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Chinese Characters

May 2004

In tones ranging from high to low and dark to light, the literature of China is as suggestive, as simple, and as complex as the language with which it is written. Anyone tired of linear American plots can find refreshment in the riverine twists and turns of Yu Hua’s “Timid as a Mouse” and Li Xiao’s “Appointment in K City.” Zhang Wei’s prizewinning September’s Fable depicts village life from a mole’s-eye view. Gao Ertai’s exceptional memoir features a hunting party in the mountains during the Cultural Revolution.  Pu Song-ling’s fables add a mysterious dimension. In a rare hip moment, WWB features an essay on the Bob Dylan of contemporary China, the rock star Cui Jian, with a link to his superb music video. 

By Yu Hua
My father used to be a surgeon. He was strong and healthy, and talked in a resonant voice.
Translated from Chinese by Allan H. Barr
Timid as a Mouse
By Yu Hua
“Those who are afraid of tigers, raise your hands.”
Translated from Chinese by Allan H. Barr
From “Walled Dreams, and an Awakening”
By Gu Cheng
Withered grass on all sides / Parched but still alive
Translated from Chinese by Joseph R. Allen
Two or Three Things from the Past
By Yu Jian
he had counterrevolutionary thoughts had been hiding / in our army said his old comrades / whom I’d been calling uncles
Translated from Chinese by Wang Ping & Ron Padgett
Furniture Music
By Chen Li
I draw the curtains and sleep / I wake inside the room
Translated from Chinese by Chang Fen-ling
On the Island
That fire ball, with wide open eyes / is hanging above our heads, burning hot
Translated from Chinese by Chang Fen-ling
By Yang Lian
what wraps two dripping fruit segments wraps a present too / since solitude became your food
Translated from Chinese by Brian Holton & Agnes Hung-Chong Chan
By Yang Lian
then you go on dying dying in plasterthen the pitch-black snow inside the womb goes on fallingthen the face is not while burning pain on the face iswound is not while the ripe age preserved by beheading…
Translated from Chinese by Brian Holton & Agnes Hung-Chong Chan
By Yang Lian
like a scream expanding its territory until tonight
Translated from Chinese by Brian Holton & Agnes Hung-Chong Chan
The WheelRim River Sequence
By Wang Wei
No one seen. In empty mountains, / hints of drifting voice, no more.
Translated from Chinese by David Hinton
From “September’s Fable”
By Zhang Wei
His mother said, “Son, in all her life your mother has never seen such a desolate place.”
Translated from Chinese by Terrence Russell & Shawn Xian Ye
From “Liaozhai Zhiyi”
By Pu Song-ling
“You’re not the master of the house!” the old man said, looking straight at him.
Translated from Chinese by Susan Wan Dolling
Appointment in K City
By Li Xiao
The letter ran: “Let’s make an appointment to meet. Sunday is okay. I must see you.”
Translated from Chinese by Zhu Hong
Sunset over Barren Mountains
By Gao Ertai
I followed the zigzagging line, decoding the tracings of the wild goat’s life force, and was moved to the depths of my being.
Translated from Chinese by Zhu Hong
On the Train: Two Poems
By Zhang Er
Take a deep breath of the profoundly ambiguous logic we believe in.
Translated from Chinese by Bob Holman
Power of the Powerless
By Rachel DeWoskin
Chinese rock star Cui Jian begins his song “The 90s” with the line: “Words are not precise already—can’t express this world clearly.” And in the clarity of that expression,…