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Li Congying: Grass is greener at home

Poet and banker Li Congying(李聪颖). Photo: China Daily

Mongolian banker expresses feelings for grasslands through poems.

Li Congying is a down-to-earth banker and a romantic poet - a rare and seemingly ambivalent combination of two identities.

"I am - always will be - a herder," says 57-year-old Li, who is the head of People's Bank of China's bureau in Wuhai(乌海), a city in the west of Inner Mongolia autonomous region. "My grassland herds me, and I herd the poems."

Li suggests having the interview on the grasslands, where he says he will be more comfortable. But because of road repairs, which makes traffic a nightmare, Li changes the venue to his rented apartment, which is surprisingly simple for such a high-level banker.

Many of Li's acquaintances in his financial circle do not know his original Mongolian name Sirguleng, which means "intelligent" in Mongolian. One will see that name in the Chinese Poets' Association, as one of three council members from Inner Mongolia. His Mongolian name is also listed as the winner of Horse Awards, the nation's highest award for ethnic groups' literature in 2008.

Born on the grasslands of Xilin Gol League(锡林郭勒盟), Li of Mongolian ethnic group has special memories of the breathtaking landscapes. Because of his father's job, Li moved around Inner Mongolia and experienced grasslands in various districts since he was a child.

"Some poets may have special feelings for certain grasslands. But, grassland is the entirety in my poems."

He began to write poems in junior high school and his talent was spotted by his teacher, Shi Yubao.

"Classes were often suspended and we didn't have many books in school," says Li, recalling the tough days during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). "But Shi got me foreign novels to read."

Shi wrote a preface for Li's most recent prose collection: "(Grasslands) gave people simplicity, kindness, and honesty, and have engraved all these on Sirguleng."

In 1978, he passed an entrance exam to join a local bank in Xilin Gol. As a "non-professional poet", Li always worked hard to balance his two roles as a banker and a poet.

He says there is no problem doing well in both.

Li has released about 10 poetry anthologies. Though his early collection The Sentimental Grasslands hails the marvelous scenery in Inner Mongolia, his works like The Tearful Sun, published in the 1990s, began to explore ecological concerns, which were a relatively uncommon topic then.

Li calls for a breakthrough in the Mongolian ethnic group's poetry.

"Subtle emotions mixing with philosophies and ethnologies can also be unveiled by plain language. We also need a suitable channel to express the everlasting Mongolian spirit in a modern context," he smiles, admitting that current busy managerial work leaves him less time to consider these serious questions.

"That is probably what I have to do after my retirement."

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