Bei Dao, whose name means “North Island”, is a poet from china who was born in the year 1949; which is the same year the Republic of China was formed. He graduated from number four middle school in 1968, which was the third year in the Cultural Revolution that lasted for ten years. He is popular for his poems in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and is frequently related to the democratic movement in China. Bei Dao is a primary figure among the misty poems and has acted as a catalyst for literal and ideological transformations. His first poem, “The Answer” was published for the first in 1976 and was well received. His work looked at the harsh realities that people experienced in his time. This was in the sense of losing, frustrations and the awakening of youth’s consciousness about the events at the time, and that had worked to disrupt and change people’s lives entirely. His work was based on a deep concern for humanity; it portrayed the moments he had disbelief, the reflection that was meaningful and offered a strong sense of reasoning (Arana, 2008).
Bei Dao’s 1970’s poem on a declaration made a huge impact on how the people of China perceived the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution was at a time when China was set apart from the world. It began in 1966 and ended in 1976. It was a struggle of the people that was within the boundaries of China. The revolution was an attack aimed against various leaders who were in the communist party. It was led by Mao Zedong who labeled these leaders “capitalist roaders”. This movement hurt the lives of the people especially intellectuals. It saw China move from criticizing itself to destroying itself, as it strained its endurance beyond the point of being bearable (Stockwell, 2003). It therefore led to the loathing of anything foreign and any foreigner was labeled a reactionary; foreigners were imprisoned and harassed. It led to the deterioration of social values as it lauded revolutionary actions as violence, chaos and looting of both private and public properties. It expressed class hatred through brutally; regarded being civilized as the hypocrisy of the bourgeois and admired being rude as a style of the proletarian. It led to a collapse in the transport, which in turn affected the factories. As a result, the population in the urban areas had a problem in their supply of coal, electricity and food (Stockwell, 2003).
Although there was nothing fruitful that came with the Cultural Revolution, the intellectuals who were known for not doing physical labor were forced to work among the common people and learned what it meant to do manual labor. It also saw youths travel to distant parts of China in the name of “making revolution”, and learn methods of organizing from leaders who were in key projects, in agriculture and industry. This gave the youth a broader view and developed their appreciation for their country.
As seen in the poem “Declaration”, Bei Dao was not for the idea of the violence that was happening at the time of the Cultural Revolution. He did not support the happenings at that time, and the lives of the people upside down. This is because as discussed by Stockwell (2003), no one in China, who lived at that time, has something positive to say about the period that lasted for ten years. The people in the urban areas were not able to access basic amenities such as food, coal and electricity. There was destruction of property, and youths considered brutality, rudeness, class hatred, imprisonment and harassment as a way of life and discarded civilization claiming that it as a form of hypocrisy. The values that the people were used to, that upheld the society’s behavior were destroyed. People in large numbers and across the country suffered factional conflicts and were given harsh treatment (Stockwell, 2003).
Bei Dao wrote his poems in the 1970’s, and his first poem was published in 1976, which was the time when the Cultural Revolution ended (Arana, 2008). However, when the revolution started, artists were not allowed to be so, most of them engaged in political activities as opposed to art. This was partly because the Chinese Artist Association was smashed and partly because of the struggles of ideology and hostilities that were personal. This threatened the artists mostly in colleges that came from “bad” families being excluded from the upper class of the revolutionized society (King, 2010).
In his words, “perhaps the final hour is come, I have left no testament, only a pen, for my mother, I am no hero, in an age without heroes, I just want to be a man...the still horizon, divides the order of the living and dead.....i will not kneel to the ground, allowing the executioners to look tall, the better obstruct the wind of freedom...a blood-red dawn, Dao clearly expresses his view of what was the situation at that time. He referred to himself as no hero and was unsure of his future. The only thing he had, according to what he wrote, was a pen for his mother, he had not left any authenticity. He also said that all he wanted to be a man. This shows his level of discontent in the Cultural Revolution that forced people to become what it wanted, and to denounce their families for recognition by the society that was revolutionized. Contrary to this, one would have difficulties is accessing education and employment (King, 2010). He also talked about how people were divided according to decency and the social status, and acknowledged the fact that he could not give in to people who tried to execute him. This is evidence that, even though he knew he could get into trouble for his work, he was not ready to give up his authenticity for the sake of a revolution that only led to bloodshed and restricted people from living a normal life that was characterized by freedom.
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Dao’s consist of metaphors and imagery in which he uses to express how he understands social issues, reality and humanity. He uses such imagery as a pen, still horizon, the wind of freedom and blood-red dawn. His work, reflected in the “Declaration”, looked at the harsh realities that people were experiencing at the time of the Cultural Revolution. This was in the sense of losing lives and livelihoods, the frustrations of a life that had been turned upside down, a society ripped off any values whatsoever, and the awakening of youth’s consciousness about the events taking place, and that had worked to disrupt and change people’s lives entirely. His work was based on a deep concern for humanity; it portrayed the moments he had disbelief, the reflection that was meaningful and strong sense of reasoning (Arana, 2008).
The works he wrote, especially “The Declaration” exposed what the people had been reduced to: bloodshed, having no freedom, being forced to will to the executioners and the division that was forced among the people of China due to class and decency. He also talked about what the people were going through. He wanted to show people that, what they could have, but did not have during that period (King, 2010). This is what a man lived for; to be something and to leave a trace when they were gone. He wanted people to be their own heroes and stop fighting for a cause that only divided them and infringed on their freedom. He was against a system that chose to isolate people who did not denounce their families in support of the revolutionary. He also refused to give the revolutionary the pleasure of kneeling to the executioners and watching them as they exercised power over the people (King, 2010).
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Dao magnified the issues that were being faced by the people of China. This is because, lives were being lost, and businesses, education and agriculture were disrupted. Populations in the urban areas were unable to access food, coal and electricity. Young people were expected to denounce their families, if they did not support the revolution, there was discrimination in access to education and employment and people were being treated very harshly. The society did not have either values or civilization as chaos, looting and harassment are what constituted China (Stockwell, 2003). Despite all this, people did nothing to stop the situation. His was a conscious enlightenment to the youth especially, about what was happening to their country in their hands.
Bei Dao’s 1970s poem on declaration opened the eyes of the people on the issues that needed to be addressed for China to get freedom. Dao’s work is an indication of influence that can be found in words. He uses symbols to highlight what the people can see but are not ready to fight. He gave consciousness on the negativities of a revolution that did more to hurt the people than to bear fruits. The question that remains, however, is the reaction that the people of China had when Dao went into exile.