Beijing: The Chinese Culture Translation and Studies Support Festival & Conference – April 2016

A fascinating week spent in China on the invitation of the CCTSS in Beijing, who try to create cross-nation collaboration with a view to bringing more Chinese contemporary poetry to countries outside of China, and to collaborate in doing so. This was designed as a mini-festival and conference, with literary organisers, poets, translators and publishers from across the world coming to share their experience, expertise and approaches. Overall, it was admirably informal and open, full of frank discussion between the participants and with a host of adventures in and around Beijing in between readings and panels. 


Giving a reading was grand, especially to so many young Chinese people, and they all seemed to warm to my normal pratting about before the poetry, in this case bringing attention to the amazing 80s style Gameboy graphics they played behind the poets (there was actually similarly digitised music playing behind the first few readers), and I also got to read the English translations of Lea Schneider and Javier Bolozano, both excellent poets and wonderful people. 

But really this trip was special because it was such a laugh. I was treated with such remarkable hospitality throughout, and the two major highlights were becoming genuinely bonded to those who had travelled in with me, some acquaintances from the past, some entirely new to me, all of whom became real friends, and the warmth, intelligence and humour of the young Chinese students from CCTSS who helped and guided us throughout. Really some of the most outstandingly kind, polite and bright young people I’ve met anywhere in the world, my weird humour entirely understood in all its tiresome nuance. 

Tripping out to dinner every lunch and dinner, with piles of beautiful food, being casually led to the Pinyonqin market, Tiananmen sq and ufanquin street, with its gorgeous Chinese paper, flag lowering and scorpions on-a-stick respectively, being bussed out to the Great Wall and the Summer Palace – all of these explorations of Beijing were relaxed and full of humour and creativity. The erudite Bas Kwakman sketched remarkable portraits and vistas everywhere we went, the irrepressible Mite Stefanovski, always smiling, always full of life, always cajoling conversation and laughter, Lea and Javier, Dennis Maloney and the wonderful Sophia, a brilliant young translator who had actually lived in Nottingham and at times sounded more English than me and was the heart and soul of our escapades– all helped me personalise Beijing, and make this massive, sprawling, contradictory city something brilliant, bright and welcoming.

Naturally there were moments of cultural dissonance between the visitors and the nature of Beijing, and especially when we were officially ‘guided’ for parts of the bus tour, the lack of sensitivity in the language and the politics, as compared to the UK anyway, was startling. But this wasn’t a contradiction, rather it was organically enveloped into the experience, openly discussed, criticised and exorcised. It was all an education, and this was part of the more formal discussions too, about poetry in China, and how it’s only perceived in ‘classical’ or ‘political’ context outside of China, and how limited that is in understanding a nation so big, so full of difference, so full of history, culture and subtle variance. People are not a place, and politics is not people, nor poetry.

And at the events, it was great to meet some Chinese poets I knew like Jiang Tao, and those I hadn’t come across or met before, like Zhao Si, who led the conference and who generously invited me to attend. I hope her efforts to bring such a group of people together reward her and the CCTSS with a continued series of events and projects, and if this week was anything to go by they will align some great writing with some memorable travels.