The Beats on China and Chinese “Beats”

Cross Cultural Influences, Impact and Legacy

Authored by: Benjamin J. Heal

The Routledge Handbook of International Beat Literature

Print publication date:  May  2018
Online publication date:  May  2018

Print ISBN: 9780415785457
eBook ISBN: 9781315210278
Adobe ISBN:


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The increasing importance of the Sinosphere (the wider East-Asian cultural sphere, as dominated by China) on global politics and economics in the early twenty-first century has led to a reevaluation of Chinese culture in transnational contexts. Following this trend this essay will explore the way Chinese writers and writers of the Chinese diaspora have re-appropriated the themes and styles of Beat literature and reinterpreted a Beat ethos in Chinese contexts, or independently developed a “Beat” sensibility since the emergence of the Beat Generation in the 1950s. In a transatlantic context Paul Giles remarks, “mythic versions of American identity in the middle of the twentieth century arose partly through narratives of dislocation and alterity.” (Giles 2002: 1). A similar, yet subtle, exchange of mythic versions of both American and Chinese identity also evolved through narratives of “dislocation and alterity,” which this essay will explore through the examination of Chinese writers and poets such as Bei Dao (1949–), Wang Shuo (1958–) and Mian Mian (1970–) alongside Taiwanese writers and writers of the Chinese diaspora such as Qiu Miaojin (1969–1995), Maxine Hong Kingston (1940–) and Guo Xiaolu (1973–), who can arguably be given the label “Chinese Beats.” Despite the relative vagueness of the “Beat” literature label, it is representative of a certain construction of American national identity out of this sense of “dislocation and alterity,” and despite its transnational influences the movement is unquestionably “American” in origin. Yet as Jimmy Fazzino states, “the Beat generation is not only what we would now recognize as a transnational literary movement par excellence but is thoroughly worlded” (Fazzino 2016: 4). It is the nature of this newly constructed “world Beat” identity, as interpreted and reframed in Chinese contexts, that is also the focus of this study.

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