Hai Zi

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Hai Zi (海子)

Hai Zi (海子 1964-1989) is the pen name of the Chinese poet Zha Haisheng (查海生), one of the most famous poets on the Chinese mainland after the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976). He committed suicide by lying on the railway line in Shanhaiguan at the age of 25.


Hai Zi was born on March 24, 1964 into a farmer's family in a small village in Anhui Province. He spent his childhood in rural areas at a time when the whole country was embroiled in the "cultural revolution". In 1979, he enrolled in Peking University at the age of 15. He began to write poems as a student in the early 1980s. After graduation, he worked in the China University of Political Science and Law. He kept sending poems he had written while living an extremely dreary life to different newspapers and publishers, but they were mostly rejected. Thus, he remained unknown to common readers until his death.


Hai Zi was fascinated with Tibetan culture and qigong (a system of deep breathing exercises) in his last years. He ended his life by lying on the railway line in Shanhaiguan two days after his 25th birthday. A bag, containing a Bible, a book of selected stories by Joseph Conrad, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, and Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl, was found beside his body. His death is now regarded as an important event in modern Chinese literature with some suggesting it symbolizes "the sacrifice of the agricultural civilization". But some observers later suggested that the cause of his suicide may have something to do with the illusions created in his mind by the qigong training. Not long after his death, his works began to be published by major publishers of China and quickly became popular around the country.


Hai Zi's mystical life and death remains an important topic of Chinese literature and society. A cult of Hai Zi involving young people from all over China spread in the 1990s. However, he is still not totally accepted by the older generation of literary experts.

Nevertheless, Hai Zi's poems exert strong influence on popular culture on the Chinese mainland. Some of his poems have been adapted into songs. His poem Facing the Sea, with Spring Blossoms is inferred and mentioned several times in the Hong Kong movie McDull, Prince de la Bun.

Many coastal places of China compete for the site of the place described in this poem, but research suggests the beach of Xichong in Shenzhen is the most probable place.


Hai Zi wrote several long poems, "choral operas" and countless short poems in his brief life. His style is generally described as "anachronism". Many of his short poems contain symbolic images like land, sea and wheat field and recall the ideals of the ancient Chinese pastoral poet Tao Yuanming. Hai Zi was also obviously influenced by Western philosophy and arts, especially Nietzsche and Van Gogh. And the strong sense of mysticism in all of his works is probably the one of the most important characteristics which turned him into a unique figure of Chinese literature.

Some of his poems have been translated into English.

Short Poems

Hai Zi's short poems are his most popular works. Some of them are now classics of Chinese literature and are quoted frequently, such as:

Asian Copper 《亚洲铜》

The Sun of Arles《阿尔的太阳》

The Four Sisters 《四姐妹》

To the Night 《黑夜的献诗》

Facing the Sea, with Spring Blossoms《面朝大海,春暖花开》

Motherland, or Dream as a Horse 《祖国,或以梦为马》

Spring, Ten Hai Zis《春天,十个海子》

Long Poems and Other Works

Legend 《传说》

The River 《河流》

But Water, Water《但是水、水》

Messiah 《弥赛亚》

Six Mysterious Stories 《神秘故事六篇》