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from the September 2008 issue

Home Town

Translator's Note: China has always been an agricultural society. In spite of recent industrial development, the majority of Chinese are officially identified as farmers, holding what is called the "nong ye hu kou" (farmer's resident status). Rural China has received much less attention than cities in China's modernization process. Farmers are facing a changing world where their traditional lifestyle is challenged as they often have to leave for the cities to make a living. Even the rural landscape is changed as cities expand.

The contemporary poets here all come from countryside China, but have a range of professions. Some are still farmers. Some have become laborers or office workers in cities. Some have become successful managers in businesses. These poets share an attachment to nature, the land, and the people in their hometowns. They share nostalgia for the countryside they used to know before the turbulent changes of reform. They have deep sympathy for their kin and compatriots who live hard lives as farmers, or in cities as migrant workers. Yet each poet is unique as they experience the countryside that watches them grow up and leave, and each is unique in the encounter with the outside world. All return with a renewed understanding of, and reconciliation with, their home towns or villages. These poems portray the lives of Chinese farmers and the land that sustains, attracts, and buries them.

No matter how rich, how famous you are
No matter how many people who used to know you
Can no longer recognize you
Look, if you are still son of a mom from the country
If you still want to return home
You will always see the earth
You will always see the lopsided buildings
Those crowded old buses
Carry you home
Your dining tables have no fancy tablecloths
No paper flowers

Yet here is your home
Far behind the time
Every morning
You wake up to the winged clock called rooster

Your train has gone
To many other home towns
Of black, red and yellow earth

By arrangement with the authors. Translations copyright 2008 by Berlin Fang. All rights reserved.

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