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The Flowering of Modern Chinese Poetry

An Anthology of Poetry from the Republican Period
Translated by Herbert Batt and Sheldon Zitner
Introductions by Michel Hockx

Welcome to our website, with resources for students and teachers.

Quick Links:

-- Links to original Chinese texts of our poems
-- A detailed reading list for study and research
-- Links to other books by the translator
-- An email portal to send questions and comments
Michelle Yeh
University of California, Davis
"The Flowering of Modern Chinese Poetry provides a comprehensive picture of the rise of modern poetry in vernacular Chinese and its first golden age from the 1910s to the 1940s. An enjoyable read for anyone interested in understanding Chinese modernity through the lens of poetry."
Christopher Lupke
University of Alberta
"What makes The Flowering of Modern Chinese Poetry indispensable and unprecedented is its coverage: fifty of the most important Chinese poets of the first half of the twentieth century, several of them women…The anthology allows both the novice and the expert to enjoy the founding moments of modern Chinese poetry in their full splendor as no previous book has done."
The May Fourth Movement of 1919 launched an era of turmoil and transformation in China, as newly-arrived Western ideas and Western-style education encroached on ancient Confucian traditions. The Republican period (1919-1949) witnessed an outpouring of poetry in a bold form and style that were entirely new to China, written in the common people's language--baihua ("plain speech").

The Flowering of Modern Chinese Poetry presents a selection in English translation of over 250 poems by fifty poets, chronicling the astonishingly rapid development of vernacular verse in mid-twentieth century China. Michel Hockx introduces the historical and literary contexts of the various schools of vernacular poetry that developed throughout the period. Each selection of verse begins with a sketch of the author's life and literary career.

Introducing English readers to master poets who are virtually unknown to Western audiences, including a number of women authors, this collection attests to the courage, sensitivity, and imagination that have sustained the Chinese people through the upheavals of three millennia.

Herbert Batt taught English in China for eight years and has translated several collections of modern Chinese fiction.

Sheldon Zitner (1924-2005) taught English literature at the University of Toronto and is the author of several volumes of poetry including Before We Had Words and The Asparagus Feast.

Michel Hockx, author of many books and articles on modern Chinese poetry, is currently Director of the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies and Professor of Chinese Literature at the University of Notre Dame.
Click here to download a list of Books and
Articles for Further Reading and Research
Click here to view a Youtube
reading of some of our poems


For the original chinese text of a poem, click the highlighted title.


Hu Shi 胡适 Liu Dabai 刘大白 Xu Yunuo 徐玉诺
  • A Child 小孩子
  • As the Sun Slides Down behind the Mountain 当太阳滚过山去
  • The Cage of Reality 现实与幻想
  • If I Weren't Such a Coward 假若我不是一个弱者
  • Conflagration 火灾
Lu Xun 鲁迅 Guo Moruo 郭沫若 Bing Xin 冰心 Liu Yanling 刘延陵 Ye Shaojun 叶绍钧
  • A Small Fish 小鱼
Zheng Zhenduo 郑振铎
  • Distraction (怅惘) 1, 3, 4, 7, 9, 12
Zhu Ziqing 朱自清


Xu Zhimo 徐志摩 Wen Yiduo 闻一多 Zhu Xiang 朱湘 Shao Xunmei 邵洵美 Chen Mengjia 陈梦家 Shen Congwen 沈从文 Fang Lingru 方令孺 Feng Zhi 冯至 Wu Xinghua 吴兴华
  • In Dedication 1 有赠(一)


Li Jinfa 李金发 Yao Pengzi 姚蓬子 Lin Huiyin 林徽因 Fei Ming 废名 He Qifang 何其芳 Dai Wangshu 戴望舒 Bian Zhilin 卞之琳 Lin Geng 林庚 Li Guangtian 李广田 Ji Xian 纪弦 Qin Zihao 覃子豪


Yin Fu 殷夫 Feng Xuefeng 冯雪峰 Tian Jian 田间
  • Song of the Hill Country 山地的歌
  • from She Too Will Kill 她也要杀人
  • One Rifle, One Zhang Yi 一杆枪和一个张义
Zang Kejia 臧克家 Ai Qing 艾青 Wang Yaping 王亚平
  • Winter in the City 都市的冬
  • To Pawn an Arm 当胳臂去
  • Before the Troops Marched Off 出发之前
Ding Ling 丁玲
  • from Yan'an in July 七月的延安
Zou Difan 邹荻帆 Wang Tongzhao 王统照 A Long 阿垅
  • Old Soldier 老兵
Gao Lan 高兰 Liu Jia 流笳
  • Governor Yan Xishan's Collector of the Grain Tax 阎锡山的催粮人


Mu Dan 穆旦 Du Yunxie 杜运燮 Tang Shi 唐湜 Tang Qi 唐祈 Hang Yuehe 杭约赫
  • Last Performance 最后的演出
Yuan Kejia 袁可嘉 Chen Jingrong 陈敬容 Zheng Min 郑敏
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Tales of Tibet

Vivid images of Tibet spring to life in this anthology translated from Chinese, the first book to offer a selection of fiction by Tibetan authors, both men and women, ever published in the English-speaking world. These literary gems--several banned in China--will captivate students and general readers looking for a unique encounter with a Tibet struggling to maintain its age-old civilization under the cultural onslaught of the Chinese regime.


Ballad of the Himalayas

"This long overdue collection of stories by a major writer should be read by anyone, China specialist or not, who appreciates good literature. Ma Yuan's work offers the simple yet detailed observations of Hemingway, the humor and poignancy of Salinger, the stylistic coherence of Woolf, and the playfully serious and formal irony of Borges or Cortázar.

Ma Yuan is a Chinese writer best known for writing about Tibet... This volume presents eight of Ma's Tibetan stories, masterfully translated by Herbert J. Batt."
-- Stephen A. Venturino

Children of the Bitter River

"Fang Fang's powerful novella, beautifully rendered into English by Herbert Batt, is one of the most nuanced depictions I have seen of the double-edged nature of China's reforms. She deftly describes a society on the cusp of irreversible change, where the hope engendered by the increasing material affluence of the children is tempered by a disquieting sense that something is being lost in a world that is inexorably fading away."
-- Mitchell Bernard, Director, East Asia Regional Studies I.M.B.A. Program, York University, Toronto

Fang Lingru (1897-1976)

Educated at the Univ. of Wisconsin, Fang returned to China where she served as literary hostess to some of China's most famous leftist writers. Dismissed from her professorship during the Cultural Revolution, she suffered persecution at the hands of Red Guards.

Sailing Past Zhenjiang Pavilion

Oh, to linger here beneath Mount Jiao
And listen to the current pulsing
Like a whisper from the River-Spirit,
"How long may I ripple in your heart?"

Zhenjiang Pavilion, my soul is tethered;
My lamp, the setting sun through the elms.
River wind, upon this tranquil scene
Be still. Boatman, lower your sail.


Wen Yiduo (1899-1946)

A poet-patriot, Wen Yiduo sought in his writing a solution to the malaise of his country, ruled by warlords and landlords. The sewage ditch in "Stagnant Water" is interpreted as a symbol of the rotten political culture of China. Wen was assassinated in 1946.

Stagnant Water

This ditch is rank with the water of despair.
A brisk wind cannot stir it to ripple.
Why not toss in more scrap copper and iron?
Might as well add soup and rotten vegetables.

Maybe the red copper will turn green like jade
And the rust on pots bloom into peach blossoms.
Its greasy surface might thicken into damask,
And toxic germs send up mist like evening clouds.

Let the ditch water ferment to a green wine
Bubbling with fine froth, white as pearls,
Small pearls growing larger, chuckling
Until burst by gnats drawn to their odor.

This ditch full of desolate, stinking water
Certainly has an aura of distinction.
If local frogs cannot bear their solitude,
This stale muck can gurgle them a tune all its own.

This ditch is rank with the water of despair,
Hardly picturesque, or a national treasure.
Now let's leave it to stew in its own juice,
And see what devilish world it can produce.


Lin Huiyin (1904-1955)

After study in England at Cambridge and at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, Lin returned home to become China's first woman architect. The designer of the flag of the People's Republic of China, she died of tuberculosis in 1955.

A Smile

What is smiling? Her eyes, her lips,
Their deep corners,
Delicate as dew.
The smile hides in these flashes of mother of pearl --
An incomparable smile,
The smile of a goddess --
The reflection of water, the quiet song of the wind.
What is smiling? This hair in drowsy curls,
Falling around the ears,
Soft as a flower's shadow --
They smile too.
A warm shudder, sweet as honey,
Flows into your heart.
This is the smile of a portrait, the smile of a poem,
A wisp of cloud, a swell of wave.


Xu Zhimo (1897-1931)

Recognized today as one of China's greatest twentieth century authors, Xu consciously assumed the pose of a romantic poet, capturing in his verse the vitality and poignancy of his amorous adventures. He died in a plane crash in 1933.

Acknowledging Sin

This is a crucial moment in my life - perhaps:

The silence is ending as birds in a nearby garden,
Cuckoos, sparrows and the rest, are greeting dawn,

And I cannot resist my troubled weariness,
Heavy as the winter ice that loads the branches.

Now a vision flits before my inward eye
Wavering like a tree-top in the winds of daybreak.

No circumstance outside the everyday
Demands that I choose between a lie and truth.

I must force myself to stay awake and thrust away
The seductions of the comfort-world of dreams,

For this moment is my one chance
To arraign myself, acknowledging this sin --

Acknowledging what? But if it is not sin, what is it?
I can find no words for how I pass my nights.


Ji Xian (1913-2013)

An iconoclast in art as in politics, Ji Xian was one of the rare poets who opposed the Communist movement. His poems celebrate the individualism of the poet, portraying the imaginary world he creates.

The Star-Snatcher

The youth who snatched at a star

The deep blue sky mocked him,
The broad earth mocked him.

Thought up the most insulting adjectives
To blacken his name
And mock him.

A millennium later
A museum arises
To exhibit
A statue of the youth who snatched a star:

He holds up Sirius in his left hand
And Vega in his right.
Around his waist he wears
Nothing less than the three-star-studded belt of Orion
  the Hunter,
Who once tried to shoot him with an arrow.


Mu Dan (1918-1977)

After university Mu Dan joined the Chinese Army as an English language interpreter. He survived his unit's retreat from Burma into India under conditions of extreme hardship. After study at the University of Chicago, he returned to teach at Nankai University in Tianjin, but was demoted to work as a librarian during the Cultural Revolution and paraded in public as a reactionary.


Green fire shimmers on the grass
And yearns to embrace you, O flower.
Struggling from the earth, blossoms stretch upward
As warm breezes ruffle them or soothe them.
If you are awake, open your window
On the loveliness of this garden full of desire.

Under a blue sky, the eternal mysteries bewitch
Our twenty-year-old bodies, so restrained,
Just like the songs of birds made of the same clay.
You are kindled, curling, curling, with nothing to yield to:
Light, shadow, sound, colour all stripped bare,
Agonized, longing to stretch out, to form new alliances.


Zheng Min (1920-)

After receiving a degree from Brown Univ. in the U.S., Zheng Min returned to China to take a position as a university professor at Beijing Normal Univ. During the Four Clean Movement (1963-66) she was sent to the countryside, where she was put to manual labor. She resumed writing poetry after the Cultural Revolution. She resides today in Beijing at the age of 96.

Golden Rice for Threshing

Golden yellow sheaves of rice stand
In the field just harvested.
I remember the exhausted mother,
Her beautiful, wrinkled face in the twilight.
The full moon of harvest-time
Rests at the topmost branch of a tree.
In the twilight, the distant mountains
Mark the boundaries of the heart.

No statue is more silent.
As you trudge this autumn field that stretches into the
Your shoulders bend under a massive weariness
And you lower your head in thought.

Silent, silent. History is the little stream
Flowing at your feet.
You stand there,
About to become the image of humanity.

1942-47; published 1949