Huang Xiang, a brief biography

Added: April 2007 to ICORN Featured Writers










In so many ways, Huang Xiang's life is the stuff of epic screenplays. He has written that he was "born in fire". During his birth a fire swept through the neighborhood and relatives were forced to carry mother and child, the umbilical cord still anchored in the womb, to safety.

He struggled through, and often suffered through, his formative years. His father was captured and shot at the end of the Communist Revolution. The family's land and much of their personal property was confiscated. At the age of 9 he was accused of poisoning a well to kill the "peasants". He was kept for three days in a dark room and paraded through the streets each day in a dunce cap. He was released when no poison was found.

Because of his social class, he was not permitted to continue beyond elementary school. However, he found his father's book in the attic of his grandparent's home and a poem written by his father, which may have inspired his own writing.

When he was seventeen, at the start of the Great Leap Forward, Huang Xiang became restless and worn from the persecution due to his social class. He traveled to a remote western plain called Da Qaidam. There he met a young woman and wrote romantic poetry. One of these poems was intercepted and he was arrested for being an "active counterrevolutionary who hated the Communist Party". He was sent to a lao gai dui, the Chinese equivalent to a gulag.

Between 1959 and 1995, Huang Xiang was imprisoned six times. At one labor camp he was struck by the brutal treatment of the workers and the effect it had on them. He saw one young man die of exhaustion after having been forced to hard labor for seventy-two hours non-stop.

When Huang Xiang was twenty he would occasionally slip out of the camp to watch the students on their way to and from the university. During this time he wrote a poem called "Singing Alone", for which he was subjected to mass denunciation.

A short time later, he found himself working at a mine. After a brush with death in a water-filled shaft, he returned to Guiyang. There he became involved with a literary group, and with Ai Youjun, one of the members . However, when the Rectify Class Ranks Movement began in 1965, he was again sent to a labor camp and forbidden to contact his lover.

During the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution Huang Xiang was able to forge a new personal file-free of the damning information about his social class-and married Ai Youjun.

At only twenty-five, Huang Xiang had experienced and seen enough to infuse his poems with political energy. He wrote aphorisms and philosophy. He wrote about human rights. Yet he still paid a price.

In 1970, Huang Xiang wrote "Song of Life" expressing his grief in the face of the death of his nine month-old son. Huang Xiang's forgery had been discovered, and he was denied the right to visit his dying son in the hospital on the basis of his social class.

During the following years, Huang Xiang would be sent again to the loa gai dui. And again.

Yet, as early as 1979 plans were made to publish Huang Xiang's works in China. But the government stepped in. His writing was banned, and his name was strictly controlled in the media by the government authorities for nearly twenty years. This didn't stop him from writing.

In 1992 Huang Xiang was listed in the Who's Who of both Britain and the United States. In 1994 he received a Hellman-Hammett award.

In 1995 The Writers' Publishing House in Beijing singed a contract to publish a series of his works. But after the first edition "Huang Xiang, a Brute, Drinking Crazily but Never Drunk" was published, it was immediately banned for distribution.

Today Huang Xiang is considered a world-class writer, though due to the long and complete ban in his works in China, his writing has only been known to a small circle of scholars. But this is changing.

From October 2004 to October 2006 Huang Xiang was the Guest Writer in Pittsburg as part of the North American Network of Cities of Asylum.

And in 2007 he received the Hellman-Hammett award again.


The extended biography from which most of this information was gathered is by Andrew Emerson and can be found online.



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