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from the September 2008 issue

Six Pots of Hot Water

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.

I came to Beijing for a living
Xiao helped me find work
When I didn't have a cent to my name
He lent me his money

In the spring of 2002
Xiao and I came to Beijing from Changsha
My dad was in his seventies
He boiled six pots of water
He said that Xiao has helped his boy so much
I had nothing to show my gratitude
So I boiled six pots of water
So that he could take a decent bath

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

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