FOR 2603 2019 – 2022
Guest Lecture - Maghiel van Crevel: "Poetry, Suicide, and Social Justice: China’s Migrant Worker Literature and Xu Lizhi"
The DFG Center for Advanced Studies “Russian-Language Poetry in Transition” (FOR 2603) cordially invites you to a guest lecture by Maghiel van Crevel: “Poetry, Suicide, and Social Justice: China’s Migrant Worker Literature and Xu Lizhi”.
About the lecture
Battlers poetry (打工诗歌), better known in English as migrant worker poetry, is writing by members of the Chinese precariat, specifically the underclass of domestic migrants who have flocked from the countryside to the cities in the hundreds of millions since the 1980s. The hardships and the social injustice of migrant worker life are among its central themes: dehumanizing labor conditions, feelings of displacement, nostalgia, and existential alienation, a vulnerable status as non-citizens without the coveted urban household registration and steady work, and so on. Since the 2000s, the web and social media have given this poetry tremendous exposure, trickling beyond China’s borders in recent years. So what kind of writing is this, what does it do, and what can it tell us about literature in postsocialist China? The poetry of Xu Lizhi 许立志, who rose to fame after his suicide in 2014, offers powerful material for tackling these questions—which have often been framed in a convenient but potentially misleading opposition of high social significance and low aesthetic value. First, as it turns out, Xu Lizhi complicates orderly classifications of Battlers poetry. And in the bigger picture, Battlers poetry complicates orderly classifications of literature. Among other things, this may help us to revisit the notion of engaging with literature “on its own terms.” Also, or especially, for writing that is less invested in artistic autonomy than the texts that tend to make it into the canon.
Maghiel van Crevel is professor of Chinese at Leiden University, and the author, editor, and translator of a dozen books including scholarly monographs and edited volumes, literary translations, and language textbooks. His research draws on regular fieldwork undertaken in China since the early 1990s. See, for instance, “Walk on the Wild Side: Snapshots of the Chinese Poetry Scene,” downloadable from the MCLC Resource Center.