Two Chinese Working-Class Poems

by  Xiao Hai
translated by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho
A woman stands on the production line of an industrial garment factory
“Chinese Factory” by danielfoster437 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Chinese Workers

I am a Chinese worker
Our revolutionary comrades are found in every
   corner of the Earth
Perhaps consciously or perhaps unintentionally
We truly stand here
Traveling the world’s ups and downs with our
   hands that feed horses and chop wood
I am a Chinese worker
Lurking inside the desire of tall mansions in steel
   and concrete is our captive cut-price
The changes of the season are not ours
Food and vegetables don’t need our attention
All we can do is let the mystery of the words
   Made in China
Fiercely flood every river leading to the four
   oceans and seven continents
And at every intersection
Take the spoils of the October Revolution
To exchange for much sought-after ticket stubs to
   return home at year’s end

I am a Chinese worker
Let those days of monotonous factory
   life explode and tumble in the cogwheels of
On the quay, the suitcases that have crossed
   oceans and seas are stuffed with our
Penniless and ephemeral pursuits
The sparks of the years howl
Torrential rain in the heart, endless winds
Between lightning and thunder we ask ourselves
When will we give our lives a wild run
Eight thousand miles is too far
Three thousand miles is too near
We are in this vast land, nine million six hundred
   thousand kilometers
Surviving the night
I come from a village
You come from a town
Both of us fight barefoot in this dreamy big city
Against the gunfire of the Second Industrial
I wish to write those blond-haired yuppies with
   blue eyes across the ocean
A letter
A letter that can’t be delivered
Tell them of the blooming of spring flowers
Tell them how high birds fly
Tell them those walking in the streets
Wear clothes that appear decent
Oh, but they make us feel embarrassed
We sleep ashamed on the warm beds in the
Without warning we wake up in shock
Full of incomprehension
Full of drilling pain

I want to ask them
Why is the dawn sun covered by dark clouds
Why isn’t there a rainbow after rain
Why are nights in the city bright as day
Why are rivers, once grand, now sparkling gold
A shining place or somewhere with overgrown
There grow Chinese workers standing side by
   side like the Great Wall
There grow Chinese workers covering mountains
There grow Chinese workers holding bronze tools
There grow Chinese works who smoke and puff
There grow Chinese workers who are armored
There grow Chinese workers quiet as a riddle
There grow Chinese workers
There grow Chinese workers
There grow Chinese workers
I am a Chinese worker

All we can do is let the mystery of the words / Made in China / Fiercely flood every river leading to the four / oceans and seven continents


Chinese workers” by Jim_K-Town is licensed under CC BY 2.0


We Come from the Workshop

The blue work clothes are covered in grease
The oily hands smell of rust
In the messy hair hides the light of the cutting
I leave the workplace dragging my tired legs

Forget about the assembly-line rush
Forget about the production supervisor’s bark
Forget about the deep solidified depression after
   being abandoned by fate
I take off the antistatic garment shaped like iron
   netting and come from the workshop

We are like the wandering wind
We are like the drifting clouds
We are the prodigal sons that have left home to
   travel day and night
We fold love like bauhinia and orchid in dreams

Some come through the Yellow River
Some come through the Yangtze
Some come through the boundless Milky Way
Those bosoms are stuffed with gravel and mud

We come from the workshop, covered in grease
We come from the workshop wearing decaying
We come from the workshop, our bodies
Our communal living space is between the
We come from the workshop
We come from the workshop

We come from the workshop with strengthened
We come from the workshop with assured and
   loud steps
We come from the workshop braising in a big
   river of time
We come from the workshop picking up the glory
   of the sun
We come from the workshop
We come from the workshop

Translations from the Chinese

Xiao Hai (b. 1987) came from Shangqiu City in Henan Province, the philosopher Zhuangzi’s hometown. He has drifted in different cities as a migrant worker for many years and composed over five hundred poems. He was a member of the Picun Literature Group and won the Best Poet prize at the First Laborers’ Literature Awards.

Tammy Lai-Ming Ho is the founding co-editor of Asian Cha, the president of PEN Hong Kong, and an associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. She guest-edited WLT’s city issue devoted to Hong Kong (Spring 2019).