How poetry and revolution meshed in Red China
The Chinese Revolution, which fought its way to power seventy years ago, was a complex and protracted event in which groups and individuals with different hopes and expectations for the Revolution competed, although in the end Mao came to rule over the others. Its veterans included many poets, four of whom feature in this anthology. 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 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 Nationalists and then under their Maoist nemeses. The guerrilla leader Chen Yi wrote flamboyant and descriptive poems in mountain bivouacs or the heat of battle.
Poetry has played a different role in China, and in Chinese Revolution, from in the West—it is collective and collaborative. But in life, the four poets in this collection were entangled in opposition and even bitter hostility towards one another. Together, the four poets illustrate the complicated relationship between Communist revolution and Chinese cultural tradition.