Han Dong 韩东 poetry translations

The Poetry of Han Dong


Selections: 1982-1995

Han Dong was born in Nanjing in 1961. After graduation from Shandong University in 1982, he began work in Xi’an, where he edited his own small unofficial poetry journal (Old Home老家) and contributed to the then more influential Same Generation 同代 out of Lanzhou in Gansu province. Upon returning to Nanjing in 1984, Han contacted old contributors to Old Home and poets he had met via correspondence through Same Generation (such as Yu Jian and Wang Yin), and began to edit a new journal, Them 他们. The first issue appeared in early 1985 and was followed by four more editions until 1989. Over the next four years, Han devoted much of his energy to learning to write fiction (two examples of which can be found here). Them reappeared in 1993, with a further four editions until 1995. In 1998 this was followed by an officially published anthology of Them poetry. Today Han continues to write both poetry and fiction, and contributes to the Them website at www.tamen.net where new issues of the Them webzine have been appearing since summer 2002.

1) The Mountain People [山民]

2) About The Wild Goose Pagoda [有关大雁塔]

3) You've Seen the Sea [你见过大海]

4) The Gentle Side [温柔的部分]

5) Everything is as it Should Be [一切安排就绪]

6) This Gust of Wind [这阵风]

7) Your Hand [你的手]

8) The Sleep of Women [女人的睡眠]

9) A Woman I Don' t Know [我不认识的女人]

10) For the Dusk or For Sorrow [致黄昏或悲哀]

11) I Hear Cups [我听见杯子]

12) A Paean to a Horse and the Sunlight [马和日光的赞歌]

13) Only a Stone and the Sky [只有石头和天空]

14) Festival Days [节日]

15) Despair [绝望]

16) The Nanny [保姆]

17) Between These Two [两项以内]

18) Today [今天]

19) A Metaphor

20) Time [时间]

21) War Story

22) Bird Cages

23) Closed Eyes [没睁眼睛]

24) The Bird Hunter [大鸟的人]

25) Woodworkers [木工]

26) The Silent One [沉默者]

27) The Lakeshore During a Holiday [假日湖滨]

28) For Ding Dang [致丁当]

29) The Mourning of a Cat [猫的追悼]

30) A Drawn Prophet [鸭先知]

31) Coming Back Home [归来]

34) Han Dong: A Chinese Poet (essay by MD, 1994)

The Mountain People [山民] (April, 1982)

As a child, he asked his father

"What's beyond the mountain"

Father says "Mountains"

"Beyond that”

"Mountains, more mountains"

He says nothing, looks into the distance

This is the first time the mountains have wearied him so

He thinks, I'll never be able to walk out of these mountains in this lifetime

There's a sea, but so far off

He'll only live a few dozen years

So before he'll be able to get there

He'll die on the road out

Die in the mountains

He feels he should take his wife with him

The wife will be able to bear him a son

When he dies

His son will be full-grown

The son will also have a wife

The son will also have a son

The son’s son will have a wife too

He stops thinking about it

Sons also tire him

He only regrets

That his ancestors never thought as he

If they had, he'd be the one to see the sea

About The Wild Goose Pagoda [有关大雁塔] (1982)

What more can we know

about the Wild Goose Pagoda

Many people hasten from afar

to climb it

to be a one-time hero

Some still come to do it two

or more times

The dissatisfied

the stout

all climb up

to play the hero

then come down

and walk into the street below

gone in a wink

Some with real guts jump down

leave a red bloom on the steps

That's really being the hero

a modern-day hero

What more can we learn

about the Wild Goose Pagoda

We climb up

look around at the scenery

then come down again

You've Seen the Sea [你见过大海] 1984

You have seen the sea

you have imagined

the sea

you've imagined the sea

then seen it

just like this

you saw the sea

and imagined it

but you are not

a sailor

you imagined the sea

you saw the sea

possibly you also liked the sea

at most it was like this

you saw the sea

you also imagined the sea

you do not wish

to be drowned by seawater

just like this

people are all like this

The Gentle Side [温柔的部分] (March, 1985)

I've experienced the lonely life in the countryside

It has shaped the gentle side of my nature

Whenever feelings of weariness come

there'll be a gust of wind which frees me

At least I'm not that unaware

I understand where food comes from

See how I spend my days impoverished till the finish

and am able to sense joy in it

And picking up the old habit of late to bed and early to rise

is still as familiar as a hoe to my hands

It's just that I won't be harvesting anything anymore

can't repeat each of those detailed movements

Here forever lies a true kind of sorrow

Like a farmer who weeps over his crops

Everything is as it Should Be [一切安排就绪] (November 7, 1985)

Everything is as it should be

I can sit down and admire it all

or pace back and forth

in the rooms

This is my home

From now on I'll feel this way

In the bedroom

my wife's boats flit in and out

The four walls are promptly brightened

by van Gogh's ripe sunflowers

The names of four good friends should be written

on four chairs

for their sole use

They come

to play cards until sunrise and cock crow

Sometimes it's quiet

As at dusk

All doors and windows open

Another room can be seen

from this room

a beautiful table cloth

a book

All bring joy to my soul

yet I always suspect they are not for me to use

This Gust of Wind [这阵风] 1986

A wind blows into my room

like a small hand

it strokes me

and reaches beneath my shirt

like another cheek it's

pressed tight to mine

Blowing over my room

it comes from outside the window

a direction identical to that of clouds

but even farther

It comes to comfort me

from the farthest place

coming to console my lonely solitary life

pressing tight up to my face

it tells me

it fell from the sky

as if it were long long ago

for a time my whiskers flutter

my long hair flies

and my soul exits via its apertures

Thank this wind

No matter if I am lying flat

or soundly sleeping

it's all like a small stretch of open country

Ah, thank this wind

for softly breezing by

Your Hand [你的手] 1986

Your hand placed on my body

you go to sleep at peace

and because of this I cannot sleep

its slight weight

gradually grows into lead

the night is very long

your position does not change a bit

this hand ought to signify love

possibly it has yet another deep meaning

I dare not push it away

or startle you awake

when I grow used to it and like it too

in dreams suddenly you take back the hand

and are oblivious to all this

The Sleep of Women [女人的睡眠] 1986

Sleep has the function of beautifying

In accordance with this principle she

lies down now on the bed

at my angle I can only see

a white eardrum amid the black hair

A woman asleep is surely lovely

unlike when she has eaten her fill

or she's hungry

on your bed wrapped in a quilt

using it to calm your fragile life

They're always leading your thoughts on like this

more real than tears

they certainly don't dream of you

but may answer your call at any time

and afterwards continue to sleep soundly in another position

It's more important than displaying flesh

don't worry they'll fatten

perhaps the facts were always so

So much fat

then so much love

A Woman I Don' t Know [我不认识的女人] 1986

A woman I don't know

is my old lady today

without a sound she passes with me through the city

bears a mute son for me

the mountain she walked out of

I know nothing about

She's my old lady

surely one day she'll open her mouth

tell me of matters in the mountains

but possibly I'll die whenever that happens

she'll swallow the words she's not finished saying

and set off back to the hills

It looks like I must live very long

live until even that mountain dies

dead without a trace or shadow

and the woman who walked out of the mountain

won't age

For the Dusk or For Sorrow [致黄昏或悲哀] March 22, 1986

Again the dusk arrives like this

it sticks to the glass

its appearance already not as lovely as the last

I watch it earnestly

of the things that move me only you remain

but I cannot leave the window to let you in

the sad face is outside the window

but I can't let it come in

I want to let it stay in silence

its eyes still keep their sorrow

I'm so familiar with this end of sadness

like the dog-ears in a book

in the places where my hand folded the corners

are passages I've read

today I'm unwilling to open it

don't welcome it in

so that you won't be with no place to hide

among the sound of my curses

I Hear Cups [我听见杯子] (1988)

At this moment, I hear cups

A series of exquisite sounds

monotonous, detached

At their clearest

formidable or faint

The city, at its brilliant core

needs some of this luster

Placed on a table

some shadows are needed

to heal their wounds

The undulation of water, the dispersal of smoke

They're used to the postures of night

Purity and charm

are still their estate

they still have a one percent hope

to lead a pure life

In the distance true darkness howls

but the cup still chimes

clearly, intensely

Held in a hand

A Paean to a Horse and the Sunlight [马和日光的赞歌] 1988-1989

White sunlit sand and stone

on the main road, shows everything already prepared

people, animals, livestock all emerge out of a black dot

grow hands and feet, bodies and wheels

beneath the sun a horse hurries along

its mouth can’t reach the green grass at its side

its tongue does not crop leaves in the dust

with the shadow of a branch the locust tree is on its back

the four wheels behind it all run away

in its original spot dust billowing as big as a house

the horse head stretches out through a window with no frame

Is a horse of another time the same horse

The same open country, same road

no branches of any kind or identifiable white clouds

the main road lies clear at a glance, the horse motionless in its original place

four legs like four match sticks standing straight

I see this scene from the face of the moon

at the same time it also remembers me in the large icehouse

at a certain time, on earth it is a quiet noon

and the motionless summer makes a burnt offering of a plough horse

on a crackling tobacco leaf

Only a Stone and the Sky [只有石头和天空] 1988-89

Only a stone and the sky

a brown stone the sky

of course is blue

light is behind the painting's surface

the part in shadow demonstrates

the artist's greatest skill

a beautiful shadow between the thighs

on a huge stone

I think behind should be the sea

also something more

The artist ardent for stones and sky

only paints stones and sky

I think there is nothing


nothing makes people happier

Festival Days [节日] 1988-89

Two fish being dried in the wind

a minor ordinary event in the night

before the festival

but morbid thoughts make me

depict the details

two fish drying in the wind

First I pick up the knife before this

I killed ten thousand fish

I want to speak the day of the festival I see through fish eyes

a string run through their mouths

I hear the hitherto unheard of

shouts of fish

fish that have lost their scales

on hooks side by side

Winter sanitizes the bodies

on the glass door their black forms

one large one small

swaying on the back sundeck

Two fish dried in the wind

I know this food makes me vomit

during festival days everybody's allowed to do

the same

Despair [绝望] 1988-89

Now we can't see her face

we won't see it later either

several reasons could make her despair

she could pick one out easily

use it to prop up her body

In this world what is produced more than anything

certainly not a moment in a day

afternoon six o'clock, she goes to sleep on my bed

outside the window a child released from school uses her name

to call another child

like sesame sprinkled over baked bread, they will seize the world

car horns urge on this sort of pungent sleep

on the street wheels come and go unfeelingly

in an untidy room her body turns

her hand rests on the edge of the bed

one childish hand searching for another

that last untamed line finally disappears

I say, street children should go back onto the street

The Nanny [保姆] 1988-89

The nanny is also a child

they stand side by side

that stretch of childhood sunlight too

I hear the wind howl

because of my bursting in

an adult is rudely leaving

a child turns to look at the tops of his shoes

work places, automobiles, the inconceivable world

that day the shadow of a giant

writhed on the ground

the children refused to walk on

standing as straight as the sunlight

squinting, they don't speak again

don't search for parents

they will inherit this world

the nanny is its manager

when the other child grows up

it gets a job in her factory

Between These Two [两项以内] (May 7, 1989)

I must accept the day which follows sleep

After getting used to it I must return to the night

Between these two I must choose successively

The pendulum resounds within the cramped interior of the clock

Whether more or less, matchsticks are aimed at the side of the box

Clothing styles change, but there won't be another size

Wine is poured from a bottle into a cup and then set on a flat surface

Because blue ink disgusts me, a pen has sucked its fill of blue ink

And the blood that flows out is seen as purple and red

Inside darkness I have entered into a smaller darkness

I compare the length and breadth of the earth

Vehicles always drive on the right, and return on the same road

The sky's height and the ocean's depth

A sage said: The flying bird's shadow on water is simultaneously a fish

I persist in splitting hairs at the tip

It's still the hair that comes to life on the scalp

Today [今天] (June 8, 1989)

Today and in similar situations

A person uses his legs to stand between a table and a chair

Within the preordained order I run into myself

The mirror is so bleak, without depth

surmounting the smooth, clear boundaries

Everything embodying emotions has yielded already

There's a mechanism in the brain narrating all the incident's details

precisely and calmly, like scrapping the enamel off an incisor

. . . . . . . . . .

Where an arm has been severed I become conscious of a severed arm

The real hand knocks against the form of a cup, only the form

Liquid has streamed through the interiors of plants or flower stems

The blank space is as large as fifty football fields

But can also shrink to become a cavity

Darkness is merely a negligent net

altogether without an objective to catch hold of

its only purpose to leak

I am isolated from appearances of all mutually imposed outcomes

A multitude of feet slide on glass

An enormous, sober sheet of glass and the sounds of sliding, falling

A Metaphor (June 11, 1989)

It's happened, beyond your expectations

The barb caste out by the bush has sunk into my flesh

And pulls at me with all its strength. In the flower's name I bleed

Under circumstances completely unknown to you I leap above the surface

Of the water very courageously. Having left the reality of water

I will die separately on the beach after the fisher has left

Ten thousand people search the deep, for you alone I uncover a pearl

The heavyhearted child by boatside should be given this lifelong gift

But she's already turned away and her glance sweeps the plain, leaving the moon to spread

Her shadow toward me. The second line of waves will carry off the shell

I'm not able to alleviate your sorrow with my death

I see you searching with your back to me. Let me tell you --­

You, child who believes in that direction, imagine the planet to be round and the distance from it

Ever increasing. Ever since the beginning I've pointed to me

But no matter where you go

I continue to sink into the mire

Time [时间] (August 29, 1989)

Time has been passing for ages

For so long that a deep pit is left in the earth's surface

It's impossible, but it fills up again and then levels out

On the sand time piles up into a mountain

and slides toward the sea

Everything is foretold

And now becomes a flat fact

So much so that even the facts have slipped back

becoming the history of one kind of genesis

Time has been passing for ages

Ten thousand years, a million years or a few days

Either longer or shorter

"A very long time" or precisely

as long as this sigh

A germ says as much to a ray of light

A stone to a new edition of a textbook

A wan planet to a passing meteor

Between universes, nothing is said

Time has been passing for ages

When I speak to you of this three-second experience

As I use ten seconds to write this sentence

The clock has again returned to its starting point

It rotates imperceptibly, but rapidly

Time has been passing for ages

War Story (October 18, 1990)

A kiss under a streetlight

And so I get shot at by her mother from the building across the way

Her father blows on a whistle shaped out of a bullet casing

The elder brother, her only older brother, wraps himself tight in a bandage

And so I get my tongue bitten off by her

A multitude of anniversaries follow

I see sixty sunny days on the square

Sixty times as many pigeons

Sixty times as much bird shit

Bird Cages (March 25, 1992)

Birdcages hang from tree branches by the side of the road

The New Village old men are nearby

Pecking away at the checks on the chessboards

A hunched old man equals one bird

A triumphant old man two birds

Three birds is a newly married old man

His duck of a wife can be considered a bird too

In China, housewives like cats

Men raise dogs

Old men lift birdcages every day

Children are wild beasts to start with

Birds of prey likewise perch outside the birdcage

And under the parasol trees those bird fanciers and imitators

Put up with piss and shit as if they were snowflakes

Closed Eyes [没睁眼睛] (July 12, 1992)

Mother signifies an abundance of food

drinking traditional meat soup as the snow falls

A blizzard signifies horses racing wildly

elder sister being boiled in oil over the fire

Danger bursting through the door signifies father

staid little brother moves his line of sight

from the window

Already at the dinner table

To not exist means not to have opened his eyes

The Bird Hunter [大鸟的人] (December 19, 1992)

Ten thousand small birds perch in the bamboo grove

The bird hunter only shoots the outermost

The sleepy bird hunter is never awoken by his gun's report

Dream shadows gather up the earth's lingering warmth

The plastic bag by his foot is stuffed with prey till it glows

Full like an external stomach

The hatred which the one-eyed man lines up behind the sight

is the other eye pecked out by a hawk

He comes everyday, harvesting at a fixed time

as if sparrows originally grew from bamboo shoots

Enough are dropped by lead pellets and his rifle barrel

At the same time downing bamboo, leaf after leaf

In the gloom of the grove no form of wicked wolf appears

The joy of hunting holds no danger

After the vented wrath there's the sadness of a wintry scene

Drifting snowflakes, like birds, their tiniest feathers

Enter the grove, he also has a long walk

to return home, a return to

the dinner of sparrow soup, a night of crow

Woodworkers [木工] March 8, 1993

Lying amidst wood-shavings in the woodshop the workers work

no doors, no windows, no walls too

only a golden three-sided work-shed of reed matting

only sunlight, shavings and timber and

the handles of farm tools already carved into shape

no door, no window, no table stool or threshold

no bed. Woodworkers eliminating woodworkers

shavings covering the muddy earth

The Silent One [沉默者] March 27, 1993

In a dreary life I do not speak

In a joyful life I do not speak

I have a silent upper palate and a giant lower palate

like a primeval stone crevice on a highland waste

even during family holidays, between lips and teeth

not even a green leafy word is exposed

a stubborn stone lock on my mouth, a black-green light suffusing the round stone

perhaps it's the mutual wearing down between two millstones

as if brought by a ruminating animal over there from the mother

I munch silence like the stone statue of a horse

the shadows of white walls are a fodder my loneliness finds hard to swallow

the sobbing woman who has covered her face is an aged mother to the silent one -­-

she bore him out of garrulous chatter -- conscious of being injured

OK, so let the room be flooded by my whistling sound as I sup soup

The Lakeshore During a Ho1iday [假日湖滨] December 13, 1993

Another holiday at the lakeshore

an amusement park for oldsters and children

behind hedges and trees, they move toward each other

a full circle, finding itself

I walk up to the circle the children and oldsters compose

they skirt the lakeshore. Perhaps I am

that thing juxtaposed to the man-made hill in the green waves

when I begin to move, so like a shrimp holding on to a rock underwater,

up onto a clean porcelain plate with one leap

In this way a multitude of sister organisms

don't merely meet on the picnic table

the children and oldsters encircle

the circumference that the little lake suggests, tightly

Before the birth of the delicious dishes I know

several types of anonymous protein flew across the sky

but fish have never been any aspect of it

-- like later in the frying pan, that way

it is more like the original shape of an exclamation mark: “!”

duckweed is reckoned to be without nutrition also not a vegetable

On that joyful lakeside, the sun is also present

a shuttlecock's flight interferes with the course of a planet

on the lawn an old man suddenly slips to the ground

blocked by the father, a child has no hope of reaching the grandfather

so he inclines toward an even more helpless puppy

For Ding Dang [致丁当] December 14, 1993

Many years ago, my friend went to the South

See how well this southern northerner

adapts to life. The airplane flew-over the snow in the sky

a second time my friend flew over

the rooves of newly-marrieds on the earth

"If you smack into a family's chimney

simply take it with you as you fly"

-- immortal words of his life experience in the South

My friend phoned me from Foshan –-

­out of a hatred for speed

"Either use the most endless of lives, and walk, like you

or the quickest, from point A to point B as if

I were at point B originally."

Dependent on a sheen and no-resistance won from the bodies of women

O, that precipice on the edge of the abyss brimming with the delights of cogon-grass and skin

Slow down, my friend

from North to South, like the migration birds might make

is perhaps the laborious emigration of several generations

The Mourning of a Cat [猫的追悼] December 15, 1993

We buried the cat. We

buried the cat's sisters

We empty the paper sack

We scatter dust

We carry iron shovels

walk up onto autumn's mountain

We move stones and

take pleasure in the sun

We take a trip

walk into the Peace Market

a step further to the salted and dried goods counter

in the buying and selling is a dead cat

In correspondence we tell you the news

We overstate death, but when we

reach this caliber of understanding

we have fully recovered already

A Drawn Prophet [鸭先知] December 18, 1993

An unprecedented seventeen degrees below zero

even in zero degree cold it continues to drop

seventeen points. He doesn't wish to go to the warm South

or up north, in search of the winter stoves

just because two of autumn's parasol trees still tower in front of the window

The only job, his only job

is to transform the thermometer that hangs like a gallbladder

his only job to keep the blood in the glass

from turning green. For this

he used up his heat too early on

Thoughts about the South Pole freeze over

the poet wonders aimlessly about leaves falling before his eyes

symptoms of frostbite appear on his inexplicable wound

his eyes are injured by white walls because of errors in recognition

the atmosphere thickens, cold zones come out in conversations

Ardently he says to himself: "Seventeen degrees below zero!"

then in a high fever he imitates the shiver of leaves on a tree

responding, parasol trees shed, the trunks remain

after a bonfire of added branches and leaves

charcoal on a broken wall draws in a prophet

Coming Back Home [归来] January 5, 1995

I've come back, from Shenzhen to Nanjing

the day has not yet finished

you can't say I don't understand time

you can't say that sort of childish thing

-- since I've prepared cottons

and wear them home

but, when night falls, the southern sun is within me

not yet dead

I go to beat on friend's doors

call them out onto the cold streets

I stupidly say: Just above zero, in Shenzhen

everything has only just begun!

No one argues with me, they

are used to silence

on the marriage bed prolonging married life

perhaps back to (baking) back, in search of common warmth

(Over the following month

my heart was full of treacherous desires

I joyfully shout -- "I've changed!"

But it's only the chaos of the biological clock

the time difference or changes in the schedule of work and rest

in the dark a mysterious hand

slowly adjusts)

More deeply I sink into the past

as if falling from the sky, I continue to

bore into the mud. Like a huge army winter comes deep in

lays siege. So cold it makes even metal draw back

but in the southland, the softest things blossom best

like flowers, and sex organs

wantonness relies on the sea and trade's smoky warm winds

I've returned to Nanjing

I live in the neighborhood of ice, snow and frost

like those sages of remote antiquity, in West Asia, the Pamirs

in the neighborhood of snowy peaks and glaciers

torrid zones cannot give birth to sages. I understand

Jesus certainly was not a black man

I've come back, returned to Nanjing continue a kind of mid-way life

between the sun and ice and snow, placed in

the cold dark shadow of a room

that warm cavern

far from eternity or moments of stimulation

I'm like all mediocre yet painful existence

just am

Han Dong: A Chinese Poet


Han Dong was born on May 17, 1961, in the city of Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province, not far from Shanghai. As a child, his father, a well-known writer, was condemned as a “rightist" and he and his family were sent to the countryside to live with and learn from the farmers. Following Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s, Han Dong was able to pass the university entrance examination and entered the philosophy department of the University of Shandong in eastern China. Upon graduation in 1982, after teaching for two years in Xian in northeastern China, Han found employment as a teacher of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought at the Marxism-Leninism Institute in his hometown, Nanjing.

Han Dong's return to Nanjing coincided with the inception of what is now China's longest-lived “samizdat" [self-published] poetry journal, Them 他们. In 1993, the sixth issue of the journal was published after a hiatus of close to four years following its being banned (for the second time) in 1989. (The inaugural issue appeared in early 1985 and subsequent issues in late 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1989.)

In its first three issues, Them not only published poetry, but fiction and theoretical literary essays. In fact, such well-known Chinese writers as Su Tong and Ma Yuan got their starts in the journal.[1] A final issue appeared in 1995.

Through all nine issues of Them, however, poetry was the main focus. The three mainstays and co-founders of the journal were Han Dong, Yu Jian, a poet from Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan, and Ding Dang who initially resided in Xi'an but now has lived in Shenzhen, on Hong Kong's border, since 1990.

While the varied techniques and styles of the poetry published in Them does not allow one to call these poets a "school", there is a common tendency toward a focus on language and themes found in the daily lives of the poets themselves and the ordinary mass of men of whom they write. Han Dong's attitude toward classical poetic diction and that of the poetry promoted by the communist party after 1949 are summed up in a dialogue between himself and another Them poet Zhu Wen, published in the 1992 edition of the Beijing-based unofficial journal, Speech [发言] (pp. 1-6):

...Each writer gets his start from reading. Today, therefore, convincing and authoritative works are naturally translated works. We all feel deeply that there is no tradition to rely upon, the great Chinese classical literary tradition seems to have already become invalid. Actually this is in fact the case, with the exception of the ‘great classical spirit’, concrete works and the classics have already been cut off from us with regard to the written language. They are of no use to the writing of today. And the so-called spirit of the classics, if it has lost the immediacy of the written word, necessarily lapses into mystical interpretation and speculation. This point is not only obvious, but it is also gladly admitted to by all. In fact, we already have become orphans of literary tradition.

In search of solace, by coincidence everyone turned to the West. In order to strengthen oneself and also to ‘move towards the world’, how to graft oneself onto the Western literary tradition has become the direction of the efforts of very many poets today. Unfortunately, this effort can only be arrived at indirectly through translated works. In terms of written texts, we study translated works and afterwards write similar things imitatively. Later they must still be translated once again into English or other languages and promoted to the West in order to capture an ‘international market’ so as to remedy gaps in logic, poets have expounded an illusion: namely so-called 'cosmopolitanism'. They think of themselves as first being a member of the human

race, only afterwards are they born into a particular nationality and use a particular language in writing. In my opinion this is merely a kind of moral defense and incapable of changing the [fact of their] isolation from the [Chinese] written language...

Learning from translated works is the same as learning from classical literature. It can be one of our sources of inspiration. We may speculate about and imagine the spirit, the interpretations and all the possibilities which lie behind the concrete written words…

If one remembers the poetry of Central and Eastern Europe in the wake of World War II and the advent of Stalinism, one can locate quite similar attitudes and approaches to language. Words out of the mouth of the Czech poet Miroslav Holub could also be those of Chinese poets like Han Dong: "We felt [modernism] as a counter-cultural movement, as a protest against the generalizing, solemn, official poetry. Against the poetic celebrations, all types of poetic celebrations. And we called it - our group, that is – the “Poetry of Everyday Life”. But in more general terms - and not talking in terms of any literary group - there was the feeling that whatever you are doing represents the feeling

of the guys in the street"[2]

In the case of China and Han Dong, the period of cultural holocaust could be said to extend from, at least, 1937 and the Japanese invasion of China proper until the death of Mao Zedong and the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. Given this forty-year period, an attitude such as Han Dong's above can be more easily understood.

In 1988, Han began to turn his hand to fiction. Following the events of 1989, Han Dong was fired from his teaching position and was effectively forced to turn to fiction as a way to earn a living. (Han had indirectly encouraged his students to demonstrate on June 4, 1989, and took part in a small demonstration by Nanjing writers and poets the following day.)

Since 1991, Han has achieved something of a reputation and has seen many pieces of short fiction and several pieces of mid-length fiction published in numerous establishment literary journals in all parts of China. While several of his works are flawed because of his being ‘forced’ to write to live, several others, in particular his semi-auto-biographical pieces, exhibit great potential. Poetry, however, remains his main interest, although the improving quality of his most recent fiction may be an indication that he is approaching a balance between the two.

Addendum: In October 1994, Han Dong was one of eight fiction writers (out of 350 applicants) from all parts of China awarded a two-year position in the newly established Youth Literature Institute [青年文学院] in Guangzhou.

All applicants were 35 years of age or younger, and the winners will receive a monthly salary of RMB 1,200 Yuan (approximately twice the average monthly income of urbanites in China) for a two year period. The writers have only to meet the single condition that they spend at least two months of each year in Guangdong province.

Han plans to focus on writing longer fiction during this period -- novellas and perhaps a full-length novel. (Novellas are a popular form in China; a situation brought about by the penchant of several large establishment literary journals for this particular form.

[1] Su Tong苏童, 桑园留念, pp. 12-16; Ma Yuan马原, 拉萨河女神, pp, 21-27.

[2] From an interview with Daniel Weissbort, The Poetry of Survival, Weissbort ed., London: Penguin Books, 1993: 311-321.

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