In Conversation with Yang Lian

Chinese Poet, Yang Lian in conversation with Mabel Lee

Co-presented with the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney

Lecture date: 6 March, 2014

Join us for a conversation between internationally acclaimed Chinese poet Yang Lian, and local academic and translator of his poetry, Mabel Lee. The conversation will be followed by a reading of his poetry by Mabel Lee (in English) and Yang Lian himself (in Chinese).

Yang Lian

Yang Lian 杨炼 was a leading member of a small group of unpublished Beijing poets who started Today magazine in 1978 in order to see their own works in print. It was established as an unregistered publication in a bid to circumvent censorship scrutiny, but this meant that its operations were closely monitored. After a couple of years the authorities closed down the magazine, but its poetry that reflected individuality and the desire for creative freedom succeeded in launching the first “new wave poetry” in post-Mao China.

In Yang Lian’s early poetry, exuberant male sexuality is ever present as a powerful symbolic affirmation of his male self. In 1983 Shanghai Literature published his cycle of five poems titled Norlang (the name of a Tibetan god) on the very eve of the Anti-Spiritual-Pollution campaign: he was singled out for criticism and banned from publishing for a year.

In 1989 Norlang was included in Yang Lian’s collection Yellow that was published while he was in New Zealand, and coincided with his angry public condemnation of the 4 June military crackdown on student demonstrators in Beijing. The entire print run of Yellow was impounded and destroyed. He became a New Zealand citizen, and in the early 1990s relocated to London where he has successfully established himself as an international poet.

Shanghai Literature Publishing House produced Yang Lian’s Collected Works: 1982–1997 (1998, reprinted in 2003) an Yang Lian’s New Works: 1998–2002 (2003). His English-language publications include: Masks and Crocodile (Sydney, 1990), The Dead in Exile (Canberra, 1990), Non-Person Singular (London, 1994), Where the Sea Stands Still (London, 1995), Yi (Los Angeles, 2002), Notes of a Blissful Ghost (Hong Kong, 2002), Concentric Circles (Newcastle UK, 2005), Unreal City (Auckland, 2006) and Riding Pisces (Exeter UK, 2008). He is recipient of prestigious literary awards, notably the Flaiano International Prize for Poetry (1999) and the Nonino International Literary Prize (2012).

Yang Lian is in Australia as a guest of the 2014 Adelaide Festival Writers’ Week, but his many connections with Australia, and especially the University of Sydney date back to 1988 when he first visited for several months as part of a cultural exchange program. His first English-language collection Masks and Crocodile was published as part of the University of Sydney East Asian Series in 1990. A representative selection of Yang Lian’s poems translated by Naikan Tao and Tony Prince will be included in the forthcoming Mabel Lee ed., Poems of Hong Ying, Zhai Yongming and Yang Lian (Sydney: Vagabond Press Asia Pacific Poetry Series, 2014).

Visit Yang Ling's website.

Mabel Lee

Mabel Lee is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Sydney. She translated Yang Lian’s first two books in English: Masks & Crocodile and The Dead in Exile. She is also translator of his long cycle of poems based on the Yijing (Book of Changes), bearing the titleYi . Her research deals with modern Chinese intellectual history and literature, and she is also the translator of the 2000 Nobel Laureate for Literature, Gao Xingjian.