THE CHINESE POETRY OF BEI DAO, 1978-2000: Resistance and Exile

Price:$159.95 + shipping
(Click the PayPal button to buy)
This book studies the poetic works of Bei Dao, one of the most important and influential contemporary Chinese poets. Bei Dao’s hermetic style of poetry has been baffling his critics ever since he started writing in the late 1970s. While his earlier “Misty” poetry met with strong resistance from official Chinese critics, his continuing insistence on fragmented syntax and disjunctive imagery while writing in exile has earned him some detractors in the west. Does Bei Dao resist reading? Can one make sense of his poetry? What is the relationship between meaning and interpretative certitude? These are some of the questions that the study addresses. Through a close reading of an expansive selection of his poems, the book constructs a conceptual roadmap of Bei Dao’s complex poetics that is both unabashedly individualistic and deeply synchronistic with traditional Chinese and post-modernist aesthetics. The reading of Bei Dao not only dismisses the myth of the poet’s unreadability but also demonstrates that the poetics of uncertainty and plentitude are a reflection of Bei Dao’s ingrained skepticism that comes from his frustrating experiences with the Maoist ideology force-fed in his formative years, a skepticism that later expands to produce a suspicion about all discourses of power. Bei Dao’s poetry, in a nutshell, is an exercise in survival, a battle of voices, and a strategy of mapping out the vanishing self against all antagonistic forces in contemporary societies, real or imagined.


“In this important work, Dr. Dian Li adopts a diametrically-opposed strategy: he prefers to lead his readers into the labyrinths of Bei Dao’s poetic world. Equipped with the sharp tools of modern and post-modern literary criticism and aided by a painstaking close reading and insightful observations, he manages to detect and to define the characteristic features and the sometimes drastic techniques which lend uniqueness to Bei Dao’s oeuvre. It is indeed gratifying that a monograph of this quality at long last has been devoted to the works of a leading poet having Chinese as his mother tongue.” – (from the Preface) N.G.D. Malmqvist, Professor Emeritus, Stockholm University

“This path-breaking study on the eminent postsocialist Chinese poet Bei Dao is the first of its kind in the English-language scholarship on Chinese literature. Dr. Li's examination is well-informed by contemporary Chinese research on modern poetry as well as by that in English, and his analysis indicates he is equally well-versed in Western literary theory from Aristotle to the New Critics and into poststructural theory ... The author’s in-depth consideration of the most acclaimed Chinese poet of the post-war era is a testament to the importance of the subject matter and a tribute to the preeminence of Bei Dao as a poet who has become synonymous with the trials that China has been forced to endure in the past half century. He accomplishes this awesome task by providing a rich set of readings that are sophisticated yet lucid, informed yet free of jargon, and in many instances impressively profound and thoughtful.” – Professor Christopher Lupke, Washington State University

“Bei Dao (1949) is an internationally renowned poet, and a trailblazer in what is sweepingly known as the post-Mao avant-garde in the People’s Republic of China. His fame is an explosive amalgam of literary talent and historical circumstance. The reception of his work all too often takes its easy cues from the latter category, especially since the Chinese government’s suppression of the 1989 Protest Movement forced Bei Dao into exile, and his writings were banned in China for over a decade ... This is thoughtful, well-worded, essayistic scholarship that does not suffer from compulsive attempts at academic ‘completeness,’ but gives precious moments in Bei Dao’s poetry the aesthetic and intellectual space they so richly deserve. This work is an important, highly enjoyable contribution to the study of (Chinese) literature.” – Professor Maghiel van Crevel, Leiden University, The Netherlands

Table of Contents

Preface by N.G.D. Malmqvist
1. Ideology and Conflict
2. Exile’s Promise
3. Unreal Imagery
4. Playing with Keywords
5. Paradox and Opposite
6. Translatability as Critique
7. Bei Dao’s Place

Other Asia & Pacifica Books