Before he was known as Mang Ke, the Beijing-born Jiang Shiwei followed Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution call for educated youths to “rusticate,” or be sent down to the countryside, to learn revolution and proper socialist behavior from the peasants. While the extent to which he learned socialism is unclear, he did develop the framework of a style that would transform into contemporary Chinese poetry. In what is still the best early history of contemporary poetry as it grew in the sixties and seventies, Maghiel van Crevel writes that “Mang Ke was the first to develop an individual and mature mode of expression in Experimental poetry written in and around Beijing in the early 1970s,” and defines his style as one of “simple vocabulary, precise and sometimes repetitive wording, and a limited number of recurring images.”
In its understatement, Mang Ke’s writing takes an early stance against what Chinese critic Li Tuo has called Mao wenti, translated as “Mao style” or “Maospeak.”4 Mang Ke’s implicitly counter-Maoist poetics not only grew into the explicit politics of “Sunflower in the Sun,” but also into a poetry movement with its own publication mechanism, the first non-official literary journal in the history of the People’s Republic of China—where publishing was strictly a state-controlled affair. Back in Beijing, Mang Ke co-founded, with another young poet named Zhao Zhenkai (b. 1949), the journal Jintian (Today), to publish poetry, fiction, and criticism that would offer new forms of literary expression in a China emerging from the Cultural Revolution.
Mang Ke (b. 1950, penname of Jiang Shiwei) began writing poetry as a sent-down youth in Baiyangdian, rural Hebei province, during the Cultural Revolution. As co-founder of the PRC’s first unofficial literary journal Jintian in 1978, he is one of the progenitors of what would later be called Obscure or “Misty” Poetry, with spare, impressionistic poems that were among the first to break free of the imposed discourse of Maoism towards an image-based literary style that left space for both expression and interpretation. He currently makes his living as an abstract painter and lives in Songzhuang, an artists’ colony on the outskirts of Beijing.
Lucas Klein is a writer, translator, and editor whose work has appeared in Jacket, Rain Taxi, CLEAR, and PMLA, and from Fordham, Black Widow, and New Directions. Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong, his translation Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems of Xi Chuan won the 2013 Lucien Stryk Prize. He is translating Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin.
October Dedications, by Mang Ke
Translated from Chinese by Lucas Klein
with Huang Yibing and Jonathan Stalling
6" x 8"
152 pages | Bilingual Chinese/English
Paperback | ISBN 978-1-938890-08-6 (paper)
FINALIST for the 2019 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize!
“This selection of Mang Ke’s poems is arguably one of the most important titles published so far in the Zephyr Press Jintian series of Chinese poetry. …The translation is a masterful recreation of Chinese punctuation and line length in English translation, omitting the use of any punctuation and capital letters, except in the titles." — Maria Todarova, Hong Kong Review of Books