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Yang Lian literary papers.

Identifier: MSS-Archives-2011/04

Scope and Contents

The bulk of this collection covers the years 1988 to 1993. During this period Yang was based in Auckland first as a visiting scholar and then as a poet in exile, a part of Yang’s career sometimes referred to as his New Zealand or Pacific period.

The collection contains a mix of material purchased from Yang Lian by the University of Auckland in December 2003 and material gathered by the Asian Languages Librarian and transferred to Special Collections in June 2005. The material purchased by the University includes the personal papers, photographs and newspaper clippings in Series 1, the notebooks in Series 2 and the bulk of the manuscripts in Series 3 and 4.

The poetry manuscripts in series 3 reveal the way in which Yang’s creates his poems including rough notes for poems often written on A3 paper and handwritten manuscripts written in tidy calligraphy on half pages of A4 paper, even using very small glued on pieces of paper to make corrections. Yang notes that these tidy manuscripts allow him to see the form and printing –like rhythms of the poems. Similarly the long, film like manuscripts created by Yang for pieces of prose, which can be found in Series 4 of the collection were used by the poet to reveal the structure and form of his work.

Among the published versions of Yang’s work in the collection are a number of samizdat, published in China during the early 1980s these are rare copies of underground publications which were produced and distributed by hand.


  • 1980 - 1993


Conditions Governing Access

Partly restricted: written permission of author required for any access to manuscript of 'Ren de Zijue' ('Awareness of Man')(item 4/12), or unpublished manuscript of John Minford's translation of 'Banpo and other poems'(item 3/1).

Biographical note

The son of a Chinese diplomat Yang Lian was born on 22 February 1955 in Bern, Switzerland, and grew up in Beijing.

During the 1970s Yang’s formal schooling and family life was disrupted by the Cultural Revolution. In 1974 Yang was sent to the outskirts of Beijing to undergo Re-education through Labour which included working as a grave digger. Yang’s mother who was also sent for re- education died in 1976 as a result of the conditions she had to endure. During this period of forced labour and in response to the death of his mother; Yang began to write poetry in the Chinese classical style.

In 1977 Yang returned to Beijing where he found employment as a programme manager and editor for the state-run broadcasting service. In 1979 he joined other poets including Gu Cheng writing for the Chinese independent literary magazine Today or Jintian 今天. Yang, Gu and other poets writing for Today favoured an experimental modern style of poetry which was the cause of some debate in the official media and the term misty or obscure was coined to identify the poets and their work.

In 1983 John Minford the editor of the Hong Kong magazine Renditions published a special edition devoted to the work of Yang Lian and other young Chinese obscure poets. Minford’s translations gave the poets works international exposure at a time when in China the work of Yang and other obscure’ poets had become the focus of official attacks in the media resulting in the closure of many literary magazines.

Jacob Edmond and Hilary Chung, in their introduction to Yang Lian’s Unreal city : a Chinese poet in Auckland, write that the precarious position of Yang and other poets perhaps motivated them to name a new group they formed in 1988 the Survivors, to emphasis their survival through both the Cultural Revolution and China’s ten years of unsteady reform during the 1980s. (Yang, 2006, p.3).

In 1988 Chinese authorities allowed Yang to travel to Australia to participate in the Spoletto Festival of the Arts in Melbourne and the Carnivalé in Sydney and to give lectures at a number of Australian Universities. While in Australia, Yang was invited by John Minford, now the Professor of Chinese at The University of Auckland, to participate in the 1989 New Zealand Writers and Translators Workshop and to present a series of lectures non-mainstream Chinese literature. Yang accepted Minford’s invitation and arrived in Auckland in February 1989 accompanied by his wife Lui Youhong (YoYo).

During early 1989 the call for democracy in China and the associated student protests in Beijing grew stronger. Events culminated in a military crackdown by Chinese authorities and the massacre of students in Tiananmen Square on 4 June. In the weeks leading up to the massacre Yang Lian and fellow Chinese poet Gu Cheng, were instrumental in helping to organise protests at the University in support of students in Beijing. In September 1989 Yang with the help of New Zealand poet Murray Edmond and other local supporters organised a memorial arts festival; China: The Survivors to commemorate those who died in Tiananmen Square. The festival included the unveiling of a commemorative stone at St Andrews Presbyterian Church on the corner of Symonds St and Alten Rd, near the University.

The events of 4 June essentially left Yang stranded, in exile, in Auckland. Chinese authorities refused to renew his Chinese passport and in China his work was blacklisted. In order to continue to accept invitations to lecture and attend conferences overseas Yang sought and was granted refugee status and later New Zealand citizenship. During the remainder of 1989 and 1990 Auckland was essentially home for Yang, he continued to work at the University teaching and working in the Library and lived in an old, now demolished, villa on Grafton Rd near the Auckland Hospital.

In early 1991 Yang was awarded a one year German government DAAD fellowship to live and work in Berlin. In early 1992 he travelled to the US to attend a summer residency in the Yaddo artists’ community – Saratoga Springs, Upstate New York returning briefly to Auckland in August 1992. In late 1992 Yang again left Auckland to take up position of writer in residence for 1993 in the School of Asian Studies at the University of Sydney. At the end of his residency, in December 1993 Yang was able to visit China thus effectively ending his period of true exile” (Yang, 2006, p. 12).

Since the mid 1990s Yang’s home base has been in London but remains proudly a New Zealand citizen and continues to accord special recognition to this strange place of exile which had such a profound influence on his poetic development. (Yang, 2006, p.12).

Yang returned to New Zealand in October 2001 for the establishment of the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre, and for a longer stay in 2003 when he and Brian Holton, his friend and translator, participated in the Poetics of Exile Conference at The University of Auckland. On this trip, Yang was presented with a tapa notebook in which he wrote the poem Sense of sight, or Island No.5, which is dedicated to New Zealand poet Michele Leggott and alludes to his earlier Auckland poems (Yang, 2006, 14). This tapa notebook can be found in MSS & Archives 2003/4, Records of the University of Auckland New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre.

For further biographical details, lists of publications and other information on Yang Lian’s work can be found on his personal literary website at


1.5 metres (8 boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of this collection was purchased by Dr. Hilary Chung, Lecturer in Chinese, School of Asian Studies, University of Auckland on behalf of the University Library, from Yang Lian, in December 2003. Additional material collected by Asian Languages Librarian, Hoong Lun, and transferred to Special Collections 20 June 2005.


  • Yang, Lian. (2006). Unreal city : a Chinese poet in Auckland / translated by Hilary Chung and Jacob Edmond with Brian Holton; edited and introduced by Jacob Edmond and Hilary Chung. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press.
  • Yang, Lian. (2005) Yang Lian: personal literary website retrieved from
  • Item 1/15 Chinese /English Dictionary, 1993.


Inventory of the literary papers of Yang Lian, 1980-1993.
Katherine Pawley with assistance from Lai Lam.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
English and Mandarin

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections, University of Auckland Repository

5 Alfred Street
Private Bag 92019
Auckland 1142 New Zealand