Before a Birth

Translator's Note: China has always been an agricultural society. In spite of recent industrial development, the majority of Chinese are officially identified as farmers, holding what is called the "nong ye hu kou" (farmer's resident status). Rural China has received much less attention than cities in China's modernization process. Farmers are facing a changing world where their traditional lifestyle is challenged as they often have to leave for the cities to make a living. Even the rural landscape is changed as cities expand.


The contemporary poets here all come from countryside China, but have a range of professions. Some are still farmers. Some have become laborers or office workers in cities. Some have become successful managers in businesses. These poets share an attachment to nature, the land, and the people in their hometowns. They share nostalgia for the countryside they used to know before the turbulent changes of reform. They have deep sympathy for their kin and compatriots who live hard lives as farmers, or in cities as migrant workers. Yet each poet is unique as they experience the countryside that watches them grow up and leave, and each is unique in the encounter with the outside world. All return with a renewed understanding of, and reconciliation with, their home towns or villages. These poems portray the lives of Chinese farmers and the land that sustains, attracts, and buries them.


A pregnant cow walks in the field
Listening to frogs, cicadas, birds
With an attention greater than ever before
She smells the grass, the crops

Whatever she hears
It is new
Whatever she smells
It is new

When the little calf is born
It already knows what the village is all about


By arrangement with the authors. Translations copyright 2008 by Berlin Fang. All rights reserved.