Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

A Poet Searching for His Roots: Yang Lian and His Pre-Exile Poetics

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

A Poet Searching for His Roots: Yang Lian and His Pre-Exile Poetics

Article excerpt

In 2005, poet-in-exile Yang Lian (1955-) published a bilingual website for himself and his wife, novelist Yo Yo (Youyou, pseudonym of Liu Youhong). It was intended to cover both his own work and that of his wife, as well as related criticisms. He uses his own name as its URL (

That Yang is the one of the very few poets who has commissioned his own website speaks volumes about how he wishes to present himself and his works. As he states in the foreword of the site's homepage, he is using the website as a framework in which to present his and his wife's "one consciousness" in their pursuit of an ultimate "single work" which combines "life and writing":

This website is a whole. It offers a structure that brings together all that we have thought and done at each layer of thought and at each place in the world. When you click through the site, moving freely between our creations, thoughts, actions, and opinions accumulated over many years, do not forget that they all come from one consciousness and that they continue to build that consciousness. Spanning time and space, life and writing join together in a single work at last.2

Here, "one consciousness" is manifested as Yang's emphasis on the notions of wholeness, overarching structure, consciousness-building and the pursuit of a single work, which clearly runs parallel to many of his literary ideals, as we shall explore in this chapter. I believe his ultimate poetic goal of "one consciousness" coincides with the Chinese traditional concept of "Unity of Heaven and Man" tianren heyi), which means that the "personal, societal, political and cosmic order are coterminous and mutually entailing."3 Furthermore, this website statement clarifies his desire for his website not only to exhibit, but also to integrate, structure and to cut across "time and space" (again a concept of unifying time/space into "oneness"); which coincides perfectly with some of his poetic characteristics.

Since his exile from China after the 1989 Tiananmen student movement, Yang's participation in international literary, cultural and sometimes social activities has been very high-profile amongst literati and writers, and Oliver Kramer testified: "[Yang] is also politically active, venting his anger at the disregard of human rights in China in numerous articles in German newspapers [. . .] in 1 995-6 [and] has been engaged with the organization Index [on] Censorship."4 Yang's prize-winning records are also highly notable. He was awarded the 1999 Italian Flaiano International Prize for Poetry and his book Where the Sea Stands Still won the "Poetry Books Society Recommended Translation" prize of the British Poetry Association. Yang's other international literary roles included writer-in-residence in Taipei (late-2000), judge for the Weimar International Essay Prize Contest and the Voice of Deutschland broadcasting literary contest. He also sat on the advisory board for both the Taipei 2001 International Poetry Festival and the 2001 Berlin International Literature Festival.

Yang's prolific literary production has not been hampered by his ejection from China. Instead, he has sustained and even exceeded his pre-exile's rate of publication, with twelve of his eighteen major works of poetry and prose completed from 1989 to 2002. Furthermore, Yang's willingness and ability to express his literary and artistic ideas through his voluminous critical writings and literary manifestos may prove helpful in deciphering his works, though they may also further complicate readers' understanding. In terms of cultural capital, the value of his works, especially in the international scene, have increased steadily as they are being translated into over 20 languages, including English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Eastern European languages, and are highly acclaimed by critics and academics like Mabel Lee, Lee Robinson and Nino Ricci.

By the late-1990s, all of Yang's major works came to be published even in China. …

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