This article offers a poetics of the writers' conference as conducted via channels of Cold War–era cultural diplomacy through a reading of the Asian Writers' Conference (New Delhi, 1956), a largely forgotten predecessor of the better-known Afro-Asian Writers' Conferences. Focusing particularly on the Chinese writers in attendance, I read the conference literarily, with an eye to its aesthetics and the particular performance of transnational literary relation that it engendered. The Conference's fortuitous confluence with the Hundred Flowers Campaign in China unexpectedly made possible an approach to transnational literary exchange that actively eschewed and rebelled against state intervention in the literary sphere. As such, the Asian Writers' Conference effected a form of transnational literary relation that thrived in its self-avowed uselessness to mandates of diplomacy. The Conference warns against the tendency in South–South studies to valorize the decentering of colonial powers as cultural mediators without a critical engagement with the nation-state's overseeing presence once it occupies that agential role in transnational literary exchange.

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