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Struggles Of The Cultural Revolution In Bei Dao's "Notes From The City Of The Sun"

1171 words - 5 pages

Struggles of the Cultural Revolution Revealed in Bei Dao’s “Notes from the City of the Sun”
In his poem, “Notes from the City of the Sun”, Bei Dao utilizes obscure imagery consistent with the Misty Poets and veiled political references to illustrate the struggles in Chinese society during the Cultural Revolution. The poem is sectioned into fourteen short stanzas containing imagery that are symbolic of the cultural hegemony in China under the rule of Mao Zedong. Bei Dao, born Zhao Zhen-kai, is an anti-revolutionary poet and one of the founders of a group known as the Misty Poets. The Misty Poets wrote poems that protested the Cultural Revolution led by Mao Zedong. Therefore, a lot of Bei Dao’s poems speak out against the Cultural Revolution and the restrictions that it placed on any form of art. Bei Dao’s poetry is categorized as “misty” because of the ambiguity in its references to Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution. An obscure imagery that occurs twice in “Notes” is the sun imagery. Another imagery that depicts the injustice of the Cultural Revolution is the description of freedom as scraps of paper. In the poem, Bei Dao also equates faith to sheep falling into a ditch; this is a depiction blind faith during the Cultural Revolution. The purpose of this essay is to analyze how Bei Dao’s use of the Misty Poet’s ambiguous imagery and implicit political context in the poem “Notes from the City of the Sun” to illustrate the cultural hegemony in China under Mao.
A consistent imagery in “Notes” that has a political implication is the sun. Universally, the sun represents warmth and the energy that gives life; however in this poem, the sun represents Mao Zedong. According to McDougall, the sun was commonly used to “signify Mao Zedong as an object of worship” during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (“Bei Dao’s Poetry” 229). Stating that another day in the life under the rule of Mao Zedong has once again begun, the first stanza of “Notes”, the speaker opens with the lines: “Life/The sun has risen too” (Dao 1-2). In this stanza, the speaker describes the dawning of a new day; however at the same time, the speaker is sarcastically referring to the dawning of a new day in the life under the communist rule of Mao Zedong. A repeat of the sun imagery occurs in the seventh stanza, describing art as a shattered mirror reflecting “a million scintillating suns” (Dao 21). The relation of art to a shattered mirror refers to the artists and the intellectuals who suffered the most under the Cultural Revolution. Ma states that this stanza represents the guaranteed survival of art because, although shattered, “art still glittered in its splintered dying pieces” (85). Contrary to Ma’s interpretation, since the sun represents Mao, this stanza can be interpreted as the reconstruction of all art to depict and venerate Mao. According to McDougall, the sun imagery is obvious to the native reader, but it is not so readily understandable to the foreign reader (“Problems and...

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