What is Chinese literature about? Exile, inner exile. Inside China, banished. Happened to many poets through the ages, including the most famous. Or voluntary exile, to be somewhere else, not among the people. 别有天地非人間。Teaching Latin in a high school in Vienna, a friend of our uses Du Fu 杜甫. Du Fu, Brecht, Theodor Kramer, Guido Zernatto. She teaches Latin, so exile comes from Ovid. Epistulaes ex ponto. From Casablanca. No, it’s that port city on the Black Sea, in Romania. Constantza. Like Tristan Tzara. Z or S? Whatever. Du Fu. They use an old edition from the 1930s. Brought into verse by H. Not just translated, not directly. That’s how they used to do it. Gustav Mahler’s 馬勒 Song of the Earth 大地之歌 came from Li Bai 李白 (Li Tai-po), Wang Wei 王維 and Meng Haoran 孟浩然, through many versions in different languages in between. Mahler wrote the final versions to fit his music. Two poems by different poets merged into one, at the end. No, that Du Fu edition is very accurate, from the feel of it. Two great volumes, large and thick. Not rhymed. But rather formal. Not luosuo 羅嗦. No superfluos words. Hardly. Again, from the feel of it, I haven’t checked, just listened and read. Listened, our friends read well. Very down-to-earth, daily details. Ants, chicken. Fencing in chicken, thinking about it. A reference to the times, the circumstances. Suddenly becoming political, as our friend says. Towards the end. A moral at the end, maybe more in this German version than in Chinese. Circumstances, Du Fu’s circumstances. He always complains, says our friend. Very down-to-earth, very daily life. Strife, poverty, famine. Starving on the streets. We have a master’s thesis on Tang Poetry social critique in Vienna, from 1990. Anna Maria Eigner. Bai Juyi, many different poets. Li Shangyin wrote a lot about poverty in the countryside. Not in is most famous poems, unfortunately.
Daddy, who is this?
He is called Li Bifeng. I just translated a poem by him. He is in prison. They are all in prison. This one is a writer, too.
Why is he in prison?
He took part in protests, demonstrations. Demonstration, you remember what that is? Yes, we were in one together this year.
Where is this?
This is in China.
What else did he do?
He organized strikes. Do you know what strikes are?
Strikes are when workers in a factory say they won’t work, all of them. To get better pay. To get insurance, you know what that is? When you are sick, to get money from insurance so you can get a doctor, go to hospital.
Daddy, are there any places with no government?
Good question. There are some places where women are in charge. They own the land, they run things. Used to. Sometimes still do. Places in China.
Well, they should. Women are important. Women bear children.
I don’t know if there are any places with no government. There are some places with not many people at all. Deserts, mountains.
A Yu (born 1994)
DOCUMENTARY: HE JUMPED FROM THE TOP OF THE BUILDING
he jumped from the top of the building
he was dead
it wasn’t like he had seen it
the contractor who owed migrant workers
when he heard someone would jump
right away he came out with his pay
but this time
no-one held him back
that’s how he died