Wen Chu-an




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,

China, 1984.



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

following years.


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)



Online References


Amram, David. Upbeat: Nine Lives of a Musical Cat. Routledge, 2015. 232, 233, 236.

https://books.google.com/books/about/Upbeat.html?id=-JkHAQAAMAAJ. Retrieved



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.

Retrieved 5/19/17.


--- (editor). Selected Poems of Post-Beat Poets. http://www.bigbridge.org/BB14/VF

PostBeatAnthology.pdf. 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.


tb#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 5/20/17.