Yang Lian was born in 1955 in Bern, Switzerland, and grew up in Beijing, China. Lian began writing in the 1970s and became one of the founding members of the Misty school of Chinese poets. Along with the other Misty poets, Lian contributed to the underground literary journal Jintian, founded by Bei Dao.
An outspoken advocate of free speech and freedom of political and artistic expression, Lian grew up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and came to prominence during the 1980s. In 1983, the Chinese government openly criticized his poem cycle “Nuorilang,” titled after a waterfall in Tibet, during the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign, and several of his other works have been banned and censored for their political context.
In 1988 Lian visited Australia and New Zealand, and after the Tiananmen Square Massacre the following year, he went into exile. He remained a Chinese poet in exile until moving to London, England, in 1997.
Known for his long poems and poem sequences that draw from the traditions of classical Chinese poetry, Lian is the author of numerous poetry collections that have been translated into more than twenty languages. His poetry collections in English translation include Narrative Poem (Bloodaxe Books, 2017), translated by Brian Holton; Lee Valley Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2009), translated by Holton and Hung-Chong Chan; Riding Pisces: Poems from Five Collections (Shearsman Books, 2008), translated by Holton; and Concentric Circles (Bloodaxe Books, 2005), translated by Holton and Chan.
Of Lian’s work, Allen Ginsberg has written, “Yang Lian distinguishes himself in representing the pain of life caught in between historic eras…a new version of an old issue for world literature as well as Chinese literature is proposed: how to continue writing, relying on individual rather than enforced communal inspiration.”
Lian’s honors include the Flaiano Poetry Prize, the Nonino International Literature Prize, and the International Capri Prize, among others. He is a two-time elected board member of PEN International and in 2013 was invited to become a member of The Norwegian Academy for Literature and Freedom of Expression. Lian lives in London.