Yang Lian (poet)

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Yang Lian, 2013

Yang Lian (Chinese: 楊煉 Yáng Liàn; born 22 February 1955) is a Swiss-Chinese poet associated with the Misty Poets and also with the Searching for Roots school. He was born in Bern, Switzerland in 1955 and raised in Beijing, where he attended primary school.[1][2]

His education was interrupted by the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution after 1966. In 1974 he was sent to Changping county near Beijing to undergo 're-education through labor', where he undertook a variety of tasks including digging graves. In 1977, after the Cultural Revolution had ended and Mao Zedong had died, Yang returned to Beijing where he worked with the state broadcasting service.

Early career[edit]

Yang began writing traditional Chinese poetry while working in the countryside, despite this genre of poetry being officially proscribed under the rule of Mao Zedong. In 1979, he became involved with the group of poets writing for 'Today' (Jintian) magazine, and his style of poetry developed into the modernist, experimental style common within that group.

The 'Today' group attracted considerable controversy during the early 1980s, and the initially derogatory term of 'Misty Poets' was applied to them at this time. In 1983, Yang's poem 'Norlang' (the name of a waterfall in Tibet) was criticised as part of the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign, and a warrant was put out for his arrest. He managed to escape after a tip-off from friends; the campaign ended shortly afterwards.


Yang began to travel overseas after 1986, including visits to Australia and New Zealand. Yang Lian was in Auckland, New Zealand at the time of the Tiananmen incident, and was involved with protests against the actions of the Chinese government. His work was blacklisted in China shortly after June 4, 1989, and two books of his poetry awaiting publication there were pulped. A short time later, Yang's Chinese citizenship was revoked. He requested a new passport so that he could travel abroad, but Chinese authorities refused to issue one for him, and he was granted refugee status in New Zealand.[3]

Since that time, Yang Lian has held writers' fellowships in Australia and Germany, and has travelled broadly. Although he has retained New Zealand citizenship, he has lived in London since 1993.

Along with fellow Misty Poet, Bei Dao, he has reportedly been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He received the Flaiano International Prize for Poetry in 1999.

Since 2005 he is Professor at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland[1] and Artistic Director of the Unique Mother Tongue[4] series of international poetry-arts events held periodically in London.

He won International Nonino Prize in 2012.

Works and collections[edit]

  • Where the Sea Stands Still: New Poems by Yang Lian Translated by Brian Holton, Newcastle: Bloodaxe Books (1999)
  • Non-Person Singular: Collected Shorter Poems of Yang Lian. Translated by Brian Holton, London: WellSweep Press (1994)
  • Concentric Circles. Translated by Brian Holton and Agnes Hung-Chong Chan, Tarset:Bloodaxe Books, (2005)
  • Notes of a Blissful Ghost. Translated by Brian Holton, Hong Kong:Renditions Paperbacks(2002)
  • Unreal City (2006)
  • Riding Pisces: Poems from Five Collections. Translated by Brian Holton, Exeter:Shearsman (2008)

Artist's Books[edit]

  • Venice Elegy: Poems by Yang Lian (Translated by Brian Holton) and Ai Weiwei’s visual images, Venice: Damocle Edizioni (2018)

This edition of Yang Lian’s poems and Ai Weiwei’s visual images was realized by the publishing house Damocle Edizioni – Venice in 200 numbered copies on Fabriano Paper. The book was printed with the Printing Press at the Stamperia del Tintoretto di Venezia – Venice, May 2018. Every book is hand signed by Yang Lian and Ai Weiwei.


  1. ^ a b "Yang Lian Faculty Page at European Graduate School (Biography, bibliography and video lectures)". European Graduate School. Archived from the original on 2010-07-09. Retrieved 2010-10-31.
  2. ^ A Brief Guide to Misty Poets Archived 2010-04-12 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Hilary Chung and Jacob Edmond, 'Yang Lian, Auckland and the Poetics of Exile', introduction to Unreal City, Auckland University Press, 2006, pp. 4-5.
  4. ^ Unique Mother Tongue Archived 2007-07-31 at the Wayback Machine


  • Yang Lian, Unreal City, Auckland University Press, 2006.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]