Ginsberg and China – 2 (Zhang Ziqing Questionnaire)

Continuing from yesterday

Chinese scholar and poet Zhang Ziqing was in correspondence with Allen in 1990 regarding his knowledge and experience of Chinese poetry.  He sent on a questionnaire. Allen wrote back that he would be happy to answer it but needed to know “whether the questions refer to classical, XXth century, or Contemporary, Chinese literature & Poetry” “And also, is Tibetan poetry & Buddhist.. literature to be counted in as Chinese?”

There followed a letter to the Professor in which Allen details a number of influences  and significant texts (both Chinese and  Tibetan) . Allen’s handwriting (always unique, and not the easiest thing to decipher) occasionally foxes us, but here is a brief transcription (revealing an invaluable reading-list):

(for) Zhang Ziqing – “Do you have my Collected Poems 1940 (sic)-80 (Harper & Row, NY, 1989) – with footnotes?    See Reading Bai Juyi (Rewi Alley Translation) poems in new book White Shroud Poems 1980-85 for paraphrase of poem by Shu Ting verses 8-9 and Bai Juyi – p(age)68 part VII –

I’ve heard more than read of contemporary works (at readings given with Chinese contemporary poets at P.E.N Club and Museum of Modern Art in New York

to “Q4 What ClassicaL Authors?” – Tibetan Milarepa – 100,000 Songs – R.Y.Evans-Wentz –MilarepaTibetan Book of Great Liberation Tibetan Book of The Dead – Biography…of Marpa, the translator – Life of Naropa – S’gam Popa’s ( Gampopa -sic) Jewel Ornament of Liberation  – Gesar of Ling (parts)

Modern – Various works by Dalai Lama Chogyam Trungpa First Thought Best Thought Shambhala Press, Boston, 1985 w/intro by Allen Ginsberg

Indo-Chinese? _ Platform Sutra, Surangama, Prajnaparamita, Lankavatara Sutra – The doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism inherited via Chinese Chan  (leading to) Japanese Zen had great impact on my thinking. Zen Dust – translated by Gary Snyder & others , First Zen Institute , Kyoto) is a voluminous work translating Chinese koans & tapping phrases traditional to Chan and Zen.

Also read Confucious Analects, Mencius (a little), Lao Tzu– The Way (Tao), Shi King (Pound translation, also Waley) – I Ching (used on and off – Wang Wei – (translated by Burton Watson)  lots of Chuang Tzu

These readings & doctrines of “emptiness” or “Dao” permeate my own meditation and writing. Remember, I’ve practiced Chinese-Tibetan-Japanese zuo chan (sitting practice of meditation) since 1972 and before also, but regularly with a meditation master since 1972.

See also 1953 poem re Liang Kai painter p(age) 9, Collected Poems – OK – Allen Ginsberg

And as a postscript:

Check out Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues. Also poet Philip Whalen, sensei, now a Zen teacher. much acquainted with Chinese classic literature.

Here’s the Zhang Ziqing questionnaire (A Questionnaire on the Reception of Chinese Literature and Literary Theory in the United States):

ZZ: What works of Chinese literature and literary theory have you read?

AG: Mostly Buddhist texts – (Some) translations of Chinese poetry.  (Robert) Payne’s White Pony, Su Tung-Po, Po Chu-I, Li Po, Tu Fu, etc.  [- handwriting not clear here –] (and in other anthlogies too) –  Gary Snyder helped Burton Watson with his translation of Su Tung-Po.

ZZ: Are these works written in Chinese or translated?

AG: All translations

ZZ: Do you read Chinese journals published in English?

AG: (I) read a few, rarely.

ZZ: Have you had contact with any Chinese writer?

AG: Many. Ai Qing, many members of Chinese Writers Union, November 1984, and in USA after Liu Binyan – Shu Ting, Bei Dao.

ZZ: Who among Chinese writers are your favorite writers?

AG:  Ancient? – Bai Juyi. – Modern? – Bei Dao

ZZ: What aspects of their writing(s) are you most interested in (e.g. theme, message, plot, form, style, technique, imagery, symbolism, characterization, tone, atmosphere, language, etc). Why?

AG: Picture of modernity, of vernacular, modern idiom

ZZ: Are there any affinities between your work and that of your favorite Chinese authors?

AG: Reflected through Ezra Pound’s Chinese Written Character essay, the aspect of pictoral image in U.S. development of “Imagist” school via W(illiam) C(arlos) Williams, my tutor early on.

ZZ: Who else among American writers do you think has affinities with Chinese writers?

AG: Gary Snyder, Anne Waldman, Peter Orlovsky, William Burroughs,  (Jack) Kerouac, Lew Welch, Robert Creeley (for condensed syntax), Lew Welch vignettes, (Ezra) Pound, (William Carlos Williams) Carl Rakosi, (Walt Whitman?)

ZZ: Are there any aspects of  Chinese literature which are not to your taste or are alien to your philosophy of writing?

AG: Maoist generalization – Mao’s Yan’an Conference on Art and Literature (1942?) text


  1. The ‘indecipherable’ part says “Gesar of Ling.” And then something in parentheses, maybe the name of one translator of it.

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