Poetry is alive and well in China

I came across this article today about a popular poetry app in China. The article is by Wu Yiyao in Shanghai at China Daily. The story is about a WeChat (微信 wēi xìn) app called 读 诗再睡觉  (dú shǒu shī zài shuìjiào Read a poem before bed). Poetry has been an important and integral part of Chinese society for most of its history. Though poetry is no longer a part of the Chinese education system, to some people it is still important. The 40,000 subscribers to this app are evidence of that. The original story is below, along with a link to the China Daily (Europe) online version.

Here also is a link to a Chinese story about this app.


Source: China Daily (1/30/14):


Reviving the power of poetry

By Wu Yiyao

Wang Xiaoyu’s favorite bedtime routine now is to reach for her smartphone and play a poem. Every night at 10 pm, the 32-year-old sales executive in Shanghai logs on to a poetry-sharing group on the social network WeChat and listens to or reads a poem. It has become a regular pastime ever since she discovered the group, whose Chinese name literally translates to “Read a poem before you sleep”.

“At first I felt the poetry helped me relax and made me calm, but I gradually discovered that joining the group also let me connect with people who share the same passion,” Wang says. Like many of the 40,000 subscribers of the account, Wang used to write poems when she was in college, but gave it up after she started working. Having a family and raising a child left her little time or energy to get creative.

“Read a poem” was initiated by Fan Zhi-xing in March 2013. He had intended to make it a romantic way to express and connect, by reading a poem “to the one you care and love for”, in this age where relationships are both advantaged and disadvantaged by virtual connections. He started the ball rolling with a Chinese translation of Crossing the Bar by English poet Alfred Tennyson.

More and more found out about the poetry account and started to join the discussions, and shared poems. By early 2014, group members had already shared more than 300 poems of a wide range of genres. Subscribers soon grew beyond Fan’s personal network, and volunteers joined an editing team to select works to be sent out through the account. An introduction posted on the poetry-sharing group tells newcomers that “poems will not erase the wrinkles on your face, but they will keep your heart young”.

“It all started from a private emotional need, but it so happened that it also answered the inner callings of many others,” Fan says. A poet himself, Fan says he believes poetry is not distanced from the fast pace of modern life. Not so long ago, poetry societies flourished in China’s universities and high schools, and even with the far-reaching influence of the Internet, a poet at that time would still find a large and appreciative following through books, magazines or even hand-written copies.

“Those were times when people were zealous about poems and poets, which I reckon may not necessarily be healthy. But these days, there is a noticeable gap between how people feel and their ability to express their feelings.”Emotions are often suppressed in today’s world for many reasons, Fan says. It could be due to a lack of time, a neglect of personal feelings, and sometimes, a systemic failure to encourage expression.

His poetry-sharing group has gradually shifted focus from just individual expression to a broader mission – to close the gap between emotions to be expressed and paying attention to and understanding these emotions. “Poetry appreciation is unlikely to be adopted in our education system, and it is not necessary for it to be. Since we have the Internet, we can promote it outside the schooling system, through mobile devices,” Fan says.

An increasing number of volunteers who join the editing team add diversity to the poems introduced to subscribers, who may find themselves listening to a wide range of poetry ranging from Batso Basho’s haiku to Chinese rock ‘n’ roll lyrics, Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) love songs to the works of the English Lake poets.

Some poems, often recommended by “a friend of a friend”, may also make their debut on the poetry cluster. One contributor of original poems is Yu Xinqiao, whose work If I Die, I Must Die in Your Hands was recently adapted into lyrics for a song which became popular after being promoted on a television program on songwriters. Like Yu, many contributors are keen poets who are not shy about expressing their strongest feeling or most delicate emotional nuances. Some poets may be more reticent about seeking fame, but for the editors of the poetry group, they feel it their duty to share interesting works with their subscribers.

In the age of we-media, there are now more channels to share their works with others, even total strangers. Read a Poem can expand the reach of these interesting poems to a wider audience, Fan says. “Mainstream, scholarly monographs or periodicals may not spare space for these new poets, but they deserve to be more widely known. They are the current voices of this age,” Fan says.

13 thoughts on “Poetry is alive and well in China

  1. Poetry really is a great way to show feelings. It makes it that much more intense, having to put your thoughts into a few lines. Poetry packs a punch, and it is something I should get into.

  2. I had imagined that China likely had some form of poetry groups or clubs because of the vast population and the country’s history in poetry, but for it to in modernity have an app that younger generations use is unexpected.

  3. It is interesting to see how the culture differs from Western cultures. There is such a large influence on social media, gaming and blogging in the West, but I don’t think anyone would consider poetry as very important. I think there is a lot to be said, though, through the meaning and symbolism displayed by poetry.

  4. This is wonderful to hear. As someone with an academic interest and personal connection to poetry, it is good to know that China (with it’s long and rich literary history) has not completely given up on such a beautiful art.

  5. It’s a shame that emotions are denied in our world so regularly. It is inspiring to see a group use modern technology to share poetry, and express emotions.

  6. I wish the American education adopted poetry into its regimen. I believe a lot of college students can benefit from having this creative outlet and learning the different ways of expression. I think the college system is too quantitive in a sense, and we neglect our emotional health ties that poetry can help with.

  7. It’s very interesting that Poetry is no longer taught in China. Although not used often in this day, having such a vibrant history in China, one would imagine it would continued to be taught. However, it is great to see a comeback of such an art. Also, the coming together of a culture to help others unwind from a stressful and electronic filled day with the simplicity and serenity of shared poetry truly speaks volumes to the genuine care for others that many hold to heart in China.

  8. Chinese pastries are fascinating because you can describe a thing in various ways with a poetry and it’s not easy to understand and that makes you think…

  9. I’m actually surprised that poetry is no longer apart of the curriculum in Chinese education system. When studying abroad I experienced many poems that were incorporated into my Chinese lessons. However, I think this app is a display how poetry is still important in China. I also think with the younger generation there is an interest in hip-hop music, therefore, Chinese hip-hop is becoming more mainstream which can sometimes have many aspects of poetry elements.

  10. Wow, that is so sad the poetry is no longer part of the teachings to children in china, considering it has been a huge part of China for most of its history. The read a poem app sounds like such a creative app for people to share creativity. it is so amazeig that so many people come together to share poetry through an app!

  11. This is a great initiative to start. I’m surprised that poetry is no longer a part of the curriculum in the Chinese education system. I have taken a Chinese civilization class before, and we talked about what a huge part of Chinese culture poetry and literature is. This app is a great way to not only keep poetry alive amongst younger generations, but also to further expose these younger generations to an integral part of Chinese culture.

  12. This was a really uplifting read. It brings me joy to see something really positive being created in an online community. I wish we had something as pure and creatively expressive in America like this. I feel like we would have a lot to gain from reading and sharing poems.

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