“Poets, What Can We Do?”

Pandemic Poetry in China’s Mobilization against COVID-19


  • Federico PICERNI Ca' Foscari University of Venice, Italy; Heidelberg University, Germany




contemporary Chinese poetry, pandemic poetry, China Writers Association, grassroots poetry, COVID-19


The present paper investigates poetry written in China on the theme of the COVID-19 pandemic following the outbreak in January 2020, considered both as a social phenomenon and as literary texts. The analysis is primarily interested in considering the impact of the pandemic on poetry’s interaction with social reality. In order to do so, the essay follows two trajectories. Firstly, it explores the public role performed by poets in the nationwide popular mobilization that sustained the party-state’s effort to curb the epidemic, with a strong emphasis on poetry as a social practice, specifically in a time of crisis, as outlined by both the state and the authors themselves. Secondly, a close reading of selected texts shows the heterogeneity of standpoints adopted by poets in their individual understandings of their role during China’s anti-COVID mobilization effort, especially in relation with the “master narrative” advanced by the state. The paper demonstrates that the final configuration of China’s pandemic poetry was made possible by Chinese poetry’s longstanding tradition of social responsibility, and that the transgression of boundaries between the official and unofficial poetry scenes, and “amateur” and “professional” authors, was instrumental to promote poets’ public engagement.


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How to Cite

Picerni, F. (2022). “Poets, What Can We Do?”: Pandemic Poetry in China’s Mobilization against COVID-19. Asian Studies, 10(1), 123–153. https://doi.org/10.4312/as.2022.10.1.123-153