Chinese Literature 2011:

A continuing cultural miracle, fostered by international connections?


Abstract: The Xinhai revolution of 1911 depended on Chinese diaspora, in addition to historical factors in the society in China. The economic miracle of the so-called New Era that started in the second half of the 1970s depended on investment from Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas, as well as on a broad consensus in China to move away from the Cultural Revolution and what it represented in political, economical and social terms. The economic miracle was accompanied by a cultural miracle in literature and art. Both ‘miracles’ were challenged by various factors, more markedly at the end of the 1980s. After the protests in 1989 and the subsequent crackdown, the economic miracle continued, but the divide between rich and poor accelerated. Art and literature continued to develop, again dependent on Chinese diaspora and international investment. Independence and emancipation from the restrictions on media in China was and is very important for the development of literature since the 1970s.


Keywords: 1) Gradual changes and broken connections; 2) poetry developments, emigration and exile; 3) relationship of history and literature, culture and society since 2000; 4) links and traces of politics, history, economy and art.


Martin Winter, Vienna


Preface: Conditions


In the spring of 2011, the artist Ai Weiwei 艾未未 was abducted, amid a general crackdown on civil rights lawyers and activists. The two Chinese novels that were perhaps most widely talked about in the first half of 2011 appeared in Hong Kong: Yan Lianke’s 阎连科 Four Books 四書 and The Fat Years 盛世——中国2013 by Chan Koonchung (Chen Guanzhong) 陳冠中. The latter book was originally published in late 2009. The English version appeared in the summer of 2011.

The spring crackdown on lawyers and activists ultimately led to a “Christmas crackdown”, when two dissidents were sentenced to 9 and 10 years on Dec. 23rd and Dec 26th, 2011, both for Internet articles critical of the political system[1]. Both authors had protested in 1989 and went to prison repeatedly. The conditions are clear: art and literature are tolerated, as long as the system is not openly challenged.


Gradual changes

In literature, there have been some gradual changes in the last 10 to 20 years. Just like workers in factories, artists and writers are supposed to be organized in unions controlled by the Communist Party. For cultural workers, membership in official organizations has brought and still brings important benefits. In the last few years, some writers have written about poor people and struggles in working conditions, and some of them say they are Marxist or leftist[2]. But even this could be seen as a sign of diversity. For more than 10 years, a certain independence of some artists and writers has not only been tolerated, they are accepted to a certain degree, they can be mentioned in the official press, write for TV and so on. Relatively open debate has become a value. At the Mao Dun literature awards 茅盾文學獎 in September[3], the selection of candidates and prize winners through relatively open debate seemed very important. Wang Shuo 王朔 has been famous for his irreverence for 20 years. He can say things about the government, he can call them obscene, use dirty words, and everybody knows about it, and he gets away with it, as long as it’s not too often, it seems. Han Han[4] 韓寒 is much younger, and much more fashionable. He can be very critical and outspoken, that’s why his blog has many millions of hits. But he also makes it clear he wants to enjoy life, enjoy his fame. In various ways, asserting independence from official channels has become a more commonplace phenomenon, in arts and literature as well as in other parts of society. But if you want to make an unequivocally critical statement, you still have do it from out of China. Recent examples are Murong Xuecun’s 慕容雪村 speeches in Hongkong and Oslo and the Taiwan edition of Yu Hua’s 余華 China in Ten Words 十個詞彙裡的中國[5].


More independence, more debate, and some emancipation. Emancipation in various forms, mostly unofficial, often under the radar of censorship and other controls. Relatively independent music and poetry have found venues and ways of publishing for many decades, very precariously in general, sometimes with support of academic institutions, sometimes even local government support. The sound artist and poet Yan Jun 顏峻 in Beijing is now a well-known protagonist of the music and poetry scene in China. He was first introduced to an international public in 2003[6]. Documentary films and independent films in general have become more widespread in the last ten years. So I argue that developments in literature and other art forms are perhaps part of a general trend, of some general trends in society, towards emancipation. Zheng Xiaoqiong 鄭小瓊 (郑小琼), the migrant worker and poetess, who first came to prominence in 2006/2007, refused to become a member of the local writer’s organizations in Dongguan 東莞, Canton province. She has become well-known, well-connected and accepted in writer’s circles, although she continued to work in the factory. At the end of this paper, I am going to quote a long poem of her that I am currently translating. Zheng Xiaoqiong 郑小琼 is part of a wave of migrant worker’s literature consisting mostly of poems, reports and essays. Professional female authors have written novels about female migrant workers for a while. Veteran writer Zhang Kangkang 張抗抗 and newcomer Sheng Keyi 盛可以 are two well-known examples.


Broken connections?


In 1998, the writer Zhu Wen 朱文, who later became a film director, organized a survey, an unofficial survey among young Chinese writers in many provinces. The project was called Duanlie 斷裂; this means a rip, a broken connection. The results of the survey were published in China[7] in the magazine Beijing Wenxue 北京文学, but also abroad in the legendary magazine Jintian 今天 (Today), founded in 1978 at the beginning of Beijing Spring 北京之春 and the Democracy Wall 北京西单民主墙, banned in 1981, and published in exile since 1990[8]. Connections to Chinese-speaking communities, institutions and organizations abroad, mostly in Hong Kong and Taiwan, in North America and Europe, have been vital and necessary for the Chinese economic miracle, ever since the beginning of the Opening Reform policy in the late 1970s. In art and literature, connections to the outside world are probably just as vital. And you could say it has always been this way in the last 100-odd years, since the times of Sun Yatsen 孫逸仙 (also known as Sun Wen and Sun Zhongshan 孫文、孫中山), Hu Shih 胡適, Lu Xun 魯迅, and Lao She 老舍 and so on. There is the link to history, the connection to 100 years of Chinese revolution, celebrated in 2011. There are interesting examples of art and literature under Mao Zedong, but you could say that just like the economic miracle was so successful, and supported by a majority of the population, especially in the first ten years, because there was a consensus to move away from the Cultural Revolution, there was a spiritual and cultural miracle, the Culture Fever of the 1980s, the boom in translations, in the social sciences. I am following the prominent economic and law professors Qin Hui 秦暉 and He Weifang 賀衛方[9]. A social consensus to move away from the Cultural Revolution, to move away from the Mao era in general, in terms of economy at least, was necessary for the economic miracle, which is continuing today, to some extent. And connections out of China were also necessary, to other Chinese communities. And just like international investment has been crucial for economic development, international connections and some international investment have been very important for art and literature. In the case of visual arts, there has even been an economic miracle for art, which is also continuing for now.


Han Dong 韓東, who collaborated with Zhu Wen for the Duanlie survey, remains one of the most active and respected independent poets. He has edited the multiple series Niandai Shicong 年代詩叢 (poetry epochs). 魯羊 Lu Yang[10], born 1963, is one of the poets from the series for the 1990s. I want to showcase his work Absolute Poem #1 Juedui zhi shi 絕對之詩 (1) at the end of this paper. The poem is about writing in general, about preserving memory, preserving life in precarious conditions. You could say it is unspecific, because there are no concrete events named, though the background of contemporary history remains palpable. This is one reason why I find the poem symptomatic for writing inside China. There are lots of possibilities, but there are very obvious restrictions. This poem is rather abstract, very restrained. I think of it as the other side of the coin to the poems of Liao Yiwu 廖亦武, who was imprisoned over four years for poetry projects. Liao has acquired worldwide fame since 2010 and lives in exile since August 2011.


Poetry developments


Outside connections are essential for diversity and opportunity in China. I was speaking of Zhu Wen 朱文, of his survey, the project Duanlie 斷裂, which was published in 1998 in the magazine Beijng Wenxue 北京文學 in China, as well as in Jintian 今天, the literary magazine in exile. In 1998 and 1999, this survey, this project was discussed very much, in intellectual circles in China and in Chinese-speaking communities elsewhere. The questions and the context of the survey encouraged the participants to reply in the negative. And so most of them said that Lu Xun 魯迅 had no direct influence on their writing, that all the established parameters of current literature, i.e. critics, academic institutions etc. had no decisive influence on their writing as well. Is there a trend towards more independence in literature in China, and was this project Duanlie an important step? I would say yes to the first question. I am not sure if Duanlie was very important for many people, other than the writers directly involved, and people reading about it and talking about it. Certainly not for everybody in arts and literature in China in the last 13 years. But Duanlie was part of a development, an emancipation that can be traced back to underground culture in the 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution and before. The Taiwanese critic Huang Liang 黃梁 has written an essay about this development of spiritual and cultural emancipation. Huang Liang published a Mainland Avant-garde poetry series in 1999, Dalu Xianfeng Shicong 大陸先鋒詩叢, with nine books of poetry and one book of essays on poetry by the poets, and also this essay by Huang Liang himself.[11] Another Mainland Avant-garde poetry series has come out in 2009[12]. The migrant worker poetess Zheng Xiaoqiong 鄭小瓊 is one of the nine poets featured this time. In his essay from 1999, Huang Liang traces this spirit of emancipation and independence in literature from the 1960s, to the Democracy Wall of 1978-1980, the founding of the magazine Jintian and the huge importance of poetry at that time, to the cultural climate of the 1980s, with government campaigns against Bourgeois Spiritual Pollution, and some poets and writers from Jintian and other unofficial circles becoming accepted, and able to publish, and the debates about it. And then what happened after 1989, in exile and in China.


Imprisonment, emigration and exile


There is an obvious connection between suppression of dissent and independent debate on one hand, and exile or forms of inner exile on the other hand. After the suppression of the protests in 1989, many writers emigrated from China, many students and intellectuals who were already abroad found means to delay their return. Some retained their Chinese citizenship, and many were able to return to China, or at least visit once in a while. This wave of emigration and exile greatly enlarged the Chinese Diaspora, adding to large contingents of people emigrating for economic and other reasons. Hong Kong and Taiwan were greatly influenced by 1989, the political democratization was accelerated, and social diversity encouraged. More recent influx from China has meant more focus on China, including literature, more connections between China and outside. The above-mentioned Mainland Avant-garde poetry series from 1999 and 2009 are one example.


Liu Xiaobo 劉曉波, the literature critic and philosophy scholar who had come to fame in the late 1980s in academic and art circles for fierce opposition to the optimistic outlook of the official New Era policy, went to prison in 1989 and became a dissident in the 1990s. He was imprisoned again, but in 2000 he published a popular book of literary criticism under a pen name, together with the famous author Wang Shuo 王朔. In the 2000s, Liu moved away from literature and concentrated on civil rights and oppositional politics, culminating in the Charter 08 in 2008 and his ongoing imprisonment. Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, the first recipient who could neither receive the prize himself or via family members.


Liao Yiwu 廖亦武[13] is a well-known example for connections between suppression of dissent and emigration. He is from Sichuan province. The son of a teacher, Liao was always interested in the culture of common people at the bottom of society. On June 3rd, 1989, in the night of the massacre in Beijing after the protests at Tiananmen Square, Liao wrote a poem called Massacre Da Tusha 大屠殺[14] and recorded the poem on tape. His friends, including the Canadian scholar Michael Day, distributed the tape, within China and abroad. Liao wrote a second long poem called Requiem Anhun 安魂. Liao and his friends made a TV-film, based on this second poem. When the film was finished, they were arrested. Liao Yiwu spent over four years in prison. He tried to kill himself, but he also learnt to play an old kind of flute, from fellow inmates. When he came out, he had no job and survived as a vagrant musician. He wanted to document what he had seen and experienced. Some of his manuscripts were seized, but parts of his interviews and reports were published in China and available for a short time. His stories were published in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and also in Europe and North America. Liao was invited to many poetry festivals in other countries, but he was not allowed to leave the country. In 2010, after lots of international pressure, Liao was finally able to travel outside of China and visit Germany. After two months he returned to China. In 2011, Liao was again barred from traveling to promote his books in England, Australia and North America. He was also pressured to cancel his book contracts and not let his reports from the bottom of Chinese society appear in translation. In August 2011, Liao Yiwu secretly left China via Vietnam, traveled to Europe and appealed for political asylum in Germany.


Liao Yiwu’s exile is not an example for changing conditions in China. He is able to challenge the way China is presented in China and outside, because he provides intimate details of contemporary life, of independent culture and of contemporary history. China’s continuing economic miracle, in contrast to the West, has made China more assertive and less susceptible to outside pressure on human rights. But as the global interest in China keeps growing, more and more people want to know about conditions in China. The Chinese government tries to suppress embarrassing reports. Liao Yiwu 廖亦武 is one example how such reports are coming out, even because of pressure. Because of the same kind of pressure, the artist Ai Weiwei 艾未未, who is still living in China, became even more well known internationally, and also in China. In Ai Weiwei’s case, there is a certain progress of the prominence of independent art, connected with civil rights activities, a progress within a few months in 2011, because of outside connections and inside pressure.


Yu Jie 余杰, a well-known writer and social commentator in China throughout the 2000s, is the latest prominent author to have gone into exile (January 2012). He is a founding member of the independent Chinese PEN, along with Liu Xiaobo, Meng Lang 孟浪 and 貝嶺, who was arrested and exiled in 2000 for printing the journal Tendency 傾向 again in China. The magazine had been founded in the 1980s by Xi Chuan 西川 and others, but was printed abroad and smuggled into China for most of the 1990s.


History and literature


100 Years of Modern China. 100 years after the Xinhai Revolution 辛亥革命 of 1911. An article in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 10, 2011 by Pamela Crossley[15], professor of Chinese history in Dartmouth, speaks of China’s Century-Long Identity Crisis. She argues that the 1911 revolution was made possible by increased openness in China and by openness toward the outside world. And this international outlook is what has been suppressed under Communist rule, Prof. Crossley says. It is a very interesting and forceful article. But it also made me think again that the privilege of literature, of art in general, is that it has a much more variable focus than history and social science. Chinese literature doesn’t have to be about China. Very much of Chinese literature is in fact about China, and there has been a lot of debate and scholarship about why this is so. Still, it can be very refreshing to read Chinese fiction and poetry, as well as to watch films and plays, because very much of it does not contain, or at least does not stress either official or oppositional political and historical narratives. Literature is mostly about ordinary life, and is treasured for this, in China as well as anywhere. There are many connections between literature and history, especially in China, ever since the Spring and Autumn Annals 春秋 and Sima Qian 司馬遷. There are also important divergences between literature and history, science and art. Much as I would like to affirm the notions of more independence and emancipation in China, I cannot say that literature explicitly focuses on this in general. Huang Liang 黃梁 doesn’t say that either in the article from his Mainland Avantgarde poetry series. Literature does include personal observations of details that are usually not mentioned in official accounts. Yu Jian’s 于堅 poetry is independent because it is about ordinary daily life, however dependent the author may be on his official position, and the same can be said about very many Chinese authors of the last 10 or 20 years and before.


Culture and society since 2000


In 2010 I wrote an article on Chinese literature since 2000 for the book Culturescapes China, which came out in Basel, Switzerland, in September 2010[16]. I began with the situation in spring 2010, the situation of writers and intellectuals in China. Censorship is a word that was and is still very often connected with cultural activity in China. But there were hopeful signs, too. For the first time, there were larger strikes in factories in the south. Emancipation of migrant workers seemed to be coming, better working conditions, better pay. And although there had been major uprisings and crackdowns in 2008 and 2009, although huge swaths of China were cut off from reliable mobile phone signals and from Internet access, although the word “civil society” itself was banned, informal citizen’s organizations continued to form, and with the Twitter-like Weibo 微波 micro-blogs, public debate, public awareness of citizen’s rights and spontaneous solidarity, up to certain extents, has become as vibrant as ever. Ai Weiwei, China’s most famous dissident artist, was detained at a secret location. Many lawyers, writers and activists were silenced through various means, as the government feared a so-called Jasmine Revolution, modeled after the protests in Arab countries. Liu Xianbin 劉賢斌, co-founder of the Democratic Party in 1998, got another 10 years in a labor camp, after signing Liu Xiaobo’s Charter 08. All this happened in the first half of 2011. But at the same time, blogs and the Weibo microblogs continued to raise and debate sensitive topics, like the food scandals, housing bubbles and inflation, and corruption in various forms. It was on Weibo that people first heard about the imminent release of Ai Weiwei, after 81 days in captivity. After the tragic high-speed train accident in Wenzhou 溫州 in July, reports and debates in print and other media were largely tolerated at first, then suppressed. But the debate continued online.


Links and traces


Huang Liang 黃梁 begins his line of independence and emancipation in poetry in the 1960s. Independence and emancipation from what? From the established poetic language, dominating in the Cultural Revolution. Huang gives a few examples, full of pathos and the violence. And then he begins to introduce important figures of the literary underground. There is Huang Xiang 黃翔 from Guizhou, active since around 1960, at the time of the Great Leap Forward famine. He was often imprisoned and is now in exile. And there are the young people beginning to write in the Cultural Revolution, when they were sent to work in the remote countryside, indefinitely, as it was planned. Shi Zhi 食指, Mang Ke 芒克, Duo Duo 多多, Bei Dao 北島 and others became the Jintian-circle, they are well known. But Huang Liang begins with another young poet, who was killed in the Cultural Revolution. He was Guo Shiying 郭世英, son of Guo Moruo 郭沫若. Guo Moruo had been a famous writer since the 1920s, and he was the only prominent writer who was not persecuted in the Cultural Revolution, maybe because he had exchanged poems with Mao. But he lost two sons. There is a small museum in Guo Moruo’s house in Beijing. The exhibition emphasizes the ideals of his youth, his studies abroad, enlightenment, national awakening, anti-fascism. International connections. And then a broken connection, in many families.


Huang Liang quotes nonsense verse from Guo Shiying 郭世英, a poem with a main character called Shitbucket Xiao fenkuang 小糞筐[17]. Actually, as Huang explains, Shitbucket makes sense. Guo probably had to clean toilets every day in his imprisonment. Ai Qing 艾青, a famous Communist poet since the 1930s, father of Ai Weiwei, had to clean toilets every day for five years, when Ai Weiwei was small child and grew up where his father was banished in remote regions.


There are direct links between politics, history, economy and art, and there are indirect, maybe dialectical connections. It is hard to say if there is more independence, more emancipation in 2011 than in 2000. Yes and no. But there certainly is a continuing line of development, there is more independent organization coming up in various fields, and literature can still be a very important factor or indicator, even if it doesn’t provide very direct answers at first.




Chinese literature since 2000 has been dependent on various historical factors. A few words are crucial: Cooperation and/or connections, independence and emancipation, and the so-called miracle of the economic situation. Officially, the New Era Xin shiqi 新時期 that started in 1976 is still going on. The current time in literature is also very often said to begin in 1978, at the start of the economic policies that have led to the so-called economic miracle, at the basis of a broad consensus to move away from the conditions of the Cultural Revolution. These policies were dependent on cooperation and investment from and with Chinese communities outside of the People’s Republic, as well as a wide international participation. There are certain parallels to the situation around 1911, and also in the subsequent decades, because Chinese diaspora and international conditions were crucial in the changes of the 1910s and 1920s. The economic miracle of the 1980s and the accompanying cultural miracle were challenged in 1989. After the crackdown, the economy continued to grow, but the gap between rich and poor has been widening.


In literature and culture, the opening spirit that formed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, amid certain challenges, was prepared by underground currents of the 1960s. The emphasis on emancipation and independence from, as well as a critical engagement with the conditions and decisive factors of the 1950s and 1960s has continued to shape literature in China until the present day.





Chen, Shuyu 陈漱渝 (2001): Xin Shiqi guanyu Luxun de ji ci zhenglun 新时期关于鲁迅的几次争论 (Several debates on Lu Xun in the New Period), (acc. Nov. 2011)


Chan, Koonchung (Chen Guanzhong) 陳冠中 (2009): Shengshi — Zhongguo 2013 盛世——中国2013 (The Fat Years). Oxford University Press (Hong Kong) 牛津大學出版社 2009


Chan, Koonchung (2011): The Fat Years. Translated by Michael S.Duke. Introduction by Julia Lovell. Doubleday 2011


Crevel, Maghiel van (2003): The Poetry of Yan Jun. MCLC Resource Center 2003, (acc. Nov. 2011)


Crossley, Pamela (2011): China’s Century-Long Identity Crisis. Wall Street Journal on Oct. 10, 2011. See (acc. Nov. 2011)


Han, Han 韩寒 (2011): Tan geming. Shuo Minzhu. Yao Ziyou. 谈革命。说民主。要自由。(Essays on Revolution, Democracy and Freedom). Published Dec. 23-26, 2011 on the author’s Sina Weblog, (acc. Jan. 2012). Translations and comments see (German, incl. links to original essays) and (both accessed Jan. 2012)


He, Weifang 賀衛方 (2009): Die schwierige Reform des Justizwesens in China. Translated by Martin Winter. In: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (ed.): Wie China debattiert. Neue Essays und Bilder aus China. Berlin 2009, p. 101-107


Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (ed.): Wie China debattiert. Neue Essays und Bilder aus China. Berlin 2009


Huang, Liang 黃梁 (1999): Dixia de guangmai 地下的光脈 (Underground light-pulse). Taipei: Tangshan Chubanshe (Tonsan Publications) 1999


Huang, Liang 黃梁 (1999): Dalu Xianfeng Shicong 大陸先鋒詩叢 (Mainland Avant-garde poetry series). 台北 Taipei: Tangshan Chubanshe 唐山出版社 (Tonsan Publications) 1999 (10 volumes)


Liao, Yiwu 廖亦武 (1989): Da Tusha 大屠殺 (Massacre). (acc. Dec. 2011)


Lu, Yang 魯羊 (2002): Wo rengran wu fa shen zhi 我仍然无法深知 (I still have no way of knowing), Hebei Education Press 2002年河北教育出版社. (Edited by Han Dong 年代詩叢/韓東主編)


Murong, Xuecun 慕容雪村 (2011): Ba guaiwu guan jin longzi li 把怪物關進籠子裡. Caging a monster. Speech held in Oslo, November 2011.Translated by Jane Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz.


Qin, Hui 秦暉 (2009): 30 Jahre Reform und Öffnung. Translated by Martin Winter. In: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (ed.): Wie China debattiert. Neue Essays und Bilder aus China. Berlin 2009, p. 53-63


Schneider-Roos, Katharina and Stefanie Thiedig (ed): Culturescapes China. Chinas Kulturszene ab 2000. Basel: Christoph Merian 2010


Yan, Lianke 閻連科 (2011): . Sishu 四書 (Four Books). Taipei: Maitian 2011


Yu, Hua 余華 (2011): Shige cihui li de Zhongguo 十個詞彙裡的中國 (China in ten words). Taipei:Maitian Chuban 麥田出版 2011


Yu, Hua (2011): China in Ten Words. Translated by Allan H. Barr. Pantheon 2011


Zheng, Xiaoqiong 鄭小瓊: Bianyi de cunzhuang 變異的村莊 (Variations on a Village). On the author’s Sina weblog, (acc. Nov. 2011)



Appendix 1


Excerpts from Variations on a Village Bianyi de cunzhuang 變異的村莊, by Zheng Xiaoqiong 鄭小瓊 (First part of three. Original Chinese text on the author’s Sina weblog, (acc. Nov. 2011)



Variations on A Village – Zheng Xiaoqiong, 2008-2010


Wind and direction, hand and palm, or also you, him:

Who is who, who am I? Oh, who is he?

Where do you come from?Where are you going? Oh, why

did you come from there? Why are you going there?

You are being forgotten, by tangled-up time. Oh, you are

forgiven by tangled affairs of the world. They are surging,

your restless desires, where will they take you, sometimes

when the sunset brings truckloads of brilliance,

a horse stands at the river and cries, in his

dark grey eyes I am searching for silence; under his hooves

this world of dust falling off with the last maple leaves, under his hooves

this human world in a shadow; the last wind

blowing through, dark grey mountains afar, a village in grey.

a horse gone from home stands in this huge sunset, lowering his head;

his hooves pounding away like winding peaks. […]


The first line of the poem contains two pronouns, “you” and “he” or “him”. “Wind and [its] direction, hand and palm, or also you, him/ who is who, who am I? Oh, who is he?” These questions receive no direct answers all through the three long parts of the poem. There is no definite male character; there is no character with a name at all. There are factory workers, coming from the countryside. There is a female cook at one time, making out with a guard in the canteen. And there is a horse that comes up several times. The horse is an important image, right from the beginning. In the original, there are many “it”, always the same impersonal pronoun, the character for things and abstract entities, also used for animals. The pronunciation is the same as for “he” or “she”, because there used to be only one personal pronoun in classical Chinese. In German, I have to use “es”, the impersonal pronoun. In English, animals are often referred to in the male gender by default. So it would be natural to call the horse “he”, although later one could also speak of “it”. When I first encountered the horse, I thought of Mayakovsky and Nietzsche. The horse is a powerful image, a central character, close to the “I” in the poem. The whole poem is about alienation, the worker, the village, the countryside; they are all irreparably damaged, taken apart, rebuilt, alienated, strange. The speaker identifies with the horse, but as the poem goes on, it becomes unclear, at least to me, what each “it” is referring to. “I have become part of it”, I have to use “it” here, because it probably means the machine.


Time tangled up in my eyes, all this time like a mountain

surging from far away, like a galloping horse

with a soul like mine, standing among us.

Oh, wind brings the ruins of September. Agricultural wafts from the earth,

like a panting white horse. This is the 21st century,

machines all in grey, the lychee grooves felled.

Falling down, house and home become rubble, and all the land,

our earth burned by industrial flames towering up, oh

the buildings, the factories, concrete, from the mud up to me,

from machine arms to my own arms, corn leaves, rice sprouts.

My muscles, bones, skin and hair become part of the machine,

“a weak skinny rice field” has an unfitting ignorance, stretching out

its pure white roots, seizing the feet of the industrial age. […]


Here is the horse again, representing “agricultural wafts from the earth”, representing time. Time towering up like a mountain, and running from far away towards now, towards the time of the speaker, “like a galloping horse/ with a soul like mine, standing among us.” I don’t know what the “ruins of September” refer to exactly, and also “a weak skinny rice field”. These could be quotes, probably from a literary work. I want to show you the original poem now, together with my translation.






Variations on A Village – Zheng Xiaoqiong 郑小琼, 2008-2010


Part 1



Wind and direction, hand and palm, or also you, him:


who is who, who am I? Oh, who is he?


Where do you come from?Where are you going? Oh, why


have you come from there? Why are you going this way?


Tangled time is forgetting you now. Oh, you are


forgiven by tangled affairs of the world. They are surging,


your restless desires, where will they take you, sometimes when


the sunset brings truckloads of brilliance


a horse stands at the river and cries, in his


dark grey eyes I am searching for silence; under his hooves


this world of dust falling off with the last maple leaves, under his hooves


this human world in a shadow, the last wind


blowing through, dark grey mountains afar, a village in grey


a horse gone from home stands in this huge sunset, lowering his head


his hooves pounding away like winding peaks


This is the first quote from above. Maybe you have noticed the “truckloads of brilliance”. This is a difficult phrase. “Sometimes the sunset brings full truckloads, this hour of greatness and splendor/ a horse stands at the river and cries, in his/ dark grey eyes I am searching for silence; under his hooves/ […]”

日落运来满卡车伟大而辉煌的时分/ 站在河边落着泪的马,我从它/ 灰暗的眼神里寻找寂静,在它四蹄下/

Maybe you have noticed the rhyme in the original. The last syllable of the first line could be said to rhyme with the fourth syllable of the second line, 分 “fen” of 时分 “shifen” ([allotted] time, hour) with 边 “bian” of 河边 “hebian” (river bank). And the syllable before the comma, 马 “ma” (horse) rhymes with the last syllable of this verse, 它 “ta” (it), as well with the last syllable of the following line, 下 “xia” (under). Truckloads, or maybe only one full truck brought in by the sunset, this occasional splendor.


Here are a few more lines, with English and German translation:


in meinen Augen verdreht sich die Zeit, soviel Zeit wie ein Berg


time tangled up in my eyes, all this time like a mountain

aus der Ferne her treibt, wie ein rennendes Pferd


comes surging from far away, like a galloping horse

mit einer Seele wie meine, und steht zwischen uns.


with a soul like mine, standing among us.

Ah, der Wind bringt Verfall im September. Von der Erde die Dünste der Ernte


Oh, wind brings the ruins of September. Agricultural wafts from the earth

wie ein schnaubender Schimmel. Die grauen Maschinen


like a panting white horse. This is the 21st century,

im einundzwanzigsten Jahrhundert, die gefällten Litschi-Haine,


machines all in grey, the lychee grooves felled

die Höfe, verwandelt in Schutt, und die Erde ist eine Ruine.


they are still falling down, house and home become rubble, and all the land,

Die weite Erde, verbrannt und verkohlt, aufgetürmt, ah


our earth burned by industrial flames towering up, oh

Gebäude, Fabriken, Beton, vom Lehm bis zu mir,


the buildings, the factories, concrete, from the mud up to me,

von Maschinenarmen zu meinen Armen, Maisblätter, Reiskeime.


from machine arms to my own arms, corn leaves, rice sprouts.

Meine Muskeln, Knochen, Haut und Haare sind in den Maschinen.


My muscles, bones, skin and hair become part of the machine,

“Ein mageres Reisfeld”, es hat eine unpassende Dummheit, streckt seine


“a weak skinny rice field” has an unfitting ignorance, stretching out

weißen Wurzelfäden aus, will die Füße der Industriezeit umschlingen


its pure white roots, grabbing the feet of the industrial age.

da sind noch so viele diamantene Seelen. Es ist meins


And there are still so many souls like diamonds, it is mine

und so steht es dort betend in seinem Verhängnis,


standing there praying doomed to life or death

es streicht der Wind der Industrie, ich halte es nicht mehr aus –


in the winds of industry, I can’t take much more –

soviele nostalgische Seelen, die warten und fluchen


so many nostalgic souls waiting or cursing

im Stehen, ich bin schon in ihm,


standing up, I have become a part of him

im Benzingeruch den der Wind bringt im Krach der Maschinen


the scent of petrol in the wind and the roar of machines

was für eine Landschaft was für eine Handlung


what kind of sight is this what kind of story

wird uns das Heute, das wir verfluchen, noch ein ersehntes Gestern?


we are cursing today, could today become yesterday, something to yearn for?

Ah, Landarbeit vormittags, in der Industrie am Nachmittag, was ist der Unterschied?


Oh, farm work till noon and the afternoon industry, what is the difference?

Von dieser weiten Erde, die doch die Mühe der Menschen belohnt, bleibt nur


Mother Earth who awards the toil of mankind, what is left of her, “moaning

“das lange vergebliche Stöhnen im September”, es ertränkt sich noch in seinen Tränen;


in September, crying for nothing”, drowning herself in her tears

ah, deinen Schmerz kann ich nicht mehr verstehen, oder Schluchzen


Oh, I have no way of knowing your sadness or weeping

im Stahlbeton, ah, sei still


inside the concrete and steel, oh, be still

auf dem Wasser, deine schwarze Figur


your black figure reflected on water

ist ein glitzerndes rennendes Pferd, das seinen Schatten hinterlässt auf der Maschine.


like a shimmering horse running by, leaving its shadow on the machine.












Appendix 2


Lu Yang

Absolute Poems (1)

“I know these written words below”, from

[Wo rengran wu fa shen zhi 我仍然无法深知 (I still have no way of knowing), Hebei Education Press 2002年河北教育出版社,p.79-84]



绝对之诗 (第一)























I know these written words below

must go through dust to show themselves.

Although these words don’t yet exist,

don’t yet exist in our world

for me and you and all to share.

But I know dust I know the dust,

it covers up it swallows us

a thousand years,

and all our forms,

among the people every turn

is buried, no-one is aware.

Subject to pain and yet not warned,

subject to cheating, self-deceit.

Subject to deepest injury,

when every turn is overlooked

is well ignored and counts for trash.

I know the dust.

It’s not just knowledge,

I’ve been told

by those who told us, selfless aid
















构成刑具 或是










that must be called a miracle.

A miracle it doubless is

and I have never made demands

not as a child, child of a child.

I just feel pain

from helpless crashs

of such large camps,

so many big and cruel

cogwheels connecting

and never relaxing

and never a break.

At times I see expectation lurking from restless expressions.

They’re rotten all over, in total disorder

but then put together

to make up a rack. Or maybe

an altar a desert all rootless and scorching,

expecting Mayan warriors,

their entrails in a ritual,

the last of the kings in a calm look around from his


But I never demanded

but I only felt pain

stretching out my hands I never demanded






一个生物 一棵树


我的天     把我从已有的座位上


















I only feel pain

shaking a living thing to the soul

with leaves and branches flourishing

with roouts cut off.

A living thing.    A stem, a tree.

Or let us go a little lower.

Oh my god. Now push me

from the seat I had, push me down, despise me.

Like anyone who is destroyed

I say like any one of them

and how it will

the hand the finger outstretched upwards

curl up and tremble

like leaves and branches in a storm

or any living thing

dying, stretching feelers

Towards you.


a heaven on another face, another side,

or hell.

To you, unable to touch you.

A force that oversteps its bounds


反向地刺穿了自己  刺穿了













而此时此刻     亲爱的

肮脏的     带有巨大齿轮之深痕的




亲爱的     而此时此刻我想你


远离尘世千里之外  或是



and gores itself. And stabs

the everlasting shield.

Stabs the unbreakable membrane

between the body and the soul,

every precious delusion.

And then it is exactly now

no need to transfer it.

You are right in the middle.

It is an eternal problem,

always guessing at yourself

you arrive at

what has always been forgotten,

pressing forth on the road of retreat,

at yourself.

At exactly this moment – my darling –

filthy, with deep marks from those huge cogwheels,

the cruel destroyer;

the agent of wonderful change,

the root of all catastrophes –

my darling. And at this moment I miss you

so painfully trusting

so far from the world of dust removed. Or

hidden deeply inside.






即可确认 即可欣然发现








那是什么 那是什么破裂












I will stand alone day after day

and be a clear sign, however weak

To let you remember, once in a while

It is not quite dawn

but you are sure        you discover with delight

How I broke into pieces

How I was preserved

at the break of the breaking

How everything is born again

Recycled, preserved

Endangered and perfect

Now look what is cracking apart

What is it? What kind of breaking

Shooting rays of light.

You can count each speck of dust

Floating by.

In the end the light at the crack circles and enters.

The writing emerges, circling


Conceiled, even


But the matter or life broken to pieces

My darling





和其他塵埃     然後


準確無誤地     冷漠地




is the only spot where the light

wants to enter.

It shines on dust floating by

and other dust   and then

in the days of the writing emerging in circles

exactly, detachedly:

Shines on the cracked stuff, the life, broken, preserved-

Shines on me.


MW Tr. December 2011


[2] Diceng wenxue 底层文学, Lower Literature. Discussed at the ACCL conference at Tsinghua University in Beijing, June and August 2009. Authors discussed include Cao Zhenglu 曹征路, Chen
Yingsong 陈应松, Hu Xuewen 胡学文, Liu Jiming 刘继明, and Wang Xiangfu 王祥夫. See (acc. Nov. 2011)

[3] See the article in Nanfang Zhoumo 南方周末 (Southern Weekend), 2011-09-22 (acc. Nov. 2011)

[4] For texts, translations and discussions of Han Han’s essays at the end of 2011, see (German, incl. links to original essays) and

[6] The Poetry of Yan Jun, by Maghiel van Crevel. MCLC Resource Center 2003, (acc. Nov. 2011)

[7] See the article Xin Shiqi guanyu Luxun de ji ci zhenglun 新时期关于鲁迅的几次争论 (Several debates on Lu Xun in the New Period) by Chen Shuyu 陈漱渝 (2001), (acc. Nov. 2011)

[8] Huang Liang 黃梁: Dixia de guangmai 地下的光脈 (Underground light-pulse). Taipei: Tangshan Chubanshe (Tonsan Publications) 1999, p. 26. See also (acc. Nov. 2011)

[9] See the essays by Qin Hui 秦暉and He Weifang 賀卫方in: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (ed.): Wie China debattiert. Neue Essays und Bilder aus China. Berlin 2009, p. 53ff, 101ff, 151ff, also at (acc. Nov. 2011)

[10] Lu Yang 魯羊: Wo rengran wu fa shen zhi 我仍然无法深知 (I still have no way of knowing), Hebei Education Press 2002年河北教育出版社. (Edited by Han Dong 年代詩叢/韓東主編)

[11] Huang Liang 黃梁: Dalu Xianfeng Shicong 大陸先鋒詩叢 (Mainland Avant-garde poetry series). 台台北Taipei: Tangshan Chubanshe 唐山出版社 (Tonsan Publications) 1999 (10 volumes)

[12] See the review at (acc. Nov. 2011)

[16] Katharina Schneider-Roos und Stefanie Thiedig (ed): Culturescapes China. Chinas Kulturszene ab 2000. Basel: Christoph Merian 2010. See also (acc. Nov. 2011) and (acc. Nov. 2011)

[17] Huang Liang 黃梁: Dixia de guangmai 地下的光脈 (Underground light-pulse). Taipei: Tangshan Chubanshe (Tonsan Publications) 1999, p. 7. See also (acc. Nov. 2011)


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