My Optimism


Yanxiang, Shao




Chinese poet and essayist Shao Yanxiang was born in 1933 in the Zhejiang province of China. During the mid-1950s, Yanxiang became critical of the new China and began publishing satirical essays. For this, he was labeled a rightist and officially denounced by the Chinese government.  Eventually, Yanxiang was vindicated and his writing continued to flourish. “My Optimism” appears in the 1990 collection The Red Azalea: Chinese Poetry Since the Cultural Revolution.

“My Optimism” is a deceptively simple piece about the speaker’s attachment to and relation with his own optimism.  The poem raises questions on the role of optimism and idealism, what keeps us going in our work, and what does or should motivate our actions in the world.

Full Text*

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The Red Azalea: Chinese Poetry Since the Cultural Revolution, edited by Edward Morin. University of Hawaii Press, 1990.


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Crisis and ConflictIdentity and CommunityMotives and Values

Big Questions

How should we respond to crisis?When is conflict helpful?How do we define who we are?How do you understand your own identity? How does it relate to the communities you are a part of?What motivates us to act in the world?Where do our values come from? Why do we care about what we care about?


Taking Action

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What is being described in the poem? What kind of adversity does the speaker face and how does he respond to it?
  2. What is the effect of giving a persona, or even a body, to a state of mind?
  3. Think of how the speaker’s optimism comforts him and how he comforts his optimism. How are these acts similar? How are they different?
  4. What is adult about this poem? What does it mean to be an adult? How does one become an adult?
  5. In your own work or beliefs, what does it mean to be optimistic?
  6. What attaches us to optimism or idealism? Is it something we create on our own, or is it like a shadow as the speaker suggests?
  7. What role does optimism play in your work? Is it necessary to always be optimistic?
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