China's Second World of Poetry:
Grand Poetry Exhibition of 1986

by Michael Martin Day

"A Grand Exhibition of Modernist Poetry Groups on China's Poetry Scene 1986" (中国诗坛1986' 现代诗群体大展) was a seminal event in the development of contemporary Mainland Chinese avant-garde poetry. As such, the Exhibition is dealt with in some detail with regard to the poets of Sichuan in Chapter 8 of the e-book China's Second World of Poetry on this website. However - as noted in the aforementioned text - there is some confusion as to the exact contents of the Exhibition, and this appendix will attempt to address this issue.

Not a few scholars seem to have based their comments on the Exhibition on the subsequent book: A Grand Overview of China's Modernist Poetry Groups 1986-1988 (中国现代主义诗群大观 1986-1988), published in 1988 by the Shanghai Tongji University Publishing House (同济大学出版社) and edited by Xu Jingya 徐敬亚 (the original editor), Meng Lang 孟浪, Cao Changqing 曹长青, and Lü Guipin 吕贵品. Yet, as the new title suggests, the contents of the book are substantially different from that of the original Exhibition.

This situation is not wholly surprising given the poor quality of the newspaper on which the Exhibition was originally published in the October 21 edition of the nationally-distributed Hefei periodical The Poetry Press (诗歌报, Part I) and the October 21 (Part II) and October 24 (Part III) issues of The Shenzhen Youth Daily (深圳青年报) - subsequently closed in 1987 due to its liberal editorial stance.

Aside from the outrageous nature of the poetry and manifestos published in Exhibition - as judged by orthodox poets, critics, and readers, who were unfamiliar with the poetry being produced and unofficially published in China's Second World of Poetry - the layout of the Exhibition also laid itself open to criticism by some of the very poets whose work was published in it. (See scanned documents.) This was perhaps a natural reaction to the necessarily limited selections of poetry and abbreviated manifestos. Apparently, at the time, many contributing poets were unaware of the manner in which Xu Jingya would arrange for the Exhibition to be published.

In recent years, attempts have been made to recreate the attention-grabbing impact of the 1986 Exhibition. In 2003-2004, the largest such attempt was made by Chengdu's Stars Poetry (星星诗刊), the Southern Metropolitan Daily (南方都市报) and the Internet website New Wave (新浪网, After collecting manuscripts and manifestos through New Wave from August 2003 until the end of January 2004, from March the selected poetry etc was published in Stars and the newspaper's cultural supplement. That the "Jia Shen Storm Grand Poetry Exhibition" (甲申风暴诗歌大展) and other such similar poetry actions have not achieved the impact of the original Exhibition can be put down to the relative ease with which unofficial poets and poetry can be published on the Internet and elsewhere in the twenty-first century.

In fact, the very use of the Internet indicates the root of the difficulty. Readers interested in avant-garde poetry can find all they want online in poetry webzines, poetry forums, and comprehensive poetry and literature websites, of which a partial list (well over 300) can be found elsewhere on this site. In other words, the Internet itself can be considered an ongoing, ever expanding poetry exhibition. Attempts such as the Jia Shen Exhibition are in danger of appearing as money-grabs, trying to get poetry readers to spend money when much of what they may want is available at no cost on the Internet.

Finally, the original Exhibition has been somewhat mythologized over the years. It is often forgotten that 1986 as a whole was the most liberal year with regard to publication opportunities for experimental poetry to that date since 1949. The political and cultural crackdown that followed in 1987 threw the year into even starker relief, and it was not until the mid-1990s that a similar situation began to develop again. At the time, most of the sort of poetry that was published in the Exhibition was being published in several nationally circulated official literary journals well before the Exhibition appeared. That said, the Exhibition could be seen as a sort of in-your-face denouement for experimental poetry after 6 years of bubbling beneath the surface of the official (über-) face of Chinese poetry. The genie was out of the bottle and not even the events of June Fourth 1989 could put it back in.

At the link below (PDF), the reader will find a list of the poets and poetry that were published in the Exhibition and some relevant statistics, as well as notes comparing the original Exhibition to the 1988 book, and so on. Click to open or right-click to download.

Click to open, right-click to download. [The_Grand_Poetry_Exhibition.PDF]