Bei Dao: Today’s Chinese literature is uninspired

An article in today’s China Daily reports on one of the first visits to the mainland by Chinese poet Bei Dao in 20 years. And has him speak out on the situation of poetry there & elsewhere. Opening paras below, full article here:

XINING – The 62-year-old poet Bei Dao surprised nearly everyone when he appeared at the Qinghai Lake Poetry Festival that opened on Aug 9, as he has been absent from the Chinese mainland for more than 20 years, except for a brief stay for his father’s funeral in Beijing in 2001.

Bei Dao, whose real name is Zhao Zhenkai, covered his thin body with a a brick-red jacket and grey pants as he made a short speech at the opening ceremony of the festival in Xining, capital of northwest Qinghai province, before being surrounded by fans clamoring for his autograph and hoping to be photographed with him.

The pioneer of a new genre of Chinese poetry in the early 1980s frequently found himself crowded by fans during this visit, but if it bothered him he never showed it, as he was always polite and never refused autograph or photo requests.

Away from admirers, he looked introspective, as he gazed into the distance or wandered alone, sometimes snapping photos. “I wish to convey my meditation on the world after years of travelling through poetry,” he said in his baritone voice.

“My wandering life of 20 years is precious to me, and my life and poems run in parallel lines — sometimes crossing,” Bei Dao told Xinhua in an exclusive interview in the National Geological Park in Guide County in Qinghai during the festival.

One of his best known poems is “The Answer,” which was written in the 1970s, and in it he says “Debasement is the password of the base, Nobility the epitaph of the noble.”

He said he seldom recites it these days, unless a friend requests it.

“For a poet, it’s hard to pick a favorite among all your works, but I’ve always believed my best poem should be the next one,” he said. “Poets should always challenge themselves.”

[ctd. here]

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