Dog Days (IV)
‘I Object’ is a poem that circulated on the Chinese-language Internet following the Lunar New Year. It appeared around the time that Beijing announced a proposed revision of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China that would open the way for the unlimited tenure of state leaders (see The Real Man of the Year of the Dog — Dog Days (III), China Heritage, 2 March 2018). Online expressions of outrage and objection were swiftly quelled.
Due both to the timely appearance as well as to the tenor of ‘I Object’, we are including it in our 2018 series of Dog Days (for more of these, see below). My thanks to Linda Jaivin for suggesting ‘I object’ for wǒ fǎnduì 我反對.
— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
5 March 2018
Translated by Geremie R. Barmé
I object to the north wind
I object to pollution-haze
I object to wet, rainy mornings
I object to the darkling despair of dusk
I object to the confusion of the seasons
I object to these topsy-turvy times
I object to curtains and security doors
As well as to intimidating walls
I object to roads that smother flowers and trees
I object to the ponds where they raise swans
That are enclosed by barbed wire
I object to ill-fitting clothes
And to shoes that are too small
As well as to their uninspired colours
I object to men who hit women
I object to parents who mistreat their children
I object to cruel departures
I object to betrayal
I object to disappointment
I object to smug laughter
And shrill cries
I object to self-indulgent weeping
I object to those vile faces
And to the mouths that sing crap songs
As well as to the promotion of those songs
I object to grass that yields to the wind
I object to myself, too:
My stupidity and craven timidity
But I don’t object to writing a poem
To record my objections
I object to the white noise of the world
I object to the pretense of equanimity
I object to the eradication of greatness
I object to self-justifying truths
I object to blatant ignorance
I object to the tomorrow that’s been promised
I just want you all to join me in shouting:
- “袁二称帝”与“歪脖子树” 一首诗在网民当中流传, VOA, 27 Feburary 2018
The acquiescence of the multitude
Can’t compare with the refusal of one
— Sima Qian (司馬遷, 1st century, BCE) quoted in
Simon Leys, The Chairman’s New Clothes (1971)
Despite its relatively breezy tone, ‘I Object’ brings to mind the stark imagery of Liao Yiwu’s ‘The Howl’, a samizdat work recited on tape for covert distribution in the wake of the Fourth of June 1989:
The toothless old machinery of the state rolls on toward those with the courage to resist the sickness…
— from New Ghosts, Old Dreams (1992)
Liao’s work itself resonates with Allen Ginsberg’s 1954-1955 poem, Howl. Readers of China Heritage might also recall We Are The Wooden People 我們是木頭人, published on Christmas Eve 2017. For students of modern Chinese literature, however, ‘I Object’ surely brings to mind Bei Dao’s 北島 The Answer 回答 from 1976:
Baseness is the password of the base,
Honor is the epitaph of the honorable.
Look how the gilded sky is covered
With the drifting, crooked shadows of the dead.
The Ice Age is over now,
Why is there still ice everywhere?
The Cape of Good Hope has been discovered,
Why do a thousand sails contest the Dead Sea?
I come into this world
Bringing only paper, rope, a shadow,
To proclaim before the judgment
The voices of the judged:
Let me tell you, world,
I — DO — NOT — BELIEVE!
If a thousand challengers lie beneath your feet,
Count me as number one thousand and one.
— Renditions (1983), excerpt
Mu Dan’s 穆旦 Performances 演出, also written in 1976:
Impassioned protestation, indignation, eulogy, laughter
Eyes in the dark have long awaited
These performances, the latest cast
Compounding anew its grand emotions;
Actors and audience grown so accustomed to the sham
That innocence and nakedness seem strange,
‘Prune ’em away, hush ’em up, revise, revamp ’em!’
To achieve abnormality every wit is strained,
Each form polished and perfected.
‘This is Life’, and violates the laws of Nature,
Despite the actors’ artful artlessness.
And countless hearts of gold have been betrayed.
A counterfeit coinage circulates,
Buying, not a true response,
But numb indifference beneath assumed applause.
— Seeds of Fire: Chinese Voices of Conscience (1986)
Sun Jingxuan’s 孫靜軒 1980 A Spectre Prowls Our Land 一個幽靈在中國大地遊蕩:
… Have you seen
The Spectre prowling our land?
You may not recognise him,
though he stands before your eyes,
For like a conjurer,
master of a never-ending transforming,
One moment in a dragon-robe of gold brocade
He clasps the dragon-headed sceptre,
The next in courtier’s gown
He swaggers through the palace halls;
And now — behold — a fresh veneer!
The latest fashion! And yet
No mask, no costume, no disguise
Can hide the coiled dragon
branded on his naked rump…
As well as P.K. Leung’s 梁秉鈞 Cauldron 鼎, written in 1996:
The proclamations sit heavy on the stomach,
destroy the appetite;
the table is altogether overdone.
May I abstain from the rich banquet menu,
eat my simple fare, my gruel, my wild vegetables,
cook them, share them with you?
Is there a chance
your pomp and circumstance could ever change,
into a new motif,
some new arabesque
— for these last two works, see also
Cauldron 鼎, China Heritage, 1 July 2017
Behind them all lingers The Shadow’s Farewell 影的告別 written by Lu Xun in 1924. That prose-poem was the prologue to my Cutting a Deal with China, a speech made in December 2016 at the launch of this website:
If a man should sleep to a time when time is no more, then his shadow may come and bid him farewell, saying: 人睡到不知道時候的時候，就會有影來告別，說出那些話——
There is something about Heaven that displeases me; I do not wish to go there. There is something about Hell that displeases me; I do not wish to go there. And there is something about your future Golden Age that displeases me too; I do not wish to go their either. 有我所不樂意的在天堂里，我不願去；有我所不樂意的在地獄里，我不願去；有我所不樂意的在你們將來的黃金世界里，我不願去。
What displeases me is you. 然而你就是我所不樂意的。
Friend, I do not wish to go with you. I will not stay. 朋友，我不想跟隨你了，我不願住。
I will not. 我不願意！
Alas! Alas! Let me drift in the land of nothingness. 嗚乎嗚乎，我不願意，我不如徬徨於無地。
— Seeds of Fire (1986)
Cutting a Deal suggested ways to prepare mentally for China’s coming decades under ‘One Party, One Volk, One Leader’.
The introduction to We Are The Wooden People quoted T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’. In light of the irresistible apotheosis of China’s Leader, by way of conclusion we repeat those lines here:
This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
— The Editor, China Heritage
The Year of the Dog in China Heritage
- Mondo Cane, The Year of the Dog 2018 戊戌狗年, China Heritage, 16 February 2018
- A Pride of Pekingese — Dog Days (I), China Heritage, 18 February 2018
- The Dog Lover — Dog Days (II), China Heritage, 24 February 2018
- The Real Man of the Year of the Dog — Dog Days (III), China Heritage, 2 March 2018
Bei Dao, The Answer, by Bonnie S. McDougall
Mu Dan, Performance, by John Minford
Sun Jingxuan, A Spectre Prowls Our Land, by John Minford with Pang Bingjun
P.K. Leung, Cauldron, by John Minford and Can Oi-sum
Lu Xun, The Shadow’s Farewell, by John Minford with Geremie Barmé