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Poets and revolutionaries

August 3, 2008 |  7:30 am

Thinking of Lijia Zhang's essay, in our Books section this week, which describes how she became a writer despite the numbing conditions as a worker in a Chinese factory, I was reminded of another person, who wrote the following:

China is vague and immense where the nine rivers pour.
The horizon is a deep line threading north and south.
Blue haze and rain.
Hills like a snake or tortoise guard the river.

The yellow crane is gone. Where?
Now this tower and region are for the wanderer.
I drink wine to the bubbling water--the heroes are gone.
Like a tidal wave a wonder rises in my heart.

Maopoems The writer of these was Mao Zedong, in 1927. Willis Barnstone has just brought out a translation of Mao's poetry, "The Poems of Mao Zedong" (University of California Press: 152 pp., $24.95). The flood of books about China as the Olympic summer games are about to begin in Beijing is inevitable -- inevitable and predictable. And yet, this one comes as an unexpected counterpoint to all the traditional histories and overviews of the nation filling bookstore display tables.

It's the irony that one wants to note here: How the yearnings of one man led to a system that Lijia Zhang, with a similar yearning, struggled to transcend. She was successful.

Nick Owchar