Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

MISTY POETRY (MENGLONG SHI), MISTY POETS (MENGLONG SHIREN). Menglong, which could also be translated as “obscure” or “enigmatic,” implies that the meaning of a poem is not transparent, and that the poet’s intention is not spelled out clearly for the benefit of the reader. The emergence of Misty poetry in the late 1970s marked a major literary breakthrough in post-Mao China with profound ramifications. Nearly all of the Misty poets were urban youths who had been sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. The harsh realities of rural life led them to question their faith in authority and the isolated countryside stimulated their literary sensibilities. To express their aspirations for freedom and spirituality in their writing, they were the first to protest against authoritarianism and ideological tyranny in the thaw of the post-Mao era. Bei Dao’s 1972 poem “The Answer” represented the voice of skepticism and the defiance of his generation. The political relaxation in the late 1970s made it possible for the underground poets to have an open forum where they could publish their own work. Bei Dao and Mang Ke established Jintian (Today), a literary journal for experimental work.

To break away from the literary practices defined by Maoist doctrine, the Misty poets emphasized the individual and the private over the political and the collective. Influenced by Western literature, they wrote imagistic, elliptical, and often ambiguous poetry, without the didactic messages and political slogans that had dominated the literature of the Mao era. In the Antispiritual Pollution Campaign of 1983, Misty poetry was singled out for criticism by the authorities. Subsequently in the aftermath of the crackdown on the Tian’anmen Prodemocracy Movement, Jintian was banned and many of the Misty poets went into exile. Years later, Jintian resumed publication abroad. Prominent among the Misty poets are Bei Dao, Duo Duo, Gu Cheng, Jiang He, Mang Ke, Shu Ting, Yan Li, Yang Lian, and Yu Jian.