Credit: ©Ann Arbor
November 29, 2001|
3:00 p.m. Weinberger Seminar
Credit: ©Pedro Valtierra
Bei Dao is one of several pseudonyms employed in the past by the poet and writer Zhao Zhenkai to conceal his identity from the Chinese authorities. "Bei Dao" means "North Island," 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.
One of China's most celebrated poets-in-exile, Bei Dao served as a member of the Red Guard during Chairman Mao's infamous Cultural Revolution. In 1969, however, he was sent into the countryside for "re-education "-- seven years of forced labor in the construction trade. During this time, Bei Dao became disaffected with the Chinese political system, helped to organize dissident reading circles, and began writing poetry and short stories. He distributed his work illegally, and helped to found one of China's most influential-- though short-lived-- underground literary journals, "Jintian" ("Today").
During a period of cultural openness in the 1980's, Bei Dao's identity became known, and he became more of a public figure as an outspoken critic of the government and society. When students took over Tiananmen Square in 1989, they recited his poetry as chants and emblazoned it on banners, notably the lines,
"I will not kneel on the ground
Away in Berlin for a literary conference during the political crisis, Bei Dao was not allowed to return to his wife and child in China (they were reunited six years later). He has lived since that time in Europe and the U.S.
Written in a pioneering modernist style, Bei Dao's short stories tell of lives destroyed or rendered
absurd by the Cultural Revolution. Published in Chinese as "Bodong" (Hong Kong, 1985), and in
English translation as Waves (1987, ISBN 0-8112-1134-7), the stories established Bei Dao as one of China's leading
literary figures. Historian Jonathan Spence, writing in the "New York Times Book Review," called
the stories in "Waves," "almost unbearably poignant."
As a poet, Bei Dao is one of the inventors of "misty poetry ," an obscure, surrealistic, modernist mode of expression that was originally designed to foil Communist Party censorship. His collections in English translation include "Notes from the City of the Sun" (1983), "The August Sleepwalker" (1988, New Directions, ISBN 0-8112-1132-0), "Old Snow" (1991, ISBN 0-8112-1183-5), "Forms of Distance" (1995), and "Landscape Over Zero" (1996). His most recent collection, "Unlock" (2000, New Directions, ISBN 0-8112-1447-8), is composed of forty-nine new poems written in the United States.
He lives with his daughter in Davis, California.
Eliot Weinberger translated "Unlock" in collaboration with the author and SUNY Stony Brook Professor of History, Iona Man-Cheong. Weinberger will also translate Bei Dao's live reading from the original Mandarin. In addition, Weinberger will read from his own body of distinguished work. Eliot Weinberger is a translator of international renown. His edition of "The Selected Non-Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges" (1999) received the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. That same year, Weinberger received the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor the Mexican government can bestow on a foreign national, for his numerous translations of Mexican poet Octavio Paz. In 1992, he was named the fIrst recipient of the PEN/Gregory Kolovakos Award for promotion of Latin American literature in the U.S.
In the course of many years of friendship, Weinberger collaborated with Paz on translations of "Selected Poems" (1984), "The Collected Poems: 1957-1987" (1987), "A Tree Within" (1988), "Reading John Cage" (1989), "Sunstone" (1991), and "In Light of India" (1997). He defines the translator as "an actor playing the role of author," and says that "a translation is based on the dissolution of the self."
Weinberger is also a critic and essayist with eclectic interests. His most recent collection of essays, "Karmic Traces: 1993-1999" (2000, New Directions, ISBN 0-8112-1456-7) is a wide-ranging exploration of poetry, places, peoples and cultures. Subjects include Aztec religious practices, the Vikings of Iceland, naked mole rats, and Hong Kong's transfer to China.
|Writers Online Magazine Article|
New Directions Publishing