HE QIFANG (1912—1977)
HE QIFANG (1912—1977). Poet and essayist. Born in Wanxian, Sichuan Province, He Qifang left home for Shanghai in 1927. While studying in a middle school, he wrote symbolic poetry to express his feelings about youth and romantic love. In 1931, he went to Beijing University to study philosophy. In the 1930s, He was known as a poet of refined and sophisticated sensibilities; he was influenced by the Crescent Society poets, especially Xu Zhimo and Wen Yiduo, and the modernist poets Dai Wangshu and Liu Na’ou. He was also a fan of French symbolist poetry and later he found inspiration in T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” He admired the imagistic precision of classical Chinese poetry and set off to find a poetic language that was capable of achieving the perfect combination of color, scene, allusion, and meaning. His early poetry, some of which was published in Hanyuan ji (Hanyuan Collection), a collaboration with Bian Zhilin and Li Guangtian, was characterized by its exquisite craftsmanship and graceful sensibility. His prose works, particularly those collected in Hua meng lu (Visualizing Dreams), make liberal use of symbols and images to create a coherent literary vision. At the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, He returned to Sichuan to teach but he continued to write poetry and essays. In 1938, He went with Bian Zhilin and Sha Ting to the Communist base in Yan’an and soon after was appointed chairman of the Literature Department at the Lu Xun Institute of Arts. During this time, he published a poetry collection entitled Ye ge he baitian de ge (Songs of Day and Night) and a collection of essays Xinghuo ji (Sparks), launching a successful career as a Communist poet. After 1949, He headed, at different times, the Literary Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Chinese Writers’ Association.
Joining the Communist revolution changed his writing style in a fundamental way. His poems and essays became more direct in meaning and his language more accessible. Most important, he acquired a voice that was vigorous and passionate in its praise of the Communist revolution. Some of the poems and prose he wrote after his arrival in Yan’an, including “Wo gechang Yan’an” (I Sing of Yan’an) and “Shenghuo shi duome guangkuo” (Great Life), expressing his optimism about communism, remain classics of socialist romanticism in China. After he attended the 1942 Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art at which Mao Zedong delivered his famous speech setting the guidelines for Communist literature and arts, He’s creative work took another turn, this time toward the sole purpose of conveying political messages instead of expressing spontaneous feelings and sentiments. The lessons he learned from the conference and the subsequent political purges within the Communist ranks left indelible marks on He’s literary work. Most of his writing after 1942 and especially since 1949 is political in nature. See also MODERNISTS.