It’s often supposed that during the Cultural Revolution, nearly everything creative, historic or artistic was destroyed and lost to the abyss of time. Local famed poet Wang Yiding (王一丁) would oppose that notion.
Growing up during the apex of the Cultural Revolution in the early 1970s and having spent time as zhiqing (知青), or educated youth sent from the cities to work in the countryside farms, one would think his intellectual development or least stimulation would have been lost. In fact, perhaps Wang would even credit his trials during this period as his raison d’etre, in regards to creation.
“I would say that I’ve been extensively writing throughout the first half of my life. I started in grade four in primary school. I am 53 years old now. During that time, I also published some literature in my college period and did a touring performance in different communes and brigades. After graduation, my first job was to be an editor,” said Wang.
Working as an editor for Xuefeng Magazine, which he called “the only pure literature magazine in Xiangxi (western Hunan Province),” allowed him to exercise his writing ability, creating numerous works and facilitated meeting many interesting characters.
“Let me tell you an example of how we are all attached by literature. An old friend, who I haven’t seen for 31 years, was once the director and secretary of a state-owned enterprise with 600 employees. After work, he would send his literature to Xuefeng Magazine, where I was the editor. Many of his letters went like stones sinking into the sea, having no reply. I didn’t know him at that time, but I was young, full of passion and friendly to everyone. When I found out that we came from the same hometown, I warmly wrote him back and he visited me in the editing department. That’s how we became friends,” explained Wang.
After work, he would send his literature to Xuefeng Magazine, where I was the editor. Many of his letters went like stones sinking into the sea, having no reply. When I found out that we came from the same hometown, I warmly wrote him back and he visited me in the editing department.
Continuing his tale, “When I was later transferred to work in Guangdong, we lost contact. He could know some information about me by reading my literature, but I knew nothing about him because of the limited communication methods during that time. Unexpectedly, we became in contact again about half a year ago. It was January when my mom passed away and I wrote something to honor her, using the Pianwen style. He was very touched after reading it online. Knowing that I went back to Hongjiang, he tried his best to ask my contact from some friends. But we still didn’t meet. Later, he came to Fujian to making a living, but continued to write plenty. After a time, we finally reconnected.”
Though interesting, the editorial position wasn’t exactly sustainable, and so Wang left to begin his career with the government, working in the Customs Department.
“It was 1987 when I came to Guangdong to work as the chief drafter. I discovered that the liberal ethos here was so attractive and that made me want to stay. Taking my prestige as the chief drafter, I contacted a few departments. Finally, I was transferred to Huangpu Customs of the People’s Republic of China as a special talent. That lasted until 2006, when I left to pursue other things,” he explained.
Despite continuing to earn money, Wang still, and always has, felt the call of writing. Since his youth, being able to express ideas—controversial or otherwise—wasn’t just an interest, but a necessity.
“I started writing during primary school and my first composition was criticizing Lin Biao and Confucius. Actually, this first composition wasn’t original; it was dictated by my older brother and written by me. It earned me high praise from my teacher and later was circulated among the production brigade. This all brightly lit my passion for writing from then on,” he mentioned.
Still, for Wang, it’s more than simply putting ideas to paper. It’s the technicalities, minute thoughts and ramblings that make the written word transform from a productive act into unhinged beauty.
“Literature is humanity. Every piece will be related to a writer’s life. I once wrote a Banjie Fu with about 3,400 characters, which is the longest Fu in my career. The well-known elocutionist Mu Yan spent 24 minutes just to recite it. Later, the former president of the Literature Academy at Shenzhen University, Professor Guo Jijin said this was the only time that he had seen Pianwen-style used to discuss the Cultural Revolution. Everyone’s trying to push further, I just try my best.”