Letter from Beijing 2: Chinese poets, drifters and entrepreneurs

北京来信 2:北漂诗人和企业家诗人

Letter from Beijing 2: Chinese poets, drifters and entrepreneurs

Introduced and translated by Ming Di, a Chinese poet living between Beijing and California, editor of New Cathay –Contemporary Chinese Poetry (Tupelo Press, 2013)

March 2017

“Drifters” in Beijing

In My Poetry
By Qiu Huadong 邱华栋

I want to eat the sunflowers,
the insects and air sacs in the leaves,
the plastic shoes with ideas.
Eat them, eat them all.

I won’t give up. I’ll eat the nightmares,
the rouge on your face,
the discards in the river.
I’ll eat the arc line a flying pigeon draws
so it loses track of its nest.

Eat the sailing boat! Eat the tongue itself.
Eat the truth and mist, eat the thinking brain.
Eat the football and the goalkeeper.
Eat the rock and snow on the mountains.
Eat the damned tractor.

Don’t forget to eat the street lights, the highways,
the toothpaste and airports,
the gas stations and paratroopers,
sofas, fly flappers, and ancient walls.
Eat all the mirrors!

Eat the entire shore,
the people naked on the beach,
the sandcastle and funny children,
the balloons and the crying women.
Eat them all.

Don’t forget to eat yourself.
When I have no tongue, I swallow what I say.

1Qiu Huadong

QiuHuadong邱华栋(1969-)was born in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Northwest China, and went to Wuhan University in central China. He started writing poetry in middle school and emerged as a novelist of the Urban Fictions in the 1990s. A proliferate poet and novelist, Qiu is currently the associate director of the Lu Xun Literary Institute in Beijing.



My Grandmother and Her Cigarette
By Li Suo 里所

Smoke floats around her ears,
her gray hair quivers
like thin blades
cutting the elderly boredom.
But she is too weak
to fight the weakness and pain
that grows in her body.
Slowly and daily she becomes slower,
walking gives in to sitting.
Silence wins, her voice dies.
In the late evening
she finds it so easy to lay back.
Neither joy nor anger stays.
She lights up a cigarette
to burn the hours
and lightens up.

2Li Suo

Li Suo里所 (1986-),born in Anhui, moved to Kashgar, Uyghur autonomous region when she was twelve. In 2004 she went to Xi-an for college education and started writing poetry under the influence of poet professor Yi Sha. She went to Beijing Normal University and finished a master’s degree in literature in 2012 and since then she has been working as a poetry editor at the Motie Publishing House in Beijing.



Two Bamboo Baskets
By Su Xiaoyan 苏笑嫣

Like two old men, the two bamboo baskets sit
side by side on a wooden bench by the door
looking quietly at the cornfield,
a flying bird passes by, singing.

They gaze into their favorite slow breeze in the afternoon,
tranquility dispersed in the air, the yellowed years.

The two aged bamboo baskets have year after year
loaded so many things: banana pears
and pearl-like peanuts.
Now they are empty, the bamboo sticks stunned,
their bodies wrapped with hemp ropes,
fatigued and lifeless.

In the past they fell deeply in love with the fall
but now they fall in the shadow of the season
that has changed instantly, from warm to desolate,
the memories framed on the trees
as they harvest year after year and have harvested
an entire life, now

blown away by a gust of wind.
A tree full of fruit and two bamboo baskets:
they don’t know how they can be loaded again.
For the first time they face the harvest
at a loss, calmly.

3 Su Xiaoyan

Su Xiaoyan苏笑嫣 (1992-) is a young Chinese poet, ethnically Mongolian. Her Mongolian name is Mu Xiya慕玺雅. She moved to Beijing with her parents and went to middle school in Beijing. However, lacking a Beijing household registration, she had to move back to Inner Mongolia in her senior year of high school in order to take the national college entrance examination. She wrote a novel based on her experience as a drifting student in the capital city being forced to return to her hometown, lost in between. After graduating from Beijing Industrial Institute she started working as designer in Beijing. She has published two novels, two collections of essays and one collection of poems. 



Entrepreneur Poets

Lyrical Songs for the River West Corridor
By Li Yawei 李亚伟


The gigantic families of the River West Corridor live
in their glorious past. The world is very old but
some permanent laborers are still laboring behind the history.
The three brothers of Wang still live in their destinies, their family
raking their ancestors’ property in the moon.

Noble blood takes turns to take its duty
in circulating. The huge dynasties have been eaten by politics
and pushed into the cricket accounts.
Memorial bells ring and ring again, disappearing
into the outer space.

I only live in part of my life. What is to be living,
what is to be dead, I don’t know.
Sometimes I live outside my life
bound by the state interest.

(Part 1 of a sequence)

4 Li Yawei

Li Yawei李亚伟, born in Chongqing in 1963, rose to fame in the 1980s for his anti-cultural poetry, especially the poem “Chinese Department”, influenced by the American Beat generation introduced into China in the mid 80s. Founder of the well know Macho group, he was also included in the first issue of the Not Not, journal of another group of avantgarde poets. His name has been associated with these two independent circles. After a break in writing (due to his engagement in publishing and restaurant business), he is back to the poetry scene with a strong lyrical voice. Currently he divides his time between Sichuan and Yunnan.



When Sun Rises It Doesn’t Know I’m Depressed
By Pan Xichen 潘洗尘

Trees witness the fall of leaves.
Wind sees the dust.
Some people go to work, punching their labor cards.
Some people go begging.
Some people stare at others
who are staring back.

This is a repeated drama.
I look worried with a vegetable color on my face.
A bad guy.
This is not my stage
in broad daylight.
I must go to sleep.

When the sun goes down I will wake up.
The props you leave behind
will be submerged at night.

The plants and animals
with persecution phobias
are taking a deep breath with me.
I hear their conversations
but will not relay to the humans.

Night is so quiet and solemn.
Wind takes the trouble to collect the good breathing
and evil snoring.
All I do is to put them into catalogs,
which appears so meaningless
but I enjoy doing it endlessly.

Day breaks again
without knowing.
When the sun rises it doesn’t know
how depressed I am.

5 Pan Xichen

Pan Xichen潘洗尘 (1963-) emerged in the 1980s as a campus poet and won many awards. After 20 years as an entrepreneur in advertising business, he returned to poetry in 2007 and has maintained a high profile by editing many mainstream journals and starting his own independent journals. He founded the weekly Poetry EMS in 2009, a series of weekly chapbooks that became the most popular publication of poetry in China. He then began publishing in 2010 the quarterly magazine Poetry Reading which immediately gained a solid reputation for its quality and diversity. Meanwhile he has published eight collections of his own poems. He lives between his hometown Harbin and his new home in Dali, Yunnan. In 2016 he was diagnosed with liver cancer, now in remission. The following poem was written in the hospital.



A Supplemental Epitaph for God
By Mo Mo 默默

All is dear: dear thought, dear cold,
dear wound, dear vomiting, dear who?
All is dear: dear evening, dear dream,
dear wild dogs, dear leader, dear who?
All is dear: dear eyelashes, dear fate,
dear hero, dear dead trees, dear mountains and waters,
dear who?
All is dear: dear liar, dear memory,
dear birthday, dear bathroom, dear emperor,
dear who?

All can be dear: dear anger, dear fear,
dear betrayal, dear melancholy, dear accident,
dear madness, dear punishment, dear vigilance—

all can be dear: dear desire, dear flickering,
dear silence, dear popular, dear stars,
dear wings, dear ice, dear whirlpools—
all can be dear: dear olive trees, dear bullet ra-
in, dear United Nations, dear existentialism, dear
refrigerators, dear day and night, dear weak,
dear flee from famine, dear cruel—

all can be dear: dear Mayan, dear Bohemian
tricks, dear peace above the Eternal Peace Avenue, dear human rights
declaration, dear noisy, dear slavery, dear brother
Columbia, dear opium war, dear Challenger collap-
se, dear history, dear nothingness
all can be dear: dear 1990, dear
kiss, dear hard to separate, dear die in heaven, dear
tears in voice, dear cliff, dear fall,
dear destiny

all is dear that can be dear,
dear secret, dear graveyard

6 Mo Mo

Mo Mo默默 (1964-) is co-founder of the poetry school 撒娇派. “Sa Jiao” means behaving like a spoiled child or a man moaning like a woman. He says it means “gentle resistance”. A whimper, not a bang. He co-founded the school and its journal in 1985 in Shanghai and made it known nationwide by organizing a series of events and by being jailed in 1986 for his long poem “Growing up in China”. A legendary figure but hardly known outside China, he became wealthy by investing in real estate in the early 1990s but gave up his business and returned to poetry in the new century. Now he runs a hotel like residence in Shanghai to host wondering poets and manages a motel of 18 rooms in Shangeri-la plateau, Yunnan, southwest China (free paradise for poets who can endure the altitude and temperature.)


Introduced and translated by Ming Di, a Chinese poet living between Beijing and California, editor of New Cathay –Contemporary Chinese Poetry (Tupelo Press, 2013)

March 2017

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