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May 2004

Chinese Characters

Image: Dan Wilcox, @copy; 2004

Guest Editor Joanne Wang,

In tones ranging from high to low and dark to light, the literature of China is as suggestive, as simple, and as complex as the language with which it is written. Anyone tired of linear American plots can find refreshment in the riverine twists and turns of Yu Hua's "Timid as a Mouse" and Li Xiao's "Appointment in K City." Zhang Wei's prizewinning September's Fable depicts village life from a mole's-eye view. Gao Ertai's exceptional memoir features a hunting party in the mountains during the Cultural Revolution. The restraint of MuXin's "Quiet Afternoon Tea" astonishes us; he's one of WWB's favorite discoveries. Pu Song-ling's fables add a mysterious dimension.

In a rare hip moment, WWB features an essay on the Bob Dylan of contemporary China, the rock star Cui Jian, with a link to his superb music video.

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

Photo by Dan Wilcox © 2004

Poem to the Tune “Pure Peace”

Spring /wind through the threshold


My father used to be a surgeon. He was strong and healthy, and talked in a resonant voice. He would often stand at the operating table for ten hours at a time, but at the end of his shift

Timid as a Mouse

1 There's an expression that describes me: timid as a mouse. That's what my teacher said, back when I was in primary school. It was one autumn, I remember, in Chinese class. Our

from Walled Dreams, and an Awakening

1 I wait forever For the wall To awake Leaves have fallen to the ground Leaving behind nothing but a bird and its nest Quiet on my birthday Withered grass on all sides

Two or Three Things from the Past

I So hot then red trucks loaded with burning tongues forward forward again disappearing deep down inside escaped students rolling toward hometown Ah the summer of the era schools


Eighth moon-month Dongting autumn Xiao Xiang waters flow north To go home is a ten thousand li dream

Furniture Music

I read on the chair I write on the desk I sleep on the floor I dream beside the closet I drink water in spring (The cup is in the kitchen cupboard) I drink water in

On the Island

--based on Yami myths 1 The island is by the sea, and the sea by the island Our island is a tiny, motionless ship Tsunami turned the ship into a cradle The waves dashed toward


Fragrant night shrine incense Forgot to go home Pine balm ancient temple door Bright lamplight from the


At last at West Lake it's the sixth moon-month Wind light sights unlike any four seasons Sky-linked lotus leaves endless jade-blue


Don't resent your exile Long ago I passed thru Min There are usually few wild geese in autumn but at


Paper screen Rock pillow Square bamboo bed Hand tires book drops Long afternoon dreams Woke up smiling then laughed alone


Sitting alone within a hidden bamboo grove plucking the qin repeating long howls in a deep forest no one knows bright moon illuminates the


A strong desire to climb high No one comes to offer wine So forlorn for distant homeland chrysanthemums that must be in bloom


since the undated neglected foul blood's due date since the year fell off a bed's edge edged you out since conceiving evil itself conceived what wraps two dripping fruit


then you go on dying dying in plaster then the pitch-black snow inside the womb goes on falling then the face is not while burning pain on the face is wound is not while the ripe age


until sky is like a breast popping out from a collar held by horrible hands your hands until slow death displays more distinct violence until a dead drunk fiddle has just shed

The WheelRim River Sequence

Wang spent periods of seclusion throughout his life in many different places--but in his middle years he acquired his famous WheelRim River (Wang River) retreat in the WholeSouth mountains,

Reply to People

Happened upon a pine forest Rock beneath perfect pillow for sleep No calendar sun within mountains cold ends year

from September’s Fable

A company of moles following one leader roamed everywhere over the ruins that night. In that deeply silent time before the moon had risen, only the sound of their small rustlings mingled

from Liaozhai Zhiyi

These stories are taken from a work-in-progress entitled Heart's Reason: Stories of Affection from the Liaozhai Zhiyi, edited and translated by Susan Wan Dolling. Liaozhai

Appointment in K City

1 The surviving alumni of Huaguang College might remember an event that happened on April 3, 1937. It was the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the college, and the celebration went

Sunset over Barren Mountains

Ha Jin has this to say about Gao Ertai's work: "Among numerous memoirs by Chinese authors, In Search of My Homeland stands out as an eloquent testimony to the violation and destruction

On the Train: Two Poems

Fourth Brother The cap's beak must have exerted a quiet pressure--Fourth Brother confidently approaches: "You on your way home too? You're Li family, NanPo, south slope, yes?"

Power of the Powerless

    Chinese rock star Cui Jian begins his song "The 90s" with the line: "Words are not precise already—can't express this world clearly." And in the clarity of that

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