Bei Dao is the most distinguished Chinese poet of his generation and considered by many to be one of the major writers of modern China. Born Zhao Zhenkai on August 2, 1949, in Beijing, his pseudonym, Bei Dao, literally means “Northern Island” and was suggested by a friend as a reference to the poet’s provenance from northern China as well as his typical solitude. Bei Dao became one of the foremost poets of the Misty School, a group of Chinese poets who reacted against the restrictions of the Cultural Revolution.
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In 1978 Bei Dao and colleague Mang Ke founded the underground literary magazine Jintian (Today), which the Chinese government banned from publication in 1980. Bei Dao’s poem Huida (“The Answer”) was taken up as a defiant anthem of the pro-democracy movement and appeared on posters during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre. During the 1989 movement, Bei Dao was in Berlin as a writer in residence and was not allowed to return to China. He spent the next eighteen years ill exile, living in eight different countries.
Bei Dao’s books of poetry include 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), an excerpt from which appeared ill the May 2005 issue of World Literature Today (under the title “New York Variations”). His work has been translated into over thirty languages.
His awards and honors include the Aragana Poetry Prize from the International Festival of Poetry in Casablanca, Morocco, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has been a candidate several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and was elected an honorary member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters. At the request of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, he traveled to Palestine as part of a delegation for the International Parliament of Writers. Bei Dao was a Stanford Presidential lecturer and has taught at the University of California at Davis, the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and Beloit College in Wisconsin. In 2006, Bei Dao was allowed to move back to China.