Whispers on the Wind – A Reading of Russell C. Leong’s "Dreams and Dust"

Guest post by reader Charles Kress.

Kuan Yin

What of the past that whispers
Such winds blow our words away
Where have they gone
Must we always start anew
Will dead voices never cease

from “Blood Secrets”

Not long ago I wrote the poem “Blood Secrets” based on a dream. In the dream I was in a large room with many statues of saints, angels, goddesses and bodhisattvas. The statues had all crumbled into rubble. I knelt among the pieces and wept.
When I woke up I was much disturbed by the dream. In trying to understand it, I wrote “Blood Secrets”, which incorporated the broken sacred statues. Within my poem I created a dialog between Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion, and Maitreya, the Bodhisattva, who has yet to take birth, concerning the state of future spirituality.
In my poem, Maitreya seeks help from Kuan Yin, while they are sitting by a lakeside pavillion. Maitreya asks for help when he takes birth. Kuan Yin replies that the older saints, like the statues in my dream, have gone.

my time on earth is over for now.
The twilight of the gods is real
The wheel has turned.
Another spoke has ascended

But she tells Maitreya that there are still those people in the world who act as her hands and see as her eyes, that they will help him.
Russell C. Leong

In the poem “Dreams and Dust”, published in the current issue of Cha, Russell C. Leong also invokes the goddess Kuan Yin:

Kuan Yin looks over the lake
Where 500 carp rush toward
The older man leaning on the balustrade

This seemingly ordinary scene may also be seen as an invocation of Kuan Yin. Whether as a statue or a living Bodhisattva is left to our mind’s eye to choose. The 500 carp in the lake show us the spirits of water that live within the hungry fish. Water may be seen as the compassion that flows from Kuan Yin.

He picks up the banana peels
Someone else has left on the wet ground
Shreds them and tosses them to the fish
Next to him, a woman does the same

Can you see them? The old man and the younger woman tossing bits of banana peel to the fish. They seem so ordinary and unremarkable, yet by their actions, they feed the multitude of fish. Is this not Kuan Yin’s compassion acting through them?

Each lost in their separate dreams & dust:
The man, too old to become a monk now
The woman, too tied to the world to leave it.

Like each of us, they too are “lost in their separate dreams & dust.” The illusions of this world manifesting in the dust of the earth. And like them, we as well are “too tied to the world to leave it.” Yet we of the world of dreams and dust are the ones that Kuan Yin watches. We are the ones through which she acts.
The poem shows them joined together: “the man, the woman, the fish, the statue.” Each separate, each a part of a larger reality that is:

covered by rain, lustrous as pearls
Which contain the morning light.

Again we see the image of water, illuminated by the light of Kuan Yin’s compassion for all beings, that lives within us all.
In another parallel to my own poem, the statue of Kuan Yin has been destroyed and

Rebuilt after incense and wind
had burnt down the one before

One is tempted to see demons at work in the statues destruction by fire, but on a deeper level we can understand the Buddhist idea of impermanence is at work here as well.
Leong’s poem closes with a contrasting view of a man coming “From the hill above the lake.” He is no annomyous man:

Ven. Dhammadipa makes his way down
The wooden path that encircles the temple’s drum

Named and honored, he walks the Buddhist path. The temple drum implies a powerful voice, a powerful message has he to give us.
Yet he is also separate from us and the world, for he is said to be “Yet alone, yet free.” One wonders though, if he is no longer caught in the “Dreams and Dust” of the world, can we relate to him as a being that we can understand and trust if he is no longer one of us?
Where Russell C. Leong shows us the Buddhist teacher Ven. Dhammadipa alone and free, my poem invokes, the as yet unborn Boddhisattva, Maitreya, and the dark times we live in:

Kuan Yin asked quietly
‘Is there any hope for the future?’
Maitreya smiled sadly
And shook his head slowly,
‘The future, which is my time,
remains a mystery.
But do not forget,
The human realm
Has always been violent
And thus doubly rewarding.’

‘Watch for me in the storms
Watch for me in the earthquakes
Watch for me in the fires
Watch for me in the floods.
When least expected
I will be there
Without fail’

The images in “Dreams and Dust” are so much more earthy than those in my own poem, yet I feel my poem more accurately reflects the dark times that beset our world and speak more directly to our everyday lives.

The Chinese Curse


“May you live in interesting times.” Thus goes the first part of the famous Chinese curse, or at least the curse commonly attributed to the Chinese. Like all good curses at first sight it could be mistaken as a blessing. This curse has, in fact, long been granted to and put upon Chinese writers and artists: they have certainly been living in interesting times.

Back in 1972, shortly after Nixon’s visit to China, Susan Sontag wrote her short story “Project for a Trip to China.” While calling China “the most exotic place of all” and her planned trip to the country a “mythical voyage,” she also admitted that “mythical voyages were to places outside of history” yet “now such voyages are entirely circumscribed by history.” In other words, Sontag felt she was merely a tourist fantasizing about a “real” China that she could not enter.
The “real” China, however, can be a real curse. About the same time, an anonymous, lone Chinese youth, who would later go under the poetic pseudonym Duo Duo, was writing secretly about the birth of a new subjectivity that had been alienated and isolated in the night of history. This night provided such uncanny visions:
In a night full of symbols
The moon is like the pale face of a patient
Like a mistaken, shifting time
And death, standing in front of the bed like a doctor:
Some merciless feelings
Some terrifying changes in the heart
Moonlight coughs softly on the empty ground in front of the house
Ah moonlight, hinting at the clearly seen exile… (“Night” [1973])
Here we encounter a strange, nascent reflective consciousness that was reporting back to us on two separate worlds: not so much Eastern and Western as aboveground and underground. And it was underground where Duo Duo resided. As he understood well as we first enter the underground, we can only grope, blindly and intuitively, for the threads of history:
The past sinks into silence without any reason
Along with the principle of the sun shining all over the earth
And the dreams once written in books
They once existed and vanished subjectively
In the permanent graveyard of time (“Untitled” [1976])
Having apparently inherited the “seer” tradition that Lu Xun founded with his “A Madman’s Diary” (1918) at the outset of modern Chinese literature, Duo Duo proved himself to be an “anti-prophet” of an underground China during the Cultural Revolution.
Contrary to Duo Duo and his anonymous, cryptic lyric voice, Ai Weiwei is one of the most outspoken and dynamic artists in today’s China. Ai Weiwei embodies the paradox of the second, more intense, clause of the Chinese curse: “May you come to attention to those in authority.” He is an independent artist with underground roots, but he is by no means an underground artist. Instead, he works and expresses his opinions publicly and aboveground. A conceptual and performance artist, a diligent and defiant blogger and a deliberate exhibitionist, he challenges visible and invisible walls in art and daily life. Ai Weiwei’s provocative works and social activism have made him so dangerously suspect in the eyes of the Chinese authorities that he was abruptly arrested on April 3, 2011. Ironically, his arrest only solidified his stature as a new international art icon.
Ai Weiwei is the best example of the rapid globalization of contemporary Chinese art, which in turn mirrors another prominent fact, namely that the Middle Kingdom itself is perceived as an emerging global superpower in the 21st century. Following his subsequent release on parole, regardless of how his personal life and career might have been affected in the short term, it is almost certain that Ai Weiwei has made decisive long term gains for himself and for contemporary Chinese art more generally. He has broken various taboos and provided a wide open vista for a new generation of ambitious Chinese artists who aspire for freedom within the nation and a place within the larger international stage. In this sense, the unprecedented publicity, visibility and attention heaped upon contemporary China and its artists have only turned the curse that has befallen Ai Weiwei into a blessing.
Duo Duo and Ai Weiwei have each been pioneering and revolutionary figures in their respective realms and times. Meanwhile, over the past three decades and more, there have been an impressively diverse and complex spectrum of Chinese writers, poets and artists, who like Duo Duo and Ai Weiwei, have deep roots in the underground of history. And they all, one way or another, have found their own distinctive and increasingly aboveground ways to wrestle with the burden and curse of history. Their works, considered together, testify to a kaleidoscopic, sometimes super-real but more often surreal, contemporary China. Natural questions arise: to what extent have these writers, poets and artists already succeeded in rendering their unique messages comprehensible to non-Chinese audiences? Can Chinese literature and art finally explode through the opaque or transparent walls surrounding China, and truly “make sense” to the world?
Perhaps one need not be overly concerned by such questions at all. Earlier this year, when attending a conference in Beijing on Chinese literature and its introduction overseas, I had the following to propose on the whole affair:
1 Before we introduce or promote ourselves, we must know who we are.
2 We can only present ourselves, we cannot impose ourselves upon others.
3 If others do not accept us, in the end, we have to accept ourselves.
This is as much pragmatic advice as it is highly idealistic, on both a collective and an individual level.
The late Chinese writer Wang Xiaobo (1952-1997) once speculated, via the male protagonist in his novella The Year of Independence, on the existential purpose of poetry writing itself:
I come to think: it’s not necessary to write a poem for others. If a person comes to enjoy a quiet night by himself, then my poem has no use for him. Reading it to him would only prevent him from enjoying his own poem on the quiet night. If a person can’t sing, then all the songs in the world have no use for him; if he can sing, he must sing his own song. That is to say, poet as a profession should be eliminated, and everyone needs to be his or her own poet.
Such a steadfast assertion, of course, might sound romanticized whereas in fact it should be understood from a particular moment in which Wang Xiaobo found his fictional alter-ego, a discovery not free of its own curses. In another novella, Love in the Era of Revolution, Wang Xiaobo further explored the dual theme of “seeking miracles” and “negative lotteries” and came to the conclusion that in the era of revolution, the impulse to seek miracles would invariably be met by misfortunes or “negative lotteries.” In the term “negative lotteries,” Wang Xiaobo not only summarized his generation’s grotesque experience during the Cultural Revolution, he also suggested, before his own sudden, untimely passing in 1997, a dystopian prospect for a future China of, say, 2015 or 2020. The sobering, somewhat fatalistic, prophecy of “negative lotteries” is like the Chinese curse itself, and serves as a useful reminder to those practicing contemporary Chinese literature and art: optimistic projections may turn out to be only wishful thinking.
This acknowledgment, nonetheless, brings us back into Duo Duo’s “Night” of the 1970s. That “Night,” one of many, was so agonizingly quiet, yet so distinctively audible, and was like that young, isolated poet himself, who, like a needle dropping to the ground, with no outside attention whatsoever, no media hype, no noise, was trying to find his way, absolutely alone, into—and out of—the maze of history and dreams:
It once lingered in a place of misery
Leaving unconscious and indecipherable black spots on the memory
It was sleepless, like a poet, tossing and turning
Passing in and out of ancient rooms of dreams… (“Night” [1977])
“May you find what you are looking for!” A curse is a curse. But, this last clause of the Chinese curse may, strangely, sound the most like a literal and honest blessing to China and its contemporary writers and artists. Indeed, just as another, although non-Chinese “curse” once had it: “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” Only those who have been cursed by history are blessed with the ability to see their predicaments clearly and to shatter the false spell of that same history.
Mai Mang (Yibing Huang) / Guest editor
17 July, 2011

How did you select Yibing Huang to be your guest editor? And why?

How did you select Yibing Huang to be your guest editor? And why?
I first met Yibing through a mutual friend of ours, Professor Russell Leong. I was taking an informal creative writing class with Russell, and he introduced the students to Yibing. Since then, I have been impressed by Yibing’s work and he has even contributed two poems to Cha. I felt like his expertise would be a perfect match for the ethos of the China issue. Often, our guest editors are writers who have a strong interest generally in literature. However, for the China issue, we felt that someone with expertise in Chinese literature would be essential.
See more questions and answers here

Cha is in The China Daily

Back in August (Sunday 29th August), I was contacted by China Daily. Today, finally, there is an article on Cha in the paper [Link]. China Daily is the only official English-language national newspaper in China. The article also appears in their US Edition.

Unfortunately, they made one typo which completely changed the meaning of one of my quotes. The quote reads: “I am sure that we will see more books from mainland writers written in English” but it should have been: “I am NOT sure that we will see more books from mainland writers written in English”. Please also note that the cover image appearing in the article is by Alvin Pang
The article mainly focuses on our forthcoming “China Issue”, due out in June 2011. (See the Call for Submissions.) We hope many of you will submit works to the edition.


[Read the English version here or download the call PDF here.]

《茶:亞洲文學季刊》(www.asiancha.com)將於2011年6月出版特刊「The China Issue」,專門收錄來自或有關當代中國的詩歌、虛構文學、創意記實文學、學術著作及視覺藝術作品,探討塑造中國的各種社會、政治及文化力量,現誠邀海內外人士投稿。閣下如對當今中國有任何有趣、獨到或新穎的意見,我們均無任歡迎。請注意,作品語言以英文為限。


特刊同時設有書評一節,專門評論以中國為題材的書籍。閣下近期如有新作,並希望在The China Issue刊登書評的話,歡迎聯絡本刊編輯Eddie Tay,電郵地址為eddie@asiancha.com。有關書籍須於2011年3月底前寄至本刊。

有意投稿此期特刊者,請於2011年4月15日或之前將作品電郵至submissions@asiancha.com。電郵標題請註明「The China Issue」,否則稿件將作常刊投稿處理。有關稿件的規定,請參閱 http://ww.asiancha.com/guidelines

麥芒(黃亦兵),湖南常德人,並繼承了母親身上祖傳的湘西土家族血液。麥芒擁有北京大學中國文學學士、碩士和博士學位。1993年移居美國,並擁有美國加州大學洛杉磯分校比較文學博士學位。早在20世紀80年代,麥芒即是聞名于北大校內外的當代詩人,移居海外之後,繼續用中文和英文雙語創作,翻譯和朗誦。他自稱爲一個盲目主義者,著有中英文雙語詩集《石龜》(2005年)和中文詩集《接近盲目》(2005年)。另外,麥芒的最新英文學術專著是《當代中國文學:從文化大革命到未來》Contemporary Chinese Literature: From the Cultural Revolution to the Future(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007),以個案形式探討在文化大革命期間成長的中國作家從「歷史孤兒」到「文化雜種」的身份轉移。麥芒現為美國康州學院東亞系副教授。
本招稿啟事由Kevin Chan翻譯

Bad English by Ouyang Yu

Picture from here
Bad English
–by Ouyang Yu

Teaching English in China
The old professor can’t help
The fact that his hair is turning grey

An email letter leaves him
Upset for days without knowing why
That begins with this: ‘Dear Mr professor Richard’

Student papers are written in such a way
That how much effort goes into fixing them
He invariably sees a new English cropping up postgraduateswise:

‘I felt boring when days after days were spent meaninglessly’
‘He doted him and he doted her’
‘Grandma cared me so much she does something out of expectation’

The professor decides that it’s probably just as well
His grasshopper arms powerless against the onslaught
Of an English in spite of itself

So, in his last class, he found time to speak
Their language: I felt exciting at the thought
Of returning to Oz as living here I often feel boring

I objected myself speaking such bad English
Although I do care you and I admire you

For things like this: ‘On that day’s noon’
And your brilliant slips of pen, like this:
‘We must all uphold human tights’

“Bad English” was published in Issue 3 of Cha and analysed in A Cup of Fine Tea.

Dim Sum by Zhang Er

Picture from here
Dim Sum
–Zhang Er, translated from the Chinese by Bob Holman and Zhang Er

Accidentally tossed together, doing the natural thing,
unexpectedly he becomes an old acquaintance from another life:
the little town at the edge of the rain forest, rivulet rain,
mountain of the imagination soaked in rain—is that China over there?

Shanghai time. Dim Sum at noon, a century of culinary evolution
results in one substantial bowl of noodles filled with indescribable
flavors: poppy seeds harvested in the dry season, yum, military control
and CIA, delicious, aged reality turned into popular history, incredible!

Now the photographer photographs, the producer produces.
Here’s a muddy little lane lined with bars you run into
to escape from air strikes, flirt with prostitutes and catch the general
visiting the front lines. A multi-functional joint named Boredom. Now do you
remember it? Transform it into entertainment and forget

how deep this is, let our dreams dream that they have already
been lived and the things we are doing right now
we are doing right now. Is it possible to be together drinking tea and not
pour it over each other’s body? We have the calmness
of the Shanghainese and the excuses that allow them to relax.

Try a Brazilian cocktail, cold water and lime? You sit across from me.
Face the stale routine of ice and acid, read in the Times about the ongoing
environmental debate about the lakes in the suburbs, whether they
should be open to the public, whether they should be fully swum. Think about
how the unusual low water level at Gezhou Dam affects the dam
itself and the undulating flow as it generates electricity.

I only want a cup of tea, a hot cup to expand my sweat glands
to the ultimate. The wildest dream only sets up other limitations –
I understand that. Yet at the moment, under the neon lights on the sea shore,
the palm trees are washed shiny by the storm, hair suddenly becomes obedient.

Doesn’t it resemble the dream we had that night in the rain?
Was it Miami or Singapore? Maybe we should go and have some ice cream.
That way, sugar and cold will melt into each other, enabling us to go
back to the mood of our youth when everything could restart.
Say, let’s take a little walk along the water’s edge and go nowhere.

Zhang Er’s “Dim Sum” was published in the “New Poems from China Porfolio” of the second issue of fascicle. Zhang Er was the editor of the “China Porfolio”.

Delivering Newspapers by Bei Dao

Delivering Newspapers
–Bei Dao, translated from the Chinese by Eliot Weinberger and Iona Man-Cheong

Who believes in the mask’s weeping?
who believes in the weeping nation?
the nation has lost its memory
memory goes as far as this morning

the newspaper boy sets out in the morning
all over town the sound of a desolate trumpet
is it your bad omen or mine?
vegetables with fragile nerves
peasants plant their hands in the ground
longing for the gold of a good harvest
politicians sprinkle pepper
on their own tongues
and a stand of birches in the midst of a debate:
whether to sacrifice themselves for art or doors

this public morning
created by a paperboy
revolution sweeps past the corner
he’s fast asleep

“Delivering Newspapers” was collected in Unlock: Poems. It was also published, along with 12 other poems, in Jacket Magazine.

A Message to Po Chu-I by W. S. Merwin

Po Chu-I (白居易), poet from the Tang Dynasty

A Message to Po Chu-I
–W.S. Merwin
In that tenth winter of your exile
the cold never letting go of you
and your hunger aching inside you
day and night while you heard the voices
out of the starving mouths around you
old ones and infants and animals
those curtains of bones swaying on stilts
and you heard the faint cries of the birds
searching in the frozen mud for something
to swallow and you watched the migrants
trapped in the cold the great geese growing
weaker by the day until their wings
could barely lift them above the ground
so that a gang of boys could catch one
in a net and drag him to market
to be cooked and it was then that you
saw him in his own exile and you
paid for him and kept him until he
could fly again and you let him go
but then where could he go in the world
of your time with its wars everywhere
and the soldiers hungry the fires lit
the knives out twelve hundred years ago

I have been wanting to let you know
the goose is well he is here with me
you would recognize the old migrant
he has been with me for a long time
and is in no hurry to leave here
the wars are bigger now than ever
greed has reached numbers that you would not
believe and I will not tell you what
is done to geese before they kill them
now we are melting the very poles
of the earth but I have never known
where he would go after he leaves me

Mervin’s “A Message to Po Chu-I” was first published in The New Yorker in March this year.

This blogger believes that Merwin may be responding to Po Chu-I’s poem “Setting A Migrant Goose Free” . The Chinese poem is copied below, as well as its translation by David Hinton. What do you think?


Setting A Migrant Goose Free
Translation: David Hinton

Snows heavy in Hsun-yang this tenth-year winter,
riverwater spawns ice, tree brunches break and fall;
and hungry birds flock east and west by the hundred,
a migrant goose crying starvation loudest among them.
Pecking through snow for grass, sleeping nights on ice,
its cold wings lumber slower and slower up into flight,
and soon it’s tangled in a river-boy’s net, carried away
snug in his arms, and put for sale alive in the market.
Once a man of the north, I’m accused and exiled here.
Man and bird: though different, we’re both visitors,
and it hurts a visiting man to see a visiting bird’s pain,
so I pay the ransom and set you free. Goose, o soaring
goose rising into the clouds – where will you fly now?
Don’t fly northwest: that’s the last place you should go.
There in Huai-hsi, rebels still loose, there’s no peace,
just a million armored soldiers long massed for battle:
imperial and rebel armies grown old facing each other.
Starved and exhaused – they’d love to get hold of you,
those tough soldiers. They’d shoot you and have a feast,
then pluck your wings clean to feather their arrows.

The Urbanized Villages in the South Jiangsu Province by Xu Ming-de

Picture from here

The Urbanized Villages in the South Jiangsu Province
–Xu Ming-de, translated from the Chinese by Ziqing Zhang

There are no longer bird’s nests in sparse trees
nor any smoke rising from kitchen chimneys around
the tree branches in the morning or evening;
nor the crowing of cocks or the barking of dogs,
nor the croaking of frogs or the shrilly chirping of cicadas.

The soft sand paths with exuberant grass
are replaced by the dead-faced asphalt roads
and the ringing of cattle bells by the honking
of cars, buses or trucks, and wheat fields cut into
small yards of flowers in the comfortable home communities.

This is the modern life we enjoy in the urbanized countryside.

“The Urbanized Villages in the South Jiangsu Province” was first published in Poetry Sky (Spring 2010).

Nine Million Bicycles by Mike Batt

Picture from here

Nine Million Bicycles
–Mike Batt

[Listen to the song here.]

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing
That’s a fact,
It’s a thing we can’t deny
Like the fact that I will love you till I die.

We are twelve billion light years from the edge,
That’s a guess,
No-one can ever say it’s true
But I know that I will always be with you.

I’m warmed by the fire of your love everyday
So don’t call me a liar,
Just believe everything that I say

There are six BILLION people in the world
More or less
and it makes me feel quite small
But you’re the one I love the most of all

We’re high on the wire
With the world in our sight
And I’ll never tire,
Of the love that you give me every night

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing
That’s a Fact,
it’s a thing we can’t deny
Like the fact that I will love you till I die

And there are nine million bicycles in Beijing
And you know that I will love you till I die!

“Nine Million Bicycles” is a song written by Mike Batt for Katie Melua, released in 2005. “According to Melua, the inspiration for the song came from when her interpreter during her time in Beijing, China, was showing her and her manager, Mike Batt, around the city. The interpreter gave them information about Beijing, including that there are supposedly nine million bicycles in the city. Batt wrote a song based around the title “Nine Million Bicycles” upon his return to England two weeks later[.]” — qtd. here.

Empress for a Month by Agnes Lam

Picture from here

Empress for a Month
–Agnes Lam

Did you know,
our Empress Dowager,
when you were insisting
on taking funds
from the national treasury
meant for the protection of the people
to build the Summer Palace
for your personal treasure
that one day
the fruits of your labour,
or at least your imagination,
could be enjoyed
by anyone?
They can sleep where you slept,
bathe where you bathed,
gossip in your covered walkways,
frolick in your lake,
smell your flowers of every season,
chase your butterflies or their descendants
and eat a reproduction
of your thirty-course dinner
even for lunch…
For a certain fee,
so I heard,
anyone can be imperial.
No questions about lineage or
nationality will be asked.
But at twenty thousand a month
(or was it ten?)
even in Renminbi,
the Money of the People,
it is still
not quite for the people,
the Chinese people.
This poem was written by Agnes Lam, a Cha contributor, in 1998. The poem has been posted, along other pieces, on the Kubrick Poetry blog. Read more here.

Sichuan, May 2008 by Eddie Tay

Picture from here

Sichuan, May 2008
Eddie Tay

What is an earthquake? What makes a flower grow:
children in a school and then houses crumple –

when houses crumple, one cannot be angry
That man on evening news with the dirty T-shirt,
the camera lingering over a broken Chinese doll on cracked soil –
so many must have said I’m not ready

Why is this so: a boy trapped under a beam,
his mother lying nearby,
saying I don’t think it’s time

What is an earthquake? What makes a flower grow:
children in a school and then houses crumple –

Why is this so: a man sees his angel
and cries I am under the stones and the stars
救命, 救命
and then falls asleep.

A grandmother under a doorframe
thinks of the potatoes next to her
and worries others may steal them
(but there’re no potatoes).

What is an earthquake? What makes a flower grow:
children in a school and then houses crumple.

“Sichuan, May 2008” was first published in Vol. 9, Autumn 2008 issue of Asia Literary Review. Eddie Tay is Reviews Editor of Cha.

“Tiananmen” by James Fenton

Picture from here
by James Fenton
Is broad and clean
And you can’t tell
Where the dead have been
And you can’t tell
What happened then
And you can’t speak
Of Tiananmen.
You must not speak.
You must not think.
You must not dip
Your brush in ink.
You must not say
What happened then,
What happened there.
What happened there
In Tiananmen.
The cruel men
Are old and deaf
Ready to kill
But short of breath
And they will die
Like other men
And they’ll lie in state
In Tiananmen.
They lie in state.
They lie in style.
Another lie’s
Thrown on the pile,
Thrown on the pile
By the cruel men
To cleanse the blood
From Tiananmen.
Truth is a secret.
Keep it dark.
Keep it dark.
In our heart of hearts.
Keep it dark
Till you know when
Truth may return
To Tiananmen.
Is broad and clean
And you can’t tell
Where the dead have been
And you can’t tell
When they’ll come again.
They’ll come again
To Tiananmen.
—Written in Hong Kong on 15 June 1989, collected in James Fenton’s Out of Danger, winner of the Whitbread Poetry Prize (1994).


Please note that we are no longer accepting submissions for “The China Issue”. We are, however, accepting works for the Fourth Anniversary Issue. See here.

[Read the Chinese versions here or download the English call PDF here.]

Cha: An Asian Literary Journal is now accepting submissions for “The China Issue”, an edition of the journal devoted exclusively to work from and about contemporary China. The issue, which will be published in June/July 2011, will feature poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, scholarly works and visual art exploring the modern Middle Kingdom. We are looking for submissions from a wide range of Chinese and international voices on the social, political and cultural forces which are shaping the country. If you have something interesting, opinionated or fresh to say about China today, we would like to hear from you. Please note that we can only accept submissions in English.

We are pleased to announce that Cha former contributor, distinguished Chinese scholar and poet Yibing Huang will be joining Cha as guest editor for the issue (see his biography below) and read the submissions with co-editors Tammy Ho and Jeff Zroback. Huang has graciously agreed to lend us his extensive knowledge of Chinese literature and keen critical eye to help us select the pieces and shape the issue.

The Reviews section will be devoted exclusively to books related to China. If you have a recent book that you think would be right for review in “The China Issue”, we encourage you to contact our Reviews Editor Eddie Tay at eddie@asiancha.com. Books should be sent to Eddie before the end of March 2011.

If you would like to have work considered for “The China Issue”, please submit by email to submissions@asiancha.com by 15th April, 2011. Please include “The China Issue” in the subject line of the email or your work will automatically be considered for one of the regular issues. Submissions to the issue should conform to our guidelines.

YIBING HUANG (pen-name: Mai Mang) was born in Changde, Hunan, China and inherited Tujia ethnic minority blood from his mother. After receiving his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in Chinese Literature from Beijing University, he moved to the U.S. in 1993. He holds a second Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Los Angeles. Huang’s poetry has been published in China since the 1980s and can be found in many anthologies. As a “blindist,” he is the author of two books of poetry: Stone Turtle: Poems 1987-2000 (2005) and Approaching Blindness (2005). Most recently, he published Contemporary Chinese Literature: From the Cultural Revolution to the Future (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), a book that presents case studies of the generation of Chinese writers which spent its formative years during the Cultural Revolution and focuses on this generation’s identity shift from “orphans of history” to “cultural bastards.” A traveler in the world who has given poetry readings in China and in the U.S., Huang is currently an associate professor of Chinese at Connecticut College.
Call also posted/mentioned in the following places:
  • Asian Australian Studies Research Network [link]
  • Asia-Pacific Writing Partnership [link]
  • Asia Writes [link]
  • Canadian Arts Connect [link]
  • China Daily [link]
  • China English [link]
  • Chinalyst: English Language China blogs [link]
  • Co-Views [link]
  • Crg Hill’s poetry scorecard [link]
  • Drunken Boat [link, link]
  • Duotrope’s Digest [link]
  • English Department, University of Pennsylvania [link]
  • Hong Kong Writers’ Circle, The [link]
  • Hot Stuff [link]
  • Jennifer Hossman’s eLearning for Writers [link]
  • just a moment [link]
  • Lantern Review Blog [link]
  • Listen and Be Heard Network Arts News [link]
  • New Pages (posted on July 10) [link]
  • New Zealand Poetry Society [link]
  • Northern Territory Writers’ Centre, The [link]
  • On The Other Side of the Eye [link]
  • Paper Republic: Chinese Literature in Translation [link]
  • Places for writers [link
  • POETICS Digest – 5 Jul 2010 to 6 Jul 2010 (#2010-157)
  • Rutgers-Newark MFA: Blog [link]
  • Simon Fraser University [link]
  • Toad Press [link]