Agony Books
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Poets of the Chinese Revolution


320 pages, hardcover

How poetry and revolution meshed in Red China

The Chinese Revolution was a complex and protracted event staged by competing groups and individuals with different hopes and expectations. Its veterans included many poets, four of whom feature in this anthology. Poetry has played a different role in China—and in the Chinese Revolution—than in the West. In the Chinese tradition, poetry is collective and collaborative. But, in life, the four poets in this collection were entangled in opposition and, at times, regarded one another with bitter hostility.

The four poets, whose work is collected in English translation here alongside the Chinese originals, all wrote in the classical style, but their poetry was no less diverse than their politics. Chen Duxiu led China’s early cultural awakening before founding the Communist Party in 1921. Mao Zedong led the party to power in 1949. Zheng Chaolin, Chen Duxiu’s disciple and, like him, a convert to Trotskyism, spent thirty-four years in jail, first under the Nationalist regime and then under their Maoist nemeses. The guerrilla leader Chen Yi wrote flamboyant and descriptive poems in mountain bivouacs and in the heat of battle. Together, the four poets illustrate the complicated relationship between the Communist Revolution and Chinese cultural traditions.

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