The Making of Minjian: Yi Sha's Poetics and Poetry Activities
This thesis investigates and critiques the notion of minjian through a case study of Yi Sha 伊沙 (b. 1966), a key figure of Chinese minjian poetry since its emergence in the 1990s. The term minjian became a focal point during the Panfeng Polemic in 1999, a most significant event in the history of contemporary Chinese poetry, when minjian was adopted to name one of the rivalling poetry groups and triggered an influential debate that shaped the contour of contemporary Chinese poetry in the ensuing decade. Minjian became a prevailing keyword on the Chinese poetry scene of the 2000s and inspired numerous unofficial poetry groups both in print and online. Though the term was frequently evoked and widely discussed, its connotations remained uncertain. Through my study of Yi Sha’s poetry and poetry activities, I identify two major elements of minjian: colloquial poetics and unofficial stance. Both elements harken back to the classical tradition and had long manifested in contemporary Chinese poetry, yet it was not until the Panfeng Polemic when they were explicitly joined together to defend and define a group that was to be called the minjian poets. Yi Sha rose to prominence after the Panfeng Polemic and became an outstanding representative minjian poet largely responsible for the ‘making’ of minjian into a literary and cultural phenomenon. By combining discourse analysis with a critical biography of the poet, this research demonstrates the complex relationship that minjian poetry has with China’s cultural establishment, the literary avant-garde, and world literature. I argue that Yi Sha’s minjian is both a political stance and an aesthetic choice, with broad cultural and ideological repercussions; understanding the concept of minjian is imperative to the understanding of contemporary Chinese poetry.