Chinese Beat Literature scholar
and translator Wen Chu-an.
Wen Chu-an (1941-2005) was a Chinese professor, literary critic, cultural scholar and
translator. A professor of English in the Department of Foreign Languages at Sichuan
University in Chengdu, China, Wen’s area of expertise was Beat Generation Studies. He
completed the first unabridged Chinese translation of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel On The
Road in 1998 and the first book of Chinese translations of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry
entitled Howl: Allen Ginsberg: Selected Poems, published in China in 2000. Interested in
the influence of Beat Literature on culture and society, Chu-an also delved into the poetry
immediately following and associated with the Beats known as the Post-Beat.
Wen Chu-an was born in Xupu County, Hunan Province, in 1941. He graduated from the
Department of English, Sichuan Institute of Foreign Languages in 1963. Wen worked as
a teacher of English at the Barkam Middle School and at the Ruoergai County Middle
School. He became the director of the Department of English at Ya'an Education College
of Sichuan Province and was assistant director and professor of the Department of
Foreign Languages at Sichuan University. A member of the China Democratic League,
the China Writers’ Association and a visiting scholar at Harvard University, Wen was
also vice-president of the Sichuan Literary Translation Society and a board member of
the Chinese and American Cultural Comparative Studies Association.
Beat Generation Literature in China
Front Cover of Chinese edition of
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957),
translation by Wen Chu-an (1998).
The earliest translation of Beat Generation writings appeared in China in 1962 when the
first Chinese abridged version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) was published as
part of the Grey Cover Series. Later, in the cultural revolution of the early 1960s to
middle 1970s, books were smuggled, read and secretly distributed among some of the
Red Guard soldiers and young intellectuals who were sent to the countryside by Mao to
be “re-educated.” These young readers saw in On the Road something thrilling, entirely
new and encouraging.
In 1982, a former student of Professor Wen's was working in a hotel in Shanghai when he
found a tattered copy of Kerouac's On the Road that had been left behind by an American
guest. The book was unavailable in China at the time, so the student passed it along to his
teacher. Though Wen responded to the novel with immediate enthusiasm, he knew the
time was not yet ripe for China to publish such a revolutionary book (tame as it now
seems by American standards).
Allen Ginsberg Travels To China
Allen Ginsberg, Yangtze River Gorge,
In 1982, Allen Ginsberg was a member of a U.S. Writers’ Delegation that hosted writers
from the Peking Writers’ Union of the People’s Republic of China at a conference at
UCLA. In 1984, Ginsberg traveled to China as a member of this American writers’
delegation that also included Beat Generation poet Gary Snyder and others. During his
China trip, which he extended beyond the one-month official delegation visit, Allen gave
lectures and readings in Beijing and Shanghai. Wishing to see Chinese Buddhism in
practice, he visited the Han Shan temple in Suzhou and the Xixia Temple in Nanjing
where, in the sangha (community) meditation room, he sat cross-legged with the abbot
for about 20 minutes and then joined the monks for a late class. Returning to Shanghai,
Ginsberg purchased a stone seal with his Buddhist name, “Dharma Lion,” engraved on it.
In Baoding, Ginsberg composed poems that were published in White Shroud (1986): “I
Love Old Whitman So,” “Written in My Dream by W.C. Williams,” “One Morning I
Took a Walk in China” and “Reading Bai Juyi.”
Wen Chu-an, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: the birth of Chinese Beat Studies
Professor Wen in the classroom.
Ginsberg and Wen never met face-to-face, but after Allen’s 1984 visit to China, Chu-an
began to examine the Beats and their writings with objective and reasonable academic
arguments that contrasted with official criticism, exploring the social and literary value of
the Beats, foreseeing the upcoming Chinese academic re-evaluation of the Beats in
In September 1996, Wen Chu-an introduced Allen Ginsberg’s poetry to Chinese
academics in a talk entitled “Beat Literature” at the Eighth Annual Conference of the
China Association For The Study Of American Literature. Between 1996-97, Chu-an was
in the United States as a Harvard University visiting scholar. While at Harvard, he
attended the “Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!” festival in Jack Kerouac’s American
hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts, in October 1997. There he met many of Kerouac's
relatives, fans and scholars. Wen’s translation of Kerouac’s On the Road was published
in China in 1997 (the same year as Ginsberg’s death). His translation of On the Road sold
more than 10,000 copies.
Wen published his Chinese translation of Ginsberg’s Selected Poems (1947-1997) in
Allen Ginsberg: Selected Poems
1947-1997, Chinese edition (2000),
translated by Wen Chu-an.
Wen Chu-an, Zhang Ziqing, Vernon Frazer and Chinese Post-Beat Studies
One of the poets Wen met at the 1997 Kerouac Festival in Lowell was the American
Post-Beat poet, writer, musician and multimedia artist Vernon Frazer. Frazer agreed to be
interviewed by Wen who was interested in determining the effects of the Beat Generation
and Beat Generation Literature on American culture, society and on the generation of
poets and writers in the decades that followed.
American Post-Beat Poet Vernon Frazer.
At the Ninth Annual Conference of the China Association For The Study Of American
Literature in November 1998, Wen gave a second talk entitled “The Beat Movement Is
Still Going On.” He told his colleagues, “My research topic is on Beat Literature. During
my stay in America, I attended a Kerouac Festival in Lowell, and established relations
with the major critics and writers in this field. Through more in-depth investigations and
research, I found that Beat Literature hasn’t ended because of the death of Ginsberg and
Burroughs. On the contrary, the "beat" consciousness/philosophy/thought, as a kind of
belief and attitude towards life, has become a rather complex, not a simple (not just in the
realm of Literature) cultural/social discourse, but an enduring cultural/social
phenomenon, and beyond the borders, with the globalization tendency.”
Wen’s interview with Frazer, “Beneath the Underground: Post-Beat Writing in America,”
appeared in Contemporary Foreign Literature (CFL) #1 (Nanjing University, 155-161) in
2001. The same issue of CFL, edited by Zhang Ziqing, a colleague and friend of Wen’s,
also included “Selected American Post-Beat Poems,” Vernon Frazer’s edited anthology
of Post-Beat poetry translated into Chinese by Wen Chu-an.
Zhang Ziqing with Anne Waldman,
New York City, 1994.
Wen Chu-an and William Lawlor: “Beat Meets East” Conference
American poet, translator and Beat
Studies scholar William Lawlor.
In the summer of 2004, Wen Chu-an and the American Beat Studies scholar William
Lawlor coordinated “An International and Interdisciplinary Conference on the Age of
Spontaneity.” What has become known as the “Beat Meets East Conference,” named
after the keynote address by the American poet, photographer, filmmaker, editor and
teacher Gordon Ball, was held 2-5 June at the Kehua Hotel on the campus of Sichuan
University in Chengdu, China.
American poet Gordon Ball.
The first of its kind, the conference brought together Beat scholars, writers and musicians
from the United States, China, Thailand, Turkey and Australia. Co-sponsored by Sichuan
University and the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, the “Beat Meets East”
conference included the following speakers and topics: Ian Almond (Turkey): “Juggling
Orients: Bowles’ Nietzschean Experiments and The Islamic East”; Gordon Ball (USA):
“Beat Meets East” (keynote address); Vernon Frazer (USA): “Extending the Age of
Spontaneity to a New Era: Post-Beat Poets in America”; Richard Hishmeh (USA): “I’ll
Let You Be in My Dream if I Can Be in Yours: The Friendship of Bob Dylan and Allen
Ginsberg”; William Lawlor (USA): “A Coney Island of the Canvas: Lawrence
Ferlinghetti’s Poetry in Response to Great Paintings”; Ling Chung (China): “The
Remolded Image of Han Shan in Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums”; George Moratidis
(Australia): “Authentic Beat: Romanticism, Eastern Mysticism, and the Beat Search for
Authenticity and Individuality”; Ou Hong (China): “Gary Snyder as a Social Visionary”;
Valentina Peguero (USA): “The Beats in Mexico City”; Darin Pradittatsanee (Thailand):
“Wrestling with Emptiness: Kerouac’s Engagement with Mahayana Buddhism in Mexico
City Blues”; Steven Schroeder (USA): “They Fly into One’s Head like Birds:
Organization of Sound in John Cage and Gary Snyder”; Jason Spangler (USA): “On the
Fringe and in the Mix: (De) Constructing Beatdown in Cassavetes’ Shadows”; Matt
Stefon (USA): “Lonsesome Travelers: Dwight Goddard, Jack Kerouac, and an American
Dharma”; Craig Svonkin (USA): “Bob Kaufman, Black Jew, and Allen Ginsberg, Jewish
Buddhist: The Beats and Spiritual/Identity Transgression”; Stephen Tapscott (USA):
“Corso, Lowell, Jarrell, and a Move Past the Modern”; Regina Weinreich (USA):
“Kerouac’s Spontaneous Poetics: A Study of the Fiction”; Wen Chu-an (China): “The
Acceptance of the Beat Generation Literature in China”; Xiao Ming-han (China): “On the
Road of Spiritual Quest”; and Zhao Yi-fan (China): “Allen Ginsberg as I Know.”
Wen was planning books on the influence of Buddhism on Kerouac’s writing and on
bringing out a translation of Kerouac’s Dharma Bums (1958) when he died in 2005.
After Wen’s death in 2005, his colleague, Zhang Ziqing, continued his legacy of cross
cultural Beat Studies and Post-Beat Studies and its tradition operating in literature today,
both in China and abroad. It was Professor Zhang who took over Wen’s work on Selected
Poems by Post-Beat Poets after Chu-an died and got Vernon Frazer’s edited American
anthology translated and published in China in 2008.
Wen Chu-an: Selected Bibliography
"Beat Generation" and Others (2010)
On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1998)
Allen Ginsberg: Selected Poems (2000)
Allen Ginsberg: Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995. Chengdu Shi. (2005)
Selected Poems of Post-Beat Poets. Vernon Frazer (editor). Translation by Wen Chu-an,
with Lei Li-min. Edited by Zhang Ziqing. Century Publishing Group. (2008).
National Excellent Foreign Literature Award (1999)
National Excellent Foreign Literature Award (2001)
Amram, David. Upbeat: Nine Lives of a Musical Cat. Routledge, 2015. 232, 233, 236.
Aronowitz, Al. “Letter from China: Wen Ch-an, China’s Beat Scholar, Reports on BG
Conference in his Home City of Chengdu.” The Blacklisted Journalist. 1 September
2004. http://www.blacklistedjournalist.com/column109h.html. Retrieved 5/20/17.]
Frazer, Vernon. “Extending the Age of Spontaneity to a New Era: Post-Beat Poets in
America.” Big Bridge #10. http://www.bigbridge.org/issue10/fictvfrazer.htm.
--- (editor). Selected Poems of Post-Beat Poets. http://www.bigbridge.org/BB14/VF
. 2008. Retrieved 5/20/17.
Jones, Jim. “How the Beats Came to China.” At GadflyOnline.
http://www.gadflyonline.com/home/05-13-02/book-chinabeat.html. Retrieved 5/19/17.
Lawlor, William (editor). Beat Culture: Lifestyles, Icons, and Impact. ABC-CLIO, 2005.
D,+Icons,+and+Impact&source=gbs_navlinks_s (58-59). Retrieved 5/19/201
Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! Festival [official homepage]
http://www.lowellcelebrateskerouac.org/. Retrieved 5/19/17.
Meyer, Michael. The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a
City Transformed. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010. 137-138.
. Retrieved 5/20/17.