This article argues that the classical verse of three twentieth-century writers, Chen Yinke 陳寅恪 (1890–1969), Nie Gannu 聶紺弩 (1903–86), and Wang Xindi 王辛笛 (1912–2004), is significant to the canon of contemporary Chinese literature. The literary historical merit of their poetry is due not only to its aesthetic accomplishments but even more to the poets' specific responses to the challenges posed to human dignity during the thought reform campaigns of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution. Whereas Chen Yinke's last twenty years demonstrate the faith and hauteur of a scholar who wore the mantle of the entire classical tradition, Nie Gannu expresses the deepest despair through deceptively humorous rustic topics, and Wang Xindi's grief over separation and loss recall Du Fu's poetry of the An Lushan Rebellion. Although the thirty years between the establishment of the People's Republic of China through the end of the Cultural Revolution may have been a time when intellectuals were intimidated into conformity or silence, these three poets show that such hardship created an opportunity to exalt the spirit of individual dignity, if only through poetry.

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