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Bei Dao’s poetry translates well in its bold imagery and implicit and oblique politics, using nature in a symbolism of indirection that is as subtle as it is apparent.

The Harvard Review

Bei Dao

Contemporary Chinese poet, representative of the Misty Poets.

Bei Dao, the pseudonym of Zhenkai Zhao, was born in 1949 in Beijing. In 1978 Bei Dao co-founded the underground literary magazine Jintian (Today), which was banned from publication in 1980. As editor-in-chief, Bei Dao, with a group of Chinese writers, revived Jintian in 1990 in Oslo, and it has continued to be published abroad ever since. During the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989, Bei Dao was in Berlin as a writer in residence and was not allowed to return to China.

Bei Dao’s books of poetry include The Rose of Time (2009), Unlock (2000), At the Sky’s Edge: Poems 1991–1996 (1996), Landscape Over Zero (1995), Forms of Distance (1994), Old Snow (1991), and The August Sleepwalker (1988). He is also the author of the short-story collection Waves (1985) and two essay collections, Blue House (2000) and Midnight’s Gate (2005). His work has been translated into over thirty languages.

Bei Dao’s awards and honors include the Aragana Poetry Prize from the International Festival of Poetry in Casablanca, the PEN / Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (Litt.D.) by Brown University.

Bei Dao has taught at the University of California at Davis, the University of Alabama, the University of Notre Dame, and Beloit College in Wisconsin. He has lived in Hong Kong with his family since August 2007, and is the Professor of Humanities at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The Rose Of Time

Poetry by Bei Dao

translated by David Hinton, Bonnie S. MacDougall and Eliot Weinberger
Edited by Eliot Weinberger

The Rose of Time: New & Selected Poems presents a glowing selection of poetry by contemporary China's most celebrated poet, Bei Dao. From his earliest work, Bei Dao developed a wholly original poetic language composed of mysterious and arresting images tuned to a distinctive musical key—a music that has continued to develop in innovative ways through five collections of poetry published by New Directions. Selections from each of these books are included here, as well as a section of new, never-before-published work. This bilingual edition opens with a prefatory note by the poet recalling his past life as a concrete mixer and blacksmith, and closes with a brief biographical note by the editor, Eliot Weinberger. Bei Dao is a seminal poet who has been translated into some thirty languages, and his public admirers have included such international writers as Mahmoud Darwish, Susan Sontag, and Tomas Tranströmer.

in the mirror there is always this moment
this moment leads to the door of rebirth
the door opens to the sea
the rose of time

—Bei Dao

Midnight’s Gate

Poetry by Bei Dao

translated by Christopher Mattison
Edited by Bei Dao

Bei Dao has gained international acclaim for the hauntingly interior landscapes of his poetry, which has been translated and published in some twenty-five languages around the world. Now, in Midnight’s Gate, Bei Dao redefines the essay form with the same elliptical precision of his poetry, but with an openness and humor that complement the intensity of his poems. The twenty essays of Midnight’s Gate form a travelogue of a poet who has lived in seven countries since his exile from China in 1989. Like musical notes one the wind, the words carry us from a conflagration in New York, to the destruction in Palestine, to a prison in South Africa, to Norway, to Altea, to Inner Mongolia, to Death Valley, to a baseball game in Sacremento. At one point we are led into a basement in Paris where a production of Gorky’s Lower Depths unfolds for an audience of one, the next moment we are in the mountains of China were Bei Dao worked for eleven years as a concrete mixer and ironworker. In these essays, the subjective experience deepens and multiplies as the reader dives into the everyday lives of immigrants, artists, political figures, as well as a host of prominent writers. And it all coheres with a poet’s observations, meditations, and memories.

At The Sky’s Edge: Poems 1991-1996

Poetry by Bei Dao

In his second retrospective volume of poetry translated into English, two of Bei Dao’s previous books––Forms of Distance (1994) and Landscape Over Zero (1996)––are gathered together in one bilingual edition. At the Sky’s Edge: Poems 1991-1996 marks a pivotal point in the poet’s development, presenting increasingly lyrical, meditative poems written in the years following his exile from China in 1989. Translated into twenty-five languages, Bei Dao’s work has long been appreciated internationally, but is just recently reaching a larger audience in the U.S. At the Sky’s Edge is Bei Dao’s seventh book published by New Directions, and presents the poems from Forms of Distance for the first time in a paperback edition. The translation by David Hinton, who was awarded the prestigious Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets in 1997, captures both the musicality and density of the original Chinese. Quiet, spare, these are poems of paradox and possibility, of words carefully balanced, of a world on edge.

Available: September 01 2001


Poetry by Bei Dao

translated by Eliot Weinberger

Bei Dao, the internationally acclaimed Chinese poet, has been the poetic conscience of the dissident movements in his country for over twenty years. He has been in exile since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Unlock presents forty-nine recent poems written in the United States, and may well be Bei Dao’s most powerful work to date. Complex, full of startling and sometimes surreal imagery, sudden transitions, and oblique political references, and often embedding bits of bureaucratic speech and unexpected slang, his poetry has been compared to that of Paul Celan and César Vallejo––poets who invented a new poetry and a new language in the attempt to speak of the enormity of their times. The sixth book of Bei Dao’s work published by New Directions, Unlock has been translated by Eliot Weinberger, the distinguished essayist and critically acclaimed translator of Octavio Paz and Jorge Luis Borges, in collaboration with the historian lona Man-Cheong and the poet himself.

Available: September 01 2000

Landscape Over Zero

Poetry by Bei Dao

Often reported to be on the short list for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and recently elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Bei Dao is China’s pre-eminent contemporary poet. The poems of Landscape Over Zero reach new heights of cinematic fusion as "a powerful compression drives these jostling contrasts in fractured resonating landscapes” (The Reading Lamp). Bei Dao’s unique voice and imagery are at once more lyrical and more poignant than in past collections. Thoughts of futility, distance, and coldness wrestle with a resignation that home has been lost. But now there is the glimmer of possibility that a new home can be gained and love renewed.

Available: October 01 1996

Forms Of Distance

Poetry by Bei Dao

translated by David Hinton

An exile in the West since the events of Tiananmen Square, Bei Dao is widely considered China’s most distinguished poet. In this new collection, he goes beyond the poetry of exile and reaches a new level of maturity and synthesis in a series of kaleidoscopic images of the end of the twentieth century. These poems, a conflation of history and personal happenstance, are explorations of individual, emotional, physical, and cultural distance that speak to an international readership in an ever more divided world. Bei Dao’s poems are translated with new sharpness and intensity by David Hinton, highly regarded for his versions of the chinese classics (The Selected Poems of Tu Fu, The Selected Poems of T’ao Ch’ien), who comments in his Translator’s Note: "Bei Dao’s work recalls China’s ancient masters: clear resonant images set in sharp juxtapositions. But his are decidedly modern clarities, adrift on the terrible mystery of today’s world-historical forces."

Available: June 01 1994

Old Snow

Poetry by Bei Dao

The three sections of Bei Dao’s affecting new book of poems, Old Snow––"Berlin," "Oslo," "Stockholm”––are poignant reminders of the restless and rootless life of the exile. All the poems in the present bilingual volume were written post-Tiananmen Square (June 4, 1989), and the poet refers back to this watershed both overtly ("Not your bodies but your souls/ shall share a common birthday’) and in dense images of loss and betrayal ("old snow comes constantly, new snow comes not at all/ the art of creation is lost"). As renowned China scholar, Jonathan Spence commented on Bei Dao’s earlier book, The August Sleepwalker: "The poet was obliged to create a new poetic idiom that was simultaneously a protective camouflage and an appropriate vehicle for ’unreality.’" Bonnie S. McDougall, whose translations of Bei Dao have been called "a major achievement in themselves," is Professor of Chinese at the University of Edinburgh. Working with Chinese writer in exile Chen Maiping (now residing in Oslo), she once again renders Bei Dao’s poems into fluid and musical English.

Available: November 01 1991


Poetry by Bei Dao

In Waves, Bei Dao—China’s foremost modern poet—turns to fiction, recording the painful years of the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath. Avoiding polemics, his attention is on individuals—intellectuals and factory workers, drifters and thieves—swept up in the turbulent political tides of contemporary China. Bei Dao himself has been a victim of the censors, and he wrote the title novella clandestinely in a makeshift darkroom while ostensibly developing photographs. The author now lives in exile.

Available: May 01 1990

The August Sleepwalker

Poetry by Bei Dao

The August Sleepwalker introduces to American readers the compelling and remarkable poetry of China’s foremost modern poet, Bei Dao (Zhao Zhenkai). One of the most gifted and controversial writers to emerge from the massive upheavals of contemporary China. Bei Dao both reflects and criticizes the conflicts of the Cultural Revolution of the late ’60s and 70s. A youthful Red Guard whose early disillusionment with the destructiveness of the times made him an outsider, Bei Dao joined with other underground poets attempting to create an alternative literature that challenged the received orthodoxies of Maoist China. The author now lives in exile.

Available: April 01 1990