Saturday Apr 21

CaiQuijiao Cai Qijiao stands out as a rare poet who extricated himself from the meshes of Socialist Realism under Mao Zedong, survived social ostracism before and during the Cultural Revolution, and persisted in writing individually inspired, high-quality poetry.  During four decades, he produced a large, masterful corpus whose literary merit ranks him as a major poet and among the most important living in China until his death in 2007.

Born in 1918 in Fujian Province, Cai Qijiao emigrated with his parents to Indonesia and returned to China by himself at age eleven.  After high school, he went home to Indonesia, returned to China again in 1938, and later walked with friends several hundred miles from Wuhan to Yan'an, where he joined the forces of Mao Zedong.  As a cultural worker with the New Fourth Army, Cai began to write poetry in 1941.  He married in 1943 and had several children.  After the Communist Party came to power in 1949, he entered Lu Xun Arts Academy where he studied literature.  When the novelist Ding Ling founded the Central Literature Training Institute in 1952, she picked Cai Qijiao to head its teaching and research office of foreign literature.

Cai had the rank of military officer dating back to the years of the Sino-Japanese War, yet he associated very little with military people after 1950.  Because of a liaison with a high ranking officer's wife, he was convicted in 1965 of "disrupting a military marriage," an offence sometimes arbitrarily and severely punished.  After a year and a half in prison, he was released on parole and later sent to a "forest farm" for reform by labor.  He lived under the cloud of being “politically irrelevant” and a “hooligan” until the conviction was overturned in 1985.

In the 1950s, Cai published three collections of poems focusing on rural life in a folk style encouraged by the Communist Party.  Officials criticized Cai's poems for concentrating on scenery, people, and love, and for showing little regard for promoting political objectives.  Chastised after the Hundred Flowers and Anti-Rightist traps of 1957-58 for expressing personal feelings in nature poems, Cai continued writing poems, but kept them out of sight and published no books of poetry for more than twenty years.

Cai Qijiao has the rare distinction of having written personal poetry during the Cultural Revolution (1967-1976) and preserving it until it could be published afterwards.  The Communist Party required all writers to produce only morale-building, “spears and dragons” poetry in support of government programs.  Poems expressing personal feelings were considered seditious, so nearly all poets stopped writing personal poems.  While China endured thought control whose severity has become legendary, Cai improved his art with the study of classical Chinese and foreign literature.  Holding the work classification of "professional writer," Cai had leisure for study and the means to travel extensively throughout China.  For years he made his home in Beijing and spent winters in the milder climate of his home province, Fujian.

In the late 1970s, when the "obscurist poetry" (menglong shi) of young writers attracted official criticism against their unauthorized magazine Today (Jintian), Cai Qijiao did not join other established poets in censuring them.  He had been a teacher and mentor of the Fujian poet Shu Ting, an important member of the Obscurists. Cai became friends with the young poets and encouraged their work.  Their leader Bei Dao has said that he and Cai Qijiao have been friends since they met in 1981.

Cai Qijiao's prolific output since the Cultural Revolution includes poetry collections The Double Rainbow (1981), Praying (1981), Fujian (n.d.), Songs of Life (1982), Facing into the Wind (1984), and The Drunken Stone (1986).  Compilations of his poetry include Selected Works of Cai Qijiao (Hong Kong: Wenxue yanjiushe, N.D., preface dated 1979); Lyric Poems (Hong Kong: Modern Press, 1993), which contains a sequence dedicated to student victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre; and Selected Poems of Cai Qijiao (Cai qijiao shixuan) (Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1997).  An edition of his collected works in eight volumes, entitled A Gallery of Poems (Cai Qijiao shi ge hui lang) and edited by Liu Denghan, was published in 2002.

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FangDaiandMorinEdward Edward Morin has taught at the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and elsewhere.  His co-translations with Lefteris Pavlides of modern Greek poems have appeared in Crosscurrents, Chariton Review, New Letters, and other magazines.  He edited and, with Fang Dai and Dennis Ding, co-translated The Red Azalea: Chinese Poetry since the Cultural Revolution (U of Hawaii P, 1990), an anthology of 120 poems by 24 contemporary mainland Chinese poets.  Over one hundred of his own poems have been published in many North American magazines including Hudson Review, Ploughshares, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Poetry Northwest.  Collections of his poetry include The Dust of Our City (1978) and Labor Day at Walden Pond (1997).  He has also written and performed songs, some of which are available on the cassette Transportation: Hot Tunes and Blues from Motor City (Redbud Productions, 1988).  He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


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Fang Dai was born in Shanghai and graduated from high school during the Cultural Revolution.  He received a B.A. in Chinese Language and Literature from East China Normal University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in comparative literature from The University of Michigan.  He has had three novels–The Third Desire (1998), The Curtain of Night (1998), and Boasters' Room 303 (1991)—and several stories published in The People's Republic of China.  With Edward Morin and Dennis Ding, he co-translated The Red Azalea: Chinese Poetry since the Cultural Revolution.  He has been a visiting assistant professor of Chinese at The University of British Columbia and The University of Oregon.  Currently he is an Associate Professor of Chinese at Hunter College in New York City.

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DingDennis Dennis Ding was born in southwest China and graduated in foreign language and literature from Guiyang Normal College and Guizhou University.  He has studied as a visiting scholar at Oakland University in Michigan (1985-86) and at Oxford University, England (1988). He has taught English for several years at Guizhou University, where he has been Dean and is now Chairman of foreign languages.  His translations from English to Chinese include over one hundred works by T.S. Eliot, Pound, H.D., Frost, W.C. Williams, Roethke, Bellow, Hemingway, and a few other novelists including Agatha Christie.  Many of his translations have appeared in leading Chinese publications.  He has also edited textbooks of English and American literature for use in Chinese universities.   He is a co-translator of The Red Azalea: Chinese Poetry since the Cultural Revolution.

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