Burning the ashes

This month, we welcomed our new Chief Editor Michael Broughton, who has been selecting new pieces for you. Translations have been abundant – wxtra cheers to our new translators Pei Y L, Fu Shaolun and Gillian! We will circulate them in a new, serial format – so keep posted!

Don’t date poor people – Xiuxian Lu

A discussion between two girl friends uncovers harsh expectations – if you’re poor, you will not find love.

Haze – Liang

A poetic expression of depression – a meditation on the colour grey

Marathon: a middle-class trap – Yukuan

What underpins China’s obsession with sport? This article sheds a critical look at the new enthusiasm of the Chinese urban middle class for Marathon running.

A top score essay from the 2015 university entrance examinations held in Beijing – anonymous

Many people talk about the Gao Kao, China’s notorious university entrance exam. But what does a successful Gao Kao essay look like? Here is an example from Beijing

Flowers reeking hatred: the songs of the cultural revolution – He Weifang

Lawyer and intellectual He Weifang looks back on the times of his childhood during the cultural revolution, and the ideology carried by the songs he used to sing.

Aladdin – Sweetheart Cooks Mr Bean

Because Chinese poetry is a living genre – this short piece brings together Aladdin’s lamp and anime imagery to paint a picture of adventure and maturity.

The pain of going home – Dizi

Every Festival, millions of Chinese people get to the roads and return to their family. This migration expresses filial piety, but is often accompanied by scenes of pain and extreme tiredness on the road. This piece explores the tension between old customs and the demands of contemporary life.

This column offers a weekly digest of the latests pieces published on our website and our most recently completed translations.

The Nanjing Massacre

New texts published

What kind of education is the foundation of the country? – Fu Guoyong

A look back in time from scholar Fu Guoyong: in 1904, poetess Lu Bicheng published a piece called ‘education is the foundation of the country’, when China was entering a period of rapid change. How much of her early intuition does still apply today?

Eat as much chocolate as your want – Ka Hu 

A humorous look at liberal education: how should we teach our children the complex art of self-management, when the trend around us seems to be one of increasing indulgence?

How scary is unified thought – Yu Ge

Exploring the power of thought: essayist Yu Ge looks back at the figure of Xie Huaishi, who joined and left the Yan’An revolutionary group, to reflect on the dangers and appeal of unified thought.

New translations completed

Three main types of people surround us in the city: Friends, colleagues, strangers. In this mysterious, insightful short piece, Zhao Qiang gives precious insight into these everyday encounters. Micro-fiction from the heart of Beijing.

How does the past affect the present? Zhu Jian’s poem, ‘The Nanjing Massacre‘, gives an insight into the ongoing effect of past trauma. ‘On the wall, crammed with thousands upon thousands of names of martyrs, I took one look, only one quick look, then I decided to leave. Without glancing back, I left. That is because I saw a friend’s name. Of course I knew, it was only his namesake. I am quite sure, if I had taken a second look, I would have seen my own name.’ Translation by Eugenie Ho.

Singapore arcade

On November 2, Marco Polo Project ran a fringe event to Singapore Writers Week. In partnership with Books Actually, we brought together young Singaporean poets writing in English and Mandarin for an afternoon of collaborative translation, and a discussion on the pleasures and challenges of living across languages as a writer.



Below is a selection of the poems translated into Chinese during this event.


New Eyes (by Alvin Pang, English original) 

When you look at the world through new eyes,

like a mother on her newborn, or a man

in the pride of his first work,

nothing comes to you without promise;

everything asks: what would you make of me?


The heart learns to speak itself aloud.

Your voice unlearns its meekness,

because the world is waiting for you

to give it a name.


Answer it boldly. Let your eyes

rest on this, the fetal incompleteness

of thins, the deep pull of a world

unfinished. Where you stand, grounded,

is how everything will fall into place.


一双崭新的眼瞳 (冯启明)

















Translation by Ang Lai Sheng


所有的等待 (孤星子)





All our waiting


for lovers, for tests

for the doctor, for the bus

for taxes, for weddings

for success, for banalities
for glory, for vanities

for children, for some to come out

for the microwave’s ding, for the beer in the fridge to chill

for life, for work, for the unforced waking

for the garden of the spirit, for the mortal (un)coil

for such and such and so on

for the vacancy of patience, every chance we get

besides the shuffle towards death,

stalling for incarcerated sunflowers

to smile: please hold.

– lonestar (andy ang)
march 26, 2014

(translation by Alvin Pang)


左边 (贺尔)





















The Left Way (Seow Joo Chuan)
— After Szymborska’s “Possibilities”


I prefer the sound of grinding coffee beans in the morning

I prefer the melody of gentle rain on leaves

I prefer the surprise of meeting friends around the corner

I prefer the expression of people when they open a lunchbox


I prefer looking back

I prefer a window with a view

I prefer back profiles, but I don’t like shadows

I prefer to chat with people older than me, except children

I prefer people’s complexity, but not their deceit

I prefer majority rule, but not when minorities are bullied


I prefer to be in balance

I prefer the left way to the right way

I prefer when people are not sure of answers

I don’t like an answer to be the only answer.


(Translation Jin Yong, Ian Chung and Julien Leyre)


停诗间 (张国强)


































Poet Mortem (Teo Kok Keong) 


The policeman was delivered





The young man’s Ferrari

too fast too fierce

for a poem’s body to dodge


The middle-aged man was delivered





The middle-aged man’s store-room

too small too narrow

to contain

father’s collection


The child was delivered



to breakthrough


The child’s heart

too pragmatic

to accomodate

the body of a poem divorced from exams


Those anxious to get in

tomorrow please note

we’re closing early


(Translation Jin Yong, Ian Chung and Julien Leyre)

The Other Tree (by Ian Chung)


Deep in the forest, a clearing.
At its centre, we find a tree.
As we approach this tree, it looks
no different from the others
surrounding the clearing, verdant
and almost obscenely teeming
with life. Most days, the sun beats down
on birds roosting on the branches,
on flowers blooming at the base
of the tree, drawing butterflies.
What an idyllic scene, we think
to ourselves, how picture-perfect.
It would be enough to rest here,
to bask in the sun and birdsong.

So we do that, and our pleasure
is pure and uncomplicated.
Until one day, no different
from the others that we spent here,
we think we hear a sourish note
from the birds. The more we listen,
the more dissonances we find.
Then we catch a glimpse of shadows,
the silhouettes of bare branches.
We circle the tree, attempting
to find proof of this other tree,
but it eludes us, hides behind
its impossibly perfect twin.
It haunts us, always out of reach.


evacuation instructions (by Joshua Ip)


when you decide to go for good
don’t write, don’t leave a note.
instead, open the fridge, take out the coke
and salt it all. add lemon. boil it, even,
until the fizz has quite gone out of it.

then put it back right where you took it from
so it is cold when i get home. i’ll shout a bit,
won’t find you, but instead, flat icy coke,
which will be how i know that you have left.

that first sharp sip of bittersweet surprise
of sour-steeped, flat, fizzles, salty coke
which is also an excellent remedy
for other sundry household illnesses –


Reunion Dinner (by Loh Guan Liang)


Peace sits on the front porch overlooking her garden. A breeze brushes her silver hair and sways the sunflowers. Her dog sits beside her.

“Did they call to say when they’re coming home?” she asks as Hope comes out the door. It still feels like yesterday when Strife and Wisdom each took a handful of sunflower seeds from their mother and went off into the world. Strife traded his seeds for arrowheads, while Wisdom planted half of his and gave the rest to the birds.

Hope rests his hands, calloused with waiting, on Peace’s shoulders. “Don’t worry,” he says. “They struck out on their own because of you, and it’s because of you they will return.”


In the End (by Alvin Pang)
(an epitaph)


the things we love give back
our names. One handed me a
plain stone to carve into something
better. Another returned the long
lost user guide to my left brain.
Someone passed a slip of paper,
my inscrutable handwriting
on one side, and on the other
in bright colours, the words
“I Want It All”. Others brought
flowers – irises, daffodils,
the soft unpeeled heart of a rose.
None of the clothes fit any longer.
I put aside the books I’d read,
and hadn’t read, they took flight
as endless stairs, circling
beyond my years. But I loved
most of all the quiet
Sundays, when fingers of rain
would write themselves
on the clear page of my window,
dying to tell me their stories.


#2 Lovers (by Tania De Rozario) 


It was over when she asked me
to change: not as a person, but out of
the dress that I was wearing. We were
going to lunch: could I please put on

something nice? I knew it was over
not because I fought back but because
I obeyed: I stop fighting once I stop
caring, and once I slipped out

of that dress, I slipped out of her grasp.
The next three months she spent picking
fights, I spent unpicking us. This meant
that when we finally split, the threads

came apart with ease. I went back
to my dress, she went back to dating
people who agree that the clothes
on your body reflect what you embody.

My taste has since improved.


from Leaving: Tutorials on How & When


Homesick (by Grace Chua)


I am standing in the snow
in the middle of the woods.
Somewhere a telephone is ringing –
in a red telephone box
standing in the snow
in the middle of the woods.
The call comes like geese
from a distant place.
Frost clings to the branches
as I make my way
to the telephone box
standing in the snow
in the middle of the woods.
If a telephone rings
in the forest
and there is no one to hear,
is it still ringing?
I pick up the phone.
Winter, she says,
is coming. Are you wearing a coat?



I don’t know if it was before, because
or when he first developed symptoms that
she left him. In any case, his body started
to turn to bone. His neck and shoulders flared
up, hot and red and swollen; then it spread
down his body, back to front, his own
flesh harbouring beneath the surface a coarse,
rebellious, calcifying mass that slowly
became new bone, following the same
process of skeleton formation in
an embryo. His bruises healed as bone,
his joints grew uselessly sealed. Surgeons said
more bone would grow if they were to operate.
He was seen by specialists and famed professors;
none could tender a solution, as
there was no cure; he had a strange disorder
caused by one gene broken. So he grew
more vertebrate, more blasé and more mature,
some say unfeeling also, like a stone;
but that was wrong: he felt, although he made
no bones about what life had dealt him. He
had none to remonstrate with; his DNA
had spoken, other people merely cut
him to the bone with words like knives. Years passed
that stretched out prone inside a nutshell, like
a richness of unknown longings and fears.
He could hardly move, his urgency
diminished, and his only consolation
came in needing none, accepting his fate,
not shelling out blame for having to become
a Gregor with an exoskeleton;
and in that same dwelling without desolation,
as his parents rallied round their son,
I do believe he found a perfect love.

Author’s note: The poem is based on a rare, real-life disease called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva. 

Reprinted with the author’s permission, the slightly revised poem is from The Enclosure of Love, Landmark Books, Singapore.

This weekly column offers a digest of the latest pieces from the Chinese blogosphere published on our website and most recently completed translations of new Chinese writing.

Tianjin bridge

New texts published

China’s rise within the triangle – Xin Lijian

China’s becoming increasingly powerful internationally; but for China to reach the full extent of its influence, a lot of work needs to go in its relationships with three important neighbours: Russia, Korea, and Taiwan.


Job satisfaction – Zhao Jianfei

Everyone is busy – but what does busy mean? Blogger Zhao Jianfei, in this odd little piece, shares details of a what a ‘busy work life’ looks life in today’s China.


Poems for the New Century – Yisha

In 2012, poet Yisha was commissioned to circulate one poem a day through NetEase Weibo, forming an anthology called ‘Poems for the New Century’. We will translate some of these as part of a workshop held at Monash University, and read them at the Eltham Montsalvat art centre on October 5.


New translations

To what extent have the dramatic social and economic changes in recent years affected family structures and family values in China? ‘Fashionable men and women are unfit for marriage’ takes an original angle on this question, arguing that society should make people ready for marriage, in multiple ways – but with absent parents, current media programming and school priorities, young Chinese people have become ‘unfit for marriage’.

Is life in a first-tier city just a source of constant stress? Not so, says Tang Yalin in ‘What’s good about Shanghai?’ , because ‘in Shanghai, you can live your own life.’