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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Chineseness in Motion: Rethinking the Field in Global Persepctives
2: Chinese Literature as Oceanic Heterotopia: Yang Lian as Exile Writer
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of California, Santa Barbara, United States
Yang Lian began writing poetry in 1976, and three years later his works started to be published in the independent poetry magazine Jintian (Today). He has been associated with the menglong/“misty” poets. In 1989, he was invited to Australia as a visiting writer when the Tiananmen Massacre happened. Since then, he has been an exile writer and continues to write Chinese poetry while living abroad. He believes that his exile status, ironically, renders him greater freedom and autonomy with which to look at China more clearly. Using Yang Lian as a case study, this paper examines the intersection of Chinese literature, exile subjectivity, transnational geopolitics, and poetic construction of space. First, it contextualizes Yang Lian’s place within the school of misty poets, and tracks the stylistic and thematic shifts that took place since he became an exile writer by focusing on his long poem titled “Where the Ocean Ceases” (Dahai tingzhi zhichu). Second, the paper examines his essays that extensively theorize exile subjectivity. The paper argues that the ocean serves in Yang Lian’s poetry as a heterotopic space and this oceanic imagination aims to transcend ready-made identities, be it national or racial. Heterotopias are sites where the social order are “simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted”; they are “capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible” (Foucault). The oceanic world in Yang Lian’s poetry symbolizes the representations, contestations, and inversions that reimagine the very possibility of Chinese literature in constant motion.