- Personal Identity, Group Voice, Human Awareness
Speech for the 2017 Xu Zhimo Poetry and Art Festival, Cambridge University
I feel honored to gather here for an exchange of ideas with all of you. We are told that our current world is a globalized world, that Internet coverage basically extends over the whole planet, and that the flow of capital crosses boundaries of almost every nation. Even in apparently remote places, it is hard to escape direct influence from the outside world. Even so, can we conclude from this that human communication and exchange are better now than in any past era? Clearly we are talking here about something that facilitates overall harmony. In substance, communication and exchange are supposedly means to solve problems faced in common by people of different religions, different classes, and different value systems. Yet the present situation is unsettling because it falls so far short of our wishes and expectations. As the twenty-first century unfolds, the technological revolution has proceeded from victory to victory, but for humanity this has been accompanied by the emergence of extremist religious forces and a resurgence of nationalism in many areas of the globe. We have seen the dissemination of narrow-minded, exclusionist views and positions, and terrorist incidents are happening with increasing frequency. Even a country like England that upholds respect for different beliefs has not managed to elude terrorist attacks. Four attacks have happened already in 2017: the year is not over, but this is already the highest number of attacks in one year. Precisely because of such developments, I think there is a need to establish more effective channels and mechanisms for dialogue and consultation between different races, different classes, and different value systems. This is doubtless an arduous and thorny job. This is not just a task for politicians; it is something that any person of conscience should take upon himself or herself. You may ask what function we as poets can fulfill in the face of current reality. This is what I want to talk with you all about.
For quite some time people have been questioning whether poetry—this most ancient of arts—can go on existing. Well, facts have demonstrated that such doubts are completely superfluous. Why? Because those who raise such questions are thinking in terms of technology and logic. They believe that all [End Page 131] old things will inevitably be replaced by new things. They fundamentally ignore the reliance of human inner life on art that possesses enduring qualities and meets a spiritual need. Poetry is unquestionably one such art form. There is no denying that, in today’s world, human spiritual space is pervasively occupied by capital and technical logic. There are many times when poetry is situated at the margins of social life. Yet there are two sides to the development of any entity, which is the basis for the saying “Extreme things tend to swing the other way.” I take solace in one thing: when many aspects of human affairs stand in overt or latent opposition, poetry miraculously becomes a hidden means for bridging the inner worlds and spiritual realities of human beings. Poetry does not let down the collective hopes of kindhearted, beauty-loving people. Spanning different languages and nationalities, it takes one into a space that was not originally one’s own. Within that space, it makes no difference whether you are Asian or Western, Muslim or Jewish: you can still find a receptive heart that resonates with yours in mankind’s realm of spiritual ideals.
The Qinghai Lake International Poetry Festival, founded in 2007, has provided precious experience and insights over the ten-year course of its operation. Nearly a thousand poets from various countries have made the journey there, where they engaged in free discussion on topics of mutual concern. In that ambience of felicity and earnestness, we could deeply sense the inherent power in poetry. What is more, it was my good fortune to be invited to attend the Medellin Poetry Festival in Colombia. There I saw the important effect of poetry on public life in a strife-torn society. Hundreds of thousands of people have...