In China today, does poetry still matter?
In Verse Going Viral: China’s New Media Scenes, Heather Inwood unravels a paradox surrounding modern Chinese poetry: while poetry as a representation of high culture is widely assumed to be marginalized to the point of death, poetry activity flourishes across the country. She finds that this ancient art form has benefited from China’s continued self-identity as a nation of poetry (shiguo) and from the interactive opportunities created by the Internet and other participatory media. In today’s guest post, Inwood provides a glimpse into some of the myriad ways the digital revolution has impacted the role of poetry in contemporary Chinese society.
There’s a famous Chinese saying that “the misery of the state leads to the emergence of great poets” (guojia buxing shijia xing)–or more literally, “when the state is unfortunate, poets are fortunate.” These words come from a poem by the Qing dynasty historian Zhao Yi (1727–1814), observing the phenomenon in which classic works of poetry often appear during times of calamity: war, famine, dynastic downfall, and so on.