Yi Sha is the most controversial Chinese poet of the past 20 years, a member of the extreme avant-garde whose work has changed the face of Chinese poetry. His anti-lyrical poetry is minimal, unadorned – dramatising with facts, not painting emotional pictures – in plain, colloquial language. His poems present pared-down descriptions of seemingly banal incidents, or dramatic incidents described in an ironically banal manner.
Born in the southern Chinese city of Chengdu in 1966 three days after the start of the Cultural Revolution, he grew up in the Maoist era. He came to prominence as a writer in the 1990s, publishing fiction and essays as well as poetry, all of which have been criticised, attacked and even reviled by detractors including many fellow writers. No Chinese poet before him has come under such concentrated attack.
Although Yi Sha is a literature professor, his poetry is “anti-academic” in flavour and has never been accepted in the official Chinese literary mainstream. He has refused to join any official Chinese writers organisation, which has made him a “non-official poet”, and his writing has been imitated by still younger poets. Those who condemn Yi Sha say he has damaged the Chinese poetic tradition, while his admirers believe that he has given forceful expression to the current realities of China and extended the appeal of poetry to new audiences.