lines are searching for the fisherman by the river
Li harks after the untroubled, idyllic visions of man in harmony with the universe as portrayed in Tao's pastoral verse. The fisherman is the one that Tao writes of as having travelled to the [桃花源记] who after once having found it and left, is never able to return: only rumor of and longing after that place remains for those without. Li, like Tao before him, is left on the banks of the stream of life (a recurrent image in Li's poetry) looking towards its far-off source. In the end, for Li, all that is left are melancholy tears in recognition of the great distance that lies between he and that spring, and his soul mate, Tao.
After over sixty years of exorcism by the CCP and their predecessors, China's traditional culture can only reappear in the disembodied, absurd forms that it does in Li's verse. But while the forms may be different, the message, on occasion, may be the same.
As previously mentioned, the Macho Man poets had essentially disbanded as a group by December 1984. During 1985, together with Er Mao who also worked in the same remote area where Li had been posted, Li put together two further underground collections of Macho Man poetry, in addition to a personal collection that also used the Macho Man name.
In that same year, Liao Yiwu, editor of Fuling's Literary Wind of Ba County, published Li's [穷途] in his journal's inaugural issue. This was the first publication of Li's poetry in an establishment journal.
In January 1986, Liao's journal also published and . April of that year saw published in Guandong Literature [关东文学], a regional monthly published out of Liaoyuan in the northeastern province of Jilin. And, in October 1986, was again published in the nationally circulated Beijing literary monthly, China.
Furthermore, also in the fall of 1986, Li Yawei and other Macho Man poets were featured in Xu Jingya's . By that time, Macho Man had already ceased to exist as a coherent group much less an "-ism." However, Li agreed to write a short manifesto entitled [莽汉主义宣言] and a number of Macho Man poems written in 1984, including Li's , were published together with it as representative works.
The establishment publication of Li's work and of that of other Macho Man poets and other third generation poets who wrote colloquial language poetry during 1986, was a clear indication to Li that, to some extent, Macho Man had already become acceptable to the poetry establishment. He recognized that Macho Man was not a school of poetry (although some north-eastern practitioners of Macho Man claimed that it was) or even a loose grouping of poets (as it still appeared to be within ).
In December 1986, Li wrote [莽汉手段], a retrospective review of Macho Man poets and poetry initially published in The Modernist Poets of Sichuan, the underground journal published by Liao Yiwu in the spring of 1987, and once more later on that year in Guandong Literature. Li stated that far from being any sort of "-ism," Macho Man was in fact no more than an attitude towards life, it was poetry written purely as self-affirmation and self-valuation. Of more lasting value, according to Li, was a "language which destroys language" (the language destroyed being that of post-1949 lyricism) and the introduction into Chinese poetry of a youthful language of action, brute force and alarming, even if superficial, frankness.
It was in recognition of this last statement that Li was invited to submit poetry to another Sichuan underground poetry journal, Not-Not, published by Zhou Lunyou in Xichang in the west of the province, in the spring of 1986 and once again in 1987. Not-Not specialized in publishing poetry that assaulted the linguistic and value systems current in China. Li Yawei's poetry had also appeared in three other widely circulated Sichuan underground journals during 1985-1986. Aside from Guandong Literature, The Literary Wind of Ba Country, and China, however, no other establishment literary journals showed an interest in publishing Li’s work at that time.
The situation was to be somewhat different with regard to poetry anthologies published by establishment printing houses, however. Between 1988 and 1990, Li Yawei's earlier work, primarily that written between 1984-1986, was published in at least six anthologies of contemporary Chinese experimental poetry (exploratory, avant-garde, third generation, and post-Misty were other frequently used terms). The reason for this discrepancy within the cultural establishment might lie in that literary journals are more tightly controlled, and that their editorial boards are manned by more elderly, conservative individuals than those of publishing houses. In addition, the 1980s witnessed the founding of many new publishing houses, while the number of nationally and regionally circulated literary journals has remained static, if in fact their number has not been reduced.
Certainly, the introduction of "market socialism" has had its impact on state-owned literary journals and publishing in general. Since the mid-1980s, most literary journals have been forced to carry advertising and seek to earn operating capital in other ways due to diminishing state-subsidies. For example, beginning in 1986, Guandong Literature began to devote its odd-numbered monthly issues to popular pulp fiction, while even-numbered months were devoted to serious literature by young writers -- publishing serious literature alone threatened the journal's viability, according to Zong Renfa, then editor-in-chief. The closure of a number of national and local literary journals was, perhaps, inevitable, although, the 1987 closures of China and The Literary Wind of Ba Country for political reasons are clear exceptions.
The popularity of recent poetry is perhaps best gauged by the willingness of publishing houses to publish collections of poetry and the size of print runs. The popularity of Misty poetry was attested to by the success of its first official anthology, Misty Poetry Selections [朦胧诗选]: its first printing in November 1985 numbered 135,501 copies, and by the fifth reprint in April 1987, the print run had grown to 192,500. By comparison, the July 1992 first printing of The Happy Dance of Corduroy --¬Post-Misty Poetry Selections [灯芯绒幸福的舞蹈—后朦胧诗选萃] was accorded a run of only 30,500 copies by the Beijing Teacher's University Press. The prices of the two books, both being roughly the same size and length, are more or less equal once inflation and the rise in general income during the intervening period are taken into account. It should be pointed out that the majority of recent post-Misty poetry anthologies have print runs of well under 30,000 and none have yet found a large enough market to require reprinting.
The year 1987 began badly for Li Yawei, as it did for many other underground poets in Sichuan, as a result of the province-wide crackdown on "bourgeois-liberal" thought and culture following nationwide student demonstrations in December 1986 - January 1987. Li was questioned and required to make self-criticisms with regard to his underground poetry activities. He refused to cooperate and was ultimately suspended -- with pay, however -- from his teaching post.
Li took full advantage of what was otherwise newfound freedom to wander throughout China on a more-or-less full-time basis. He was able to do so because there were a number of fans of his poetry willing to help him in anyway they could.
Perhaps Li's best friend in this sense was Zong Renfa, initially the editor-in-chief of Guandong Literature, who did all that he could to arrange for the publication of Li's poetry in northeastern establishment journals. Macho Man poetry grew to have a large following in the northeast partly as a result of Zong's efforts on behalf of Li and other Macho Man poets. Zong saw to it that Li's work was published in at least four issues of Guandong Literature between 1986 and 1988. And in 1988, when Zong transferred to Changchun, the capital of Jilin province, to take on the post of assistant editor-in-chief of Author, a nationally circulated literary monthly, he saw to it that Li's poetry continued to be published on a regular basis in that journal.
During 1987, Li Yawei all but ceased to write poetry of the initial Macho Man variety. Now, while retaining many of the themes of his earlier poetry, he turned his hand to lyric poetry of more traditional thematic nature. The tone of bitterness and melancholy, which had already entered into poems such as , became more prominent. At the same time, Li seemed to be more at peace with himself and his poetry, if still feeling as much alone and alienated from both current poetic trends and society as before. The youthful optimism and spiritual vigour, which had been so prominent in his early work, had now been replaced by a tone of disappointed resignation.
In May 1989, Li was awarded one of five poetry prizes for works published in Author during 1987-1988, for a collection of lyric verse entitled [峡谷酒店]. [酒店] and [我站着的时候] are examples from this set of six poems of a new theme about: a strange, bitter kind of love addressed to women who are no longer present or women who were never there. In , the innkeeper (a woman, perhaps Sun Erniang孙二娘) of his imagination (or his muse) is a bridge to the spirit of ancient China, of China when it was culturally strong, virile and at peace with itself. Alcohol is merely a sedative which blocks out harsh reality, a process that lays the wounded spirit bare and allows it bleed outwards as poetry.
Again, in , "you" is a shy would-be lover. Once in a "private accord" the two of them, the poet and his muse, will stand in full view of each other by the river that is the stream of life. This almost perfect union, given the always-unfortunate fact that they cannot be together in it, is denied, for "you" is not there. All that there is to see is a vast wasteland. This appears to be yet another reference to the spiritual and cultural wasteland which Li considers today's China to be. As a recurrent reference it appears in the concluding lines of , ("Set out and see our vast world/See the wasteland history has left to us"), and again here in [酒聊] ("The place of my birth/Has long been absolutely drained").
In [世界拥挤], Li is again by the river, this time near a dock where people crowd down into the mad rush of the world from off the boat that sails upon it. Stairs down the riverbank into the river hint at the option of suicide as a way back to a life from which modern man appears to be alienated. Mankind lives in autumn where the dock is anchored, nearer the end than the beginning of life.
On the road home
You are pushed to one side by your imagination
You must live out the whole afternoon alone living in this view, from far away
On the way back into that river (via death by whatever route), the poet is singled out from the crowd by his imagination that leaves him alone and gazing out onto the solemn autumnal scene before him for the rest of his days.
During the latter half of 1987, however, Li began work on a series of longer poems that, more in the manner of Not-Not than Macho Man, focused on language itself. In [岛], [陆地] and [天空], Li sets about demonstrating the control. which language has over people in general and poets in particular, and how far this language is divorced from reality. Li's previous rebellions had been against certain cultural and poetic traditions; he now begins an assault upon culture in general.
Everywhere on the mainland there are the ancients and stars and national borders!
Everywhere on the borders are nuclear weapons and churches and fatherlands!
Each Fatherland grows a great golden tree! The entire tree is draped with history and
Entire trees of dogs and damned things, entire trees of tasty, live puppies!
In one tableau, Li mixes together a series of the serious and the ridiculous, of sublime and base verbal images in an altogether too obvious mockery of the fixed values and codes of the world. These poems amount to little more than heavy-handed attempts to destroy the supposed sanctity of tradition. But one question always presents itself: Is this truly necessary in today's China? Perhaps it can be justified as a response to the demands and criticism of establishment poets and critics, but only as a less than serious political use of an artistic medium in a battle that
cannot be fought, much less won, within the realm of poetry.
The anti-culture poet is bound to approach language in the same way as the culture poets whom poets such as Li Yawei and Liao Yiwu declare themselves the enemies of: their own language is motivated and manipulated by the very facts which they explore. The results are never promising:
One poem. One woman. One opportunity;
One wine cup. One small. town. A man.
Sound takes a sentence out of a book.
Language relies on the mind for content.
Past events extract colors from cloth.
Also not humorous.
Walk over and say you. Come here and say me. Above man below woman. Man left woman right. Superior man inferior woman. One day. Call you a woman. Call me a man. Afterwards everyone starts to move about. Man walks over. Woman comes here. You left I right. On the mainland. Our only chance is to travel toward the distant place."
This world is merely a linguistic phenomenon
That person has a relationship with you because of a certain form
Because of grammar, because of silence, rhythm
Because of written language that person coincidentally makes poetry with you
He hangs on a function word, lets actions and words collude together
Passing through unreliable paragraphs you enter into your mind
In the end, the history of poetry shows that those who rebel against the institution are bound to enter into it. The coarse, common, savage arts ultimately become accepted practice, even modern classics (such as Ginsberg's ). These poems of Li's were, perhaps, recognition of this fact and a final attempt to reject a similar fate, which, at the time in 1987 and early 1988 however, seemed to have been temporarily forestalled as a result of CCP campaign's against "bourgeois-liberalization."
In a statement of his views on poetry published together with and in the April 1988 edition of Guandong Literature, Li stated “writing poetry is a way of life, the writing of a certain style of poetry is a way of saying something, writing the poetry of some -ism or school is empty talk.”
In light of this and the two poems published together with the statement, it would appear that Li is ridiculing both himself in his attempt to write such poetry and others for actually doing so:
There are too many statements about poetry, too many demands; poetry will. disappoint people, poetry will appear to be nothing at all. Actually, poetry is probably everything.
More and more I suspect that my poems are novels, or something else. Like a thing; after a poem is written, when it is put down it should be a flying pig, picked up it is a glass of foul wine, thrown up in the air it is a slovenly cloud,..... Sometimes I believe my poems are purely actions: fighting,.... crying, drinking ,..... birth,..... death, parting,….
A poet's reputation and its longevity are determined by the tastes of others. Macho Man poetry, in its initial form, was written in accordance with the naturalist formula Li espouses above. It was not, however, written for a specific audience (aside from perhaps Macho Man poets themselves), but simply as the expression of the as yet untamed spirit of young men bucking up against systems of thought and Chinese society which pressed in upon them at all quarters. The above statement might be understood as an explanation of or comment on the continuing popularity of much of the verse he and other Macho Man poets wrote prior to 1986.
While continuing to write poetry in this spirit, now primarily in a short lyric form which was suited to it and which also reflected Li's maturity as a poet and a new-found respect for the art itself, early in 1989, Li began experimenting with a new verse form and a new approach to poetry which encapsulated more completely the world view already glimpsed in some of his earlier post-1986 poetry:
..... I often feel that my seasoned and mature command of the Chinese language has distanced me from poetry. After the most satisfying work is committed to the written language, it begins to fail to meet expectations. Therefore, the life-and-death battle between a poet and language is natural, as is his vested literary talent. I began writing poetry in 1981, a few years later I finally discovered that I had already got the hang of all its tricks: If I don't destroy language, I can't get used to life in this world. I've never been poetically close to industry, science, cities and so on, if at the same time these things are actually romantic, that is only because something beyond the thing itself has occurred or appeared [to make it so]. Otherwise, they can only be the paint, fearful of loneliness, on the cultural backdrop. Because this kind of cultural edifice, like extant language, is merely a thing on the present stage of mankind's development. Mankind is currently developing at a terrific speed, on the next stage these things will probably be all gone, just as in the beginning mankind cast aside mountain caves, stone implements and wild body fur, and entered into civilization and cities. In the future mankind will also cast off extant science, symbols and systems, and enter into another kind of living space. Fortunately, I have attained an undying spirit within poetry! Even though my poems are still composed of existing, written Chinese characters, these are gentle thoughts of sickness, birth, agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, the beverage industry, and plants, they are confused remembrances of people and simple depictions. It's not so much that I think overly highly of my literary talent but that poetry has led me to grasp the everlasting light of life, thereby leading me to immerse myself in man's final external form -- dreaming amidst the body's fragrances and aspiring to gently fly up upon the final enemy and final form of poetry -- language.
This new futuristic tone of optimism was reflected in Li's new poems, which he apparently viewed as his "autumn harvest" (秋收), both the name of one of these poems and a term repeatedly used by Li in other poems of this period. This statement was written just after Li had completed writing [飞行], an ode to his own maturity as a poet. However, it was primarily an ode to the wonders of the imagination and to the transcendent driving spirit
behind the lines which appear clumsily, but magically, upon the page:
At your place of origin, along the pupils of the liquor bottles the cellar's look is rolling
Showing that alcohol doesn't get itself drunk, sixty-five proof won't numb fifty-seven Alcohol is just one of the things that fly off on their own
But you can't lower your head and stare down, this isn't any different from the assiduous
study of texts
Page by page the waves of the ocean are flipped open
Reading sail upon sail from the strait to the cape
Land on the opposite shore and you won't die
You're thinking of heavenly things, you have to only think of how high the clouds are
And it equals riding a horse
It sends you farther than turning the pages of a book one by one
Probably your fall off the horse happened between the words and the lines
Because you ducked your head and looked down, it may have taken shape in a script
But it isn't important, you're totally illiterate, even waiting to die isn't easy
I am still the one who travelled the farthest
Because after renouncing isolated entanglements circling in the air became very easy
Just like the returning of wheat in autumn fields to the sky
I gallop like a horse, like the long hairs of the wind trailing the whitest clouds
Just like the view of the autumn seen by people riding the wings of opium, driving the
great ether wind and climbing up to the heights to gather it in
No longer is Li struggling with his mode of existence in the world, now he lives within his poetry, within the river of life that he often commented sadly upon in early poems. His final battles shall be fought out in and with a language that ultimately proves inadequate in the expression of that spirit and freedom found in the imagination and his own physical being.
In one of Li's last poems written before his arrest in March 1990, [我们], written in September 1989, he offers what appears to be a fanciful retrospective and summing up of the fate and circumstances of the Macho Man poets between the years 1984-1986. However, the poem could also be read as referring more generally to the fate of third generation poets and their poetry, or even to that of all Chinese of Li Yawei's generation in the wake of the Tian'anmen Massacre. The human imagination forms and guides our world and us, there can be no escape from its terrible power. And in recognition of this, Li finally finds an inner peace of sorts, an accommodation he can and must live with, and an understanding of the world and his place in it:
We came up from the surface
We suffer a sudden interweave on the antipodes of longitude and latitude
We throw ourselves into weaving, form patterns, raise our heads and attain love
Wearing flowered clothing we throw ourselves into revolutions, and meet up with The
We wander round, cross borders, and even earn ourselves another
Though we might only be walking on the street
It's also a product of dreams, nothing is real or unreal
Anyway you look at it, all are characters of the imagination
Walking out side, yet sticking precisely to contours of thought
Li details man's inability to transcend systems of thought, culture, and civilization, all creations of the human imagination from which there can be no escape.
However, "Our camels change shape, our line is fake now / When it comes down to it, we are still strugglers." Perhaps for this reason Li chose to join together with Liao Yiwu and four other poets and friends (including Wan Xia, one of the original Macho Men) in Chongqing to produce a videotape version of Liao's poem, . Possibly the temptation of a new form of struggle against the existing order of the imagination was too much for Li to resist. Although Li was to some extent willing to accept authority within the context of poetry, still betrayed a longing for the savage rebelliousness and physicality of his Macho Man days (the three years referred to in the poem, 1984-1986).
Li had never used his poetry for political purposes. His poetry had always plumbed the imagination for the freedom and companionship he was often unable to realize in Chinese society. Not surprisingly, aside from one or two ambiguous lines within , Li makes no attempt to deal specifically with the events of June 4, 1989 and its aftermath. Instead, appears to reveal the inability of poets, of all mankind, to break free of the imagined ties and relationships that bind us all together. Neither real nor unreal, aside from protest which is doomed to fail, poetry is no more than a record of the helpless ineptitude of man in his struggle to come to terms with himself. In this light, June 4 was merely a minor horror in the fantastic practical joke which man has been forever playing on himself. For Li, and his arrest on March 25, 1990 marked the end of his imaginative and physical struggles with what is commonly known as reality. Perhaps his silence as a poet since his release two years later is indicative of his surrender to it.
It is also quite possible that his spirit was broken by the beatings and torture he was subjected to during his 23-month incarceration. If this is the case, perhaps his recent marriage is an indication that his internal healing process is nearing completion. Possibly, in the not too distant future, Li Yawei will be able to bring himself to write poetry once again.
Addendum for Chapter 3
One of the reasons for Li Yawei's popularity in Sichuan province was his habit of writing poetry in the Sichuan dialect. Most of his poetry was written in his native eastern dialect, although he was equally adept in the western dialect. Although both dialects are considered to be forms of "mandarin" Chinese, neither can be understood by the uninitiated outsider without a translator. As a result, much of Li's humour and musicality is lost to those readers from other parts of China. In fact, during the mid-1980s, when Li was allowed to recite his poetry publicly, he often did so while accompanying himself with a guitar. Given these facts, it is somewhat surprising that his poetry was also very popular in China's northeast where Sichuanese is just as unintelligible as in other parts of China. This said, it must be granted that most of Li's poetry works just as well in standard mandarin pronunciation.
Chapter 4 ) ZHOU LUNYOU周伦佑: ON THE KNIFE'S EDGE
The pass to poetry is granted only by faith in its sacramental character
and a sense of responsibility for everything that happens in the world.
Come the next bout of political repression in China, Zhou Lunyou will no doubt be arrested and once again shipped off to a remote prison camp in the mountains of Sichuan. With
the Fall 1992 publication of issue No. 5 of Not-Not, the underground poetry journal edited by Zhou since 1986, he has almost certainly booked a second passage into China's gulag archipelago. This time, however, there will be more justification, from the CCP's point of view, than in the first instance (August 1989 - September 1991). For Not-Not No. 5 opens with Zhou's poetry manifesto, , which essentially is a call to arms directed towards all Chinese writers and poets asking them to take up the literary cudgels lain aside by the underground writers of the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites, in the battle against the CCP's continuing attempt at dictatorship over thought.
Born in 1952, Zhou Lunyou has personally experienced CCP political oppression his entire life. His parents, having served the Chinese Nationalists prior to 1949, were subjected to persecution during each of the political campaigns that washed over China in seemingly endless waves until 1976.
Residing in the town of Xichang in remote western Sichuan further added to the Zhou family's difficulties. As is the case in smaller Chinese towns, a smaller population often means that the victims of political campaigns often become permanent scapegoats placed at the top of the list of the "usual suspects" to be rounded up with each new campaign.
Inevitably, in the early 1960s, the Zhou family was ordered out into the countryside near Xichang in order to have their class-consciousness rectified by toiling with the farmers on the land. Before this occurred, however, the Zhou's eldest son had been able to win a place at university. He was driven mad, however, by mental and physical persecution during the CR because of a theoretical article he wrote deemed critical of the regime. To this day, the Zhou family still pays to have him kept by a housekeeper in a mountain cottage near Xichang.
Driven into the countryside and unable to attend school after only three years of primary education, Zhou Lunyou and his elder twin brother, Zhou Lunzuo周伦佐, began a program of intensive self-education (against the wishes of their parents). With the death of Mao and the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976, the education system slowly returned to a state of pre-1964 normalcy, and the two brothers were able to complete college degrees in 1979.
Like his elder brother, however, Zhou Lunzuo's interests also lay in politics and political philosophy. A high-school teacher, because of published papers deemed critical of the CCP, he was twice arrested, in 1980 and 1987, and on each occasion administratively sentenced to two years of "thought reform through labor" (劳动改造).
Zhou brother number four was sentenced to life imprisonment on trumped up charges of rape (of a girlfriend who was the daughter of a high official) in the early 1980s. And in early 1990, the youngest of the five brothers, whom his parents had successfully kept out of school and illiterate in an attempt to avoid political persecution, was killed in a car accident. The driver of the other vehicle was clearly at fault, but has never been charged in the matter. (Up until that time, this boy, and his wife had been able to parlay Deng's economic reform policies into a thriving chicken-farm enterprise which allowed him to drive Xichang's first privately owned taxi cab and purchase a newly built apartment.)
With this sort of background, it would seem reasonable to expect that the poetry of Zhou Lunyou would reflect some of his experience, or at least be more overtly political than other underground Chinese poets. This was not the case, however, until after the Tian'anmen Massacre in 1989, and, possibly, only as a result of his own arrest.
Like the vast majority of Chinese poets and writers, despite personal suffering and witnessing the suffering of others, Zhou initially chose not to write on these subjects or dared only to hint at them ambiguously. For most Chinese poets, poetry either is a release from reality into a place where they can dwell upon the more pleasant or hopeful aspects of life, or it is an immersion in the abstractions of philosophy, historiography and, in recent years, a plethora of imported and traditional poetics. Fear of the CCP and the traditional scholar-would-be-government-official syndrome are the reasons for this. There has never been a tradition of active dissidence or independence of thought for the artist or intellectual in China. The romanticized figure of the hermit who shuns any role in society was abolished in 1949 when the CCP established a totalitarian regime that stretched into all corners of the country and effectively forbade non-participation in society as a lifestyle option.
Thus, the poetry of Zhou Lunyou was necessarily of an acceptable vein when it first began to be published in the CCP's literary journals in the early 1980s. Among his works were poems strongly influenced by the Misty poets and Chinese poetic tradition such as [孤松] and [春节], both included among translated poetry in the Appendix (see Translations elsewhere on DACHS).
Neither was Zhou beneath writing poems that met the political requirements of the regime and sang the praises of the workingman and China's new, hopeful post-Mao era. Desires for publication, recognition and poetic community see many poets write poems like Zhou's [黑色的雕塑], only to see these same poets turn their backs upon such exercises at later dates. Not all do, however, and it is they who publish and prosper in the CCP's poetry and publishing establishments. It is not easy to turn away from the allure of lifetime employment and reward within the system, a system brimming with perks, including trips overseas as representatives of contemporary Chinese literature. But by 1984, Zhou had successfully overcome these temptations, if in fact, considering his background, they had ever truly existed for him.
After his graduation from China's television university in 1979, Zhou Lunyou had continued his personally designed course of self-study. In the early 1980s, he read all that he could of the Western literature, literary and linguistic theory, and philosophy, which was then being translated and published in China.
On July 25, 1984, Zhou had published the first of a series of poems written as self-analysis: [带猫头鹰的男人]. Over the next three years, the exclusive subject of Zhou's poetry was "Man." Focusing on experience, human nature and reason, and the mask of personality, or personae, he exposes the adventures of the human spirit under the control of the unconscious, and the automatic nature of man's manipulation of (and by) language. Through perceptual experience, illusions, and dreams, he explores the irrational aspects of life by way of formal linguistic management of the conscious and the unconscious.
, first published in Modern Poetry Exchange Materials, is a super-empirical cultural meditation intended to expose the pain and revelations resulting from alienation of the Self from culture.
In [狼谷], a cycle of poems written early in 1985 and published in Chinese Contemporary Experimental Poetry, Zhou employs monologues of the unconscious to express psychological abnormalities resulting from pressure on the Self from the Super Ego and the Id. Half of the poems in the cycle are in fact linguistic analysis of Western surrealist and abstract art works, and the other half are poetic experiments with Freudian theory using symbols of the unconscious as he does in the poem, [白狼]. Taken together, the cycle appears in the form of a split personality in order to describe the internal spiritual conflict that Zhou apparently experiences.
In [人日], published in Han Poetry: Twentieth Century Historical Annals - 1986, Zhou continues with this overarching theme in using irrational life experiences to portray the experience of individual man. This poem concludes with a conversation between the poet and Zhuangzi, and the lines: “Zhuangzi is merely thoughts of the butterfly / The butterfly is merely Zhuangzi's wings.” These remarks appear to be designed as a satiric comment on the fascination of so-called roots poetry with Zhuangzi and ancient belief systems similarly devoted to interpretations of reality, such as oracle bones and The Book of Changes, which Zhou also refers to within the poem. "The roots of the tree are rotten, but its leaves are still fresh ..... [My] rootless drifting starts here." The culture at the base of these beliefs and symbols already being dead, they can offer no more than inspiration for continued irrational flights of the imagination. "Let the content disappear, all that remains of the entire world is sacred abstraction./ Yet I live concretely."
In [十三级台阶], written in early May 1986, Zhou continues to employ irrational experience as he proceeds to map out a thirteen-step evolution of human life up until the point that "finished walking the thirteen-step flight of stairs You are no longer a man of language," he has reached a state of pure perception free of all the obfuscating cultural baggage which began with the willful naming of things on the first step of the stairs.
This poem was published in Zhou's own underground poetry journal, Not-Not. Early in 1986, Zhou got together with a number of like-minded underground poets, principally Lan Ma蓝马 and Yang Li杨黎 who acted as assistant editors to Zhou's position as editor-in-chief, in Chengdu. Between them they resolved to create a school of poetry that would be unique to China, a course of action that they felt was preferable to slavish imitation of Western poetic practice and theory, and which would ultimately allow modern Chinese poetry to become a recognized, full-fledged member of the world's poetic community. In order to achieve this goal, not only did they resolve to found the underground journal, Not-Not, but they also composed the [非非主义宣言], [非非主义诗歌方法] and even [非非主义小词典] which offered explanations of terms used in these poets' critical articles. (Both the Manifesto and the Dictionary were updated or enlarged in subsequent issues of the journal.) In order to prove the necessity of Not-Not-ism, Zhou authored an essay, [变构：当代艺术启示录], which by detailing the causes and effects of the fundamental developments which affected Western art early in this century, sought to offer an explanation for the appearance of Not-Not-ism in China.
Also at this time, Zhou decided to dedicate himself entirely to this cause: He resigned as librarian of the Xichang Agricultural Training School and, with the full support of his wife, Zhou Yaqin周亚琴, resolved to devote himself on a full-time basis to the Not-Not cause. He also resolved that from that day forward he would no longer beat his head against the wall of the poetry establishment and submit poetry or essays to establishment literary journals, a promise he has kept over the past seven-plus years. His poetry and essays have appeared in such publications, but only upon request by sympathetic editors.
The poets of Not-Not claimed as their goal ridding Chinese poetry of all unnecessary and harmful cultural and linguistic baggage, and returning it to a concrete, practical language of neutral intent. , written by Zhou and Lan Ma together, in combination with the Manifesto was to be a blueprint towards what they hoped would be a school of poetry that could accomplish this task. Under the heading [非非主义与创作还原] (a desire expressed in Zhou's ), they issued three statements of intent:
(1) We want to dispose of the semantic obstacles to sensory activity ...[and achieve] the restoration of the senses to their original state.
(2) We want to dispose of every kind of boundary formed by the semantic network on the television screen of consciousness ... [and achieve] the restoration of consciousness to its original state.
(3) The languages of culture all contain ossified semantics. Only suited to fixed operations of the cultural variety, they are powerless to undertake the expression of pre-cultural experience ... [We want to achieve] the restoration of language to its original state.
As the carrier of cultural traditions, language receives special attention:
(1) We axe resolved to transcend dualistic 'right' and 'wrong' value judgments ...and attain an open nature of pluralistic or even limitless values.
(2) In writing poetry, we will strive to rid language of abstraction, sweep away the fixed qualities of abstract linguistic concepts and, in the description of things, clear out acts of inference and the judgments found in reasoning.
(3) Fixed semantic meaning is the cause of language's loss of vitality. By way of irregularity and the construction of a variable linguistic state, we will make some of the old, decrepit language shine once again with the brilliance of regained youth, having reacquired what had been lost -- a polysemant (multiple-meaning), non-fixed, multi¬functional nature.
Finally, if it were not already clearly the case, Zhou and Lan Ma took Not-Not-ism well beyond the bounds of poetry and language alone by proposing what they called a "method of creative criticism" (创作批评法).
Here again they listed three points of major emphasis:
With regard to sense perception, our criticism intends to eliminate the semantic sensations of culture, mood-sensations and sensations patterned by habit. With regard to consciousness, our criticism intends to eliminate surface-layer collective consciousness (the consciousness of realistic cultural values such as material gain, knowledge, concepts, etc.) and deep-layer collective consciousness (the consciousness of inherited cultural values such as reason, logic, finalized and semi-finalized imagery, etc.). With regard to language, our criticism intends to eliminate abstract terms of fixed value, terms with dualistic value tendencies, and the traditional vocabulary of rhetoric.
Clearly, their desire was to return, on at least a spiritual level, to a pre-cultural or non-cultural world from where a new culture or cultures could spring forth exnihilo and coexist freely and in perpetuity. Implicit in the manifesto, and presented more explicitly in essays by Zhou and Lan Ma in the first four issues of Not-Not between 1986-1989, was the fact that their poetics were, in part, a response to the weakened hold of China's traditional culture, the continuing attempts by the CCP to fuse a spiritless "new spiritual civilization" (新精神文明) onto what remained of it, and the rapid rise of a culture of crass utilitarian pragmatism resulting, in part, from Deng's economic reforms and the selective opening to Western pop culture during the 1980s.
In reality, however, according to Zhou, the basis of Chinese culture remained the native conglomeration of animistic, Confucian, Daoist and Buddhist intellectual and social traditions. Attempts to introduce Western traditions and concepts (such as democracy, socialism, and even new poetic forms and "modernism") over the preceding 100 years had resulted in thin veneers over the old forms. While outward forms and surfaces sometimes appeared to change, the inertia of over 2,000 years of tradition ensured that content would be little affected. In the realm of the arts, Zhou pointed to the frequently lifeless intellectual game of copying Western modernism which, while initially intriguing and useful tools for self-promotion, in the end had amounted to no more than fads of copying which had not taken root in Chinese soil. Zhou expounded these views in a series of essays, beginning in 1986, written as assessments of the underground poetry movement and contemporary Chinese modernist poetry in general.
In an essay entitled [反价值], published in Not-Not No. 3 (December 1988), Zhou proposed an attack on all value systems then prevalent in China's arts and society in general. The mere destruction of language, form, and perceptual modes could do no more than minor, temporary damage. It was the values that propped up the cultural superstructure that made men slaves to the languages they lived in. Only by eliminating the core value words (such as the beauty, truth, love, etc.) and their attendant verbs, nouns and adjectives, by eliminating opposing value structures (such as good versus bad, true versus false, etc.) and implicit or explicit value judgment in language of which all languages of culture consist, can there be true freedom and genuine democracy in the arts -- and, by implication, in all other areas of society.
In conclusion, Zhou states that. he is well aware that his proposals cannot be adopted without placing mankind in unprecedented difficulties. His main purpose is to call the readers attention to a situation in which all are placed by value-loaded language and to the assumptions that predicate the existence of man. Once one is aware of the situation, which Zhou likens to a game, and of the rules (value systems) by which it is played, the individual will have the ability to opt out and to act as an independent entity.
The concluding paragraph of sums up the positions of Zhou Lunyou and Not-Not-ism in general:
The value exercises of mankind compare well to a ball game: My father's generation and the father generations of my father's generation all enthusiastically joined in --- getting into the championship match and claiming the prize being the highest objective. They never thought about who fixed the entire set of rules that controlled the competition, or whether the rules were reasonable, and so on. Before myself, there have been some who have refused to join the contest. This wasn't because they had grown tired of the protracted competition, or because they had become suspicious of it, but because they knew full well that they could not come out victorious. They chose to adopt an attitude of refusal in order to save face. As far as I'm concerned, the question is not whether or not to refuse to join in the match, the problem I have discovered is more important by far than the match itself: The value based behavior of mankind is merely a game, and in this game we are the ones being played with. What actually controls the game are a few terms and a self-manipulating set of rules that comes with them. These terms and their rules throw you, us; them, this flock of stupid things into a game of chance, they make us perform with ourselves as audience. After the wheel had spun a few times, I finally understood: I am in it, but I must not be in it! By way of destroying its sacred rules I will stop this great game, and, furthermore, replace it with new rules -- This, then, is what I am now doing and want you to join together with me to do. Let's do it together!
The realization of anti-values is, therefore, the creation of new values -- only when that is achieved can one say: I have moved one step forward.
Zhou Lunyou's next major poem, [自由方块], published in Not-Not No. 3 (1987), is his attempt to embody and demonstrate in poetic form the value-based linguistic game in which mankind is caught. For this poem, Zhou takes on the role of a satirist and regales the reader throughout with his trenchant sardonic wit. Zhou chooses a satiric stance in order to expose better the discord between the individual and culture in general. He exaggerates the conflict and seeks a form of psychological balance by way of evasive twists and turns and counter-actions to it. The contradictions he himself must have experienced are prominent throughout the poem: man is at ease with himself but unable to act for himself; he is impulsive but unable to act freely; he is alone but unable to keep his silence, and so on.
A satiric poet is, of course, a rebel, but because the poem's internal monologue is presented as an aside, it takes on an instructive, revelatory form. The pose of the satirist is that of having complete comprehension; the poet attempts to transcend the absurd nature of the world he lives in. Zhou's intention is to overcome this absurdity by way of word games. For example, part one of is an expression of extreme skepticism in the believability of poses in and of themselves:
The pose should be paid attention to. As a traditional beauty pays attention to the look of her face. For example, she does not bare her teeth when laughing. For instance, not being allowed to cast sidelong glances. Pierre Cardin chooses you as a model......
Sit by the south wall. Sit facing the wall. All these are ways in which the wise ones would sit. You're not a sage. You don't think the supreme lord is about to come down among us. You can sit more casually ........
"Pose" (姿势) is perhaps better translated as "position." The term appears to refer to the role an individual chooses or is assigned within culture. The pose determines the individual's relationship with culture and other individuals but bears little relation, in Zhou's conception of the situation, to the basic nature and instincts of the individual. Part one of , entitled [动机一：姿势设计], seeks to expose the inhuman nature of culture. Alienated man (uncertain, unsettled, with little self control) doesn't know if his pose should be based on instinct or agreement with cultural conventions. Knowledge is the cause of his indecisiveness. An evil culture has already entered his bloodstream (this is similar to Liao Yiwu's belief that one's nation is one's fate), he has no choice but to shrivel up and die spiritually in choosing between the two. This appears to be abnormal, but is in fact the normal situation of all people. The tragedy is that this person in search of a pose is not learning from the experience of life's tragedy, but as quickly as possible searches out a pose in which to reside and there to accustom himself to his alienated reality. This act exposes the degree to which he has already been twisted by that reality.
Throughout this first part, Zhou makes constant, direct, and indirect, allusion to the figures and "poses" of classical Chinese poetry, in addition to Buddhism and other ancient philosophies and practices. It is apparent that to some degree his satire is directed against certain trends among China's poets that he had already touched upon in critical essays written before and after the writing of . Just as deliberately, is written in a style designed to impress upon the reader the often unconscious, reflexive nature of pose picking, or "position design." Zhou achieves this affect by stringing together allusions to Chinese classical poetry, philosophy, and religion in a way that approaches interior monologue, somewhat similar to stream of consciousness technique. (Here, also, we see the poets’ paradoxical relationship with traditional culture: Using it for "inspiration" while denying it as a living tradition.)
In [动机五：拒绝之盐], Zhou writes of the individual's feelings of anxiety and atrophy. Here "you" are a sacrificial offering to traditional culture. The anxiety of "you" is the result of the simultaneous expiration of both the life of the individual and traditional culture (a thinly veiled reference to the ascension of the CCP to power in 1949), and is not the product of a post-industrial society (as it is in modern Western poetry).
When necessary learn how to shake your head or wave your hand
If both your head and your hand are not free
You must learn silence
All paths are closed to the individual by a list of over twenty refusals. The refusals of "you" are not those of an Ah Q-like character (self-aggrandizing), but are rooted in feelings of self-abasement, of being abandoned or discarded, and the lack of any spiritual goal whatsoever. Traditional culture has taught "you" only two things: the blind following of others (blind faith), and mindless refusal in the midst of all this, "you" feel nothing:
Refusing is an art. The attacking army is at the walls
You're still enjoying your siesta
Shuffle the chessmen idly
At the Pavilion of Uninterrupted Leisure listen to the water and the fish
On the surface, the appearance of composed correctness is an expression of self-abasement and abandonment. We (which can be alternatively read as all Chinese people, the generation who grew up during the CR, or the poets who have emerged from that generation) are left at the side of the road by the rest of the world. The poet is in misery, he scorns his soul, his spirit, his Self, and yet cries out for them at the same time.
[动机六：塔希提以西], the concluding section of , Zhou returns to his pet subject of abstract painters and their paintings -- this time Paul Gauguin, who also protested against the "disease" of civilization and set out for Tahiti in 1891, there doing some of his best work and writing the autobiographical novel, Noa Noa. Here and in the second half of this section Zhou deals with Daoist philosophy and the illusory, arbitrary nature of attributing meaning to cultural artifacts. Ultimately:
-- You didn't come from anywhere. (Where did we come from?
-- You aren't anything. (Who are we?
-- You aren't going anywhere. (Where are we going?
I eat therefore I am.
And that's all there is to it.
(You meditate on a step of the stair. Make a circuit of the dome.
There's no door in or out. You sit down and don't ever want to get up again)
In Zhou's next major poem, [头像], written in 1987 but published in the January 1989 issue of Not-Not No. 5, he continues to mock the earnest nature of the various mien of Humanity. A drawing of a human head complete with facial features at the top of the manuscript slowly loses those features so that by the fifth and final section of the poem nothing of the head remains at all: Man has lost himself among the illusory symbols of culture. Finally, the poet declares:
GREAT VIRTUE. Real people don't expose their faces. Like an antelope hanging its horns in a tree while it sleeps. No trace to be found......
GREAT VIRTUE. Personality is a mask. For people to look at. Whether lofty or refined is determined by the plot of the play. A hero without a head. Without scruples .........
In this section of the poem, Zhou addresses himself to "you" (你们) in the plural. It becomes apparent that he is addressing his remarks to China's modern day literati and intellectuals in general: "The world isn't a problem. Problems are a form of addiction. Fabricate a balloon out of nothing and then explode it." Zhou appears to be referring to man's love of abstracting an unreal thing out of something real, creating problems where none had previously existed. "[You] have caused this world to lose its face," it has been made to become something else, just as man's innate nature has been buried beneath the abstractions of culture.
In the end Zhou appears to make an appeal for simplicity in Chinese poetry, in line with Not-Not's call for a restoration of the senses, consciousness and language to their original state, when he concludes this poem with the lines: "More plum blossoms and less of that / Vacancy."
Zhou's discarding of the lyrical language of poetry is also part of his rebellion against so-called poses, even though, therefore, he has no choice but to choose another type of non-lyrical ironic pose. To the satirist, reality is revealed in an absurd form, this then is the reason Zhou uses an extremely bored speaking voice to express the design (affected, artificial creation) of poses in , or the completion (concealment and elimination) of the portrait of the head.
Not surprisingly, Zhou's criticism of other poets both within his poetry but, primarily, in his critical essays was not appreciated by China's underground poets. Many dismissed him as merely political, believing he was grandstanding for the establishment in order to help Not-Not achieve official acceptance. The slick, well-edited nature of Not-Not's numerous publications may also have led to some degree of envy.
Not-Not No. 1 had been printed in Sichuan with a print run of 2,000 copies (as had all subsequent editions). Most of the journals were sold for five yuan, a sum that covered printing costs alone. No. 1 was eighty pages in length and was one of the most elegantly designed underground journals ever to appear in China,. On May 4, 1987, Not-Not No. 2 (140 pages) was published, one year after the first edition. (The date, May 4, was consciously chosen for both issues in order to convey to readers that Not-Not was carrying on in the May Fourth Movement's spirit of totalistic rejection of tradition. Not-Not, however, sought to reject Western tradition as well as Chinese.) During that year, Zhou also compiled and edited three four-page broadsheets of regular newspaper-size entitled Not-Not Criticism [非非评论], two of which featured critical and theoretical essays written by Zhou and other Not-Not poets and theorists, and one of which was a compilation of several articles written about Not-Not published in China's literary establishment media and in Hongkong. With the crackdown that followed nationwide student demonstrations in January 1987, Not-Not was officially banned in Sichuan province. This impediment was circumvented, however, when Not-Not No. 2 was published outside of the province.
Also, in the fall and winter of 1986, Zhou Lunyou, like Liao Yiwu and Li Yawei, had been invited to lecture on Not-Not-ism at several universities and colleges in Sichuan, and had met with large, enthusiastic audiences. While these activities came to an abrupt halt in 1987, 1988 brought another relaxation in the CCP-controlled cultural climate and Zhou found himself officially invited to a handful of establishment poetry conferences. In April of that year, parts l, 2, and 5 of were published for the first time in the literary establishment, by the liberally edited Author out of Changchun. Portions of the poem have since been published in at least three poetry anthologies. (In the spring of 1987, Liao Yiwu published the poem in its entirety in the underground journal, The Modernist Poets of Sichuan.) Zhou was also asked to write several theoretical essays and rebuttals to criticisms of Not-Not by establishment literary publications, such as The Poetry Press, Contemporary Poetry [当代诗歌], and Poetry Monthly.
After the completion of in October 1987, Zhou devoted almost all his time to the activities detailed above. During a period of almost two years following that date, he failed to produce a poem that he saw fit to publish in his own journal.
Not-Not No. 3 (150 pages), printed in Wuhan, Hubei province, appeared in December 1988 and was entirely devoted to theory and criticism, including and one other essay by Zhou Lunyou. A month later, in January 1989, Not-Not No. 4(146 pages), also printed in Wuhan, and given over entirely to poetry including Zhou's , went into circulation.
Police harassment of Not-Not's chief contributors and editors, Zhou, Lan Ma, and Yang Li, had begun in 1987 shortly after the initial ban on Not-Not was issued, but never went beyond questioning and verbal chastisement. The liberal atmosphere that marked the first half of 1989 saw police agents visiting Zhou in Xichang and asking politely for copies of Not-Not No. 3 and 4. Apparently, word had reached the authorities, no doubt from the Sichuan literary establishment that two new editions were in circulation. Zhou, of course, did not oblige their request (the journals had been distributed already and Zhou had only a few personal copies left, none of which he was prepared to surrender to his mortal enemies).
In fact, by this time, Not-Not had already ceased to exist. As a result of serious differences, both personal and ideological, Zhou had broken up his partnership with Lan Ma and Yang hi not long after the January publication of Not-Not No. 4. Not-Not would continue, however, but now Zhou planned to put out a version of his own, and Lan Ma and Yang Li another.
But, perhaps, the root basis of this parting of the ways was to be found in the weakness of Not-Not-ism itself. Based on an urge to break free of the restrictions placed upon poets by a language weighed down by cultural traditions, Not-Not-ism had focused on culture, language, and values to such an extent that very little was actually said about poetry. Their attempt to transcend culture and language was, of course, impossible, a fantastic dream. The super-language, which they aspired to, was still a language, just as the super-culture that was associated with it was still a culture. Deep-rooted cultural influences were bound to remain, as would a certain inherited aesthetic consciousness and other psychological elements. The return to a pre-cultural state that Not-Not-ism advocated would mean the end of poetry, for the poet can do nothing else but use language to express himself.
Neither was it clear what language was to be transcended. If it was "normal," everyday speech, it takes on a transcendent quality once it is written as poetry in any case. It they were referring to an over-used language of ossified semantic meaning, then theirs was a quest after a new poetic language and a refurbished version of estrangement theory.
It is also not clear how symbolic meaning, metaphoric meaning, and changes in meaning which result from different linguistic states are not also to be considered as transcending language and semantics.
It also seems that Not-Not theories of transcending culture and language are better suited in reference to the mental state of a writer prior to the creative act, and the reader's mental state when he is able to transcend surface linguistic meaning and his imaginative powers are able to operate freely as a result of that reading.
Not-Not-ism is contradictory in regard to other aspects. No matter how much the writer prepares himself and is mentally able to "return to his origins" (还原) (a mode of direct perception); if it only remains in the writer's head, it is not poetry. To become poetry it must pass through language (into the text itself).
Simply commenting on content, as Not-Not-ism does, is not to talk of art, but of experience. Only when there is commentary on form and art as art, can true poetic criticism be said to have been made.
Terms such as "direct perceptual thought" (直觉思维), "super-semantic thought" (超语义思维), "non-determination" and so on, appear to refer to experience (the pre-creation mental state) alone and do not enter into the poetic text itself.
Poets must pass through language and a text to express poetry; the first step toward reading appreciation must be language that requires a relatively fixed semantic thought process. This process is determined by the cultural nature of man and the basic cultural nature of language.
An understanding of anything (poetry) can not be done with a blank mind (an aesthetic direct perception free of all hang-ups and obstructions) which passively receives what is presented to it, but is based upon a kind of a priori structure of consciousness (prior existence, prior perception, prior certainty) which in turn assists in the readers understanding and interpretation of the text. This prior structure naturally also includes specific cultural deposits within it. After readers have a fairly certain understanding and grasp of the basic semantic meanings of poetic language and of the entire composition itself, only then is it possible to set the imagination into further motion by using the prior structure of one's own consciousness, including direct aesthetic perception, to finally complete the poem.
Given these apparent weaknesses and criticism from both underground poets and the establishment, it is hardly surprising that after two and one half years the poets of Not-Not would begin to drift apart. Yang Li was considered the group's representative poet, but for the reasons stated above, even his verse was unable to attain the goals laid out by Not-Not-ism. As has already been seen, Zhou confined himself to satire and word games which sought to reveal the weakness of contemporary Chinese poetry and poets, and the difficulties a poet has in coming to grips with language and values which threaten to emasculate the poet's Self.
In the spring of 1989, now without Lan Ma and Yang Li, Zhou felt he still had enough support from poets and poetry lovers to go it alone and continue to produce an underground journal. Ever aware that, given his family background, his position with regard to the authorities was precarious at best, Zhou had always made a point of not becoming involved in any overtly political activities. This was even more the case during April-May 1989 when demonstrations against CCP incompetence, corruption, and dictatorship were sweeping the country. Zhou stayed well clear of the demonstrations which took place in Xichang.
Finally, however, in late May, Zhou succumbed to his curiosity and went on what he termed a study tour of Chengdu and Beijing. On June 4, he had already left Beijing and was on his way back to Sichuan. When he returned to Xichang, however, he found that Zhou Yaqin, his wife, had been arrested on June 5 and that their son was living with his grandparents. (On June 5, Yaqin had gone to market wearing a T-shirt upon which she had expressed with two written characters (哀悼) her sorrow and indignation over what had occurred in Beijing and Chengdu. She was arrested that night and held without charges for two months.)
Not long after his return, Zhou was informed by well-placed sources that the local police had begun an investigation into his activities. In early July, agents from the Ministry of State Security [国家安全部] began to follow Zhou and to photograph him together with acquaintances. Finally, on the night of August 18, ten days after the release of Yaqin from prison in Xichang, Zhou Lunyou was arrested.
Initially, Zhou was held without charges and without visitors for six months in a Xichang prison. In February 1990, he was administratively sentenced to three years of labour reform at a prison camp tea plantation on the slopes of Mount Emei in northwest Sichuan, to be served retroactively from the time of Zhou's arrest.
Zhou's alleged crime was the vague, ubiquitous charge of "inciting counter revolution" (煽动反革命). Given that Zhou did not participate in any June Fourth-related political activities, his arrest was plainly an attempt by the authorities to eliminate Not-Not once and for all. (Of course, they were unaware of the split which had already occurred within the Not-Not camp.) Perhaps they considered its anarchic theories which both directly and indirectly struck at the cultural foundation the CCP had been attempting to establish since 1949, as somewhat of a threat to the state. Certainly, its well-ordered, systematic appearance as an underground organization for a period of over three years must have been a source of embarrassment to the Sichuan literary establishment and the legal authorities.
During his first six months in the prison camp, Zhou suffered terribly from overwork and undernourishment. During this period, he developed dropsy (oedema). Eventually, Zhou Yaqin, who was now able to visit him, raised enough money to administer a bribe which resulted in Zhou being assigned work as a teacher in the camp. Yaqin was also able to smuggle books to Zhou. Ultimately, Zhou was released almost a full year early, in September 1991, ostensibly for good behavior.
Throughout his ordeal, Zhou continued to write (or compose in his head and memorize) poetry. It appears that the extremity of his situation was the cause of a shift into a more lyrical style of writing. At the same time, however, his poems took on more direct political overtones.
Two poems written while still in prison in Xichang during December 1989 are remarks on the continued freedom and power of the imagination while in physical captivity ( [想象大鸟], and [从具体到抽象的鸟]):
The bird is a word, but also not a word
Between books and the sky the bird is a sort of hinge
An imaginary shape. After breaking away from substance
We are birds ourselves
The final image emerging in a dream
When birds are injured, fresh blood flows from our eyes
When birds are silent, stones spread through our hearts
In prison I write this poem
With iron upon my body. My face feels
The softness of feathers. I know
Only a concrete bird can be caught and killed
But a pure bird can't be
Because that is merely a kind of abstract flight
Not a bird flying, the sky
The abstract bird is beyond all range of fire
The abstract bird can not be shot dead
After the crack of the gun
The bird still flies
It now seems that Zhou has come to a new appreciation of abstract language, or cultural symbols (as in "the abstract bird"), and the value of imagination in a confining, dangerous environment.
Other poems prominently feature images of iron and steel, blood and stone, and are redolent with fear and contempt. As in [石头构图的境况]:
This situation I have never before entered deeply into
It takes violent hold of you. Atop a colossal stone
Rocks containing iron pile up coldly
And form into columns and walls
You have been put between stones
The north, or the south. You sit facing a wall
Dully dreading the blue which seeps out of the silence
This isn't some kind of game of the imagination
At the cost of your life you are on the scene
For all of three years, you must accept these stones
Become one component in this arrangement
Only through murder can you experience that intensity
Forcing itself in on all sides
Compelling you to become small, smaller
Until you skip into a stone and become a form of a thing
Break into a stone and there's still a stone
From wall to wall. From the soul out to the eyes
You have to love these stones, stone people
And stony things, love and be intimate with them
Nod a greeting, sometimes the bumps will leave your head bleeding
Heavier stones on top, occupy commanding positions
You can't look up at them but can sense them at all times
Always so indubitable and brutal
They can smash your body to pieces at any time
The circumstances of the arrangement of stones are like this
Like the dangers to a person entering deeply into a tiger
Pulling teeth in the tiger's mouth then suddenly a tooth aches
Maybe one day you'll obtain a whole tiger skin
Thereby proving your courage and riches
But right now the tiger is biting you, eating you
This non-substitutable plight has damaged you all over
To penetrate a tiger and not be eaten by it
To penetrate a stone and not become a stone
To pass through burning brambles and still be your old self
Requires perseverance. You must hold fast to yourself
Just as the crystal holds fast to the transparency of the sky
The ironstones continue to pile up around you
In the arrangement of stones you light a candle
Illuminating each of your wounds more brightly
Cold, inhumane indifference and enforced tolerance of inhumanity to man are recurrent themes. In the midst of bloody thoughts, terror and pain, writing poetry becomes a reflexive exercise, an escape, a defense mechanism: "In the wound, in a drop of blood / We keep up our daily crystal exercises." ( [永远的伤口])
Tones of self-denigration are also never far from the surface, as in [忍者意象]:
The beauty of forbearance issues forth brilliance from the inner depths
At crucial moments think of Han Xin
And your conscience is set at ease the word tolerate is a knife in the heart
The heart drips blood and still you talk and joke gleefully
Oh, the mighty Tolerant!
Under these circumstances and with the knowledge of the circumstances of other third generation poets Zhou penned what reads like an epitaph on the grave of this generation of poets in the wake of the June 4, 1989 killings in Beijing and Chengdu:
After passing over a thousand mountains and ten thousand rivers the third generation
Are forging out true achievements Then suddenly they're shot down by a birding gun
And become wonderful fragments of a tragedy Just as they successfully complete their
Bei Dao and Gu Cheng crossed the sea to join the ranks of the outsiders the third
Remain in China and continue the war of resistance they learn silence
Learn to run away from home are heroes and cowards at the same time
They learn to sit in jail cells express themselves vehemently in prison refuse to
admit their guilt and repent
They learn banishment learn to do labor their heads shaved bald
They change their way of life under the hammer and sickle
Zhou Lunyou served his sentence on the slopes of Mount Emei Liao Yiwu and Li
Stood trial in Chongqing Shang Zhongmin wrote self-criticisms in Chengdu
Yu Jian gave a name to a blackbird in Yunnan the third generation poets
Scattered like monkeys when the tree fell in ten years time we'll judge the crimes and
merits of these thousand autumns
After his release from prison camp in September 1991, Zhou was reticent to turn his hand to poetry. He was emotionally drained by his experience and all too aware of his inability to continue to fight against the oppressive soul-grinding organs of the CCP. The final four lines of [厌铁的心情], written in October 1990, perhaps sum up his mood at the time:
After you've been scooped out
Your whole body is dug down to dullness
Before that night I lived as lightly as a goose feather
After that night I awoke with a heart of dying embers
Following his release Zhou did continue writing poetry, but it was of a very different nature from that which he had written before his arrest in December 1991, Zhou wrote an essay, [拒绝的姿态] (published in the 1992 spring/summer combined issue of the underground journal, Modern Han Poetry, which issued a call to China's poets of conscience to write poetry for poetry's sake, and to refuse all advances and enticements from the CCP's literary establishment. On the surface, Zhou seemed to be proposing a passive, detached poetic pose in the face of the state's tyranny. In the opening paragraph of his essay, Zhou offers an interpretation of from his 1986 poem, , stating that the opening four lines are now to be taken as a course of action: "When necessary learn to shake your head or wave your hand / If both your head and your hand are not free / You must learn silence / For this you practice fasting.
In defense of himself in this new passive mode, Zhou states in [临宅之火中想我们自己], written in September 1991, in itself apparently a commentary on what had taken place a few weeks earlier in the former USSR, that the silence is a false one:
A ring-like fortress coldly surrounds us
To know iron and steel is brutal, and
To handle one's own life cautiously, this is not cowardly
Follow Zhuangzi and be carefree, be the so-called spark
Burning internally, this is precisely our true situation
Stay low, until the crucial moment, and then tell all
In [模拟哑语], Zhou offers that speaking (writing poetry) and saying nothing has its own value:
The essential of exercising mute language is not speaking
But getting ready to speak, it must be you who speaks out
The iron-black nature of this century
The sensation of metal is retained and flows in your blood
It reminds you frequently and painfully
The essential of mute language exercises is in speaking
So as to avoid losing the ability to express through disuse .......
But by March 1992, Zhou Lunyou had a radical change of heart. Now he must speak his mind, as he states in [饥饿之年]:
Everybody says you look strong and stout have a fairly rich life
Until American handcuffs imported together with freedom of thought
Are clapped on your hands then someone discovers
Among the many rich and poor mouths crying out in hunger
You are starved into becoming the most patriotic on the mountain
You gnaw on roots of plants drink the northeast wind
Come out with an altered physique more room in your stomach
You leaf through unfinished poems and your entire body goes cold
Since coming into the world you've used the energy of a lifetime to write one poem
And still you have not finished can't give up half way
Take poverty as a prerequisite
To be experienced (let others play about with Qigong and consumer goods)
You tighten your belt persevere to the end with art ........
[手的方式], Zhou turns away from his previous passive pose and adopts one more aggressive than that of Not-Not-ism ever was:
Or peal off your tense skin throw yourself
Toward the light from behind armour plate
Catch hold of the hand with no body temperature
Let your blood flow smear it all over the palms
In the final testimony of this century force it
To leave behind a bloody print (Ending #2)
There are always painful privacies in the game of compulsion
You must act as if nothing has happened
On an irregular chessboard
Continue your match against the shapeless hand
It was also during this month that Zhou Lunyou resolved to revive Not-Not and begin preparing for the publication of its fifth edition. Of his own work he would publish <20 Poems on the Knife's Edge>, a collection of poems written since his arrest in 1989. He had already made contact with a number of like-minded poets whose work would also be included; what remained was the writing of a manifesto that would serve to rededicate Not-Not to their cause: [红色写作—1992 艺术宪章或非闲适诗歌原则].
The old theories of Not-Not-ism were not entirely abandoned, but a new Not-Not-ism, as in "not-leisurely," had taken priority over all others. The first paragraph of , written beneath the heading of [白色写作与闲适], made Zhou Lunyou's meaning abundantly clear:
Chinese poetry has just undergone a period of White Writing. In unprecedented numbers and over a wide range of subjects, the feeble-minded have written many words that have been forgotten as soon as they were read: cowardly, pallid literary works of an indifferent nature, lacking in creativity, and of pretentious superficial refinement. Defeated and scattered in all directions from the center of being. A dispersal without a core. Drifting, rootless words crowding and jostling against each other. In the guises of idle talk, hermits, hippies, ruffians ..... endlessly trivial, insipid and empty. Deliberately avoiding the masters and their works, in fear of or without the courage to pursue profundity and power. Passing white turnips off as ivory tusks so as to avoid real and fabricated dangers. To the weak rhythms of elevator music, a generation of poets has formed into meandering rows and uses a limited vocabulary to repeatedly and collectively imitate one another and themselves. Persistent repetitiveness and inadequacy have made triviality and mediocrity the universal characteristics of an entire period of poetry......
Zhou Lunyou appears to be referring to the post-June 4, 1989 period, but he deliberately fails to be specific, for, in the eyes of some observers, this "period of White Writing" could be said to have begun in the mid-1980s (the rise of post-Misty poetry). His comments are not only directed at establishment poets, but also towards a surprising number of young, underground poets. Zhou points out an undertone of "leisureliness" which runs through much of the poetry of this period and finds it rooted in a near universal aspiration for or actual enjoyment of the life of relative comfort and ease enjoyed by Confucian scholar-officials of old. Zhou sees China's poets traveling the middle road, the path of least resistance, avoiding all confrontation, and interested only in mere self-preservation. They think no evil, and exhibit mild temperaments and elegant mediocrity in the majority of their work.
Zhou goes on to lament the absolute absence of a truly critical consciousness and skepticism among China's poets. That which may once have existed in China's underground poetry is stripped away once this poetry is co-opted into the establishment literary mainstream. New styles and techniques are readily accepted in the establishment on condition that new, critical content is left behind in the underground journals and the privately printed collections of poets during their foolish, headstrong youth.
Possibly, during his two years in prison, Zhou recognized that he himself was guilty, if only to a lesser degree, of the sins he had accused others of. Not-Not-ism, while critical of poetic convention, linguistic order, and traditional value systems, was still an obscure, roundabout subversive maneuver, understood by few and, thus, easily dismissed as irrelevant. The events of June 1989, his subsequent personal experiences and, ultimately, the overthrow of similar totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe and the former USSR convinced Zhou that literature has a direct political role to play in Chinese society (though not the traditional role in support of the regime, but in support of common humanity in general), that poets also have social responsibilities and that irrelevancy is the inevitable reward for poets who do not face up to them. Art for art's sake, when devoid of any direct relationship to the artist's society, is little more than self-centered, nihilistic expressionism.
Zhou claims that Red Writing is a literature of freedom that will allow the human spirit to become once again pure and whole. It is a literature which will help to put an end to division and antagonism in Chinese society.
At this point, we want to offer our greatest respect to those fellow poets and writers in Eastern Europe and Russia who share with us the same values and beliefs (Solzhenitsyn, the Mandelstams, Brodski, Havel, Kundera, Milosz, etc.). From behind the Iron Curtain, they spoke out unyieldingly and this led to the sudden demise of the mythology of the everlasting sacred order. Despite long periods of political oppression, imprisonment, exile, and hard labour, they still held fast to mankind's universal values and ideals, and never wavered or ceased to write (Today we are reconsidering our situation and writing at the same point from where they set out). With rare courage and an indomitable spirit, they saved themselves and went out from hell into a pure world. We still remain in a shadowed corner of the world, each day we must differentiate our shadows from out of the surrounding darkness. But at the same time, I believe: Fate is impartial. What they have experienced, we will experience. And furthermore, are experiencing. Starting from this very moment. Their today is our tomorrow! .....
Here, on the last page of , Zhou issues a direct challenge to the CCP cultural apparatus. The "red" in Red Writing does not stand for communism and its victory, but for blood, for the reinvigoration of all forms of writing, not just poetry, and ultimately for freedom -¬freedom of the spirit, of the imagination, of expression. The writings of Solzhenitsyn, Havel, and Kundera, to name but a few, are still banned in China. Only the non-political works of Brodski, Milosz and Osip Mandelstam, and so on, are available to the few Chinese readers with an interest in such literature today. Yet word of mouth and untranslated foreign texts have allowed knowledge of what has been banned to reach those who have an interest and who also wonder why it is that China has yet to produce even one writer or poet of equal courage, strength of character and moral purpose.
While Zhou may exaggerate the influence of literature in the fall of foreign communist regimes, the aims of Red Writing go beyond literature and writers alone, they reach out to readers and Chinese society in general. In this sense, the impact of literature is certainly greater than that of any one author:
..... Actually, my intention is a very simple one: To invigorate the pure fountainhead of your innermost being -- a consciousness of the blood ties between the individual and the fate of all mankind; the vigorous enthusiasm created by true freedom; the satisfying actualization of a full and complete life!
A new century will. soon be rung in. We stand on this side and look towards it. A great battle is taking place within us. The entire significance of Red Writing is to join in and fight it out to the end -- to penetrate into all that is sacred or blasphemous in the arts, and to mount the final. assault upon all the forbidden regions and ramparts of language. One day seventy-three years ago, Lenin's guard said to his woman: "We'll have bread, we'll have food, we'll have everything." Today, seventy-three years later, after having become sculpted historical reliefs, the Vladimir Ilyich's have been reduced to rubble. Now I will tell you that, aside from food, other things which have not been realized, will be:
-- There will be art
-- There will be freedom
-- There will be everything
What but man’s freedom does art hope to realize?
All things are temporary, only this eternal undertaking will not change. Red Writing believes this, and, furthermore, reaffirms: Art that is rooted in life is immortal. Having experienced calamity, young Chinese poets are testifying with their golden voices that during mankind's final efforts to free itself, the people of China will not give themselves up for lost!
Not-Not No. 5 was printed and went into circulation in the fall of 1992.
Also at that time, in response to Deng Xiaoping's apparent call to "counter leftism" (反左), a number of literary conferences were organized in Beijing to attack continued leftist influence in the arts establishment. The first of these was a poetic theory conference which took place in Beijing on August 20-21. Zhou Lunyou was invited to attend and was able to present his as yet unpublished Red Writing manifesto. At the time, the manifesto received an enthusiastic response. Subsequent events, or rather the lack of them, appeared to indicate that these conferences were just for show and primarily an effort by the CCP to placate disgruntled intellectuals.
It now appears that Deng and his supporters used the anti-leftist tide to quell critics within the party in preparation for the CCP's Fourteenth Congress which was convened in November 1992. Shortly after the Congress was completed the second half of the slogan which Deng supposedly mouthed in January-February 1992 has been given added emphasis: In its entirety the slogan read "Counter leftism, guard against rightism" (反左，防右).
Here again we find shades of 1978-1979 when Deng used public opinion to remove Maoists and other "radicals" who opposed his policies of economic reform at that time. Criticism of leftism (in the person of doctrinaire Marxists, Stalinists, Maoists and anyone else opposed to Deng's policies) in 1992, however, was strictly limited to the CCP and certain intellectual and arts circles -- no doubt with an eye to the events of the summer of 1989 and fear that a broader campaign might lead to calls for redress with regard to them.
Zhou Lunyou has persevered in his crusade however. At last report, he is hard at work producing and editing two editions of Not-Not, No. 6 and No. 7, for publication in the fall of 1993. As with the third and fourth issues of the journal which were printed within days of each other in December 1988 and January 1989, one issue will be devoted entirely to prose essays and theoretical articles, and the other will be given over exclusively to poetry. Apparently, Zhou is finding enough financial support to undertake this venture. It would also seem that he has found enough fellow¬ travellers to fill the journals' 250-300 pages with the work of quality which Zhou has always demanded for Not-Not.
Zhou's own poetry will hopefully continue to mature. Prior to his arrest, Zhou's poetry had often appeared derivative and self-inflated, though without the Ginsbergian excesses and obviousness of some of Liao Yiwu's and Li Yawei's work of that period. In the pieces, however, the intelligence and integrity of Zhou's earlier work survive, and inform. The thrust of the "anti-rhetoric" and the less obvious, more sophisticated Western influences and reworking of Chinese poetic history also remain, but in more subtle forms.
Zhou's efforts have, to some degree, been rewarded. During the spring and summer of 1993 a number of establishment literary journals have asked Zhou for permission to publish some of his work already published in Not-Not No. 5 and have also asked to publish new works. Chief among these publications was People's Literature which published four poems, including , from in its June issue.
Despite the fact that Zhou's more political poetry has yet to be and probably never. will be published in the establishment print media, the fact that his work, the work of a poet arrested on charges related to June Fourth, can now be published must offer encouragement to many other poets. The publication of Zhou's work might be taken as a sign that a liberal atmosphere is once more returning to the realm of serious art in China. Further evidence of this is the imminent publication of a six-volume collection of Misty and post-Misty poetry entitled A Review of Contemporary Poetry Trends [当代诗歌潮流回顾丛书], edited by Xie Mian and Tang Xiaodu (planning had initially begun for this set of books prior to June Fourth). Also, Wan Xia, the former Macho Man poet, who like Li Yawei has become a writer of popular fiction since his release from prison in February 1992, has undertaken the task of financing and publishing an over 2,000 page volume entitled The Complete Collection of Post-Misty Poetry [后朦胧全集]. While in light of the number of volumes of third generation poetry published since 1987, the publication of these two sets of books does not appear to be remarkable, it should be pointed out that previous anthologies have suffered from the forced exclusion or inclusion of certain poets or works, and from many editors lack of knowledge or access to China's underground poetry.
Once again, it appears that the arts have entered into the liberal phase of the liberal-conservative cycle which has afflicted China since the advent of Deng Xiaoping's "opening" and "reform" policies in 1978. When the next CCP crackdown on domestic dissent and general unruliness occurs, it is a safe bet that Zhou and the few poets and writers who have had the courage to take up the challenge of Red Writing will once again be harshly dealt with. Since 1949, sooner or later all social forces which have refused to compromise and work together with the CCP have been crushed. Survival depends upon inconspicuousness and a corresponding political passivity. Red Writing is surely a wart on the complexion of the CCP's China which must eventually be removed. While Red Writing as a group of poets, and its publication, may not survive, perhaps its existence, no matter how brief, will encourage other poets and writers of courage and integrity to put thoughts to paper. The appearance of one group of poets like "Red Writing" hopefully presages the beginning of active literary resistance to the CCP's attempted dictatorship over thought and expression in years to come.
Addendum for Chapter 4
The meaning of "fei-fei" 非非 [not-not] is subject to some confusion among Chinese critics. "Fei-fei" is found in colloquial Chinese as meaning to do something wrong or some form of evildoing (often with sexual connotations). Meanings of the word "fei" by itself also include 'to not conform to,' 'to run counter to'; 'to censure,' 'to blame'; or, simply, 'not' or 'no.' It also occurs in the grammatical construction 'Fei... fei....' which translates as 'Neither.... nor...' I believe that all possible meanings are implied in the term, however I translate it simply as "not-not" because of what I believe to be the influence of Dadaism upon Not-Not theoreticians. (An influence continually referred to by Zhou Lunyou in a number of essays.) The key word in the Dadaist vocabulary was 'nothing', or 'not' this and 'not' that (i.e. nothing). Therefore my choice of 'not-not' as an appropriate translation of "fei-fei. "
Chapter 5) CONCLUSION: UNDERGROUND POETRY IN CHINA
Underground poetry in China continues to exist in a world of shadows in which the CCP appears willing to allow it to survive. Clearly, the reason this situation is allowed to continue is primarily that this poetry is not seen as a direct threat to the state. Only during times of political repression, such as in 1987 and 1989, have underground poets been subject to aggressive campaigns directed against them. But even at their most repressive, these campaigns have had no obvious impact on underground poetry, at least not in terms of the number of poets involved and the number of publications they have produced.
Instead, it has been economic pressures which have depleted the ranks of poets in general. Given the rapid commercialization and rampant corruption of Chinese society over the past five or so years, many poets or would-be poets have been drawn into the maelstrom and have taken advantage of opportunities to better their lives materially to the neglect of spiritual concerns. Just as in the West, idealism of any kind is scorned or deemed impractical by the majority of China's citizens. Fewer people look to poetry for solace, for the voice that speaks from the heart to the heart. The modern day opiate of the masses, the products of the mass entertainment industry and its media, has made large inroads (still guided by the CCP, however) and most people are satisfied with the quick, superficial highs they are able to find there.
Certainly, with a few noteworthy exceptions, China's underground poets have been more concerned in this thesis with the art of poetry than with the circumstances of their fellow countrymen or even that of themselves personally. Perhaps this is the reason why anthologies of Misty poetry sold so well until the late 1980s. Much of the early Misty poetry written by poets such as Bei Dao, Jiang He, Mang Ke, Shi Zhi食指, and Yang Lian, was of an obviously political nature (to knowledgeable Chinese readers) which spoke to the hearts and experience not simply of other poets, but to many others born into a new age of skepticism and doubt, if not blatant cynicism, in the face of continued CCP dictatorship and repression after the CR.
Younger poets and those who began their careers as poets after (and sometimes as a result of) the Misty poets have sought to raise the standards of modern Chinese poetry to those of the rest of the world. Of course, the "world" of poetry which most of them perceived was that which an increasing number of translations of twentieth century Western poetry brought to their attention. Necessarily, given CCP control over thought and expression, the tradition of poetry written under similarly oppressive conditions in Eastern Europe and the USSR, poetry written primarily as equipment for living for its readers as well as for its writers, the poetry of witness and of protest against communist dictatorship, was not included among the works sanctioned for translation and publication.
Instead, China's underground poetry became the realm of a modernizing avant-garde during the mid-1980s, a poetry of unprecedented radical experimentation by Chinese standards. They shared the May Fourth spirit of totalistic iconoclasm, but to some degree, their attacks were not so much on aspects of the classical tradition as on more recent, post-1949 "tradition" -- a "tradition" which, in many ways, was a far more thoroughgoing renunciation of China's past than any other "renewal" movement in Chinese history.
The post-CR renewal movement cannot be said to have been an altogether bad thing for modern Chinese poetry, just as China was attempting to enter the world's economic and political communities after the CR, poetry, and literature in general, also attempted to accomplish the same feat. However, the state was less ready for reform and modernization in the realm of literature and ideas than it was in the economy. This contradiction is the principal reason for the radical expansion of underground poetry activities during the 1980s. And, because it was underground, the experimentation that occurred was limited only by the imagination, knowledge, and immediate physical circumstances of the poets involved. Almost without exception, the principal influences upon these poets were translated poetry and poetic theory to which all had more or less equal access. If this eventually resulted in a state of apparent anarchy bordering on open warfare between different poets -- few of whom truly acknowledged the poetic influence or superiority of any native living (or dead) poet -¬it can only be regarded as the inevitable outcome of an almost unconscious rush to be seen as modern (not necessarily modernist), a rush to occupy vacant positions of authority within the realm of Chinese poetry which not so long before were not even perceived to exist.
The Misty poets marked a break from the formerly unitary poetic practice, their decision to write the truth of their own personal experience and that of their generation necessitated a more political poetry, a poetry of self-empowerment in reaction to years of self-negation in poetry and society in general. By the mid-1980s, a situation of two acknowledged (if not yet sanctioned in the case of Misty poetry) poetic styles had developed into a plurality of poetics, a symptom of a total disregard for and discounting of any and all authority wielded by the state's literary institutions and an intellectual freedom, in the underground, which allowed the individual poet to choose his aesthetic allegiances in accordance with his own intellectual and spiritual makeup.
However, while a conscious modernizing and the great psychological pressures which that entailed as a result of the effort to rediscover the world of poetry in such a short time span were the most obvious characteristics of underground poetry at this time, success in this endeavor was severely retarded or warped by the fact of continuing political and new economic pressures upon the individual.
The evasive or escapist stance of many underground poets with regard to personal and national social realities, while being a political response in itself, also ensured that the audience for their poetry would shrink from that of an entire generation which had avidly read Misty poetry, to a limited (though still relatively large) audience of poets or would-be poets who were willing and able to decipher the various poetic devices and languages of the modernizing poets. Thus, it should come as no surprise to learn that many of the better, recent anthologies of "third generation" poetry have been published by university print houses or print houses which specialize in the serious arts.
The work of the three poets dealt with in this paper is by no means "representative" of all third generation poetry. As the foregoing discussion would indicate, there are not, nor can there be any truly representative poets or poetry of this period (the 1980s). Depending on the reader's poetic predilections, they cannot be said to be any worse or better than others who established themselves as underground poets before 1989. However, it is the belief of this commentator that these three poets have created works of lasting value, as have many other underground poets of the 1980s. (Such as Liao's and , some of Li's post-1986 lyrics, and Zhou's post-June Fourth poetry.) Perhaps in time, emotions will cool and less partisan eyes will allow a more honest appraisal of their work in China. For the time being, however, the task appears to be one of preservation of poets and poetry until that day.
However, an examination of their work over this period does give the interested reader an insight into how China’s underground poets have dealt with modernizing, or renewal, and socio-political pressures.
Liao Yiwu is one of the very few poets who retreated out of the establishment where he had first made a name for himself and adopted the extreme modernist pose of rejection of all authority, a pose which ultimately took him outside of poetry and into the realm of politics. Liao has a gift of great imaginative power, but his knowledge of this talent and his desire to be avant-garde ultimately resulted in a derivative tendency that culminated in the Ginsbergian howl which is . It is apparent that Liao not only wished to be modern, but that he also wished to be epic. He was not the only Chinese poet with this desire, but none pursued it as unceasingly as Liao, as witnessed by his long poems, , , and .
and were attempts to analyze and, ultimately, repudiate the entirety of China and its culture. Posing as poet-prophet, Liao painted a brutal picture of gloom and doom. He does deal with the realities of present-day China, however, and as such is more political than most underground poets. But his harsh, surrealistic imagery and language confuse or alienate most uninitiated readers. In , Liao turns his attention to the basement of language, poetry, and contemporary Chinese society in general, pouring invective and abuse upon all -- and, as always, upon himself, a self which encapsulates all. Liao's poetry is the personalized form of a fallen society, a dying culture, and a language and poetry exhausted of all creative possibility. In a society shorn of hope and culture, Liao and his poetry survive as the "spawn of dogs," as do all others. There is much truth in what he says, but there are few who have the stamina and the patience to appreciate it. Just as few have the courage to face up to and admit the role, they play in the tragic farce which is China today. Man must have hope to live and Liao allows none. His ambitions as a poet are great, but all too often his technique does not match the scope of his imagination. His work is bound together by inertia and despair, hardly centers of energy with the ability to draw most readers, however well prepared, into a poem and then pull them all the way through it. The one vague hope Liao does allow is that once everything has been destroyed, something new may rise up upon the ruins, like the phoenix.
The first movement is singing,
A free voice, filling mountains and valleys.
The first movement is joy,
But it is taken away.
These lines written by Czeslaw Milosz seem to sum up the experience of both Liao Yiwu and Li Yawei. Liao's early poetry was driven by this natural impulse to sing of life, but by 1986, knowledge and experience had left him with a poetic impulse which found more exercise in cursing. For Li, however, the impulse to write poetry was quite simply taken away with his arrest in 1990.
Li Yawei was just as much the outsider, the loner that Liao Yiwu was. He had no ambitions beyond poetry itself, beyond freedom of expression and imagination. He wanted nothing to do with the social realities of China; Li left those concerns to others. He cut a romantic figure, if a somewhat irresponsible one, as opposed to Liao's pose as a tragic hero (or anti-hero). Li is everyman, or is as everyman would be if he had the freedom that Li discovered in the imagination, in poetry, in life once he slipped the bonds of society. Perhaps inevitably, however, his freedom had a bitter edge to it because it was an empty pleasure in a world that is not free. It was no surprise that his poetic associates are imaginative figures and dead poets from Chinese traditional literature, and alcohol and remembered women. The present and the future hold nothing for him, only life itself and the poetry it produces have lasting value. Seduced into striking a blow against a state that would destroy imagination, freedom, and life, Li was finally captured and his strength to resist cooption appears to have been finally crushed. Li sought modern poetic forms that would suit his spirit, but was not averse to using themes and characters from China's poetic tradition – for that was where the soul mates of his imagination lived. True, in 1987-1988, he did take a self-indulgent, fashionable post-modern approach to language, but even then, he continued to write the shorter lyric poems which had succeeded in keeping for him the relatively large audience he had won for himself with flamboyant, anti-lyric verse between 1984-1986. When reality in its most brutal form (he, like Liao and the others, was beaten and tortured in a failed attempt to extort 'confessions') finally did pin him down, because of his previous poetic-imaginative flight from it, Li was ill prepared and nearly defenseless against it. Yet there is reason to hope, once the wounds to his spirit have healed sufficiently, that hi will bring a matured intelligence and tempered (though not cowed) imagination back to poetry. The same could also be said about Liao Yiwu when he is released from captivity in 1994.
Zhou Lunyou, obviously, is a different kettle of fish entirely. Perhaps because he is older than most other third generation poets and also has the benefit of greater experience and knowledge, his concern has always been as much with the intellectual integrity of man, in particular the individual, as with poetry per se. His understanding of the history of modern Western poetry and awareness of the developing nature of recent Chinese poetry (and also, perhaps, his own shortcomings as a poet), led Zhou to believe, in 1986, that a well-organized poetry underground could sustain a poetry “movement” (运动) like that of the Surrealists and Imagists earlier this century in Europe. Before 1989, the message of Not-Not-ism was more cultural than poetic, however, as it was heavily influenced by Western post-structuralist and deconstruction theory, such as Derrida's deconstruction, Roland Barthes' ideas about 'metalanguage,' Kristeva's about 'semiotic' elements, and so on. Many underground poets resented the political overtones of Not-Not, just as they resented his apparent desire to lead an underground poetry movement which many did not perceive to exist or were unwilling to admit existed. Though the poets of Not-Not differed greatly in style and technique, they appeared to represent an expression of the belief that there was strength and safety in numbers -- this might translate into a larger audience and, ultimately, influence. In fact, the apparent size and success of Not-Not was the direct cause of Zhou's arrest in 1989. In turn, this resulted in Zhou refocusing his attention upon himself and the experience of the individual living under oppressive dictatorship over thought and expression. Ultimately, in 1992, Zhou rededicated Not-Not and his own poetry to the political cause of human freedom. restates in poetic terms the words of one of the greatest and most popular underground poets of them all, Czechoslovakia's Jaroslav Seifert, when, in 1956, after being partially rehabilitated during that country's brief de-Stalinization period, he proclaimed, "If an ordinary person is silent about the truth, it may be a tactical maneuver. If a writer is silent, he is lying...." This is the spirit of true underground poetry, of the samizdat publications which literate men and women of conscience covertly read in Eastern Europe and the USSR before the dictatorship over thought was replaced by the dictatorship over the pocket-book.
In China today both forms of dictatorship exist simultaneously. Increasingly it seems that there is a certain prestige in being an underground poet; the figure of the outsider, the ultimate refusenik has become even more romantic, but also more difficult to maintain.
The aesthetic standards of the state's literary organs are still for the most part utilitarian. Serious literature is still a tool to be wielded over intellectuals (if not the "people" who don't read it anyway) and must meet the state's explicit and implicit requirements -- all of which assist in the accumulation of cultural authority to the state and its aims.
Underground poetry, on the other hand, is home to a multiplicity of aesthetic standards, many imported from the West, where a pure love of poetry and hatred of dictatorship or consumerism can coexist, on an equal footing. Zhou's is simply one of the most recent, and most dangerous, tendencies to enter upon the scene. Most dangerous not only in a political sense vis a vis the state, but also in the sense that this kind of poetry is accessible, in literary terms, to all who have experienced oppression at the hand of the state. While it may only be a matter of time before the other non-utilitarian aesthetic standards find varying degrees of acceptance in the literary establishment, as has the majority of now dated Misty poetry, it now appears that a true underground aesthetic is beginning to take shape in China.
In this sense, the slaughter on Tian'anmen Square occurred at an auspicious moment. China's young poets had been to school and learned modern poetry during the 1980s; now, having had cause to pause and reconsider their continued existence as poets and the idea of poetry in general, there seems reason to believe that a poetry of greater maturity and honesty may begin to flow from the pens of a growing number of China's underground poets.
If recent reports out of Hongkong are to he believed, another crackdown on the spread of "bourgeois liberalization" in the arts is about to get underway in China. According to one report, in June 1993 the CCP's central office and the propaganda department collated a collection of comments made by Ding Guangen丁关根, the politburo member responsible for culture and propaganda, and this document has since been circulated to related departments throughout China.
Ding speaks of "two difficulties" (两难) in dealing with what he reportedly refers to as "the tide of bourgeois-liberal thought in literary and art works" (资产阶级自由化思潮的文学艺术作品): One difficulty is that of ascertaining general standards with which to judge these works as a result: of chaos in theory, thought and government policy, and international influences; the second is that of carrying out policy guidelines in general.
Ding goes on to promise that in the near future the central office would issue a document that would go some way to clear up the problem of Standards and policy implementation. Once works of obvious "bourgeois-liberal" ideological tendencies are discovered, they will not be allowed to be printed or, if already published, to be distributed. Those works already on sale will be ordered taken off the shelves. The individuals or organizations whose works contain "serious political mistakes" (严重政治错误) and are printed, published and distributed privately, will be treated in the same way as those who produce pornographic materials: In other words, the perpetrators will be subjected to heavy economic sanctions so that they will serve as object lessons to others.
Ding goes on to say, of course, that he does not want the leftist practices of the past repeated, by which lie appears to be implying that no one is to be arrested and sent to prisons or labour camps. The authors and publishers of works which only have serious political problems will be subjected to "administrative methods" (行政手段) and "economic sanctions" (经济制裁) alone, and not "political dictatorship methods" (专政手段). The administrative methods he refers to are those of forced resignation or being fired from government posts and positions at state-owned economic entities (a penalty that also often leads to loss of housing, health care, education, denial of passports, and so on).
If these reports are true, Zhou Lunyou and the editors of a number of other underground poetry journals and anthologies may soon be suffering the consequences of Ding's efforts. Zhou, for one, might be subjected to an enormous fine which, given his inability to pay, might result in imprisonment in any case. (As mentioned earlier, Not-Not is a non-profit undertaking funded by donations from poets and poetry lovers. Zhou has no personal income aside from that of his wife and the small amounts he receives from the infrequent publication of his work in establishment journals.)
The hope must be that this document and the following circular directive will be ignored like so many other central government directives today. Zhou's only hope would be that Xichang authorities and Sichuan’s literary and law-enforcement authorities do not decide to make an example of him once again.
Given that Zhou has spent the past three months near Beijing overseeing the publication of the two latest issues of Not-Not, he is probably well aware of the situation. And, quite obviously, he does not care about the consequences of his actions. The coming weeks (or months, depending on how quickly copies of the journal come into their possession) will show just how much the authorities in Beijing and Sichuan "care" about Zhou and Not-Not.