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Diane Manuel, News Service (650) 725-1945; e-mail:

Stanford hosts Chinese poet Bei Dao on Nov. 29

Chinese poet Bei Dao, who was accused of inciting the 1989 protesters in Tienanmen Square and subsequently forced into exile, will bring a literary voice to the Presidential Lectures and Symposia in the Humanities and Arts on Monday, Nov. 29.

He will give a reading of his work at 7 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. Bei Dao will read his poems in Chinese, which will then be rendered into English by essayist and translator Eliot Weinberger.

Bei Dao also will participate in a discussion of literary translation at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, in the Terrace Room of Building 460. At noon that day he will sign copies of his books at the Stanford Bookstore, and at 4 p.m. discuss his work at the Cantor Arts Center auditorium.

All events are free and open to the public.

Bei Dao is the pseudonym of Zhao Zhenkai, one of China's foremost poets, according to the website compiled by Ramon Myers, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and curator of the East Asian collection, and Hoover library specialist Timothy McGuire (

Born in 1949 in Beijing, Bei Dao came from a traditional middle-class Shanghai family. He joined the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution, but became disillusioned with the movement and was sent to the countryside to work in construction. Living in isolation in the mountains apparently prompted him and many of his peers to explore a more spiritual approach to life.

Like many of China's writers in the 1970s, Bei Dao experimented with free verse and with writing what came to be called "misty poetry" because of its elusive subjects and tenses. By 1974, he had finished the first draft of his novella Waves and begun a series of poems that would become a beacon for youth involved in the April Fifth Democracy Movement of 1976, when thousands demonstrated peacefully in Beijing's Tienanmen Square.

In December 1978, Bei Dao and Mang Ke published the first issue of China's first unofficial literary journal, Jintian (Today). Writing about the nature of the self, Bei Dao's work depicted the intimacy of passion, love and friendship in a society where trust could be a matter of life and death.

Jintian ultimately was shut down in 1980, and the poet was forced into exile after the Tienanmen Square massacre of 1989. However, he has found a new voice in a renewed Jintian, now published in Sweden.

"I see a connection between poetry and rebellion," Bei Dao said in an interview published in 1996. "Rebellion is a major theme of my generation. But I believe rebellion begins at the personal level, for instance, my rebellion against my father. Poetry is a form of rebellion against the decades of chaos in China."

Bei Dao has cited as his literary mentors Garcia Lorca and the Spanish poets Rafael Alberti, Vicente Aleixandre and Antonio Machado. He also enjoys the work of the German-speaking Paul Celan.

"I think there is a deep affinity between him and myself in the way he combines the sense of pain with language experiments," Dao says. "He transforms his experience in the concentration camps into a language of pain.

"That is very similar to what I am trying to do. Many poets separate their experience from the language they use in poetry, but in the case of Celan there is a fusion, a convergence of experience and experimental language."

Bei Dao argues that exile has given him many opportunities to face "the heart of darkness" that every human being must face.

"This path leading to the heart of darkness, some people may refuse to take it, some may give up halfway through. It has given me the courage to go on."


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