In Sichuan, the home of many Chinese writers, he began to write. In 1979 the first publications of his poems appeared in poetry magazines. Zhang Zao was soon counted as one of the »Sichuan-Wu-Junzi« group of writers who on the one hand are open to innovative elements of world literature and on the other hand keep the classic elements of Chinese poetry, thus aiming for a dialogue rich, pure, elegant and at the same time experimental poetry.
In 1986, Zhang Zao moved to Tübingen to do a PhD in comparative literature. He is currently the only internationally recognized Chinese poet who has such a good command of German that he can do literary translations. His skills in Russian, English and French are equally good.
Since 1994 he is foreign language assistant at the Institute for sinology at Tübingen University. The town on the river Neckar has become home of choice for Zao, the admirer of Hölderlin lives there with his family. Like hardly any other Asian poet he has succeeded in not only personally settling in Germany but also at the same time he has managed to gain a literary individual viewpoint within the western culture.
Zao’s work has been translated into many western languages, in German appeared, amongst others, »Briefe aus der Zeit« (1999), a chronologically ordered collection of his poems. In 1999 he received the »Anne-Kao Lyric Poetry Prize« in Berlin and in the same year he was awarded for the best Chinese work in 1999 by the Chinese literary magazine »Der Autor«.
Zhang Zao counts as one of the most important representatives of the so-called »post hermetic school«. To these younger Chinese poets who have influenced the Chinese literary scene since the mid eighties belong, alongside Zhang Zao, Ouyang Jianghe and Wang Jiaxin. Their common ground is the emphasis on the autonomy of literature and the independence of the writer. Poetry should, in the »post hermetic school«, be perceived as exclusively the matter of language, the poet should be recognized as an unmistakable individual. At the same time, the representatives of this trend are nevertheless looking for new access to pre-modern Chinese poetry. According to them, the »hermetic school«, to which for example Bei Dao belongs, is lacking an openness to their own literary history.
In his poems, Zhang Zao links with the tradition of dialogue in Chinese poetry. He adds the lyrical »I« and the not present »you« to whom the »I« speaks. According to Xiao Kaiyu, Zhang Zao takes pictures from classical Chinese literature which have a long history of traditional connotation, »like plum blossom, the crane or often an elegant style.« The poet combines this with the formal structures of western poetry. Zhang Zao personally talks for example of the adaptation of foreign forms, for example meta poetry, the level of talking from poet to poet.
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