Next stop, Forbidden City

Eliot Weinberger in the London Review of Books:

‘The poet,’ Gu Cheng wrote in 1987, ‘is just like the fabled hunter who naps beside a tree, waiting for hares to break their skulls by running headlong into the tree trunk. After waiting for a long time, the poet discovers that he is the hare.’ These words turned out to be prophetic; six years later, his terrible and sordid crash against the tree would nearly obliterate what had come before. He had been a major cultural figure in China; now his poems were being read as flashbacks from his death.

He was born in 1956 in Beijing, the son of a well-known poet and army officer, Gu Gong. At 12, he wrote a two-line poem, ‘One Generation’, which was to become an emblem of the new unofficial poetry:

Even with these dark eyes, a gift of the dark night
I go to seek the shining light1

In 1969, the Cultural Revolution sent his family into the salt desert of Shandong Province to herd pigs. The locals spoke a dialect Gu Cheng could not understand, and in his isolation he became absorbed in the natural world: ‘Nature’s voice became language in my heart. That was happiness.’ His favourite book was Jean-Henri Fabre’s 19th-century entomological notes and drawings; he collected insects and watched birds; he wrote poems in the sand with a twig, poems with titles like ‘The Nameless Little Flower’ or ‘The Dream of the White Cloud’.

More here.

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