Three Poems by Han Dong



It’s foggy, or smoky
Perhaps it’s smog
No one’s surprised by that

You can look straight into the sun, floating
Like the moon in ashen clouds
No one’s surprised by that

This morning is no different from other mornings
Yesterday and tomorrow are pretty much the same
No one’s surprised by that

Even on a clear day I can’t see roadside trees and flowers clearly
Even if I see them I don’t remember them
Even if I remember them I can’t write about them

If I’m not surprised by that, then
No one else’ll be surprised by that

Easier to muddle through life than to muddle through one thing
Easier to cope with the world than with one person
More knee-jerk reactions, fewer far-sighted actions

I cut through this fog-blanketed city
Cannily avoiding traffic

October 30th, 2009

Walking and Looking

Go down, take a walk
Go around, take a look
Get a few things done
Look at the vast cityscape

Take a look at those trees
Take a look at the sky
Look at the city criss-crossed with streets
Vehicles flying past

Take a look at people, take a look at dogs
Take a look at people walking their dogs
People wearing clothes, that’s normal
Dogs wearing clothes, that’s quite different

Take a look at shops
A feast for the eyes
Take a look at bookshops
As a writer they make me despair

Take a look at skyscrapers
Take a look at flyovers
Take a look at construction sites and kids
Alive and dead, all growing

If there’s a nerve left in your body
Take a few more looks at girls
I want time to stand still
It looks, tastes and smells perfect

Go down, take a walk
Go around, take a look
Finally, stare fiercely at your watch
The illusion’s gone in an instant

December 4th, 2009

A Crackle of Bangers

A crackle of bangers expands space
Fireworks erupt, decorating the skies
Our beloved mother has gone
And this splendid celebration feels strange

Dying, the dead expand space
Missing them, the living decorate the skies
I stand on the veranda silently smoking
The new city square deserted

Walk away
Two old–time people down new-world streets
A future rolled out by glittering lights
As if the sun had been extinguished yesterday

The wind wafts river smells
Explosions of fragrant mud
Emptiness receives me in its embrace
Mysterious kindness opening like a wintersweet flower

Walk away
Who bequeathed us this world, as they bequeathed us to it?
Who traded old for new, rewrote this New Year?
A crackle of bangers expands space
From here on we are more intimate with death

February 8th, 2011

Peregrine is an English-language supplement to Chutzpah!, a bi-monthly Chinese literary journal which focuses on interactions between Chinese and non-Chinese literature and is published by the Modern...



Mao and the Writers


By the 1930s the intolerable quality of life and the inefficiency, corruption, and conservatism of the Kuomintang had driven nearly every serious creative writer in China to the Left. Most turned toward some form of Marxism, which not only offered the most convincing explanation...


Forever Jade


A central crisis in modern Chinese letters has been caused by the need to take account of Western forms. Some writers adjusted eagerly to Western literature out of a sincere admiration for Western culture; some grudgingly, out of a total rejection of China’s own “feudal”...


Stories from the Ice Age


Since the Tiananmen Square killings it has become fashionable within the Chinese leadership to refer to dissident intellectuals as “scum.” That was Mao’s view, too. In 1942, the chairman, his armies besieged by both Chiang Kai-shek and the Japanese army, took time off for...