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Ai Qing was a renowned poet who made a significant contribution to the new literary genre of "modern poetry" in China. This style, which was greatly influenced by Western literature, did not emerge until the second decade of the century.|
In a career that spanned over 60 years, Ai Qing wrote prolifically, producing over 20 lyrical and narrative poems as well as 1,000 short poems and nearly 200 essays touching upon a broad range of topics from naturalist description to political activism, from empathy with China's poor and their harsh existence to celebration of the Communist cause. He was himself always a radical activist and later an ardent Communist.
Opinions about his poetry vary widely: seemingly welcomed by the masses, he was also severely criticised by the establishment and exiled for 20 years as a rightist. Some of China's young poets accused him of being a political puppet and blocking the way for other styles of poetry and younger poets. But he was held in great respect; as one factory worker once wrote to him: "I don't read much. But I like your poems. I understand what you say in them. I am always moved by your works."
Born Jiang Haicheng in 1910 into a landowning family in Zhejiang province, it was said of Ai Qing that he would be the bearer of misfortune because his mother had undergone a painfully long labour. He was sent away to be nursed, and brought up by a peasant woman so poor she had had to drown her own infant girl in the toilet in order to bring up a rich person's son.
The five years Ai Qing stayed with her had a great impact on his poetry, not only because his first widely acclaimed poem, "Da Yan He" ("My Nurse"), written in 1933, was about her, but also because he inherited from her the passion of a poor peasant for the land. This passion was so intense that it led him to the Maoist revolutionary cause.
Ai Qing had been studying fine art in Paris when the Japanese invasion of north-eastern China caused him to return home. But almost immediately after arriving back in Shanghai he was arrested by police in the French concession for involvement in the activities of the League of Left-wing Artists.
His three years in jail became another important turning-point in his career: he started to write poetry because he was unable to paint in prison. Nonetheless his knowledge of colour and light as well as his ability to catch images contributed tremendously to his writing.