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China: In Memory of Post-80s Trash Poet, Xiao Zhao

On February 14, 2011, 25-year-old poet Xiao Zhao ended his life by jumping off a bridge near his home in Hunan province. While the urban post-80s generation blogging star Han Han has caught the world's attention and become one of “The World's 50 Most Influential Figures in 2010″, Xiao Zhao's short life tells a completely different story of the same generation in China.

His last piece of work is an online biographical fiction, Never eroded: A exiled intellectual's experience in this country in this life(永不磨损:一个流浪知识分子此国此世的闻历见思), first published on KDnet in December 2010. Below is an excerpt of his writing which comments upon the rural born post-80s generation:

对于广大的生于80年代、生活于小城小镇甚至乡村的人来说,面临的困境基本相似:县级的图书馆中,除了武侠小说之外,很难找到一本封底标价超过5毛的书。 纸张暗黄,像是多年以前擦过屁股,有些还粘着某种来历不明疑似鼻涕的东西;随手一翻,尘封多年的烟灰直扑鼻子,其内容不提也罢。新华书店,一半以上是教 辅。音像店不少,勉强能听的只有老狼。互联网尚未兴起,网上浏览信息还属于将来时。更何况,这些还得在无休无止索然乏味的功课的夹缝中进行。基于以上的原 因,我以为,不应对这一代人过于苛责:那些勇于进取的青蛙们,不是不想看到更多的天空,而是你给的井口只有这么宽。而爬出井口,需要漫长的努力和时间。

For those who were born in the 1980s in small towns or rural areas, we were all trapped in similar conditions: in provincial libraries, apart from wuxia novels, we could never find any book that cost more than 50 cents. Their yellowish pages looked as if they were used pieces of toilet paper, and you could find snot-like substance stuck to some of the pages. While you flipped the book, the ancient dust ran straight into your nose. There wasn't anything worth mentioning about the content. In the Xinhua bookstores, more than half of the books were textbooks. We could find some CD shops but most of them were not worth listening to, aside from Lao Lang's song. The Internet was not popular back then, surfing online was still something of the future. Homework was boring and overwhelming. Given such circumstances, people should not be too harsh with this generation. The courageous frogs in the well do want to see the world, but you imposed upon them such a small exit. It takes a lot of effort and time for them to climb out of the well.

Despite his less advantaged rural background, he managed to enter the Nanjing Normal University, one of the best Universities in China. Such opportunity could have help him to climb up the social ladder, instead, he decided to quit his study in 2005. He made a statement on his decision:

首先我想说的是,这游戏我玩了十二年,倘若由着惯性或惯例,做一天和尚撞一天钟,当一天婊子接一天客,—— 得过且过,那么,我还得玩四年。如果“表现够好”,“正是你们想培养的人材”,没准,四年后还得玩下去。没准,还会和你们一样,站在讲台上恬不知耻地说一 些连自己也骗不了的傻话,误人子弟还收钱。除此之外,每年定期不定期人模狗样地参加一系列以“学术”冠名的大会小会,辩论议论争论讨论,和颜悦色勾心斗 角,出书,抄袭,造假,表演,作戏,——只要足够不要脸,保不定混成个“大师”。就说咱这专业吧,谁敢说没蒙过人,屁股干净?但,现在兄弟我不想玩了。

I had played this game for 12 years. Following such tendency or habit, in the next four years, I had to force myself to act like a monk, kept hitting the bell everyday, or like a prostitute, kept serving customers everyday. If I had good performance and “became the elite that you wanted to cultivate”, I had to continue such game after 4 year. Maybe I would become one of you, standing in the stage, lecturing shamelessly on lies that you did not believe in and making money by fooling others’ sons and daughters. Apart from that, I would probably participate in different kinds of “academic” meeting, arguing, debating and discussing, fighting against each others with a smiling face. I would publish books, copy and fabricate, perform and act. Once I could survive with being shamelessness, probably I could become a “master”. In our department, who had a clean ass without cheating others? But brothers, now I don't want to play anymore.

He probably wanted to save himself from the so-called “brain-damaging system” that he mentioned in his last message in KDnet on December 14, 2010, two months before he committed suicide :


I dare to conclude: This country is not lacking in talent, its main problem is the brain-damaging system. I dare to yell out: the deepest problem rests not in the system, but in a particular race. The society is under the control of a certain human type whose IQ is equal to zero.

Xiao Zhao belongs to a newly-emerged Laji (垃圾派) poetic stream, meaning “trash style”. According to the 2009 summit on trash writing, the definition is:


Trash writing rots the self and degenerates the soul. It brings the self back to everyday life so as to reinvent and discover life boldly. It creates a new world for poetry.

In August 2010, Xiao Zhao published a 20-point 2010 Trash Declaration, below is a selected translation of some of his points:


3. In our time, poetry has turned into trash, and the status of poets is equal to those who pick up trash for a living.


4. On Feb 5, 2009, a performance artist ate a plate of feces, and then he wrote down 10 words with feces: “You choose to have reckless power, I choose to eat shit”. Compared to this, Xu Xianchou's so-called trash writing is just agony without real pain, or moaning without sex.


6. Trash-ism is just a concept, a territory, a field, a flag. It is better for me to occupy the spot than letting you do so. It is better for me to pretend to be awesome than to let you do so.


14. I am trash, that's why I am great. I am trash, that's why I am honored. I am trash, that's why I am correct. I am trash, that's why I reflect.

Below is one of Xiao Zhao's most representational poem, My wish is on my way(《我的希望在路上》), written in March 30 2009:


My wish
Is walking on a wide open road
Without terminus, objective or meaning
Below the leafy apple tree ahead
A lonely girl waits for me
She will hold my hand and join me in my walk
To the next city
A city where there isn't anyone else
The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. You can get help from confidential support lines for the suicidal and those in emotional crisis. Please visit to find a suicide prevention helpline in your country.


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