Essay / Transpacific Revolution Through Poetry: Pablo Neruda in China

by Hongyang Cai
editing and illustration by Tiffany Dai


Pablo Neruda (1904-1971), Chilean poet and Nobel laureate of 1971, was celebrated during his lifetime as a poet for the masses and a fighter for his political ideology. While his legacies chiefly remain in love poems, his early peregrination as a diplomat and subsequent political commitment render him not only a beloved national poet, but also an eminent figure in communism on a global scale. His travels took him to Asian countries like Japan, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and India, all of which offered him unique experiences and poetic inspiration as he first set out to see the world. After his earlier diplomatic trips and a stint in Spain during the Civil War, a profound transition emerged in Neruda’s poetry and his ideology. He became a member of the Chilean Communist Party when he returned from Spain to Chile and had thus devoted himself to making his poetry “an act of peace.”[i] He was forced into exile after the 1946 presidential election in Chile, and in 1949, with the start of his exile in foreign lands, he began another series of visits to the Soviet Union, India, and China, now firmer in his belief than ever.

In subsequent years, he paid two visits to China, and unlike his first visit in Shanghai during the Republic era when he was robbed by rickshaw pullers, he wrote about these two trips with affection and comradeship for his fellow communist “brothers and sisters” and Chinese commoners. Reminiscing about his second journey to the new China led by the Chinese Communist Party, he wrote: “China does not seem enigmatic to me. On the contrary, even in the middle of its formidable revolutionary drive, I couldn’t help looking at it as a country built thousands of years ago, constantly solidifying, stratifying itself.”[ii] This is indeed a magical moment for an unlikely comradeship. While the “iron curtain” remained unwaveringly drawn between the socialist camp and the capitalist countries, between China and the rest of the world, a nascent yet nuanced understanding was starting to be established between two seemingly unrelated countries, China and Chile.

While numerous scholars have explored the poetic aspect of Neruda’s life and works, few have delved into his relationship with China and how other non-state actors helped construct a diplomatic Chinese-Chilean relationship in the 1950s and 1960s. Tracing his transition from an “arts for arts’ sake” poet to a communist and his political involvement, this paper will posit Pablo Neruda in the framework of transpacific revolution and international communism, specifically between China and Chile. Besides presenting(?) the impact he had on communism on a global scale, this paper will argue that his two main visits to China, his poetry translated into Chinese, and his friendship with the Chinese poet Ai Qing all prove him to be a significant actor in the stage of Chinese revolution through his poetry and an eminent cultural figure in China even to this day. In subsequent sections, I will outline his transition from a poet who “hate[s] proletarian art”[iii] to a poet advocating for communism in relation to his two main trips and his friendship with the famous Chinese poet. Situating Neruda’s visits in the context of China’s ongoing revolution and diplomatic outreach in the 1950s helps us better understand the act of translating fictions or poetry as an act of diplomacy and the extent of ‘Third World’ solidarity, but it also raises some questions regarding the limits of translation and the interconnection between arts and politics. Crediting Neruda as “the conscience of Latin America”, “fighter”, or “poet of the people”[iv], Chinese authorities at the time downplayed the importance of Neruda’s earlier works and meticulously selected what to present to the Chinese readers. That brings us to the question of the politicization of Latin American literatures or foreign literatures in general in the new China. This issue will be further explored in the second section, where I will discuss the intricate relationship between translation and politics in China during 1950s. In the final section, further consolidating the link between China and Chile, this paper is also going to touch on other non-state actors connected with Neruda and China either through a common ideology or by his impact in the 21st century: the Chilean painter José Venturelli, and Ai Qing’s son, controversial artist and political activist Ai Weiwei. To this day, Neruda remains the Latin American author who has the most published works in Chinese, even exceeding the legendary Gabriel García Márquez.[v] Investigating his transition to a revolutionary and his deep affection for China will provide an understanding of the vastness of his influence throughout the globe, and his perennial popularity in a country where a drastically different culture prevailed and language barriers persisted.

A poet’s “conversion”: from poetry of inwardness to poetry as weapon

It has been noted in Neruda’s autobiography and other critics’ studies that Neruda was highly self-critical of his past as a poet. In Jason Wilson’s critiques of Neruda’s poems in different stages, he brings up the question of whether there exist “two Nerudas.”[vi] The answer is undoubtedly confirmative. Neruda himself highlights his transformation in his autobiography Confieso que he vivido:

The bitterness in my poetry had to end. The brooding subjectivity of my Veinte Poemas de Amor, the painful moodiness of my Residencia en la Tierra, were coming to a close. In them, I now believed, I had struck a vein, not in rocks underground, but in the pages of books. Can poetry serve our fellow men? Can it find a place in man’s struggle? I had already done enough tramping over the irrational and the negative. I had to pause and find the road to humanism, outlawed from contemporary literature but deeply rooted in the aspirations of mankind.[vii]

This self-reflection is an affirmation of the role of writer, artist, and in this case, poet, in the world. The 20th century witnessed a surge of discussions about the “intellectual responsibility” of artists in society and how they might help accelerate political transformations.[viii] Famous for having published Veinte Poemas de Amor (Twenty poems of love) at the young age of 19, Neruda was not political, nor did he take any serious stand on the responsibility of artists in his early adult life. In fact, “besotted” with his “requisite black suit of the poet” (Confieso, 29), he was the ultimate image of a Baudelairian artist writing under the influence of French modernist school. Compared to his later works, some of the early ones are notoriously hard to interpret. For instance, stranded on the island of Ceylon with no one to talk to, he wrote “Dead Gallop” with the vivid images of death and desperation:

Like ashes, like oceans gathering themselves,
in the submerged slowness, in what’s unformed,
or like hearing from a high place on the road
the cross-echo of church bells,
holding that sound just off the metal,
confused, weighing down, turning to dust,
in the same mill of forms, too far away,
remembered or never seen,
and the fragrance of plums rolling to the ground,
which rot in time, infinitely green.[ix]

For readers who start with his later works such as Elemental Odes, some might wonder how he went from writing about death to lauding onions in “Oda a Cebolla”. Some critics deem the turning point of this change to be the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), while others argue it to be more gradual. The transition did not appear, at least not until 1943 during his visit to Machu Picchu, a moment when his love for Latin America as an integral continent was made evident.[x] It should be admitted that the Spanish Civil War was indeed a monumental event in Neruda’s life. As a witness to the atrocities of the Franco government and the assassination of his great friend and poet, Federico García Lorca, Neruda was permanently scarred by the events of the Spanish Civil War. He wrote “Spain in Our Hearts” as a manifestation of his support of the Spanish republicans. The publication of this little pamphlet of poetry went into clandestine mode, nonetheless, it was printed and distributed to the soldiers at the front line. For him, the war became personal when Lorca was assassinated: “The Spanish Fascists started off the war in Spain by assassinating its greatest poet.”[xi] Indeed, the war was what prompted him to write “the bitterness in my poetry had to end” and to start working on Canto General.[xii]

However, as noted by Rafael Pedemonte, the heterogeneity of Neruda’s works should not be glossed over by a definitive dividing line.[xiii] Admittedly, Neruda underwent a “conversion” from a Baudelairian poet to an artist who was greatly influenced by Marxist “philosophy of history”.[xiv] But, like every other kind of conversion, the process was not always clear-cut and definitive. The second part of the 1950s witnessed, as Pedemonte puts it, the most “pessimistic, self-critical and introspective” stage of Neruda’s writing.[xv] The turbulences within the USSR and its militant interference with Czechoslovakia resulted in Neruda’s final disillusionment of the Soviet state. In his paean to the Cuban Revolution, “Canción de Gesta”, there is also a veiled critique to the “líder máximo” (maximum leader), Fidel Castro.[xvi]

The quality of his works after his “conversion” is not without its critics. For instance, David Anderson analyzes Elemental Odes through the prism of Socialist Realism and claims that while there are considerable artistic merits, the artistic value of some poems is “significantly compromised” by the formulism and ideological burdens of Socialist Realism.[xvii] While one might agree that some of his later works were influenced by literatures from the Soviet Union, it would be inadequate to consider Neruda as a writer of Socialist Realism, or as a poet of formulaic images. Instead, as Pedemonte argues, Neruda’s artistic choices show us that the “particularities” of his time form a forever changing source of intellectual labor, demonstrating his capacity and flexibility of adapting to external conditions.[xviii] In light of this analysis, Neruda can truly be viewed as a follower of Marxism, constantly adapting to the material reality around him and reflecting it in his poetry.

In addition to the transition of his thematic interests in poetry, Neruda’s choice to return to Chile and joining the Chilean communist party also destroyed the relative stability of his earlier diplomatic stints. He fled into the Andes cordilleras to escape from the political prosecution of the Chilean president at that time, Gabriel González Videla.[xix] With the help of friends in Chile and France, he managed to flee to Paris and showed up at the World Peace Council in 1949. He appeared at the last minute, facing an audience that thought he was dead. The renowned Chinese writer Guo Moruo was on the board of World Peace Council and was later recruited into the committee for Stalin Peace Prize. Although Neruda and Guo Moruo did not seem to have had a personal conversation during the peace conference in Paris, their connection with the World Peace Council established the foundation of the contact between Chinese authors and Latin American left-wing writers.[xx]


Translation as diplomacy: Neruda’s poetry and travels in China

Invited to the Stalin Peace Prize ceremony, Neruda arrived in Beijing on September 15, 1951 and was welcomed by Song Qingling, Guo Moruo and Mao Dun, the most prominent Chinese writers and political figures in the PRC at the time. This trip was credited as “[his] first trip to China” in his autobiography although he had been to Shanghai in 1927 as a young diplomat, when he unfortunately was robbed by rickshaw pullers and developed quite a negative attitude towards the semi-colonized society at that time. The fact that he regarded this moment in 1951 as his first trip shows his disapproval of the former state and his political stance of seeing China after the revolution as the “true” China.

Prior to his visit in 1951, there had already been translations of Neruda’s works and various news articles in mainland China about his political dedications. Neruda’s first translated work was introduced to Chinese readers in 1950, by the name of “让那伐木者醒来吧” (“Let the Rail Splitter Awaken”). It was translated from English by Chinese translator Yuan Shuipai. It became quite popular, and by the anecdote provided in Teng Wei’s book, reading it out loud was a popular and humorous way to wake fellow students up in the dormitories of Beijing University at the time.[xxi] Neruda’s introduction to China marks an important moment in the translation of Latin American literatures as the start of a more systematic endeavor to “import” more works from this unfamiliar continent. Prior to 1950s, the only introduction of Latin American literatures was made by Mao Dun, who published Rubén Darío’s “Queen Mab’s Veil” in Fiction Monthly.[xxii] With the publication of “Let the rail splitter awaken”, more and more Latin American authors were introduced in journals such as Yiwen (Translations). During the height of his popularity, Neruda was featured at least six times in Yiwen.[xxiii] Many Cuban writers and left-wing Latin American authors were subsequently introduced in Yiwen magazine, including José Martí, Nicolás Guillén, and Miguel Ángel Asturias. It is not hard to see that the selection of Latin American literatures was highly politicized during 1950s. Translator Yuan Shuipai exclusively chose to translate the political poems of Neruda, and the journal, Yiwen, which specialized in foreign literatures, was highly embedded in the discourse of Chinese “cultural bureaucracy.”[xxiv] In fact, Neruda’s Veinte poemas de amor and Cien soneto de amor (Hundred sonnets of love) were not officially endowed with copyright and published until a few years ago in 2014 by Nanhai Publishing House. While Neruda was immensely popular as a foreign author in the 1950s, it should be noted that his Chinese readership mostly regarded him as a poet who exclusively wrote political poems.

Thus, when Neruda arrived in China in 1951, the most ostensible role that he undertook was that of a diplomat rather than a visiting scholar or a cultural figure. It was extremely expensive and difficult to travel between China and Chile in the 1950s, and according to an unpublished interview of Chilean painter José Venturelli’s daughter, Paz Venturelli, her father did not bring enough clothes on the journey across Siberia and was almost frozen to death.[xxv] Fortunately, Neruda, clearly well sponsored by Soviet Union and perhaps even Chinese government, arrived in Beijing safe and sound. He met with Song Qingling, “the most respected female personality of the day”, and most importantly, “the prince of Chinese poets”, Ai Qing.[xxvi] Neruda and Ai Qing’s friendship spun almost the length of a decade, and if not for Cultural Revolution, they surely would have stayed in touch and cultivated their connection as fellow poets. While not ignoring the personal relationship that Neruda established on this trip, I would like to focus more on the more significant political outcome of his visit in this section. After his visit in 1951, the Chinese government started organizing for Asia-Pacific Peace Conference, which was to be held in the following year. This conference managed to draw over 150 representatives from 11 Latin American countries, including Chile, Colombia, Panama, and Guatemala.[xxvii] According to the first-hand witness account written by Lü Wanru, who worked as a translator during the conference, there was not a single person who could manage Spanish interpretation in China at that time, so the conference committee employed interpreters from the UK, many of whom worked for International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War.[xxviii] Thus the communication between Chinese and Spanish speakers was achieved through the mediation of English. This in turn prompted Zhou Enlai, the premier of the PRC and the most important figure in foreign policies at the time, to establish the first Spanish language department in a Chinese university, namely, Beijing Foreign Language University (北京外国语大学).[xxix]

Although the language barrier remained, it did not stop Lü from resonating and empathizing with the guests from this far away region. The speech given by the delegate from Panama was particularly impressive to her, as his especially “Chinese-like” face grasped her attention instantly, and the country of which she had no previous knowledge somehow seemed closer to heart. He opened his speech by saying: “我们迟到了。因为我们是横跨了几个大陆,克服了美国情报机关的阻挠和本国政府的胁迫才来到这里的”(We’re late. We’re only here because we crossed several continents, overcame the obstacles set by the intelligence agency of the United States and the threats of our own government.)[xxx] He went on to compare Panama as the “white-haired girl” of Latin America. While this could very likely have been the wittiness of the translator, the metaphor of “white-haired girl” was so effective that Lü still remembers it vividly after almost half a century. Panama and various other Latin American countries were under the threat of imperialism from the United States at the time, so perhaps it is not so curious that they should find solace and comradeship in a country that had only just rid itself of imperialism and colonialism.

Among the 150 representatives from Latin America, there was a Chilean diplomat named D’Amesti who carried a letter of Neruda and hoped to meet with Zhou Enlai. As the personal representative of the Chilean president Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, D’Amesti did not simply go to Beijing to attend the conference. The priority task on his agenda was to strike a trade deal between China and Chile. With the foundation laid by Zhou Enlai in establishing the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, the first trade deal between China and a Latin American country was successfully made with Chile during the meeting between Zhou and D’Amesti.[xxxi] While some might doubt the power of a letter from a poet, the publicity of Neruda’s 1951 visit undeniably helped with the smooth process of striking a deal between two formerly unfamiliar countries. Besides the trade deal, the first “Friendship Association” between China and a Latin American country was also founded with the help of Neruda and his painter friend, Venturelli. These friendship associations mainly helped negotiate trade deals between China and various Latin American countries and organized visits of diplomates as well as non-state actors across the Pacific Ocean.[xxxii]

Neruda’s third visit to China is less note-worthy in the political sphere, but at the same time, the translation of his works continued until the Sino-Soviet split, when most Latin American countries chose to back the Soviet camp and translations of most Latin American authors came to a halt.[xxxiii] In order to elaborate on the act of translation as a diplomatic act that always carries political connotations, I will focus on the afterlife of Neruda’s works in the 1960s. The Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR in 1956 marked the start of a process known as “de-Stalinization”.[xxxiv] Many Latin American countries in which communism was practiced took the side of the USSR. Neruda had always been a firm believer of the Soviet mode and had personally written odes for Stalin in an earlier stage. Consequently, due to the Sino-Soviet split, there were no more Chinese publications of Neruda’s works after 1964.[xxxv] Needless to say, he nearly totally “disappeared” during Cultural Revolution. Although Neruda’s opinion of the Sino-Soviet split is unknown and it was widely assumed that he was still an apostle of Stalin, he had, in fact, started to waver in his political stance and his works, in the words of Pedemonte, also went through a “brief period of ‘de-Stalinization.’”[xxxvi] In his 1958 publication of Estravagario, Neruda appeared to have returned to the “existential concerns” of his early works.[xxxvii] However, in the political climate of the 1960s, the present stance of an individual hardly matters more than his past ideological commitments. Besides his total erasure from Chinese literary scene, Neruda was also later criticized by Cuban left-wing writers such as Guillén for being “soft” when he had attended PEN International Congress in 1966. Neruda was thus associated with American imperialism for simply attending an event in the US. The above examples demonstrate the fact that, for Neruda, poetry and politics are almost always inseparable. The act of translating Neruda’s works was highly politicized in the 1950s and this endeavor was totally abandoned after the Sino-Soviet split. The “destiny” of Neruda’s poetry in China seems to have solely depended on the political forces at work, at least before the 1980s. Nevertheless, the translation of Neruda’s works serves as a clever political and diplomatic maneuver in Zhou Enlai’s efforts to branch out to other ‘Third World’ countries, and there should be no doubt that Neruda was a non-state actor of utmost importance in establishing the first diplomatic relationship between China and Chile.

Illustration Pablo Neruda

“We will always sail the sea”: Neruda’s friendship with Ai Qing

On a more personal level, during his visits, Neruda became acquainted with some eminent Chinese writers at the time, including Ding Ling, Xiao San, and Ai Qing. Among those writers and cultural figures, he seemed to have developed the deepest bond with Ai Qing. In their first encounter, Neruda describes Ai Qing as the charming “old communist and prince of Chinese poets.”[xxxviii] They communicated through French or English since Ai Qing had stayed in Paris for almost three years to study fine arts and Neruda, having once been the Chilean ambassador of France, had an adequate command of French as well. Although this is only a conjecture on my part, it seems that they were able to communicate effectively, much more so than between Neruda could with other Chinese writers, because of their command of French and their shared identities as patriotic poets. However, it seems that Neruda’s works, though limited, had already been translated in China just before his visit, while Ai Qing’s poems, on the other hand, did not appear to have been translated to French or English until the 1980s. It is thus highly doubtful that either of them had a decent understanding of each other’s poems. In a way, their friendship was based on the political and diplomatic premises between China and Chile, but that is not to say that their friendship was not sincere or authentic in any way. In fact, both of them wrote about their time together with affection, and even regret, as they were unable to see each other after Ai Qing’s exile and isolation during the Cultural Revolution.

Although their meeting was conditioned on the premise of political agenda between China and Chile, their descriptions of each other are full of careful observations and personal anecdotes. During Ai Qing’s visit to Chile in 1954, he wrote a series of poems dedicated to this strange land and his friend Neruda. A most poetic moment happened during his visit to Neruda’s home in La Isla Negra that affirmed their shared identities as peregrinating poets:

“他在城里的住宅是在一个小花园里…. 楼上有一间是他收藏的上万只海螺与贝壳的木柜子,每一个收藏品都有标签。他是个跑遍全世界的人。

(《我和聂鲁达的交往》 “My Friendship With Neruda”) [xxxix]

“His dwelling in the city is inside a little garden… Upstairs there is a room that contains the tens of thousands of conches and seashells, each with its own label. He is a man of the world.

Passing by lots of deserted lands and mountains covered with cactus, we went to his villa by the sea. His villa looks utterly like a stranding shipwreck facing the ocean, and he is indeed like a man drifting in the world” (Author’s translation).

Neruda was an avid “connoisseur” of seashells and it had become his habit to collect them wherever he went in the world. Although his house was raided during the coup of 1973, his seashell collection was luckily spared and is still on display in his museum today. His obsession with seashells was a constant one throughout his turbulent life, and maybe it is a constant reminder of that young boy wearing “the black suit requisite of a poet” at heart. The romantic side of this communist, patriotic poet resonated with the Ai Qing’s inner artistic side. It is yet another proof that their friendship was not merely political, but an intimate conversation between two poets. Ai Qing wrote 在智利的海峡 “On a promontory in Chile” as a keepsake for this precious moment:

让航海女神                         Let the goddess of navigation

守护你的家                         protect your home
她面临大海                         Facing the ocean
仰望苍天                             she looks up towards the sky
扶手胸前                             hands folded before her chest
祈求航行平安                     she prays for a safe journey

你爱海,我也爱海             You love the sea, so do I
我们永远航行在海上         we’ll always sail the sea

一天,一只船沉了             One day, a ship sunk
你捡回了救命圈                 You pulled in a life-saver
好像捡回了希望                 as if pulling back hope

风浪把你送到海边             The wind and the waves brought you back to shore
你好像海防战士                 you looked like a coastal guard
驻守着这些礁石                 defending those reefs

你抛下了锚                        You casted the anchor
解下了缆索                        untied the ropes
回忆你所走过的路             remembering all the roads you took
每天了望海洋                    every day you gaze at the ocean[xl]

As aforementioned, it was extremely difficult to travel between China and Chile, although the age of air travel began in the mid-twentieth century. The trip in 1954 took Ai Qing nine days on the plane, from Prague, Geneva, Lisbon, all the way to Buenos Aires and Santiago.[xli] Although they travelled by plane, the difficulty and the duration resembled the traditional way of sailing across the ocean. Ai Qing was also a world traveler and though he had not been to as many places as Neruda had, Ai Qing understood the thrill and uncertainty of being in foreign lands, and the attachment to some kind of “anchor”, be it home, country, or one’s political commitment. By 1954, both Neruda and Ai Qing had almost reached the midpoint of their lives and had witnessed drastic changes in each of their countries. The metaphor of sailing here is not only a reference made to the first half of their turbulent lives, but also foreshadows what was soon to come in the second half of the twentieth century.

Neruda and Ai Qing’s last meeting was in 1957, when the prosecution of allegedly right-wing writers and artists had already stealthily started in China. The first few moments of their sojourn together had not yet been tinted with the political turmoil, as Neruda affectionately wrote of his friend Ai Qing after their last meeting in 1954: “His broad dark features, his large eyes brimming with mischief and kindness, his quick intelligence, were once more a promise of pleasure during this long journey.”[xlii] However, this delightful start quickly escalated to a disturbing turn when Neruda asked his young translator to translate some news from a Chinese newspaper. It mentioned a political trial in which the members of his welcoming party, Ai Qing, Ding Ling, and Xiao San, were involved. Nobody mentioned anything about it to Neruda, but he could feel that “times had changed” and that “all the flowers were wilting.”[xliii] As he reminisced their friendship in 1984, Ai Qing wrote about the last moments they spent together. He was in Neruda’s room and suddenly received a phone call about a minister coming to see him. Ai Qing instantly realized what it was about: his forthcoming political prosecution. Though Neruda protested, there was nothing that either of them could do and that was the last time they met. Neruda left later “with a bitter taste in [his] mouth” and claimed in his autobiography that he “still [has] it”.[xliv] During this trip, he also wrote about Stalin, who was once his personal idol. Instead of trying to exonerate himself from the cult of Stalin, he only admitted that the “deterioration of his character was a mysterious process” and that it remained an enigma for him.[xlv] Both Neruda and Ai Qing were caught up in the larger historical moments that were beyond their powers. While they both tried to make sense of the events as best as they could, the political turmoil in China and Chile had conquered and vanquished many significant artists such as themselves. Although fate fared him better than it fared Ai Qing, Neruda was still criticized and prosecuted both domestically and internationally in his later life, either for being a communist, or for not being enough of a communist. He died shortly after the coup d’état in 1973. Though the official statement claimed he died of a heart failure, there have been recent follow-ups that question the official statement and bring out possibility of assassination. Ai Qing did not know about his death until around 1980. He wrote about the end of their contact with some hints of bitterness and regret: “这些年来,我们国家出现了一些不容易为朋友们理解的事件。很多朋友和我们疏远了。” (Throughout these years, our country had gone through incidents that were incomprehensible to our friends. As a result, a lot of them grew apart from us)[xlvi] Both of them had traversed almost the entire globe and became friends despite being so different from each other. Although their encounter was orchestrated for various political purposes, poetic resonance can be found in their poetry and autobiographical writings that seem to transverse the boundaries of languages.


Conclusion: “Our world which seems so big is in fact so small”

In May 2013, Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei unveiled his first project in Latin America: a mural dedicated to Pablo Neruda in Chile. On the massive mural was four lines from “On a promontory in Chile” written by Ai Weiwei’s father, Ai Qing:

有人站起来                         A man rises
用放大镜                             and with a magnifying glass
在地图上寻找                     he looks at the map
没有到过的地方                 for the places he has not explored

Born right around the onset of the Cultural Revolution, Ai Weiwei have never met Neruda. This mural was dedicated to his father’s friend Neruda long after both of them were gone, but it allows us to imagine that perhaps Ai Qing told Ai Weiwei stories of this man from the other side of the world when he was young. At any rate, the legacies of Neruda live on.

While gradually recognized as a versatile poet in China, Neruda should be considered as more of a diplomatic and political figure vital to the Chinese-Chilean relationship in the twentieth century. As important non-state actors, he and his friend, painter and Chinese communist party member José Venturelli, served as key characters in the “globalization of revolutionary politics.”[xlvii] On a more intimate level, Neruda’s friendship with Ai Qing proves that revolutionary ideology and shared poetic inspiration know no bounds of languages or nations. While they both faced political criticism and prosecution in their later lives, their legacies both survived the turmoil of their times and continue to generate new cultural and political interpretations.


Hongyang Cai is a first-year master student in East Asian Studies. Having completed her undergraduate studies in Linguistics and Spanish, she continues to pursue her interests in Latin American literature and modern Chinese literature. Her current project focuses on cultural diplomacy and literary translations between Chile and China in the 1950s. Her passions are reading, dog-watching, and spicy food.



[i] Pablo Neruda, Memoirs, trans. Hardie St. Martin, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1977), 137.

[ii] Ibid., 232.

[iii] Ibid., 117.

[iv] Teng Wei, “边境”之南 拉丁美洲文学汉译与中国当代文学(1949-1999)

[South of the “Border”: Latin American Literature in China and Chinese   Contemporary Literature (1949-1999)], (Beijing: Peking University Press, 2011), 6.

[v] Ibid., 190.

[vi] Jason Wilson, A Companion to Pablo Neruda: evaluating Neruda’s poetry, (UK: Tamesis, 2008), 6.

[vii] Pablo Neruda, Memoirs,139.

[viii] Rafael Pedemonte, “Pablo Neruda, Su Tiempo y el “Sentido de la Historia”: Postura Ideológica y Reación Poética Durance la Guerra Fría” [“Pablo Neruda, His Time and the “Sense of the History”: Ideological Posture and Poetic Creation during the Cold War], Ayer 98/2015: 159-185, (Madrid: Asociación de Historia Contemporánea, 2015), 171.

[ix] Pablo Neruda, The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, (City Lights Books, 2004), 12-13.

[x] Jason Wilson, A Companion, (UK: Tamesis, 2008), 6-7.

[xi] Pablo Neruda, Memoirs,137.

[xii] Ibid., 139.

[xiii] Rafael Pedemonte, “Pablo Neruda, Su Tiempo y el “Sentido de la Historia”, 162.

[xiv] Ibid., 159

[xv] Ibid., 178.

[xvi] Ibid., 182.

[xvii] David G Anderson, On Elevating the Commonplace: A Structuralist Analysis of the “Odas” of Pablo Neruda, (Valencia: Albatros Hispanofila, 1987), 121.

[xviii] Rafael Pedemonte, “Pablo Neruda, Su Tiempo y el “Sentido de la Historia”, 183.

[xix] Pablo Neruda, Memoirs,171-189.

[xx] Teng Wei, South of the “Border”, 6.

[xxi] Ibid., 40.

[xxii] Teng Wei, “On Depoliticized Politics: Roberto Bolaño’s Reception in China”, Roberto Bolaño as World Literature (eds. Nicholas Birns, Castro, Juan E.), (Bloomsbury Academic & Professional, 2017), 169.

[xxiii] Nicolai Volland, Socialist cosmopolitanism: the Chinese literary universe, 1945-1965, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 178.

[xxiv] Ibid., 156.

[xxv] Mónica Ahumada Figueroa, “Non-state Actors and the Establishment of Chinese-  Chilean Diplomatic Relations: The Role of José Venturelli and Pablo Neruda”, 拉丁美洲研究(Journal of Latin American Studies), Vol. 39. No. 1, (中国社会科学院拉丁美洲研究所, 2017): 146-158, 147.

[xxvi] Pablo Neruda, Memoirs, 208.

[xxvii] Teng Wei, South of the “Border”, 3.

[xxviii] Lü Wanru 吕宛如, “忆亚洲及太平洋区域和平会议” [“Remembering the Asia-Pacific Peace Conference”], 百年潮 (Bainianchao) 4(2012): 34-39, 34

[xxix] Teng Wei, South of the “Border”, 14.

[xxx] Lü Wanru, “Remembering the Asia-Pacific Peace Conference”, 37. My translation.

[xxxi]       Matthew Rothwell, Transpacific Revolutionaries: The Chinese Revolution in Latin    America, (Routlege, 2013), 20.

[xxxii] Ibid., 19-20.

[xxxiii] Teng Wei, South of the “Border”, 19-20.

[xxxiv] Matthew Rothwell, Transpacific Revolutionaries, 15.

[xxxv] Teng Wei, South of the “Border”, 7.

[xxxvi] Rafael Pedemonte, “Pablo Neruda, Su Tiempo y el “Sentido de la Historia”, 176.

[xxxvii] Ibid., 177.

[xxxviii] Pablo Neruda, Memoirs ,208.

[xxxix] Ai Qing艾青, 艾青全集.[The Complete Works of Ai Qing], (石家庄:花山文艺出版社, 1991), 311.

[xl] Ibid., 186-194.

[xli] Ibid., 266.

[xlii] Pablo Neruda, Memoirs, 231.

[xliii] Ibid., 239.

[xliv] Ibid., 240.

[xlv] Ibid., 237.

[xlvi] Ai Qing, The Complete Works of Ai Qing, 268. My translation.

[xlvii] Matthew Rothwell, Transpacific Revolutionaries, 40.




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