What is Chinese ‘Lower Body Poetry’?

By: Dave Haysom,

"Only those who can’t find joy go looking for thought. Look for thought in poetry? Are you sick or something? Don’t tell us you didn’t know that abstruse poets are frauds. It’s all the same thing: only those who can’t find the body go looking for lyricism, the sobs of a weakling. Disgusting.

Let all that upper body business go to the devil… We want only the lower body. That is real, concrete, tangible, exciting, wild, sexy, unimpeded."

Thus reads the manifesto Shen Haobo (沈浩波) penned in 2000’s inaugural issue of Lower Body (下半身) magazine, the literary journal that heralded the poetic movement Shen spearheaded in the early noughties. Irreverent, anti-intellectual and deliberately provocative, Shen and the other Lower Body poets like Yin Lichuan (尹丽川) set out to shock the establishment with the crude sexual content of their work and their cynical attitude towards society. Shen Haobo published his first poetry collection, A Handful of Breast (一把好乳) in 2001, but it was banned along with his second volume, A Heart Hiding Great Evil (心藏大恶) in 2004. As the titles might suggest, Shen’s early work brims with spunk and aggression, but the masculine bravado is frequently undercut by a sly, knowing irony that suggests he is all too well aware of the absurdity of his vaunting persona.

The Lower Body group also pioneered the distribution of poetry on the internet, and Shen Haobo has channelled that experience in his more recent work as head of the Motie (磨铁) media group. While he continues to publish his own work, he has dedicated more and more time to establishing new platforms – online and offline – for younger, emerging poets around China.

Dave Haysom