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UPDATED: January 16, 2012 NO. 3 JANUARY 19, 2012
Eyes of the Dark
Blind poet and singer Zhou Yunpeng gains fame after years of hardship
By Wei Yao

Zhou Yunpeng gains popularity as a crossover artist, singing and writing poems (WEI YAO)

With his long hair, sunglasses and gray jacket, Zhou Yunpeng looks like an artist. He's a familiar sight in pubs, live houses, theaters, market plazas, and university lecture halls, playing a guitar and singing his folk songs.

As the last poet to take the stage at a poetry reciting event in Beijing on December 28, 2011, Zhou again sang his songs as a troubadour with his unique style. His popularity has eclipsed other renowned poets who came on the stage earlier than him, such as Duo Duo, Zhai Yongming, and Xi Chuan.

"Zhou is a folk singer, a poet, a columnist, a wanderer and an activist for public causes," said the event host. Zhou's career came to a peak on November 3, 2011, when he won the 2011 Poet Prize of the People's Literature Awards—a well-known public literature award in China—because of his poem, The Speechless Love. The award is organized and granted by the national publisher People's Literature Publishing House.

Ten years ago, however, the blind poet and singer Zhou could live only by performing in streets.

Unfortunate life

Zhou was born to a worker's family in Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning Province, in 1970. Zhou lost his sight due to a cataract disease when he was nine years old. The last obscure picture in Zhou's memory was an elephant playing the harmonica in a zoo.

At the age of 10, Zhou was sent to a special school for blind children. There, Zhou learned playing the harmonica and the guitar. Between 1991 and 1994, Zhou studied at the Special Education College of Changchun University in northeast China's Jilin Province and majored in Chinese literature. "I took Chinese literature as my major because I like reading very much," said Zhou.

During his college days, Zhou started to write essays and poems, and many of his works were published in the college's journals. He also co-founded a literature paper with his classmates, though "the paper printed only one issue of a few dozen copies," Zhou recalled with a smile.

Zhou taught schoolmates to play the guitar. In return he asked them to read books for him. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera and The Stranger (or The Outsider) by Albert Camus were his favorite novels. In addition, Zhou favored contemporary Chinese poets such as Haizi, Gu Cheng, and Bei Dao at that time, as well as American poet Allen Ginsberg, the representative poet of the Beat Generation, and French poet Charles Pierre Baudelaire.

Every day, schoolmates read novels and poems to Zhou for about three hours. He learned a lot of knowledge during that period. A classmate wrote on Zhou's commemorative photo album: "Reading for you was my happiest memory."

Though Zhou listened to various music genres at college, he was not much interested in music then. However, before long Zhou had to make a living by music. After graduating from the university, he was dispatched to a small factory in Shenyang to earn a low wage. But it did not last long. "I got 150 yuan ($23.7) every month, but the factory went bankrupt half a year later," Zhou said. "Then I went to Beijing with not more than 600 yuan ($95.1)."

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