City Gate, Open Up (Paperback)

City Gate, Open Up By Bei Dao, Jeffrey Yang (Translated by) Cover Image
By Bei Dao, Jeffrey Yang (Translated by)


A magical, impressionistic autobiography by China’s legendary poet Bei Dao

In 2001, to visit his sick father, the exiled poet Bei Dao returned to his homeland for the first time in over twenty years. The city of his birth was totally unrecognizable. “My city that once was had vanished,” he writes: “I was a foreigner in my hometown.” The shock of this experience released a flood of memories and emotions that sparked Open Up, City Gate. In this lyrical autobiography of growing up—from the birth of the People’s Republic, through the chaotic years of the Great Leap Forward, and on into the Cultural Revolution—Bei Dao uses his extraordinary gifts as a poet and storyteller to create another Beijing, a beautiful memory palace of endless alleyways and corridors, where personal narrative mixes with the momentous history he lived through. At the center of the book are his parents and siblings, and their everyday life together through famine and festival. Open Up, City Gate is told in an episodic, fluid style that moves back and forth through the poet’s childhood, recreating the smells and sounds, the laughter and the danger, of a boy’s coming of age during a time of enormous change and upheaval. 

About the Author

Bei Dao, (the pen name of Zhao Zhenkai) was born in Beijing in 1949. During the Cultural Revolution, he worked as a concrete mixer and blacksmith for eleven years. Forced into exile after the Tiananmen Massacre, he lived in Europe and the US until 2007, then settling in Hong Kong until, only recently, moving back to Beijing. He has been hailed as “the soul of post-Mao poetry” (Yunte Huang) and praised for his “intense lyricism” (Pankaj Mishra). Bei Dao has received numerous awards for his poetry all over the world, and founded the International Poetry Nights in Hong Kong. His photography and paintings have been exhibited in China, Hong Kong, and Japan. New Directions publishes ten of his books.

Jeffrey Yang is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Line and Light. His translations include Ahmatjan Osman’s Uyghurland, The Farthest Exile and Bei Dao’s autobiography City Gate, Open Up: “crafted with poetic precision and enriched by Yang’s assiduous translation” (The Wall Street Journal).

Praise For…

In an aside at a reading, Robert Lowell muttered: “Memory is genius, really.” To me, Bei Dao’s poems are the work of a genius anyway, a genius of juxtaposing, of simplicity, of acceleration, of tunnelling through emblem and image. But they left me quite unprepared for City Gate, Open Up, which is genius in another sense, in Lowell’s sense....all preserved in Jeffrey Yang’s wonderfully energetic and responsive translation.

— Michael Hofmann - The Baffler

Written with honesty, conscience and courage, this is a powerful account that merges personal memories with the collective history in the making of modern China, and inspires the reader to consider the many important social and political concerns in Chinese society that still remain today.
— Asian Review of Books

The language of Bei Dao’s memoir, seamlessly translated by fellow poet
Yang, is elegantly simple and guilelessly accessible….Winter white
cabbage, vinyl records, pet rabbits, banned books, and first and last “I
love yous” provide intimate glimpses that “open up” to reveal
extraordinary, immediate testimony of challenges survived in a life
intensely lived.
— Terry Hong - Booklist

City Gate, Open Up is an ocean of recollections. Bei Dao's
impressionistic account of his childhood and youth in Beijing, is unlike
any book he has ever written. He builds an imaginative city that
readers can actually inhabit, much like his early poetry creates
concepts worth living for. -- Ratik Asokan, Caravan Magazine
— Ratik Asokan - Caravan Magazine

A nuanced account of China in the era of the Cultural Revolution,
seen through one young man’s eyes. Since that young man became a poet,
it is also beautifully textured, full of the sounds, sights, and scents
of a Beijing that is no more.
— Publisher's Weekly

Bei Dao uses words as if he were fighting for his life with them. He has found a way to speak for all of us.
— Jonathan Spence - The New York Times Book Review

Bei Dao's writing provides ample evidence of the written word's potential to effect political change.... Few living writers possess a voice as elegant.
— Andrew Ervin - The Philadelphia Inquirer

In 18 essays, crafted with poetic precision and enriched by Jeffrey
Yang’s assiduous translation, Bei Dao depicts a cast of memorable
characters with humor and insight: a tenacious family nanny always on
the lookout for revolutionary opportunities; a talented schoolmate who
sneaked across the border to Burma to join guerrilla forces; and the
author’s father, a former government propaganda official and a moody
authoritarian at home... [These] essays are clear and intimate, like the
black-and-white snapshots scattered through the text. While the
descriptive opulence of his prose evokes Beijing’s sights, sounds and
smells, it can be overwhelming at times... Poignant.
— Wenguang Huang - Wall Street Journal

What a fine book! Funny, astute, touching, subtle, personal, widely human.
— Gary Snyder

With precise lyricism, Bei Dao resurrects a vanished city and time in China, creating a rich literary-cum-historical record of the world’s greatest national transformation. But this tender memoir by a great poet also describes the poignant longings, small joys and sorrows of all of us who grew up in places called ‘underdeveloped.’
— Pankaj Mishra

The soul of post-Mao poetry, Bei Dao reveals in this intimate, lyrical memoir a China that still haunts us with its brutal past and aching humanity. Like Balzac's Paris, Dickens' London, and Pushkin's St. Petersburg, Bei Dao's Beijing is a microcosm caught in a time warp, forever titillating our imagination.
— Yunte Huang, Editor of The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature

City Gate, Open Up holds a vertiginous, intimate kaleidoscope of vignettes and portraits, in which a changing city, family, community, and country are presented as quick life-drawings, sketched from within. The drama of famine becomes a few candies in the mouths of half-starved boys scouring fields for weeds; the Cultural Revolution, an attic-hidden library of pre-war movie magazines, anatomy, and fiction carried into a hutong courtyard’s fire for burning. Soon after, the author builds a traveling bookcase backpack, holding only the works of Mao. One local official’s suicide abuts his successor’s ferocious skill at ping pong; a son discovers, as inner cultural inheritance, his father’s “little tyrant,” then struggles for tenderness as time rearranges their relative power. From its haunting opening description of Beijing’s early light bulbs, their rarity and weakness, this book’s jump-cuts of memory move backward and forward in time. These pages illuminate, obliquely and acutely, the story of a now-famous dissident poet’s rebellious emergence and survival, within the story of the intelligentsia’s larger harrowing amid the Chinese Revolution’s whiplash unfoldings.

— Jane Hirshfield

Product Details
ISBN: 9780811226431
ISBN-10: 0811226433
Publisher: New Directions
Publication Date: April 25th, 2017
Pages: 320
Language: English