Leung Ping-kwan 梁秉鈞 was a prominent Hong Kong poet and essayist, better known in his home city as Yah-see 也斯, Yesi in Mandarin. To most of his friends he was simply ‘PK’, an abbreviation for pak-gai 撲街 in Cantonese, literally ‘hit the street’, or ‘fuck off’.
In the mid-1990s, PK wrote a sequence of seven poems entitled Museum Pieces 博物館. They are: Cauldron, ‘Clay Figures’, ‘Bronze Mirror’, ‘Arhats’, ‘Embroidery’, ‘Fragments of a Fish-shaped Pot’ and ‘A Han Dynasty Rubbing’. All of these poems are meditations on Chinese history and politics, in which the poet pays an imaginary visit to a museum, viewing the artefacts as prisms with which to penetrate the patina of history, to tell the tales that lie behind the official authorized annals.
His is a radically iconoclastic view of Chinese history, of that ‘long scroll of humanity that never seems to tire of being stitched and unstitched’. Three of the series were published in translation in the Simon Fraser University journal West Coast Line a year or two later. The entire sequence will now appear in translation in the forthcoming Collected Poems of P.K. Leung, to be published by the Chinese University of Hong Kong Press in 2018.
— John Minford
1 September 2017
Commemorating Hong Kong in China Heritage
- Cauldron 鼎, China Heritage, 1 July 2017
- Yau Ma Tei’s Hong Kong Rhapsody, China Heritage, 4 July 2017
- Twenty Views of Fragrant Harbour by Lois Conner, China Heritage, 8 July 2017
- The Floating City 浮城, China Heritage, 12 July 2017
Leung Ping-kwan 梁秉鈞 (也斯)
Amongst all the silken hangings and robes, I wonder if I can recognize your fine needlework? A long soft thread, a needle, like a fish, weaving its way in and out, spinning the morning’s feelings, a child’s red dress, bat-like clouds twirling around signs of double happiness, damascene of light and shade, stirring memories of high expectations and dashed hopes – when was all of that? The allied troops took Peking, their soldiers roamed the city, stopping to gaze in delight at the exquisite embroideries from Soochow. I seem to hear you now murmuring tales of spring dew on the gourds, of chilly days calling for warmer clothes, subtlest of feelings delicately interwoven, but from a distance like some fairy celebration, women from the pleasure quarters with their stubby hands, unlike your slender fingers, little bird caught in a storm, as the embroidery factories of the revolution were all closed down, and women in droves poured through the big silk emporia, past the street-stalls, as old frayed outlines, discarded threads, having drifted from one place to another, were being carefully stitched and patched together again, scrolls of sorrow and joy, partings and reunions, were unfurled, and then the shops on Embroidery Street were closed down one by one, leaving you, frail floating strand of gossamer, a pressed flower, silent and homeless, and then the Pacific War broke out, a bowl of rice desolate in the window, garments for overseas shipment stacked up in piles, an afternoon’s torrent of words having no necessary connection with history, those men on the other bank, veiled in mist, are they enemy soldiers or lovers, with steaming bowls of soup in their hands, we too stood by the river, do you still remember, the fish throwing up clouds of spray, all these old images for you to play with, sitting by the window, working delicately at a scented girdle-pouch, decorating it with idle flowers in dark red thread, not necessarily unrelated to history, taking me for an idle flirt, wishing to flaunt my wealth, and me wondering if you might embroider a love scene from The Western Chamber for my bodice? A new era, a new pattern, who can ever hope to capture the absurdities and profundities of history, the infinite detail, the contradictions filling out the design, you stopped for a while to pick another pattern, finding this one too simple, that one too complicated, a thousand hands meanwhile scrambling to tear the outline apart, a deafening crescendo of gongs destroying the peace at the dining table, sparrows in a mad flutter, and later, for some reason, the looms all destroyed, fine needlework in gold and purple ripped to shreds, swallowed by fire, turned to ashes, do you remember those years? I remember lace borders, flowery threads burrowing their way deep into intricate layer upon layer of colour, building new landscapes, I remember the hubbub of the market-place, all the irrelevant details that are more vivid than history proper, and then McDonalds and the latest fashions that came in from the West, and you took out the old clothes again and pored once more over the fancy lace trimmings, your needle never resting, weaving its way in and out of the long scroll of humanity that never seems to tire of being stitched and unstitched, a pattern of a myriad threads, myriad variegated silken strands
— translated by
Martha Cheung 張佩瑤
and John Minford