Celebrating Geng Xiaonan

Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium



In October 2020, having found Xiaonan guilty of ‘illegal business operations’ a Beijing court sentenced Geng Xiaonan 耿瀟男, entrepreneur, humanitarian and cultural activist to three years incarceration. She was scheduled to be released on 8 September 2023

Xiaonan is one of the many victims of the Xi Jinping era’s draconian ‘rule by law’ (as opposed to the ‘rule of law’).

We mark this day by reprinting links to work related to Geng Xiaonan that have previously appeared in China Heritage. These are followed by a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva (Марина Цветаева, 1892-1941), a Russian writer who killed herself following the execution of her husband and fellow poet, Sergei Efron (Сергей Эфрон, 1893-1941). The poem, ‘That Little Rowan’, was recently translated by Roger Pulvers, mentor, friend and inspiration. We are grateful to Roger for permission to publish it here.

We conclude with a poem composed by Professor Xu Zhangrun on the occasion of Geng Xiaonan’s release. Becalmed after his car was destroyed by the Zhuozhou flood 涿州洪災 of early August 2023 and his apartment inundated; under constant surveillance and suffering from a second bout of Covid-19, Xu Zhangrun was barred from seeing Xiaonan.

The rubric of this commemoration, 悲欣交集 bēi xīn jiāo jí, is a classical expression meaning ‘a tangle of sorrowful and joyous emotions’.

– Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
8 September 2023


Related Material:

Also by Roger Pulvers:


Geng Xiaonan 耿瀟男

In August 2018, Geng Xiaonan 耿瀟男, a film producer, publisher and prominent cultural activist, declared in an online post that Xu Zhangrun’s essays were:

Blows directed at their Achilles Heel;
A sword pointed at the very Heart of Power.

直擊七寸, 劍指廟堂。

Xiaonan’s support for Professor Xu and many other persecuted men and women of conscience, including Chen Qiushi, led to her being persecuted in turn.


From 9 September 2020, Geng Xiaonan was herself subjected to official persecution. See the following essays in our Xu Zhangrun Archive:


Geng Xiaonan flanked by Xu Zhangrun on the left and Li Xianting on the right, September 2018

The signature of Marina Tsvetaeva (Марина Цветаева)


That Little Rowan*

Marina Tsvetaeva

3 May 1934

translated by Roger Pulvers

Longing for my motherland! From long ago
Nothing but unmasked trouble!
I couldn’t care less
Where I am more utterly alone

As I make my way with my basket
To the market over some stones
To a home that I don’t recognize any more
Than I do a hospital or some ugly barrack.

I couldn’t care less as I see the faces
On some crowd of people
Me, bristling like a captured lion
Fated to be displaced

Thrown onto myself, into an isolation
Of emotions, a Kamchatka bear with no ice
To stand on, where I don’t belong (without even trying!)
Where there’s humiliation … and I just don’t care.

I’m not seduced either when my native tongue
Beckons with its milky call.
It makes no difference to me the language
I am misunderstood in by whoever I meet …

(By a reader milking gossip from tons of newspaper
Pages rifling down their throat)
They are part of the twentieth century, while I
Belong to every century!

I’m in a stupor, like a log abandoned
By its tree-lined walk
And I don’t care about any of them
About anything … and for what was home to me

I care, perhaps, least of all. Disappeared without a trace
All dates, all signs, all marks
With my soul arising

My country has been so meticulous in my neglect
That even the most keen-eyed detective
Examining my soul inside out
Would find no birthmark there!

I recognize no houses, and all the churches
I see are empty … and I couldn’t care less.
But if a tree grows tall by the side of the road
It will be, I know, that little rowan.

* The festive appearance of the rowan tree and its bitter berries are associated in Russia with lost youth, love and solitude. In poetry (Pushkin, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, among others) it also represents a symbol of life — tragic, short term, but enduring.


Тоска по Родине! Давно

Марина Цветаева

Тоска по Родине! Давно
Разоблаченная морока!
Мне совершенно все равно –
Где совершенно одинокой

Быть, по каким камням домой
Брести с кошёлкою базарной
В дом, и не знающий, что – мой,
Как госпиталь или казарма.

Мне все равно, каких среди
Лиц ощетиниваться пленным
Львом, из какой людской среды
Быть вытесненной – непременно –

В себя, в единоличье чувств.
Камчатским медведём без льдины
Где не ужиться (и не тщусь!),
Где унижаться – мне едино.

Не обольщусь и языком
Родным, его призывом млечным.
Мне безразлично, на каком
Непонимаемой быть встречным!

(Читателем, газетных тонн
Глотателем, доильцем сплетен…)
Двадцатого столетья – он,
А я – до всякого столетья!

Остолбешевши, как бревно,
Оставшееся от аллеи,
Мне все – равны, мне всё – равно,
И, может быть, всего равнее –

Роднее бывшее – всего.
Все признаки с меня, все меты,
Все даты – как рукой сняло:
Душа, родившаяся – где-то.

Так край меня не уберег
Мой, что и самый зоркий сыщик
Вдоль всей души, всей – поперек!
Родимого пятна не сыщет!

Всяк дом мне чужд, всяк храм мне пуст,
И всё – равно, и всё – едино.
Но если по дороге – куст
Встает, особенно – рябина…


Geng Xiaonan with Bao Tong 鮑彤