Interview with Cao Shui, Founder of the Great Poeticism Movement and Famous International Author

文艺天地

Interview with Cao Shui, Founder of the Great Poeticism Movement and Famous International Author

by Maria Teresa De Donato


Friend and fellow author Cao Shui, came to visit us today. Cao is a famous Chinese poet, novelist, screenwriter, translator, representative figure of Chinese Contemporary Literature, and the founder of the Great Poeticism Literary Movement.
We will discuss many topics with him, but, as usual, I leave the floor to my very welcome guest.
Enjoy the reading!

Image caption: Cover writer of the 1st issue of “Literary Freedom Talk” in 2023: Cao Shui

MTDD: Hi, Cao, and welcome to my Blog and Virtual Cultural Salon. It is a great joy and an honor to have you with us today.
CS: Hello Maria, I also feel very happy to be able to talk to you and your friends! I come from China in the East, and you are now the United States in the West. I hope our dialogue can make the East and the West more familiar, although from a global perspective, people have a better understanding of the West. I am very pleased that you have placed your primary focus on the Great Poetry Movement, as it was launched to bridge the gap in human civilization. Human civilization originally came from the same place and will also move towards the same place in the future. This theme was also explored by me in the cover writer of this year’s “Literary Freedom Talk”, the most famous critical magazine in China.

MTDD: Cao, your biography is really outstanding. There are so many aspects to consider, but we will have the opportunity to do so in the course of various interviews.
Would you like to start by telling us something about yourself, your studies, your childhood, and your adolescence?

Picture caption: In 1989, Cao Shui and his second brother Cao Chunbo
CS: I was born into a fruit farmer family in Yushe County, Shanxi Province, China. Since childhood, I have seen various plants in orchards, so I have a natural sense of closeness to nature. My biggest characteristic when I was a child was my fear of darkness. Every night, someone had to hold me, otherwise I would cry loudly because I was afraid of shadows. I later chose literature, I think it was for the pursuit of brightness.
I spent my elementary school at Beishanyun Experimental Primary School. We had story classes then, and I would tell my classmates the stories I heard from my grandfathers. It often left the classroom silent, and they would still remember it years later. I spent my high school years at Yushe No.1 Middle School. I started keeping diaries around the third year of my junior year in 1997, which became a habit of my life. Up to now, I have recorded about 100 diaries, with about 10 million words. My diary is different from others. It is like the mother’s womb of literature, where poetry, novels, essays, dramas, and many other writing themes can be traced back. My university was spent in the Chinese Department of Qinghai University for Nationalities. My real literary writing began here. In 2005, also my junior year, I created the first draft of the “Manifesto of Great Poetry” and began advocating for the theme of Great Poetry with several campus poets. My first novel, “The Top of the Tower of Babel”, was also written that year. I obtained a Master’s degree in Literature from Beijing Normal University from 2017 to 2020, by which time I had already published 20 books. In 2017, I began to join the World Poetry Movement, and works such as “Song of the Tower of Babel” were translated to more than 20 countries. I feel that I truly entered the world literary world from then.
Finally, I would like to share a special experience. Around middle school, my second brother Cao Chunbo took a painted version of the Bible from a church and gave it to me. When I first read the story of the Tower of Babel , I was surprised to find that humans initially spoke the same language, but the incomplete construction of the Tower of Babel made me feel disappointed. Therefore, I decided to rebuild the Tower of Babel in literature, which is also one of my most important writing themes.

MTDD: How did your passion for literature, poetry, and culture, in general, come about?

Image caption: The cover of the first version of “TheTop of the Tower of Babel” published in 2007
CS:The first poem I wrote in my 1999 diary was “Me”: I/wore a tattered straw hat/peeped at the world. At that time I thought about “conquering the world”. Every summer vacation, I spend it in the Northern Expedition Orchard in my hometown. I often wore an old straw hat and read on a big apricot tree, so I wrote this poem. This poem has been widely praised on campus for a while, and my classmates call me the “Straw Hat Poet”. The title of my preface to “The Top of the Tower of Babel” is “When a man cannot conquer the world with a sword, he will choose a pen”. The reality is that I cannot conquer the world with a sword, and the ideal is to conquer the world with a pen. I think this is to “give the world a new order”, which is the source of my passion for literature. I started writing in 1999, proposed Great Poetry Movement in 2005, started writing professionally in 2008, started writing screenscripts in 2013, and started integrating into the world literary world in 2017. During this process, I have experienced countless difficults, and every “darkest moment” of my life is driven by this belief.

MTDD: Your eclectic nature emerges from your Biography with a 360° vision of reality and of the world. Has it always been like this for you, enclosed in your DNA, or have you arrived at this vision over the years through studies, research, activities, and, therefore, also thanks to a greater awareness you might have acquired?

Picture caption: Photo caption: In 2008, Cao Shui traveled in western China and arrived at the the Potala Palace in Lhasa
CS: “In this world, there are two things worth looking up to for a lifetime: the sparkling starry sky above our heads, and the noble moral laws in people’s hearts. “This is the words of the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant. We all know that he is a dualist philosopher, and our hearts and world seem parallel, but they are actually corresponding. Just like the primary goal of Great Poetry Movement is to integrate sacred and secular cultures, I feel that my nature to integrate various cultures has always existed in my heart, meanwhile I have awakened it through reading and travel. They are intertwined.
I have been addicted to books since I was young. During the vacation my parents never let me work in order to make me read. They only let me read in the orchard. I read almost every day except for eating. In high school, when they turned off the lights in the dormitory and go to the restroom to read. Not long ago, I went back to my alma mater to give a speech, and many teachers were still talking about it.
Travel is as important as reading. I used to have a well paid newspaper editing job, but I resigned in 2008 because I felt that my life should be dedicated to striving for a greater dream. After resigning, I traveled to the western part of China for more than half a year, and upon returning, I began writing professionally. This insight was later written into the trilogy “The Secret History of Kunlun”, which was also a best-selling book of the year and had many pirated copies. Through this, I entered the Chinese literary world. Over the years, I have written many books, and I feel that they are all moving towards the same goal, which is the common dream of humanity.

MTDD: Not only in China but also in the rest of the world, you have become famous for having created the Manifesto of Great Poem and, subsequently, having given birth to the Great Poeticism Movement.
How and when did it all happen, and why did you feel the need to take action in this sense?

Picture caption: In 2023, the Great Poetry Movement Committee began awarding the Great Poetry Movement Medal
CS:In 2005, campus poets such as Xiyuan and Yiming and I proposed the “Great Poetism” school, considering that the Chinese poetry world was chaotic and that over 200 countries in the world had their own civilizations that needed to be integrated into one. Our direct inspiration comes from the great Chinese poet Hai Zi, who proposed the creation of “great poetry that integrates nation and humanity, poetry and ideals”. His idea comes from the Indian concept of “Great Poetry”(Mahakavya), which is epic. I wrote the “Manifesto of Great Poetism” in 2007, proposing the core proposition of “integration of sacred and secular cultures, integration of ancient and modern cultures, integration of East and West cultures”. It can be traced back to the epic era of humanity, including Gilgamesh, Indian epics, Greek epics, etc. Our current writings are fragmented and require a new integration. At that time, we were still college students, and the manifesto was published in small publications, mainly circulated among young poets. Because this is a completely new concept and we have the power of youth to write, our influence has become increasingly significant. In 2023, the Great Poetry Movement Committee decided to award the Grand Poetic Movement Medal, with my portrait on the front and an ancient map of Asia, Europe, and Africa on the back.

MTDD: How have your initiatives been received in China and in the rest of the world? Do you have particular experiences that you wish to share with our readers?

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Picture caption: Logo widely circulated during the “Cao-Yi Dispute”: Cao Shui and Yi Sha
CS: After the proposal of great poetry, it went through approximately three stages of dissemination. The first stage was to have a large number of followers among young poets, including Zhuang Ling, Han Bing, Lei Xun, Shen Jia, Shen Xue, Ye Mo, Shu Xian, Ying Zi, Su Ming, Yue Jian, Peng Shujin, Zhang Housheng, Yin Zixu, Xu Yanmu, Guo Liangzhong, Shan Yuyang, Nobu Langjie, and many other post-80s and post-90s poets. At that time, it was listed as one of the 20 avant-garde poets in China. “Dancing on the Pen Tip: A Witness to the Literature of the 80s” (formerly known as “History of Literature of the 80s”) edited by Xu Duoyu were introduced in a special chapter in the “Literary Theory” volume, and together with Statism and Sexy Writing, they were known as the three major literary trends initiated by Chinese post-80s writers.
In the second stage, Great Poeticism became a hot topic in the Chinese literary world. In 2018-2020, I represented the “Great Poetism” and engaged in a three-year debate with Yi Sha’s “Post Oral Poetry School”, which was referred to as the “Cao-Yi Dispute” in the Chinese poetry circle. I became a cover writer in the first issue of the most famous critical magazine in China, “Literary Freedom Talk,” in 2023. The magazine published my work “The Cao-Yi Dispute and the Ten Major Illnesses of the Chinese Literary World,” which summarized that the “Cao-Yi Dispute” broke out 100 years after Hu Shi, the pioneer of modern Chinese literature, wrote “The Attempts Collection,” which was largely driven by a series of factors. At that time, many people interpreted it as the “Dispute of the century road of Chinese New Poetry”, It is believed to be “the biggest controversy in the Chinese poetry world since the Panfeng Dispute” (the famous intellectual and folk poetry debate in the history of Chinese poetry in 1998), and the “most modern dispute of the 21st century”. The core of this dispute is the issue of the direction of Chinese mordern poetry, whether it is the “post oral poetry” advocated by Yi Sha, or the “Great Poeticism” advocated by Cao Shui. In this process, I saw clearly the various illnesses in the literary world, and literature called for a deep “literary reform movement”.
In the third stage, Great Poetry Movement spread to various parts of the world. I participated in the first and second International Writing Programs organized by the Chinese Writers Association in 2017, where I met twenty poets from various countries around the world and also joined the World Poetry Movement. As my works were translated into more than twenty languages, the Great Poetry Movement gradually spread to various countries around the world. This year, I participated in the 22nd Homer International Poetry Festival in Türkiye. At the same time, I also presented the “Medal of the Great Poetry Movement” on behalf of the Great Poetry Movement Committee to the international poets who have made contributions to epic poetry or great poetry for the first time. The first medal was awarded to the famous Turkish poet Nurduran Duman. It is difficult to say whether they accept the concept of Great Poetry while it is still spreading, but at least more and more people are talking about it.

MTDD: Among the goals you aim to achieve through multiple activities, the one that predominates is the integration between sacred and secular, eastern and Western, and ancient and modern culture.
It is a truly ambitious goal that might seem utopian to many. However, it is precisely the utopias in which we believe and succeed – with determination, conviction, and perseverance – that change the world. Considering the unstable and unpredictable geopolitical situation in which our Planet currently finds itself, perhaps this is precisely what we might need: an approach to culture that promotes mutual knowledge, solidarity, and greater understanding between peoples and the consequent acceptance of each other’s differences.
All this could represent a turning point in creating a World of Peace.
What is your thought about it?

Picture caption: The cover of Cao Shui’s poetry collection “Epics of the Eurasian”, translated by George Wallace and I into English
CS: The goal of Great Poetry is to integrate sacred and secular cultures, integrate Eastern and Western cultures, and integrate ancient and modern cultures. To many people, it does seem like a utopia because it is too difficult. But precisely because of this, it is what our world needs, and from a geopolitical perspective, it is also a way to resolve disputes. Humans are of the same origin and the world is a great unity, which may be a myth for many people. However, when they read American geneticist Spencer Wells’ “The Journal of Man: A Genetic Odyssey,” they will find that from genetic memory, the common ancestor of humans came from Africa about 100000 years ago. Human genes are 99.9% the same. We were all brothers and sisters, and the color of our skin is just the influence of the environment. So why do we want war? Wars are often the kidnapping of people by a few interest groups. Recently, there has been another war between Israel and Palestine, which should have a greater understanding of the significance of peace for our brothers during the Abraham era. This is the turning point of peace.
From the perspective of literature and poetry, the pursuit of Great Poetry is not utopian either. Here we need to borrow the term “element”. In my poetry, we need to extract elements from both traditional Chinese culture and find corresponding elements from Western culture. Just as ancient Greek philosophy believed that the world was composed of four elements: “earth, air, water, and fire”, traditional Chinese philosophy also believed that the world was composed of five elements: “gold, wood, water, fire, and earth”. For example, in my poem ‘Pamirsburg: The Chamber of Nine Dragons and Nine Muses’, I search for the corresponding relationship between the representative of Eastern civilization, the’ Nine Dragons’, and the ‘Nine Muses’ of Western civilization; In the poem “The Lion Losing its Mouth on the Eurasian Grassland”, search for the corresponding relationship between the ancient capital of China, Chang’an, and the ancient capital of Europe, Rome; In the poem ‘One Dream is Better than 100000 Lives’, we search for the corresponding relationships between various cultural elements in Eastern and Western civilizations, as well as the corresponding relationships between the seven ancient centers of human civilization in the past: Babylon, Canaan, Egypt, Greece, Persia, India, and China.Human civilization initially had the same mother body, but later Eastern and Western civilizations developed different forms of civilization, but they were corresponding. I agree with T. S. Eliot’s “objective correlation”, although he originally intended to talk about the correspondence between imagery and the world, it can also be used here to talk about the correspondence between Eastern and Western civilizations. My modern epic ‘Epic of Eurasia’ was created under this concept and has been translated into English by the famous American poet George Wallace. It is prepared to publish in USA. In today’s globalized world, there is no common epic for humanity. In the past, the evolution of human civilization centered around the Eurasian continent, from Babylon in the two river basins to Judea, Egypt, Greece, and Persia, India, and China to the east. I want to try to create a human epic by integrating the human history of the seven major civilizations. Like ancient philosophy, we extract elements from the world and ultimately form a brand new world of art, that is, a brand new civilized world.
This will be difficult, but it is also the hope of humanity. All ideological reforms began with a few people. Jesus had only twelve disciples at the beginning, but Christianity later spread throughout the world. Confucius in China had only seventy-two disciples at the beginning, but later controlled Chinese thought for two thousand years. Modern democracies were established by Americans in 1776. In the ancient world, it was impossible to imagine a country without a king, but now most countries have become democratic. I firmly believe that humanity will embrace the goal of great poetry in the future. We come from the same place and will also move towards the same place, integrating elements of various civilizations, and creating a new common civilization.

MTDD: Your literary production is very vast, as are the many awards you have obtained and on which we will be able to focus on, in a future interview.
You are also the General Secretary of the Boao International Poetry Festival and Vice President of the Silk Road International Poetry Festival.
Would you like to tell us about these two Festivals, how and when they are organized, and their goals?

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Picture caption: Cao Who and Turkish poet Nurduran Duman won the prize at the first Boao International Poetry Festival
CS:The Boao International Poetry Festival and the Silk Road International Poetry Festival were both established for the exchange of literature between China and the world. Coincidentally, they were both established in 2018, which was also the date when I joined the World Poetry Movement.
The Boao International Poetry Festival is held every winter in the tropical town of Boao, which is the permanent site of the Forum for Asia and feels like spring in winter. Our purpose in establishing it is to promote Chinese poets to enter the world and promote world poets to enter China. Every year, we invite dozens of Chinese and foreign poets to present the Boao International Poetry Award and publish the “World Poetry” magazine in both Chinese and English. Currently, it has been held for five sessions, with over a hundred international poets participating online or by person.
The Silk Road International Poetry Festival was held in the ancient capital of China, Xi’an, which was the capital of the powerful Han and Tang dynasties in China. It has the most complete preserved large city walls and numerous scenic spots. This is also the starting point of the Silk Road, passing through the Eurasian continent all the way from here to the Roman Empire. Each poetry festival invites dozens of Chinese and foreign poets to award the Silk Road International Poetry Award and issue the World Poets magazine. The fourth poetry festival will be held this month, which is also a echo of China’s the Belt and Road Initiative.
These two poetry festivals are currently the largest international poetry festivals held in China, and important poetry festivals include the official Qinghai Lake International Poetry Festival. These poetry festivals are of great significance in promoting dialogue between China and the world.

MTDD: Is there anything else you wish to add that we haven’t mentioned yet and/or that we might further discuss next time?

Picture caption: The trilogy of Cao Shui’s novel “The Secret History of Kunlun”
CS:I want to explore how the literary spirit developed from epics, just like the process of Incarnation. I think human literature is constantly dividing, from lyrical literature represented by poetry in the agricultural era, to narrative literature represented by novels in the industrial era, and then to dramatic literature represented by screenscripts in the information age. Epic or epic, once an encyclopedia style of writing, has now spread to various literary genres, so epic is about finding our source in contemporary times. My trilogy ‘The Secret History of Kunlun’ aims to explore the common mother culture of humanity, the earliest cradle of human civilization, and the civilizations of Asia, Europe, and Africa.
We still have many issues to explore. Recently, I have been paying attention to the issue of so-called “Decoupling between China and the United States”. I believe that the relationship between these two most important countries today will affect the development of the entire world. Starting from the idea of great poeticism, I have always believed that humanity is of the same origin and the world is united. “Decoupling China and the United States” is not conducive to the development of human civilization, and of course, human connections are also unstoppable. Nowadays, we are divided into over 200 countries with over 200 walls. The future of humanity should tear down these walls and establish a complete common world.

MTDD: Thank you, Cao, for participating in our interview. I hope to have you again as my guest to talk about the many other topics you have covered in your vast literary production and beyond.
How can readers contact you or follow you in your activities?

Picture caption: Cao Shui’s “Flowers of Empire”, translated by Fiori Picco
CS: We still have many topics to explore. I think the same theme can be transformed between poetry, prose, novels, and screenscripts, but they are just different in form. Here, I would like to introduce my six series of works to readers:
1. “Kunlun Secret History Series” :novels such as “The Secret History of Kunlun I: Timing Channel”, “The Secret History of Kunlun II: Jade Seals of China and Imperial Crown of Roma”, “The Secret History of Kunlun III: Tower of Heaven, “Prequel to the Secret History of Kunlun: Tower of Babel”, poetry collection “Epic of Eurasian Continent”, prose collection “Kunlun Journey”, etc.
2. “Local History Series”: novels such as “The Lone Star in the Chaos: Legend of the Crown Prince Hutai”, “The Wind and Clouds of Wei Empire: The Legend of Yuanhe”, “The Slave Emperor: The Legend of Shile” (in writing), poetry collection such as “Cold Lyrics”, “The Bride of Pamir Castle”, etc.
3. “Kekexili Series” :novel “Snow Leopard Prince”, prose collection “Kekexili Animal Kingdom”, fairy tale “Sanjiangyuan National Park” 10 volumes, fairy tale “Kekexili Animal Kingdom” 6 volumes, fairy tale “Three sisters of Wild Yaks” (Italian), etc.
4. “The Tower of Babel Series”: novel “Babel Tower”, prose collection “Notes of the Tower of Babel”, poetry collection “Song of the Tower of Heaven” (English, Spanish);
5. “King Peacock Series”: 40 episodes of TV series “King Peacock” and trilogy of novel “Peacock King” (in writing);
6. “World Series”: the trilogy of the novel “Golden Empire” (in writing), the poetry anthology “Flower of the Empire” (English and Italian), the poetry collection “Hear the Heartbeat of the World in Istanbul” (Turkish), etc.
Although my poetry has been translated into over twenty different languages, the translation of the entire book is still ongoing. Currently, you can pay attention to the famous Italian sinologist Fiori Picco’s translation of “Flowers of Empire”, which can be purchased on Amazon. This book is published in English, Italian, and Chinese, reflecting on the centrism of Chinese civilization in the context of globalization. I heard from Fiori that you have written an excellent book review, I am also looking forward to reading. Fiori Picco is still translating my collection of fairy tales, including The Three Sisters of Wild Yaks. At present, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube and other social software are unavailable in China. I contact international writers mainly through E-mai and you can also read me on Wikipedia(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cao_Shui). If readers understand Chinese, they can follow and contact them through China’s social media Weibo(https://weibo.com/u/1257070965), Tiktok(shawncao), WeChat(caoshui3), etc. Although there are walls of language blocking it now, the great German poet Goethe proposed the concept of “world literature” as early as 1727. I believe that an era of world literature will come unstoppably.(end)


Biography of Cao Shui

Cao Shui(Chinese: 曹谁;pinyin: Cáo Shuí), also Shawn Cao (born in Jun 5, 1982), is a Chinese poet, novelist, screenwriter and translator. He is a representative figure of Chinese Contemporary Literature. He leads “the Greatpoeticism” movement. In his “Manifesto of Greatpoem”, he aims to integrate sacred and secular cultures, oriental and occidental cultures, ancient and modern cultures in Chinese literature. In 2008, he resigned from a newspaper and traveled around Tibet and Xinjiang, which is the center of Eurasia or the World in his view. His novels Secret of Heaven trilogy tells the whole developing history of human civilization. His most notable works includes Epic of Eurasia, the already mentioned trilogy and King Peacock (TV series). In his works, he extracts elements of various ancient human civilizations, from Babylon to the west to Judea, Egypt, Greece, to the east to Persia, India, China, and uses these elements to reconstruct a new Utopian human homeland, which always described as Eurasia, the Top of the Tower of Babel or Kunlun Mountains (Heaven Mountains). So far fourty books of Cao Shui have been published, including ten poem collections, four essay collections, ten novels, twenty fairy tales, four translations and one hundred episodes TV series and films. He has won more than 50 literary awards worldwide, including the 1st Chinese Young Poet Award, the 4th Cao Yu Cup Drama Award, the Apollo Dionysus Award of the 8th Italian Rome International Academy of Contemporary Poetry and Art Award, the 12th Russian Golden Knight Award, and the Top Ten Public Figures of the 5th Chinese Poetry Spring Festival Gala, etc.His works have been translated into English, Italian, Spanish, French, German, Swedish, Portuguese, Danish, Polish, Russian, Hungarian, Croatian, Slovenian, Turkish, Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Nepali, Vietnamese, Tibetan, Mongolian, etc. He has been invited to participate in the 30th Medellin International Poetry Festival, the 26th Havana International Poetry Festival, the 14th Kritya International Poetry Festival in India and the 4th Qinghai Lake International Poetry Festival. He is a member of China Writers Association, China Film Association and China Poetry Society. He is also chief editor of Great Poetry, deputy editor in chief of World Poetry, secretary general of Boao International Poetry Festival and vice president of the Silk Road International Poetry Festival. Currently he lives in Beijing, and works as a professional writer and screenwriter.


Bio of Maria Teresa De Donato

After graduating from the Technical Institute of Tourism “J. F. Kennedy”, and attending two years of the Faculty of Magisterium – Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University “La Sapienza” in Rome, she studied journalism at the School of Journalism “Academy”.
Once in the United States, Maria Teresa resumed her studies in journalism, graduating from the “American College of Journalism” and, later on, obtaining a Bachelor, a Master and a Doctoral degree in Holistic Health at Global College of Natural Medicine, with specializations in Naturopathy and Homeopathy. Furthermore, for some 40 years, she has been practicing her coaching activity with certifications in Anger Management, Conflict Analysis, Negotiation and Conflict Management, and Strategic Communications for Couples.
She has published many books, such as LIFE – A Spiritual Journey in the Garden Traditions (2016); MENOPAUSE – The best years of my life (2018); Ocean of Senses – a fiction story (2019); Missing Puzzles – Autobiographical-historical-genealogical novel (2019); Autism from a Different Perspective – Cesar’s Successful Story (De Donato & Tommasini) (2019); Tales of Life and Surroundings – Tales Collection(2022), etc.

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