back toJacket2

Jacket 20 — December 2002   |   # 20  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |

Chinese poets

... from Parataxis magazine, Cambridge
Back to Parataxis contents list


      button Che Qianzi
      button Zhou Yaping
      button Yi Cun
      button Huang Fan
      button Hong Liu

button Zhou Yaping: Letter to J.H. Prynne
button Huang Fan: Poetry’s new shore: Language
button Biographical Notes
button Jeff Twitchell: Note on the translations
button J.H. Prynne: Afterword

Che Qianzi

a song

When I write a poem
I think of you
Feel there is some coincidence
I want to write a poem
But do not know what will happen later

Even if naked the body
Will not let others understand more
I think as I write
Hoping to discover something
You sit on a mountain, body
Like maths in a primary textbook

I often don’t know what to do?
Cross out make changes, have to start again
Five people ten people
Only five ways to write a word
And ten ways to write
Rules, or
Too illegible to discern
I think as I write
I have never imitated anyone
If on me appears someone’s shadow
Then, it is only because
My life comes several years too late

paper cup

A big cup of water
Raise the head — gulp down —
Then, drop the head
The sunshine sways the rice-heads on the earth
Droop down/

A big cup of water
Hold — in the mouth —
Face as big
As a

A big cup of water
Spit out — at the feet —
Grows into a truth/

A big cup of water
With continuous and various motions we
Make it disappear
An empty paper cup
Is like a formalist/

Under another sky they drink water
A cup of water
Passes through one city after another
Like the eye of the needle through
After another

Connect me with them/

In another socialist country
The young complain: the plaster statues of the leader
Are too numerous, filling the shops
And are poorly made
(They take a drink of water
The comments continue)
These plaster statues come from prisons
This is the prisoners’
Mandatory labour
We bought the plaster statues in order to show respect
They repent by selling the plaster statues/

I am one of a group of people
Making plaster statues
Each one finished, always place
On its forehead full of wisdom
A kiss
Don’t misunderstand. I only killed one person
After the killing, began to realise
Understanding and friendship are needed between people
Everyday I save a cup of water
For him––the leader also has been pitiably thirsty —
In an instant the pale mouth sucks a cup of water
— dry/

I once wrote a poem
Entitled ‘Women Drawing Water’
Now I cannot find the manuscript
I remember the general idea

It is like this:

Carrying pitchers on their heads
Walking slowly down the hillside
The river flows by the foot of the knoll outside the village
On it float vegetable leaves, a dead cat
Stinking ox skins, and so on
River of filth
Drawn by the pitcher, becomes

Carrying pitchers on their heads
Walking up the knoll
With difficult steps/

I remember I once spoiled a cup of water
My heart fills with anxiety/

I have already filled one after another
Low-priced high-quality paper cups
To the top with one after another cups of water
Oh Master, when will you come to drink them?
We have already filled one after another
Empty heads
With one after another ideas
Oh Master, when will you come to talk with us

When will you come to claim me?
I have already drunk the second cup of water —

...back to top of page

Zhou Yaping

vulgar beauty


I write down the two words ‘vulgar beauty’.
Fingers skim over flames, surprisingly like
Drawing out darkness, the edge emits deep green flames.
A black pear, placed near a flower vase
Its light yellow epidermis, clear and light
Enticing moment. This is because a snake
From the vase’s thin neck sticks out
A reddish brown tongue.


A crude shriek, pierces a flower garden.
The only crudeness, is on the paint.
Already bluish smoke rises. Ox horn comes from the northwest
Herdsmen have removed its fresh filth and foulness.
Two fruit stones blossom on a light green sphere
On its chin is stuck a braid-like beard.
Amid rosy clouds is the sun
Mingling red and yellow
The brilliant rays appear purple-blue.


An afterbirth is unfolded, taking the shape of an umbrella.
The ridges of an umbrella along yellow lines.
A foetus like a coal cinder has long been reared in it,
Lit by me, it will give off light.
A white crane, unexpectedly covered by a black string-net
A snake, bound with copper wire, body
Like a tightening spring, soft parts flashing.


Facing sunset clouds, on Buddha’s face
Appears a genuine blush. At first I had doubts about
A mistaken metaphor. Buddha’s face trimmed as
Passionate green grass. Let it flourish in spring.
Flowers have blossomed. Large broad-leaves against dark brown,
Open the human skull, there too is an orange berry


Vulgar beauty is required. Southern flame
Just like a rotten battery, green rust stuck to
Its lower part, tossed on a coal-pile.
‘Breathe’ or ‘perish’? These are
The spat-out words of the robust trunk


A woman opening a window, at the top of the building.
At last the wind will present you. But I can’t see clearly
The lobes of your lungs. On a blue sponge
Are reflected threads of loess yellow. A man
Strikes ebony, water stains marked the floor
Craftsmen making ornaments for silver flower gardens
Do not know the early morning (turns out to be) kingfisher’s harsh words.
A murder takes place in the holy temple on Jinfan Road
A priest plays the part of lawyer. Mouth
Swallows and spits leaves, like a plastic sack wrapping beef jerky
I do not know what attitude to take toward flower gardens


I write down the two words ‘vulgar beauty’,
Transparent wooden comb, on the teeth
Are left tiny specks of blood red. Seem like
The fresh pulp of a pomegranate. Flames burn inside a sphere
Cold and gorgeous epidermis, only incantation corrodes
Tables and chairs, mirrors, birds feel pain on the skin.
Sensuous shoulder blade, turns away
The outline of the base, is in turn green, dark green, black and dark black.
Southern wood crack, revolving
Soaked with venom, can light the will-o’-the-wisp.
What else?
More vivid than eyes painted with vermilion
Inflated balloon, filled with milky white
Floating to the left side of the skull, a dagger
In its sheath, like a snake trapped in the grass
Exultant with the black pear’s glow.

from story horse

      dropped on the ground • the small coin

People were gathered on the square watching a man make popcorn. At that time I was about three or four years old. The crowd was large and it was dusk. I slyly wound my way among the heels and dirty leather shoes of the adults. I was wearing split-pants, my round chubby bottom must have stuck outside the surface of the earth — like today’s hostage, for this reason the ferocious people did not have the heart to knock me over. I crawled here and there. My uncle and the monk preferred to stand at a lower place. The popcorn maker’s face and chest were smeared dark with soot, except for the whites of his eyes, making him look like the chief witness at a wedding. The whites of his eyes proved his honesty and fair dealing. Evidently there was no deception in the popcorn. Uncle tested it with his fingers, then with his nose, finally with his soft lips and then everything was clear. He returned home. Then appeared some grave omens. While I was crawling among the crowd, I had already learned to detest the monk’s cloth shoes. I attempted to climb to a higher place, after I grew up this became clearer. I moved slowly toward the popcorn maker. Showed him a small coin. On one side there were all odd numbers, on the other side all even numbers. The popcorn man grinned with puzzlement, I saw that besides the whites of his eyes, the inner edge of his lips near the gums was also white. I tossed the small coin into the air, it fell, and I pressed it in my hand. If the odd-numbered side was up, I would throw the coin into the popcorn machine, and pop it with the corn. The popcorn man knew my intention, he really was like the chief witness at a wedding, he showed me his kindest and most clever smile. When I grew up, I was taught that poetry should be written in lines. But at that time I did not know.

...back to top of page

Yi Cun


      beat the shepherd, the sheep scatter

Neither opening the wasteland, nor cultivating the land
Whose boy tends the sheep on the hillside
Take care that the crops in the fields not be eaten
Whose shepherd keeps silent
Looking at my sky
Dazed for a moment
I realise that the whip leaning against the rock
Used to be a branch heavy with fruit
Leaves grew silently in its reminiscing
A crazy flock of sheep surrounded it
Over and over again
Chewing up the leaves

Pan Gu said: Let there be an axe, and there was an axe

A wound cannot grip an axe
This is the worsening news
The axe high above, startles an expanse of wild mountain trees
Their attempt to become lumber
Is exposed
By one word of the axe

                                               3 / 9 / 89

[Note: Pan Gu created the heavens and the earth
by splitting open the cosmic egg with his axe.]

...back to top of page

Huang Fan

snow scene

      (eastern outskirts of Nanjing: twelve o’clock)

Heavy snow again    Like a girl playing with tiles
Rashly splashing water in the snow    The Immortals can hear
Fail to meet sectarianism    Line of vision turns down from a height
Need to understand the sled of the north
Horse manure and each day
Someone in a woollen suit    Arrives at the eastern outskirts
Purity    Reflects the winter
Walk through the woods    Leap into forgetfulness
Turning around to face the wind    Every little step echoes with                                                              [suspense
Twelve o’clock    Almost believe myself to be infallible
This time in the eastern outskirts    Too much gravity
Also beautiful    A cedar tree
Allows the snow to fill    Appear abundant
Then fall to the ground

...back to top of page

Hong Liu

cross and flower

A cross of wooden sticks nailed to the door
A touch of chill a trace of mood
Rain shoots up blue tongues of flame
Through the bamboo screen window
Blurry-eyed people, nearby buses roar
Penguins stumble up from across the grass
Icicles imitate people’s paleness
An apple halts abruptly at the feet
Waiting, winter brings a pomegranate flower

...back to top of page

Zhou Yaping

Letter to J.H. Prynne

It can be said that we have had no early youth. I was born in the 1960s, which was a special period. The robbery the Cultural Revolution forced on us was very harsh, but some who lost a little material wealth believe that only they were very unfortunate. For me at least, I lost a vivid, visible decade. Nevertheless, it also almost deprived me of innocence and political enthusiasm which yet might prosper in the future. I chose art, writing. I have refused those impetuous and unrealistic illusions. Our radicalism, extreme and uncompromising, is like a revolution as well, but not a revolution against people. Of course, I know that a pious service to art will harm the national interests and in turn cause us to commit crimes; however, the true spirit of art will defend me.
     In China, the usual accusation against us is: cutting apart ideology and art. Those precocious and sophisticated political critics, as long as they cannot determine the meanings of characters and phrases in our poetry with their limited thinking, will assert that our ideas are obscure, game-like and playful. This is more or less like saying that if the lines they desired were not realised by Klee or Miró, they will criticise them for being simple, childish, and meaningless. The history of Chinese poetry has been determined by the authorities to be a tradition of ‘obscurity’ and ‘games’, including even the Song dynasty. In this way, they completely deny all the painstaking efforts of experimentation in poetic form itself; consequently contemporary poetry has no freshness, surprise or fascination. Refuses any healthy and active forms of life.
      In 1988 or so, my friends (especially Che Qianzi) and I began to pay close attention to common objects; this attention differs from the American style that influenced Chinese poets profoundly at an earlier time: namely, the mere interest in facts. The latter brings mediocrity to existence and writing. It is correct to say that it has gone astray. But the attention to common objects resulted in turning our attention to the research of language events and of language itself which have absolute control over objects. Chinese poetry, because of its concrete written characters, is essentially different from poetry in English (or other phonetic writing systems); it is also certain that Chinese poetry is by nature magical and painterly. Like the Book of Songs. The concise Chinese syllables, compared with phonetic writing, lack richness and diversity. However, there is simple visual potential. In my eyes, it is not restricted to code characteristics, but in addition contains a kind of congenital rules of the game, which from the very beginning long to unite with paper. This union, with our perseverance, can now adhere to its old direction. A written character, or the concrete shape of a character, resembles a piece of paper, or rather the concrete shape of a piece of paper; I think they carry weight eternally. When I say this, what I express is not my wish for a pure poetry, but a concrete, physical attitude. At present, in Chinese poetry, it is correct to say that the truest crisis does not come from politics or the political reactionaries, but from the imitators of spiritual epics, emptiness, affectedness and the lack of modern spirit will directly lead to the poverty of paper, robbing it of importance. With hard effort, we must even dirty a sheet of paper at first instead of leaving it blank, with the purpose of awakening the deep abilities of affirmation and association relating to written characters. This ability has been detracted from by the secretive character of our race throughout the long history of poetry.
      It must be pointed out that the language experiments we are pursuing, after much passionate labour, have been welcomed by a fairly large circle. Not by the authorities, on the contrary by the freedom and choice of those friends who are even younger than ourselves. We, the quick and chaotic metamorphosis and the happy principle in the course of metamorphosis, enjoy the abundant trust they grant us. When our solid work and resolution are regarded by some real cheats as a mockery, these friends have never felt hesitation or disappointment simply because they cannot spot in our poetry the elements that critics think poets should imitate. An uncompromising form of art will become increasingly well-developed and exquisite, whose revolutionary thoroughness cannot be attained by politics or anything connected with politics. All will have to go through the hands of poets.

— Zhou Yaping
Nanjing, 28 July 1991

...back to top of page

Huang Fan

Poetry’s new shore: Language

We are willing to tolerate our own ambiguity, there is a trick in this; after trying to be attentive listeners, we leave ambiguity with the talkers. We always get tired of arguments about poetry or poetics, and this bad habit has been allowed to spread among our fellow poets. But language like a scarf tightening around our necks almost strangles us to death. So we have to resort to intelligence to straighten things out, because sometimes it is almost the same to avoid chaos as to tolerate it. Several years ago, we were already struggling for words, and ignoring ridiculous mistakes and noble derision, because our failing eyes hindered us from seeing what was behind language. We were already individually writing language poetry before understanding it. Despite the fact that we belonged to different lives and had little contact, we found remarkable agreement among ourselves. In our poetry, language becomes the purpose itself, rather than a mere tool, simple or complex. This is the new excitement brought to poetry by language. We are no longer in the mood to rename the world, our attention is focussed on the materialised capabilities of language itself (not something behind language). Our job is to rearrange the messy words, giving them a complete array of aesthetic patterns (which has nothing to do with images or the feel of language). We hope to lead more people to an awareness of the splendour of Chinese characters, to correct the fallacy of automatically uttering a word at the sight of an object. Chinese characters (language) are not competent media; it would be a great mistake if you chose them as the carrier of your knowledge of the world. If you take pleasure in others’ misunderstandings or drawing implications from your knowledge, you are actually marvelling at the tool in your hands, which always enables you to see more than expected. Your eyesight is so good that you can always immediately look through language. But we are forever trapped in language owing to our willed nearsightedness after birth. Abusing language, abused by language. We have dissolved our determination, clarity and rules in the art of poetry. Had we not enough training, we would not have been able to appreciate the beauty, the pleasure and the flavour in the arrangement of words, nor would we have been able to enjoy their visual images and sound effects, nor for that matter to sense their new meanings. This is also a reason why you want to strangle us. Really, if you cannot make heads nor tails of abstract paintings and cannot evaluate them, you will always hold a fixed idea about limitations. Now it is time for you to confront a new limitation. You always equate the exploration of the purpose of poetry with rule-governed writing. On the one hand, you are secretly following certain rules in writing while declaring your dread of any principles; on the other, you never hesitate to deny the harmony in a different kind of poetry. This is a dilemma of your intelligence. Our fault, if it is one, is that we will not ignore the wonder derived from language in which the pure, the splendid, the simple, and the complex are ceaselessly swirling, shuffling and reshuffling. Doubtless, we (everyone) have been tempered and afflicted by language since childhood. We have made a mess of it. Each of us has an individual way of arranging words, so we assume we know what others are saying without really understanding each other. In writing poetry, this is even worse. We have become accustomed to complaining about and whipping language. Just like a mentally-retarded child (in some poets’ eyes), it always deviates from what is meant to be. It is absolutely an impish usher boy, deliberately leading us in the wrong direction. So the problem boils down to the fact that the purposefulness of the language itself should be recognised; it is always leading us to its own position unpredictable to us. This ultimate seat is free from any influence. The most minute change in arrangements can produce explosive fractures. Our writing is actually the effort to keep involved, to reach for the purposefulness in word arrangements. Whether a poem is good or bad depends entirely on language’s formal changes and the degree of steadiness and harmony in these changes. The maturity, accident, and fun involved in this can never be repeated by others. No matter how obvious the meaning of a word is to others, to us it is ambiguous; it is as staunch as a high wall, screening all that is behind it, but thrilling us with the excitement of its own splendour. We also almost collapse with the acuteness in it.

...back to top of page

Biographical Notes

Che Qianzi

Born in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province in March 1963. Right leg crippled by polio at the age of two. After graduating from junior middle school, he worked at a variety of jobs and began his writing career in 1980. In 1988, he entered Nanjing University and became one of the key figures in the Formalist Poetry Group. His early poetry gained considerable attention, but though some critics grouped him with the school of ‘Misty poets’, who came to prominence in China during the early 1980s, he adamantly rejects this identification. Some of his published works have met with strong criticism and reproach. He has collected several volumes of poetry, including Village and Face, Learning to Read with the Aid of Pictures, Paper Ladder, and Chair, some of which have not been officially published.

Zhou Yaping

Editor of the poetry journal Original and interpreter of the theory of Original poetics. Born in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province in July 1961. Studied at Nanjing Normal University and Nanjing University, where he was an important member of the Formalist Poetry Group. Began his writing career in 1981 and at the same time engaged in painting and materials art. At first, he wrote comparably lyrical poetry, but since 1986 he has turned to experiments with language poetry. His poetry frequently incurs violent criticism. His works include A Collection of Zhou Yaping’s Works with Some Discussions, Devotion to Attainments, Swan in the Utensils, Lost in Love, and I’m Breathing, Who Can Deny It, some of which have not been officially published.

Yi Cun

Born in Jiangsu Province in 1954, he lives at present in Nanjing. Writing under the name Lu Hui, his early work gained him a reputation as a ‘Misty’ poet, which he denied, changing his name to shed this earlier poetic identity. Yi Cun is a type of wandering troubadour; however, his poetic attitude is breaking further and further away from the metaphysical and the lyrical. He joined the Original Group at the end of the 1980s. His collections include Grain and Landscapes and Chatting with the Chess Player. He also writes novels and essays on literary theory.

Hong Liu

Born in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province in 1965. She began writing in 1984 and at present works in a private company. She has made some notable studies of Suzhou’s classical gardens, which she understands as Oriental labyrinths. Her work consists of two collections of poetry, Vanishing and Icy Cold, and one volume of a diary on art.

Huang Fan

Born in Huanggang, Hubei Province in 1963 and has lived in Nanjing since 1979. He majored in weapons engineering at university, and after several years teaching flight mechanics he presently works as an editor for an educational journal. Began writing in 1985, and after associating with Che Qianzi and Zhou Yaping he became increasingly concerned with the material elements of poetry. A writer for many unofficial poetry journals, he has been very active in the Nanjing poetry scene. Collections of his poetry include Phenomena of Feelings and Five Nanjing Poets.

...back to top of page

Jeff Twitchell

Note on the translations

For translators, the radical differences between Chinese and English are a source of despair and opportunity. We have worked in the hope that these versions will stand convincingly on their own as the poetry and writing of poets. With this kept in mind, however, we have all attempted to remain closely faithful to the original texts rather than freely to recreate — although some obvious cases of exuberance, such as Zhou Yaping’s master of maize, demanded a freer approach.
     These translations are the result of a collaboration involving many persons, primarily students who worked with me at Nanjing University. The poets themselves were often consulted on problems big and small. The original Chinese text of the collection was unofficially published as Yuanyang: Zhongguo yuyan shipai  (Nanjing / Suzhou, 1990 [actual publication date, 1992]), and a number of corrections, approved by the poets, have been made to the published text. For myself the camaraderie with both poets and translators has been the most rewarding of many extraordinary experiences during my five years in China. My role in the project was to initiate the work, correlate what everyone was doing and to serve as final arbitrator in deciding what versions to use. Little would have been accomplished without the dedicated efforts of two groups of exceptionally talented young women, who produced most of the initial versions and exactingly went over them with me line by line, again and again until it was possible to be satisfied. Jia Yun, Jiang Li, Wei Yanmei and Zhao Yueli worked on the initial versions of all Che Qianzi’s poems. Sun Yiqian, Wang Yiman, Xu Yang and Zhen Zhen worked on all of Zhou Yaping’s poetry, as well as on most of the other poems and essays. Further significant contributions were made by Liu Yinglang, Shao Dan, Shi Huibin, and Zhu Yan. In addition, working separately and at a distance from the rest of us, Han Xu translated all of Zhou Yaping’s work, which unfortunately with the exception of shadowcame to us too late to contribute in the development of the main versions, but which nonetheless were very helpful in suggesting many improvements in detail. Chang Hui repeatedly gave up hour upon hour for our consultations, to go over puzzling details and to propose many superb solutions. For still knottier problems, Xie Ming in Edmonton was an always invaluable consultant. Finally, Jeremy Prynne must be acknowledged for initially planting the seed that resulted in this book and enthusiastically encouraging it along at all stages, as well as making his too modest contributions to polishing the final versions.

...back to top of page

J.H. Prynne


Within the great aquarium of language the light refracts variously and can bounce by inclinations not previously observed. Some of the codes will unfold with merely adept connivance, others will swim vigorously into and by circulation inside their own medium. If you can imagine staff notation etched on the glass you can read off the scales, da carpo and mirror-folded. ‘The fish of writing melts into the face of the water’ — thus the iconic boundary features declare, by difference and by movement of an intense register, shifts of focus that will skim and can turn about on the smallest coin. The colour force suffuses a diagram, there is a play within the box which says ‘play carefully’ on the outside cover. Energy prevails by conversion about the axis of activity, the object-perimeter tingles with our hues, your readiness to jump ahead. This is a ‘world’ all right, the rules for civil adherence percolate into a grammar made iconic by gaps and outbursts of intense writerly variance. The history of contradiction lies in the ground of the body image as a co-ordinate of written sound-play, so calibrated with signifying exchange that every part offers an assembly ‘in the swim’.
      I first met the kernel pair of the ORIGINAL collective near to the banks of the Imperial canal in the eastern city of Suzhou, during the summer of 1991. We had intent discussions and readings in both directions. The exotic remoteness of that location at once bids to compose an allegory of displacement, which in turn demands a fully prepared resistance. Plants grow in the same way, upwards. People eat lunch, eye each other, words fly out of mouths. Does the subject-position bind to the life-world by a different syntax? Well, these poems and writings set out a composite text of investigation into such imponderables. Zhou Ya-ping’s shadowessay speaks of Wang Xu-bing’s paintings, and this prolific oeuvre (which he shewed me, again in Suzhou, in the summer of 1993) reveals the vigour of a remarkable astuteness, reckless and specific: ‘extreme abstraction should contain emotion and enthusiasm’––and perform also the trace of such containment, as these pictures do. This group of writers and artists and critic-theorists has devised by circulating and interchange an intense life of creative production, which this anthology demonstrates. It has been prepared entirely by the group, with no outside selection or arrangement: the very characters for their name on the front cover come from Wang Xu-bing’s hand.
      I find the combination of analysis and ardent obliquity in these writings very powerfully enabling. What cannot be resolved by working out ideas and pushing them forward can often be deployed into writing which already exceeds and tests its own devices, so that the interchange between modes is intensely energetic. The western reader also has some work to do, here. If oriental art and its solicited application is part of ‘our’ imperialist iconography, then ‘their’ sense of our art-world (renaissance, expressionist, surreal) fits obversely into a differently hegemonised frame of exterior possibility: not too much limp plum-blossom or spiritual pathos, but to hold in place a sense of explicit object-horizons, as a tacit intertext interleaved into daily life. There’s still no free lunch, though anyone can write the word for it who can hold the pen.
      Or the brush. This language of the written character is painted on to the paper, abstracted from the world-surface, whatever now is the more abbreviated practice. Its iconic deployment by stroke play and contexture makes a traffic with the eye worked by a different ground-plan. There is lexical transference and collocation, but also the sense of the occasion ramifies within the stroke-field itself: not by symbolism or imitation or assigned convention but by homologies intricately linked to the affective diagrams of social consciousness and activity. The writing in this collection resides and disports itself very intently within the field of language-presence and language-process. The routine wiring of the circuit to external devices has traditionally proceeded by what’s described here as ‘allegory’ and ‘parable’, and by such old chestnuts as ‘the music of poetry’ (not to mention ‘direct treatment of the thing’). Of course, anti-allegory and beast fable are sarcastic examples of language trapped within, or artfully escaping from, the demands of a forced outcome, reminding the reader how such transposed devices have traditionally adopted the constraints blocking off other options. But the tail does not wag the dog, even when it barks all night.
      To prevent the leakage of energy into pre-determined frames of control, several ancient Chinese traditions of wit, scepticism and cantilevered invention have been brought into newly explored relations with western iconography and the art-slogans of selfhood. Not only the ellipsis of lyric epigram but also the exuberance of the fu or rhyme-prose join up with the frequently deflected currents of Chinese poetic experiment in the twentieth century; here, to centralise the contingent via its force for total candour, or ‘to drive out all lyricism’ by rapid cross-talk and studious hooliganism. Or indeed, both at once. All this is likewise also decoy manoeuvre, reclaiming the margins by transferring their negligence back into spirited invention. There is a running stream half-visible alongside, but for those not tuned into these features the interplay of this writing in its English form can still provoke analogous recognitions. ‘The world is small’ opined Confucius, standing on top of Mount Snowdon and chewing a banana. The English text can disclose to the English reader one truly essential feature: this writing moves about its native element with a good deal of unusual compression and exhilaration but it is not exotic. This is the language of a world, not a fancied ping-pong utopia, and its living currency is what makes abstraction and invention into such considered forms of daring. Much is not said and much has been folded back into the components of character-writing, by intense punning and lexical wit and adoptive idiomatics; but the sound-plays of counter-active ceremonial fizz and lurk and conduct intellectual experiments right up on the surface of this swirl of signification. The thought-play within the colour registers and utterance forms sets out vividness as an exploratory instrument.
      I put up these thoughts and comments myself, because I have an extremely strong confidence in these translations. A very extended and focussed labour of attention has attended their coming-to-be. How to get inside the detail of the play and the run of a local progression d’effet has had to be balanced with how to maintain an appearance of naturalism that won’t deceive the close attention of a reader for a moment longer than is useful. I think these versions shew a sustained brilliance, of intelligent, patient alertness and formal energy, mediated through layers of detailed discussion and comparison with native speakers so as almost completely to submerge this process of consultation beneath the texture of performance and its prosodic exactness. No translation will exhaust its originals, even though it may tire them out; but there are many forms of connivance with tacit sideways compromise, and the committed good faith of Jeff Twitchell’s accomplishment gives the non-Chinese-speaker an altogether fair chance of finding in the ensemble of this collection an interaction that is specific and hyper-active. At one stage we thought to include some of the Chinese text, maybe even brush-written, but the ORIGINALS themselves have countered this idea, because it would suggest exoticism or extraneous willow-pattern ornament; to them, we are the exotics, with our credit-card view of the speech act (how crude, to set the choice as text or graphics).
      Angus Graham wrote of the philosopher Zhuang-zi (c. 320 B.C.) that ‘in one of his many aspects he is himself a true sophist, fascinated by the subversion of received opinions and intoxicated by the plunge which imperils rationality in the course of discovering its possibilities. His is also, even in the flow of reason itself, a poet who changes course as new insights explode, elliptical even when most logical’ (Disputers of the Tao, p. 178). The roots of the ORIGINAL anthology are tangled in much contemporary contra-diction which exerts a certain pressure; but they also run deeply into the ancient substrata and continuities of the language culture, and this too makes up a vigorous presence that I believe the close reader of the English versions can draw energy from, and acute enjoyment.

P.S. Any western reader interested in the Chinese text may wish to know that a copy of the original Chinese printing of this collection has been added to the oriental books held by the University Library, Cambridge (England), where it may be consulted upon request.

Check out these authors’ work: Bookstores in Britain, and in the United States

Jacket 20 — December 2002  Contents page
Select other issues of the magazine from the | Jacket catalog | read about Jacket |
Other links: | top | homepage | bookstores | literary links | internet design |
Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that this material is copyright. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose

This material is copyright © the inidividual contributors and Jacket magazine 2002
The URL address of this page is