Like reading Chekhov or Turgenev reflected in a porcelain bowl.

The London Times

Bei Dao

Bei Dao, one of the most influential writers of post-Cultural Revolution China, is the author of several books of poetry, essays, and short fiction. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages.

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.

cover image of the book Sidetracks


by Bei Dao

Translated by Jeffrey Yang

Sidetracks, Bei Dao’s first new collection in almost fifteen years, is also the poet’s first long poem and his magnum opus —the artistic culmination of a lifetime devoted to the renewal and reinvention of language. “As a poet, I am always lost,” Bei Dao once said. Opening with a prologue of heavenly questions and followed by thirty-four cantos, Sidetracks travels forward and backward along the divergent paths of the poet’s wandering life—from his time as a Young Pioneer in Beijing, through the years of exile living in six countries, back to the rural construction site where he worked during the Cultural Revolution, to the “sunshine tablecloth” in his kitchen in Davis, California, and his emotional visit home after a thirteen-year separation (“the mother tongue has deepened my foreignness”). All the various currents of our times rush into his lifelines, reconfigured through the “vortex of experience” and the poet’s encounters with friends and strangers, artists and ghosts, as he moves from place to place, unable to return home. As the poet Michael Palmer has noted, “Bei Dao’s work, in its rapid transitions, abrupt juxtapositions, and frequent recurrence to open syntax evokes the un-speakability of the exile’s condition. It is a poetry of explosive convergences, of submersions and unfixed boundaries, ‘amid languages.’”

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cover image of the book City Gate, Open Up

City Gate, Open Up

by Bei Dao

Translated by Jeffrey Yang

In 2001, to visit his sick father, China’s legendary poet Bei Dao returned to his homeland for the first time in over eleven years. The city of his birth, however, had totally changed. “Everything was difficult to recognize, nothing familiar,” he writes: “I was a foreigner in my hometown.” The shock of this experience released a flood of memories and emotions that sparked City Gate, Open Up.

In this lyrical autobiography of growing up—from the birth of the People’s Republic, through the chaotic years of the Great Leap Forward, and on into the Cultural Revolution—Bei Dao uses his extraordinary gifts as a poet and storyteller to create another Beijing, a beautiful memory palace of endless alleyways, where personal narrative mixes with momentous history. At the center of his story is his family—his parents and two siblings—and their everyday life together through famine and festival, sorrow and laughter.

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cover image of the book The Rose Of Time

The Rose Of Time

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

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cover image of the book Midnight’s Gate

Midnight’s Gate

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.

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cover image of the book Unlock


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.

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cover image of the book Landscape Over Zero

Landscape Over Zero

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.

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cover image of the book Forms Of Distance

Forms Of Distance

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.”

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cover image of the book Old Snow

Old Snow

by Bei Dao

Translated by Bonnie S. MacDougall

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.

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cover image of the book Waves


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.

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cover image of the book The August Sleepwalker

The August Sleepwalker

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.

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Like reading Chekhov or Turgenev reflected in a porcelain bowl.

The London Times

Winter white cabbage, vinyl records, pet rabbits, banned books, and first and last “I love yous” provide intimate glimpses that “open up” to reveal extraordinary, immediate testimony of challenges survived in a life intensely lived.

Terry Hong, Booklist

City Gate, Open Up is an ocean of recollections. Bei Dao’s impressionistic account of his childhood and youth in Beijing, is unlike any book he has ever written.

Ratik Asokan, Caravan Magazine

What a fine book! Funny, astute, touching, subtle, personal, widely human.

Bei Dao, City Gate, Open Up, Gary Snyder

City Gate, Open Up holds a vertiginous, intimate kaleidoscope of vignettes and portraits, in which a changing city, family, community, and country are presented as quick life-drawings, sketched from within. The drama of famine becomes a few candies in the mouths of half-starved boys scouring fields for weeds; the Cultural Revolution, an attic-hidden library of pre-war movie magazines, anatomy, and fiction carried into a hutong courtyard’s fire for burning. Soon after, the author builds a traveling bookcase backpack, holding only the works of Mao. One local official’s suicide abuts his successor’s ferocious skill at ping pong; a son discovers, as inner cultural inheritance, his father’s “little tyrant,” then struggles for tenderness as time rearranges their relative power. From its haunting opening description of Beijing’s early light bulbs, their rarity and weakness, this book’s jump-cuts of memory move backward and forward in time. These pages illuminate, obliquely and acutely, the story of a now-famous dissident poet’s rebellious emergence and survival, within the story of the intelligentsia’s larger harrowing amid the Chinese Revolution’s whiplash unfoldings.

Jane Hirshfield

The soul of post-Mao poetry, Bei Dao reveals in this intimate, lyrical memoir a China that still haunts us with its brutal past and aching humanity. Like Balzac’s Paris, Dickens’ London, and Pushkin’s St. Petersburg, Bei Dao’s Beijing is a microcosm caught in a time warp, forever titillating our imagination.

Yunte Huang, Editor of The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature

Intense, elegant and impressionistic.

Dwight Garner

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] was obliged to create a new poetic idiom that was simultaneously a protective camouflage and an appropriate vehicle for ‘unreality’.

Jonathan Spence, The New York Times Book Review

Bei Dao uses words as if he were fighting for his life with them… [He] has found to a way to speak to all of us.

Jonathan Spence, New York Times Book Review

A Bei Dao poem feels as if it follows the pulse of consciousness.

Robert Hass, Washington Post Book World
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