Unofficial Poetry Journals from China

Dear MCLC List members,

Leiden University Libraries holds an internationally unique Special Collection of unofficial (minjian) poetry journals from China.

These journals travel widely among Chinese poets, critics, and researchers. As such, they are hugely influential. But paradoxically, they are difficult to access, sometimes to the point of becoming almost legendary — because they generally operate outside the official infrastructure of bookstores and libraries.

Now, a digital collection of twelve early items in the Leiden collection (about 1000 pages in all) is full-text available online, for students, educators, researchers and other readers.

This pilot project was undertaken in close collaboration with the editors of the journals in question. Fundraising efforts to digitize more material are underway.

The entry page offers a list of related content, including a web lecture by Maghiel van Crevel, with abundant visuals and intended as an educational resource. (Rotate the prezi / slides / speaker screens using the pop-up button in the top right corner of the biggest screen.)

The journals constitute a fascinating chapter in Chinese and comparative literary history. The best-known specimen is Jintian / Today (1978-1980), but they are highly diverse. The importance of the unofficial journal tradition has been reconfirmed in recent years by collecting efforts at the Fudan University, Nanjing University, and Sichuan University libraries and recognition of the key role played by private collectors. And the tradition continues to develop as we speak, forty years on.

So does the Leiden collection. Click here for an extensive essay on the collection (2007) and here for a revised edition addressing a wider audience (2017). For an up-to-date list of all titles in the library catalog, click here.

New material will be added in the near future, including unofficially published books (as distinct from journals). In the event that you have unofficial poetry publications from contemporary China and would be willing to consider donating these to Leiden University Libraries, we would love to hear from you.


Maghiel van Crevel and Marc Gilbert

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