The Forces of Production: Symmetry and
the Imagination in the Early Poetry of Gu Cheng

By Simon Patton

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 13, no. 2, pp.134-171

The persona of the fairytale poet (tonghua shiren) has been used extensively by both Chinese and Western critics to shed light on the poetry of Gu Cheng (1956-1993). While this interpretive strategy has played a productive role in the understanding of Gu’s work, the conceptual vagueness of this “fairytale” quality seriously limits its usefulness. In order to gain a more concrete understanding of Gu Cheng’s writing, this paper examines the poetry of Gu’s formative years in some detail; this examination in turn suggests that the term huanxiang, or “illusion,” played a key role in his earliest attempts to formulate an individual poetics. By comparing this huanxiang with the notion of la rêverie elaborated by the French thinker Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962), the suggestion is made that Gu Cheng’s so-called “fairytale” poetics can be better understood as a renewed attempt to conceive of poetry as the product of the imagination, an attempt consistent with the widespread post-Mao call for literary autonomy.