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May 2004

Chinese Characters

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. The restraint of MuXin's "Quiet Afternoon Tea" astonishes us; he's one of WWB's favorite discoveries. 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.

Poetry editor Jeffrey Yang is leaving us in style; he's translated a magnificent group of classical Chinese poems and also selected work by Chen Li, Gu Cheng, Wang Wei, Zhang Er, Yu Jian, and Yang Lian. Special thanks also go to consulting editor and literary agent Joanne Wang, a tireless champion of Chinese writers, for introducing us to nearly all of the prose writers included here.

Photo by Dan Wilcox © 2004

Power of the Powerless
    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…
On the Island
–based on Yami myths 1 The island is by the sea, and the sea by the island Our island is a tiny, motionless ship Tsunami turned the ship into a cradle The waves dashed toward the mountaintop, splitting…
Translated from Chinese
Sitting alone within a hidden bamboo grove plucking the qin repeating long howls in a deep forest no one knows bright moon illuminates the harmony “Nine…
Translated from Chinese
A strong desire to climb high No one comes to offer wine So forlorn for distant homeland chrysanthemums that must be in bloom near a field of war …
Translated from Chinese
At last at West Lake it's the sixth moon-month Wind light sights unlike any four seasons Sky-linked lotus leaves endless jade-blue Sun- light bright on water lily bloom…
Translated from Chinese
Poem to the Tune “Pure Peace”
By Li Bai
Spring / wind through the threshold
Translated from Chinese by Jeffrey Yang
Paper screen Rock pillow Square bamboo bed Hand tires book drops Long afternoon dreams Woke up smiling then laughed alone counting the notes of a fisherman's flute Waves…
Translated from Chinese
Don't resent your exile Long ago I passed thru Min There are usually few wild geese in autumn but at night gibbons are common The road east becomes clouds mountains…
Translated from Chinese
Eighth moon-month Dongting autumn Xiao Xiang waters flow north To go home is a ten thousand li dream Traveler's sorrow through the fifth nightwatch No use opening…
Translated from Chinese
Fragrant night shrine incense Forgot to go home Pine balm ancient temple door Bright lamplight from the abbot's room Beads bind the bhikkhus' robes White Sun…
Translated from Chinese
then you go on dying dying in plaster then the pitch-black snow inside the womb goes on falling then the face is not while burning pain on the face is wound is not while the ripe age preserved by beheading…
Translated from Chinese
By Yang Lian
since the undated neglected foul blood's due datesince the year fell off a bed's edge edged you outsince conceiving evil itself conceivedwhat wraps two dripping fruit segments wraps a present…
Translated from Chinese by Brian Holton & Agnes Hung-Chong Chan
Reply to People
Happened upon a pine forest Rock beneath perfect pillow for sleep No calendar sun within mountains cold ends year unknown “Nine Poems from Ancient China”…
Translated from Chinese
Furniture Music
I read on the chair I write on the desk I sleep on the floor I dream beside the closet I drink water in spring (The cup is in the kitchen cupboard) I drink water in summer (The cup is in the kitchen cupboard)…
Translated from Chinese
from Conversations about Soldiers of Salamis
The following is an extract from Diálogos de Salamina: un paseo por el cine y la literatura (Tusquets, 2003), a book of conversations between Javier Cercas, author of Soldiers of Salamis, and David…
Translated from Spanish
from September’s Fable
By Zhang Wei
A company of moles following one leader roamed everywhere over the ruins that night. In that deeply silent time before the moon had risen, only the sound of their small rustlings mingled with the wind.…
Translated from Chinese by Terrence Russell & Shawn Xian Ye
until sky is like a breast popping out from a collar held by horrible hands your hands until slow death displays more distinct violence until a dead drunk fiddle has just shed its feathers until a bird…
Translated from Chinese
from Liaozhai Zhiyi
By Pu Song-ling
These stories are taken from a work-in-progress entitled Heart’s Reason: Stories of Affection from the Liaozhai Zhiyi, edited and translated by Susan Wan Dolling. Liaozhai Zhiyi–literally,…
Translated from Chinese by Susan Wan Dolling
from Walled Dreams, and an Awakening
1 I wait forever For the wall To awake Leaves have fallen to the ground Leaving behind nothing but a bird and its nest Quiet on my birthday Withered grass on all sides Parched but still alive In the narrow…
Translated from Chinese
The WheelRim River Sequence
Wang spent periods of seclusion throughout his life in many different places–but in his middle years he acquired his famous WheelRim River (Wang River) retreat in the WholeSouth mountains, just…
Translated from Chinese
from “Mew” instead of “Moo”
I should declare in a steady and powerful voice that the world itself is just a prolonged “mew,” which has been fried and served to us instead of a noble “moo.” -V. Khlebnikov…
Translated from Russian
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
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
I Pity the Garden
By Forugh Farrokhzad
The schoolchildren fill their backpacks / with tiny bombs.
Translated from Farsi by Sholeh Wolpé
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
On the Train: Two Poems
By Zhang Er
Fourth BrotherThe cap's beak must have exerted a quiet pressure—Fourth Brother confidently approaches:“You on your way home too? You're Li family, NanPo, south slope, yes?”Of…
Translated from Chinese by Bob Holman