Call for Papers: The Worst Chinese Poetry: A Virtual Workshop

The Worst Chinese Poetry: A Virtual Workshop
April 5–9, 2021

Organized by Thomas Mazanec, Xiaorong Li, and Hangping Xu

Call for Papers

Good poems are all alike, but every bad poem is bad in its own way. Poems may fail according to aesthetic, formal, political, social, moral, and other criteria. There are failures of innovation and imitation, of quantity and quality, of ambition and cowardice. The purpose of this virtual workshop is to explore what was thought to be the very worst poetry written in Chinese and to understand why it was regarded so poorly. We want to know who considered it bad, and according to what criteria. By examining the “worst” poetry and the harshest judgments on it from antiquity to the present, we hope to offer a literary history as seen through failure.

The workshop will introduce and discuss primary texts that address the question of why a poem might be called “bad.” Participants are invited to submit up to 10 pages (inclusive of English translation) of “bad” Chinese poetry or critical writings on it from any historical period, accompanied by 5–10 pages (1250–2500 words) of critical introduction. Texts should highlight important moments in the history of bad poetry and how they relate to aesthetic, political, social, and conceptual norms. During the workshop, participants will meet on Zoom for several half-days to discuss the contributions.

Our definition of badness is broad. The awkward, the ugly, the wild, the immoral, the vulgar, the boring, the didactic, the unusual—all may be considered bad. Poetry that’s good in one context is often bad in another. Some topics that participants may wish to consider addressing include (but are not limited to):

  • canon formation
  • genre theory
  • religious poetry
  • misinterpreted poetry
  • translated poetry
  • internet poetry
  • imitative or intertextual poetry
  • licentious or decadent poetry
  • poetry by political toadys or turncoats
  • poetry by emperors and governors (looking at you, Qianlong!)
  • poetry by non-Chinese or diaspora poets
  • poetry by women, workers, merchants, monks, and all varieties of non-literati
  • poetry in novels, plays, stories, and other kinds of literary works

Contributions will be collected, reviewed, and edited for publication as part of The Worst Chinese Poetry: A Critical Anthology. Abstracts of up to 250 words describing a Chinese text and its relevance to bad poetry are due by October 15, 2020. Full contributions will be due January 31, 2021. The workshop will convene the week of April 5–9, 2021.
Inquiries and proposals may be submitted to the organizers, Thomas Mazanec (, Xiaorong Li (, and Hangping Xu (