22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Zheng Chouyu

Portrait Zheng Chouyu
© Hartwig Klappert

Zheng Chouyu was born in Jinan in Shandong Province in 1933 and grew up in Beijing. He is the son of a high-ranking military officer, a background that deeply influences his work which only on first sight seems to be of a purely lyrical nature; neither are his political leanings immediately apparent in his poems. Despite his left-wing sympathies, Zheng decided to flee to Taiwan, where he was forced to burn his first volume of poetry in order not to place himself in danger. Yet even his early, ostensibly apolitical poetry got him into trouble. Time and again he found himself having to change particular words in order to get his books published; still it was mainly the poems from the fifties which brought him fame as a man of letters.

His requests for permission to leave the country for a student residency in the USA having being turned down on political grounds for many years, Zheng was later denied re-entry to Taiwan and finally settled in the U.S., where he taught Chinese at Yale University from the seventies until 2004. There have been many translations of his poems which also feature in school text books in Taiwan and Hong Kong, although he lived only briefly in Taiwan. This inclusion can be justified by the fact that the poet has recently settled in Quemoy – an island under Taiwanese rule, situated between mainland China and Taiwan. It was bombed by the mainland multiple times and was considered an operational zone up until the nineties. For the past few years this place has been Zheng’s preferred topic in terms of writing and meditation.

Zheng is considered the most »Chinese« of all modern poets. He masterfully understands how to combine classical Chinese imagery with European Modernism. From this emerges the impression of a poetry that is very accessible and has therefore been translated by many artists into other media – into songs, paintings, symphonies and operatic pieces. In some instances the poems have – for all their subtlety – taken on the character of popular songs. As a result the poet has achieved the status of a media star and today can sometimes be seen on the streets of Taipei accompanied by fans. Zheng’s extensive work is presently being published in a complete edition entitled »Zheng Chouyu shiji« (2003; t: The collected poems of Zheng Chouyu), of which two volumes have already appeared in Taiwan. The first volume covers the period between 1955 and 1968 and the second the years from 1969 to 1986.

Translator: Wolfgang Kubin

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