YANG LIAN (1955— )
YANG LIAN (1955— ). Poet. Yang Lian was born in Bern, Switzerland, where his diplomat parents, representing the newly established People’s Republic of China, were posted. He grew up in Beijing but spent several years in the countryside as an educated youth. Yang came to fame in the early 1980s, when he became one of the most prominent members of the Misty poets. Yang was in New Zealand with his wife, YoYo, in 1989 when the Chinese government cracked down on the student demonstration at Tian’anmen Square. He stayed in New Zealand until 1993 and eventually became a citizen. He later lived in Germany, Australia, and the United States, and since 1994, Yang has made London his home. His books were banned in the aftermath of the Tian’anmen demonstration, but in recent years he has travelled back to China and his poems have been published there. Winner of the 1999 Flaiano International Prize for Poetry, Yang enjoys an international reputation as one of the major voices representing modern Chinese poetry, and his work has been translated into many languages.
A man of talent and charisma, Yang has evolved into one of the most creative poets of the original Misty group. Yang has attempted to reinvigorate an interest in cultural heritage and make it relevant to modern consciousness. His well-known long poem, “Nuorilang,” named after a waterfall in a national park in western Sichuan, ponders history and reality in the interplay of a natural phenomenon and a Tibetan myth. Other poems that explore the past in the present include “Banpo” (The Prehistoric Village), “Dayan ta” (The Wild Goose Pagoda), “Xizang” (Tibet), and “Dunhuang” (Dunhuang), all landmarks impregnated with rich history. Yang’s attraction to such locales comes from his preoccupation with the meaning of culture and civilization in the highly abstract sense. This particular interest in tracing the infinite and the universal through ancient traditions has become more pronounced in his poetry written after he left China. Yi, a book-length poem and his most ambitious project, is inspired by the Taoist classic, Yi jing (Book of Change). The poem weaves together assorted images, encompassing the past, present, and future, making metaphysical inquiries about time and space. Yang also writes about exile, conceived not just as a form of political excommunication, but more cogently, as the essence of existence, complementing the fundamental concern of his poetry: the expression of the meaning of life and death. Noted particularly for his innovative use of the Chinese language, Yang’s poetry is often abstruse, subscribing to its own logic and inner hermetic rationale.