Tag Archives: Poetry

Two Corrupt Officials/Poets and Renting Literary Clout

The following is a translation of this article, which we’re taking from Xinhua but which has appeared all over the Chinese internet. It appears to have come originally from the Yangcheng Evening News, and was written by Yan Yanwen. Many thanks to our ChinaGeeks Chinese editor for recommending this piece.


A few days before the 10/3 Crane Cliff disaster [a 2005 gas explosion in a Henan mine that left 34 dead and 19 injured], the Party Secretary and board chair responsible for the Crane Cliff Coal Industry Group was still in Beijing using public funds to hold a press conference for his new book, and Qihe county Party Secretary Li Fengchen was holidng a symposium for collecting and writing “The Long Path of Chinese Poetry: Jihe Sings”, [using his status as an official to make the] local government foot a huge portion of the bill.

On June 19, 2010, Xinhua Net and other major media sources reported that vice-director and Work Safety Supervision Bureau CPC Group secretary Li Yongxin had been dismissed ((Not sure about this either, what does 被双规 mean?)), and that according to rumor he had accepted bribes and concealed the truth of the [coal mine] disaster. What people don’t know is that this “eliminated” Li Yongxin is still a member of the Chinese Writers’ Association, a member of the China Poet’s Council, and the vice-chair of the Chinese Coal Mining Literary Federation. Even fewer know that as the Crane Cliff disaster was happening, Li was in Beijing using the hard-earned blood and sweat of the Crane Cliff miners to buy himself literary accolades.

Using Public Funds for a Press Conference During a Time of Disaster

The October 3rd Crane Cliff disaster shocked the nation. 34 workers were killed, and another 19 were seriously injured; the happiness of 53 families was snatched away in an instant. As the blood was flowing, […] Li Yongxin was buying members of the investigative group with bribes, hoping to cover up the truth, and giving 500,000 RMB to the provincial Work Safety Supervision Bureau Chief Li Jiucheng for protection. This is also mentioned in Li Jiucheng’s file.

After the disaster, Li Yongxin underwent a metamorhphosis of sorts, becoming the provincial group secretary and vice-director of the Work Safety Supervision Bureau. From these “punishment” measures, very little can be seen [about what Li Yongxin had actually done]. “But in early August of 2009, information from reports about Li Yongxin began to spread on the internet that spoke to his concealing of [financial losses], taking and giving bribes, and misappropriating funds from State-owned properties, etc.” “Some of this data was related to [Li Yongxin’s activities surrounding] the 10/3/2005 Crane Cliff disaster.” ((Neither of these quotations have a cited source))

What’s worth asking is this: when the Crane Cliff disaster was happening, where was Li Yongxin? What was he doing?

According to a September 29, 2005 report from the Chinese Writers’ Association, “the Chinese Poets Association, the Crane Cliff Coal Company, and Crane Cliff Coal and Electricity LLC present[ed] the opening ceremony of the first annual ‘Crane Cliff Cup’ poets and writers exhibition on September 26th in Beijing. At the same time, we also celebrated the publication of Li Yongxin’s poetry collection Xingqu Ji Caifu ((Not going to waste time thinking about a good translation for the title of some corrupt official’s book of crappy poetry.)). The CWA secretariat Di Majia and […] Li Yongxin both gave warm speeches at the opening ceremony.”

Therefore, just a few days before the 10/3 disaster, Li Yongxin was still at the CWA Modern Literature Center, using public funds to hold a press conference for his new book and enjoying adulation as a star of the literary world and being honored as an “encyclopedic” great poet.

How Do Corrupt Officials Become Poets?

Li Yongxin’s dismissal reminds one of another “corrupt official/poet”: Li Fengchen. In January of 2009 when Xinhua and ChinaNet announced the results of the “2008 Literary Circles’ Most Badass ((牛)) Writer” poll, corrupt official writer Li Fengchen won in a landslide, and he was summarily dubbed “history’s most badass corrupt official poet” by the media. But with Li Yongxin’s dismissal, it seems he’s looking to break Li Fengchen’s badass record. If Li Yongxin PKs ((here, internet slang for “defeats”)) Li Fengchen, then who will be history’s most badass corrupt official poet? In terms of the writers’ associations, the two are evenly matched, as they are both members of the CWA and council members of the Poets’ Society. In terms of administrative level, Li Yongxin is at the departmental level, whereas Li Fengchen is only at the vice-departmental level. In terms of money, Li Fengchen’s Qihe county is poor and has no financial power, whereas Li Yongxin’s Crane Cliff Coal Group is one of the country’s top 500 enterprises, with significant financial power.

Aside from these differences, these two “corrupt official poets” have many surprisingly similarities.

The two men were both “secretaries” and also both lauded as “poets”. Li Yongxin and Li Fengchen are both CWA members who rose very quickly to prominence as “corrupt official poets”. Li Fengchen’s shocking act was using public funds to publish seven poetry collections between May of 2005 and September of 2006, becoming a member of the CWA and the [periodicals] Poetry and People’s Literature. It has been called the “Li Fengchen model” and the “the poetry world’s miracle”. Just as he was coming to prominence in April of 2006, the Chinese Writers’ Association celebrateded his 50th birthday with a special symposium on his Mandate of Heaven Collection.

Similar to Fengchun, Li Yongxin was also a CWA and Poets’ Society member. In the short time between 2004 and 2005, Li Yongxin — who previously had only written several bad poems and had never published a thing — suddenly exploded onto the literary scene, and his poetry was repeatedly published in Poetry and other reknowned national publications, a symposium on his works was held in the Great Hall of the People, and he became a touted star of the Chinese Writers’ Association and Beijing poetry circles [etc…]

The good are dismissed while the mediocre are promoted. As these corrupt official poets were taking the stage, many authors of good works who had been making their livings writing for decades found it difficult even to get a few sentences into national publications. It is, as the saying goes, harder to get into heaven than it is to get into the Chinese Writers’ Association and obtain a title. Perhaps Li Fengchen said it best in his explanation of this phenomenon: “For a great poet to become a great official is very difficult. For for a great official to become a great poet, perhaps it is not so difficult.”

Renting Clout in the Literary World

These two “corrupt official poets” both used their power and resources as officials to play at being poets. Li Fengchen invited the Chinese Writers’ Association to participate in the writing and collecting of poems for his symposium: “The Long Path of Chinese Poetry: Jihe Sings” from August 5-7, 2005. On the 6th, Qihe formally annouced that it was a “base” for the creation of Chinese poetry. Li Fengchen personally organized groups and scheduled extremely ceremonious activities, paying for the huge costs directly from the local government’s coffers.

Only a little earlier, in April of 2005, the “Crane Cliff: The Home of Chinese Poetry” poetry collection activies were underway in Crane Cliff […] Di Majia and Crane Cliff Coal Group board director Li Yongxin both spoke to open the festivities. If it’s fair to say Li Fengchen used the power of his county to “play at” being a poet, then it’s also fair to say that Li Yongxin used the power of the entire Crane Cliff mining operation to play at poetry. The difference is that since Li Yongxin made his play four months earlier than Li Fengchen, and he used his status as a Party Secretary to publish documents and put on a grand show, one could say he played ‘harder’ than Li Fengchen.

Using an official’s status and power to become a poet or author and pose as a lover of culture […] this model of renting literary power really provides some food for thought. If you think Li Fengchen is just a coincidence, you should know that just in the year 2009, six members of the Chinese Writers’ Association were sentenced as corrupt officials. This is absolutely not a coincidence. Today’s dismissial of Li Yongxin once again sounds the warning bell of corruption throughout the literary world. What does the explosion of “corrupt official poets” tell us? What abuses within the literary system does it lay bare?


To my way of thinking, it lays bare not so much abuses within the system as the flaws with the system itself. In a literary system controlled by politicians, especially corrupt ones, there will always be opportunities to meddle. Generally speaking, this has taken the form of censorship, and its effects on the development of Chinese writing and the spread of Chinese culture outside China’s borders have been fairly devastating. The effects of literary censorship remain a hot topic — one of Han Han’s favorites, in fact — but beyond censorship, the system as it exists today makes it remarkably easy for corrupt officials to try their hand at literature, buying attention and publications with money and power, and elbowing talented artists out of the spotlight in the process.

Poetry Translations: Yin Lichuan

Poetry Translations is an ongoing series of — you guessed it — poetry translations designed to lighten the mood here a bit, and perhaps even make you think. We’ll translate modern Chinese poetry (anything in 白话 is up for grabs, for classical poetry look elsewhere) without commentary and leave you to do the deep thinkin’.

Today’s poems come from the poet/writer/filmmaker Yin Lichuan’s blog (a tip of the hat to Danwei is in order for listing it among their Model Worker blogs) and some websites that collect her work. According to the China Daily, Lin “is now well known within China for her novels, poetry and essays, such as A Little More Comfort, and Fucker.” She is considered part of the “Lower Body Poets” movement. Recently, she’s also expanded into film with 2006’s award-winning The Park and 2008’s Knitting.

At age thirty I asked
Why are you living. To see you go to college
I’ve been to college, mom
So why are you living again. Your eyes are open
We have not spoken for a long time. A woman
How can she be another woman’s
mother. Raising the same body
I should do things you haven’t, mother
You were once so beautiful, right up until you had me
Since I’ve known you, you’re no longer wanton
For another woman
Was doing this worth it
You became an empty old lady
A discarded fan. How could one prove
It was you who gave birth to me, mother.
On the road home I glimpse
The back of an old woman lifting a vegetable basket
Mother, who could be more unfamiliar than you

So Quiet
If you say to someone, It’s snowing, it’s snowing! It’s snowing…
They say, Ah, really! How troublesome, how will I get to work…
Luckily I don’t know people like that
The people I know are all unconventional enough, childlike enough.
Just enough.
The first snow also came in the evening.
Last night was like a fairy tale.
On Peace Street, turning to the street, stopping, buying a cigarette.
Silvery-blue snowflakes, gently floating down, without making a sound.
The night is deep, deep deep.*

[*There are a number of ways to read this phrase “夜深深深”, another might be “Late nights are profound”]

Getting Better
Sick for a while. Come outside, spring has come!
[When] In dark places it always seems more gloomy and cold.
In these times especially, [you] realize the preciousness of the sun.

Old Woman
Every day I go downstairs to buy cigarettes
An old lady and her pushcart
Are standing every day on the road I cross
The pushcart is made of bamboo, very old
It could carry trash, it could carry a child
Is it used for carrying trash or carrying a child?
It’s always empty
I don’t know
if she’s a grandmother or someone who searches through garbage for odds and ends

Life as Serious as it Ought to Be
I casually glanced at him
I married in passing*
We acted foolishly in passing
And never had a child
I boiled some soups at random
We lived in passing
Had a few casual friends
Time strolled by in passing
And we grew old in passing
Then through incurable illness
Became a model in passing
“A loving husband and wife”
…happy and auspicious life
We simply die
The sun glances in passing
on an empty terrace

[What we’ve translated as “in passing” here is 顺便, which means “in passing”, “conveniently”, “on the way”, as in, ‘I can pick up a newspaper for you on my way to the drug store’. As an adverb, it implies that one is doing something casually, because it is convenient in the moment to do so.]

Note: While we strive for perfection in all of our translations, keep in mind that the intended meaning of poetry can be difficult to determine. Also keep in mind that in translating works of art, one is often forced to choose between communicating the precise meaning of the original or communicating its linguistic beauty at the expense of precision. Here, we strive for first and foremost for precision, since beauty is subjective anyway. Consider it another reason to start learning Chinese if you haven’t yet.