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Chinese unofficial poetry journals now accessible in Digital Collections

Leiden University Libraries has made a large number of unofficial poetry journals from China accessible online in its Digital Collections. This opens up thousands of pages from an internationally unique collection of unofficial Chinese poetry for teaching, research, and the general public, including literary criticism and polemics. The unofficial journals are published privately, outside the official literary infrastructure in China, which makes them extremely hard to find. They have been collected by Maghiel van Crevel, professor of Chinese language and literature at Leiden University. Van Crevel does this through a network of poets and editors he has built during fieldwork in China since the early nineties.

The digital collection is highly diverse. The material ranges from the legendary, solemn Today (今天) to the equally legendary, down-to-earth Them (他们); from the feminist Wings () to The Lower Body (下半身), a macho posse (albeit with a healthy dose of self-mockery); and from the polemical, headstrong Not Not (非非, out of Sichuan) to Poetry and people (诗歌与人, out of Guangdong), which welcomes the full gamut of poetics styles and perspectives.

Cultural Revolution

These unofficial publications go back to an underground circuit during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when overground culture was little more than an instrument of political ideology. In the late seventies, this writing came out into the open. This led to an explosion of innovation and experiment that quickly outshone state-sponsored literature, especially among younger readers. Just about every Chinese poet who matters today first published in the unofficial circuit.


Unofficial poetry journals are a fascinating area of research in the study of Chinese and comparative literature, from textual analysis to issues in the sociology of culture. They are comparable to Soviet-Russian samizdat publications and the “little magazines” associated with early modernism in the West. In China, new journals continue to be published. Circulating widely among poets, critics, and researchers, they are hugely influential. The Leiden digital collection makes this fascinating material accessible to all.

In 2019 UBL funded a pilot digitization project for twelve famous titles, about 1000 pages in all. A gift from dr. Freerk Heule has enabled us to add another eighty titles. We will continue to expand the digital collection in collaboration with Fudan University (Shanghai) and are looking for patrons to support this. If you would like to contribute or know other potential donors, we would be grateful if you could contact us.

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