Universiteit Leiden

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Digital Archive for Chinese Studies
Leiden Division

China's Second World of Poetry: Translations

by Michael Martin Day


The bulk of these poems were translated during 1994-1997, after my MA had been completed and while I was supposedly preparing to write a doctorate at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. The exceptions are the poetry of Liao Yiwu, Li Yawei, and Zhou Lunyou, who are the subjects of my MA thesis, and that of Tang Xiaodu, one of my best friends and also a noted critic of avant-garde poetry, who asked me to do so earlier this year (2005).

At the time, I had a vague idea of writing a doctoral thesis dealing with the entirety of the avant-garde poetry scene in China. This included a dream of producing an anthology collecting the work of roughly 35 poets. It eventually became clear to me at the time that I had more interest in translation than academic writing, and little interest in staying in Vancouver... so I left for Prague, a new language, and environment in July 1997.

The anthology may never be completed as originally planned, but as it now stands, it serves as a nice companion piece to my doctoral thesis, which deals with the development of avant-garde poetry in Sichuan province during 1982-1992. While eight of the twenty poets collected here are from that province, the remainder are frequently mentioned in the thesis and were prominent during the period in question. It is my hope that interested readers will be able to get a better, more complete 'feel' for the poetry of the period through reading what is here.

All the poems here are translated by myself and were primarily selected for how they might sound in English translation. In this sense they are not 'scholarly', but an opportunity to practice my own personal vice of poetry writing. That said, the texts chosen did not need to be manipulated into poetic versions more acceptable for English readers. One of my primary pleasures during those years was to sit down with the Chinese works of an individual poet, read them, find a voice for them in myself, and then identify the poems that might best carry that voice into English. I find this form of self-denial to be a pleasure, just as I find pleasure in the poetry of others and not my own.

Because of this, the poems identified by critics in China as among the key works of a poet during this period are not always translated here. This is very much a very personal selection.

Furthermore, not all the pieces collected here are poetry. While in prisons and labor camps during 1990-1994, Liao Yiwu wrote brief lyrical prose pieces for his newborn daughter and began writing a lengthy work of semi-autobiographical fiction. I have translated some of the brief prose and the Introduction to what has become a five-part magnum opus in prose for Liao, Go On Living [活下去].

Finally, I also began to write introductory essays for individual poets, in the hope that there might be some real interest in these poets and their poetry in the English language. Again, they are not scholarly articles. These essays have been attached to the ends of the individual collections of Bai Hua, Han Dong, Yu Jian, and Zhai Yongming.

I hope readers will enjoy what is available to them here.


The translations are available in PDF-format. Click on a link to open the document in a new window, or right-click to download (select "Save Target As...").

  1. Bai Hua 柏桦
  2. Chen Dongdong 陈东东
  3. Han Dong 韩东
  4. Hei Dachun 黑大春
  5. Li Yawei 李亚伟
  6. Liao Yiwu 廖亦武
  7. Lü De’an 吕德安
  8. Lu Yimin 陆忆敏
  9. Meng Lang 孟浪
  10. Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河
  1. Tang Xiaodu 唐晓渡
  2. Tang Yaping 唐亚平
  3. Wan Xia 万夏
  4. Wang Xiaoni 王小妮
  5. Wang Yin 王寅
  6. Xi Chuan 西川
  7. Yu Jian 于坚
  8. Zhai Yongming 翟永明
  9. Zheng Min 郑敏
  10. Zhou Lunyou 周伦佑

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