Ai Qing

Name in Chinese
Name in Wade-Giles
Chiang Hai-ch'eng
Related People

Biography in English

Chiang Hai-ch'eng ( 1910—), known as Ai Ch'ing, poet. As a prominent literary figure committed to the doctrines of Mao Tse-tung, he held official posts at Peking from 1949 to 1958, when he was censured as a rightist.

Iwu, Chinhua hsien, Chekiang province, was the birthplace of Ai Ch'ing. His family owned much land in the district as well as a general store that had been established by Ai's greatgrandfather. Some details about Ai's early life and some information about his father may be gleaned from his own poems. In "Wo te fuch'in" [my father], published in 1942, he related that his father had assumed adult responsibilities at the age of 16, when Ai's grandfather died. In due course, his father became a local official and taught Chinese in the local middle school. Soon after his birth, Ai Ch'ing was taken to the Chekiang countryside to be reared by a peasant wet nurse. At the age of five, he returned home and began to attend school in Chinhua. His father encouraged Ai to study Western languages, and he was exposed to Western poetry as a schoolboy.

After graduation from middle school, Ai studied medicine, but soon decided that he wished to become a painter and attended an art school in Shanghai for a few months. He became obsessed with the desire to study abroad, and in 1928 his father reluctantly gave him the money to go to Europe. He sailed at once for France. There he managed to earn a little money preparing designs for porcelain. He spent most of his time reading, exploring Paris, haunting the Louvre, and investigating modern European art and poetry. He became interested in the poems of Rimbaud and Apollinaire, and he made a pilgrimage to Aries to see the paintings of Van Gogh.

When his money ran out, Ai Ch'ing returned to China in January 1932. On the ship he made his initial attempt to write poetry. When his parents saw him, they were distressed by his "bohemianism"; they had hoped that he would choose a conventional profession which would lead to a respected position and would increase the family fortune. Ai soon left Chekiang for Shanghai, where he gained an introduction to the prominent author and social critic Lu Hsün (Chou Shu-jen, q.v.) and became a member of the Ch'ün-ti Art Research Society. Ai's contact with Lu Hsün in the early months of 1932 strengthened his determination to write. In July 1932 Ai was arrested by the French police on suspicion of "harboring radical thoughts." He was detained in the French concession of Shanghai for more than three years, until October 1935. That period of confinement had positive results. Ai produced the collection of nine poems entitled Ta-yen-ho (1936). The work took its name from the principal poem, which described the tragic existence of Ai's wet nurse in Chekiang. The poem was entitled "Ta-yen-ho" [big dike river] because the woman had no name of her own, but was called by the name of her native village. It was intended to serve as a tribute to the woman and as "an imprecation upon this unjust world." The collection had an immediate impact on socially conscious literary circles in China and brought Ai recognition.

After his release from prison in the autumn of 1935, Ai Ch'ing remained in Shanghai until the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in the summer of 1937. There he was associated with Hu Feng (q.v.), an independent Marxist literary critic and poet, and with the poet T'ien Chien. In the early wartime period, Ai Ch'ing went to teach at National Shansi University for a short period before going on to Sian, where he joined a literary propaganda group which had been formed to encourage resistance to Japan. From Sian he moved back to Hankow and then to Kweilin in Kwangsi province, where he worked for a year as the literary editor of a newspaper. Then Ai went to Hunan and taught in a middle school. A year later the school was closed by the National Government authorities because of its "leftist tendencies." Ai Ch'ing then went to Szechwan, where he obtained a position in the Yu-ts'ai School, an institution for orphans directed by the prominent educator T'ao Hsingchih (q.v.). The school was located at Peip'ei near Chungking.

Early in 1941 Ai Ch'ing moved to the Chinese Communist wartime base in northwest China. He joined a small group of men who posed as military officers in Yen Hsi-shan's Shansi Army and traveled to Yenan in March 1941. Ai Ch'ing attended the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art in the spring of 1942. Afterwards, he became active in the program to implement the general literary directives that Mao Tse-tung had set forth at the forum. Ai lectured at the Lu Hsün Academy of Arts at Yenan and studied folk songs. Yenan had a decisive influence on his poetry; his work became more political and more concerned with the common people of China. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Ai Ch'ing went to Kalgan, where he worked in the Communist-sponsored land reform program and continued to write and lecture. After the Central People's Government was established at Peking in 1949, Ai Ch'ing was recognized as one of the prominent literary men committed to Mao Tse-tung's doctrines. From 1949 to 1953 he was associated with the monthly magazine Jen-min wen-hsueh [people's literature], first as assistant editor and then as a member of the editorial board. In 1953 he was elected to membership on the national committee of the All-China Federation of Literary and Arts Circles, and he became a member of the board of directors of its literary sub-organization, the Union of Chinese Writers. He was a member of the Chinese cultural delegation that visited Chile in the summer of 1954. Two collections, Ai Ch'ing hsuan-chi [selected works of Ai Ch'ing] and Ai Qüng shih-hsuan [selected poems of Ai Ch'ing], appeared in 1951 and 1955, respectively. In 1957, however, Ai Ch'ing, along with other literary figures, received official criticism. He was called a rightist and was charged with holding deviant views. In February 1 958 he was dismissed from his official posts. He remained in disfavor for some time, but was cleared of the charge against him in December 1961. Ai Ch'ing occupied a significant place among twentieth-century Chinese poets. His language was simple, and his most effective poems were written in a free style close to that of prose. Ai Ch'ing himself divided his writing career from 1932 to 1945 into three phases: the period of Kuomintang rule, the early wartime period, and the years at Yenan. In the first, which included his years of imprisonment in Shanghai, most of his poems were autobiographical and experimental. He was both saddened and angered by the social injustice that he saw around him. In the second period of his career, from 1935 to 1941, he used narrative and descriptive forms and patriotic content. His poems of that period were hopeful, but showed an awareness of the tragic suffering caused by the Japanese invasion. Ai Ch'ing wrote of the war-shattered lives of the peasants of north China, whose fortitude he admired greatly. After his journey to Yenan, Ai Ch'ing began to write political poems; he attacked fascism, saluted the Soviet Union, and expressed his reactions to current affairs at home and abroad. His work of this period was limited by the demands of its ideology.

Ai Ch'ing's most important works were written in the years before 1941. His Shih-lun to-shih [collected essays on poetry], published in 1937, was followed by a collection of verse entitled Hsiang Vai-yang [looking toward the sun]. Later collections of poetry were entitled Pei-fang [the northern land], T'a ssu tsai ti erh-tz'u [he died a second death], Kei hsia-ts , un te shih [poems dedicated to villagers], and Huo-pa [the torch]. In another collection of essays, Shih-lun [on poetry], published in 1940 when he was at the peak of his career, Ai Ch'ing stated his literary credo. "We must persist in the revolution brought into poetry by Whitman, Verhaeren, and Mayakovsky. We must make poetry into something that adequately meets the needs of a new era, without hesitating to use whatever poetic form is most suitable for this purpose."

Biography in Chinese

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