A renaissance in literature and art took place in the People's Republic of China from the late 1970s through the 1980s. In poetry, the outburst of vitality first showed itself in 1978–80 in the underground Today (Jintian) group, which included cofounders and editors Bei Dao (b. 1949) and Mang Ke (b. 1951), and such contributors as Jiang He (b. 1949), Shu Ting (b. 1952), Gu Cheng (1956–93), and Yang Lian (b. 1955), to name only a few of the best-known in the West. Today lent momentum to the flourish of Menglongshi, commonly translated as “Obscure Poetry” or “Misty Poetry,” in the early 1980s and became the major source of inspiration—no less than the target of criticism and revolt—to post-Menglong poetry in the second half of the decade. Like Menglongsbi, post-Menglong poetry is a term of inevitable, even misleading, simplification, since it refers to a wide range of varying styles and modes of writing. Rather than being unified by a set of formal and stylistic characteristics, it is marked by a radical openness to experimentation. The multiplicity of experiments in poetry since the mid-1980s may be more broadly and appropriately referred to as avant-garde poetry or experimental poetry (Yeh 1992). This paper will focus on an interesting—and unique in today's world—phenomenon that I call the “cult of poetry.” I will first examine the “cult” by defining its salient features and then present a critical analysis of the diverse historical and psychological forces that contribute to such a literary phenomenon.

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