A Conversation with Bei Dao
A conversation -- in Chinese -- with the noted poet Bei Dao
Wednesday, May 07, 2003
11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
243 Royce Hall
Bei Dao, considered by many to be China’s foremost contemporary poet, was forced to flee China in 1989, when he was accused of inciting the protest in Tiananmen Square. Since then, he has lived in seven countries, including Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France and the U.S. Many of his works have been translated into English and other Western languages. The pseudonym “Bei Dao,” which means “Northern Island,” is one of several used in the past by the poet and writer Zhao Zhenkai to conceal his identity from the Chinese authorities, and was chosen arbitrarily for the poet by a journalist colleague. It has no significance for its owner, beyond the fact that it is the name by which he is known to the rest of the world.
Bei Dao was born in 1949 in Beijing to a middle-class family. His father was an administrative cadre, and his mother, a medical doctor. During the Cultural Revolution, he became a Red Guard, and like other urban youth, was “rusticated” (sent down to the countryside) in the late 1960s.
By the mid-1970s, Bei Dao had finished his novella Waves and begun a sequence of poems. The latter were characterized by oblique imagery and obscure syntax. That style in which language and meaning are elusive and unclear was quickly dubbed “misty poetry.” But the meaning was often clear enough. The single best-known line of misty poetry is from Bei Dao: “I don’t believe.” Bei Dao’s poetry won instant recognition and a faithful following, especially among young readers.
Bei Dao has been inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters as an “honorary member,” and his name is constantly reported by the media as being on the short list of Nobel candidates in recent years.
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Tel: 310 825-8683
Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies