Citizenship Lab Research Project: “Poetry, translation, and world citizenship in the long 1950s.”

Humanities Research Center’s Citizenship Lab proudly funds Professor Alice Xiang’s research project, Poetry, translation, and world citizenship in the long 1950s.

Project members: Professor Alice Xiang & Research Assistant(s) TBD

Project Summary: This project explores the role of poetry as a key force in the production of solidarity between new and emerging nations in the 1950s. From multilateral peace conferences to transnational poetry anthologies, the works of left-leaning poets such as Nazım Hikmet, Pablo Neruda, and Nicolas Guillén were widely disseminated across a range of mediums during this period, making them highly influential in shaping aspirational forms of internationalist belonging and world citizenship. One of Turkish poet Hikmet’s most popular works, Angina Pectoris (1948), for example, opens with the following lines: “If half my heart is here, doctor / the other half is in China / with the army flowing / toward the Yellow River.”

The project takes as its focus the high-profile mutual engagement between Hikmet and the Chinese Communist Party, which lasted throughout the long 1950s. It situates Hikmet’s reception within the context of China’s close but tumultuous relationship with the Soviet Union (which resulted in the majority of Hikmet’s work being translated into Chinese via Russian), as well as the Party’s advocacy for yafei wenxue, or ‘Asiafrican literature’, which was framed as an anti-imperial world literature initiative, and which Hikmet’s poetry later became subsumed and championed under. What can Hikmet’s ‘solidarity poetry’ tell us regarding the relationship between nationalism and internationalism, between world revolution and world citizenship? What does the project of yafei/Asiafrica —the PRC-backed ‘literary supercontinent’ and large-scale translation initiative— reveal about the formations and limitations of transnational solidarity in this period? Through the lens of Hikmet and China, this project is ultimately interested in the relationship between the literary imagination, strategic (mis-)translation, and particularly expansive formulations of affiliation and citizenship.

The student researcher for this project will help identify and translate Russian sources through which Hikmet’s work was mediated from Turkish into Chinese in the 1950s, as well as relevant Russian commentary on the PRC’s literary ‘Asiafrica’ project.


Alice Xiang

Alice Xiang is Assistant Professor of World Literature at Duke Kunshan University. She is currently writing a book on solidarity and world literature in China and Turkey in the early twentieth century.