New Chinese Poems Naturally Express Frustration and Dissent

China, not to mention pretty much everywhere else in the world, has a long history of poetry representing encoded or even open frustration and dissent.

A Washington Post correspondent nonetheless wrote a post about surprise at poetry doing what it always does.

Student poetry contest in China becomes unexpected outlet for dissent

Students expressing dissent in poetry is unexpected? That’s like a headline announcing a student cafeteria became an unexpected place for eating.

Over the past week, the more socially conscious entries — a small minority of the overwhelmingly nonpolitical offerings — have caught the attention of Internet users. At a time when the space for debate in China has shrunk as authorities ramp up efforts to curtail criticism of government policies, the student writers have been hailed for their boldness.

“It’s indeed surprising,” said Chris Song, an assistant professor focusing on English and Chinese translation at the University of Toronto Scarborough. “I’m surprised they came out in such a tightening environment where many poems depicting the dark sides of society, or defying the authorities’ general ideology, have been censored.”

Socially conscious is being served as the opposite to nonpolitical. Can someone be socially conscious without being political? I would argue yes, as that’s been the long tradition of humanitarians who try to provide aid and comfort without affecting power — irregardless of politics.

It’s also so sadly typical of a journalist to reach out to a random professor for a power quote, as if the random academic in translation brings a sage view about political dissent and communication security models. Why not ask a professor of English for an explanation of strong encryption since it uses the alphabet?

The only surprise here is that anyone is surprised to find young poets publishing ideas of dissent.

I particularly liked this one:

“What about carrying a bag of chestnuts home/ Being showered by falling leaves/ Sitting sleepily in a school shuttle for two hours to hold hands with your partner?” the author wrote. “The pandemic has made everything into necessities. … Alas, the world of humans is full of unnecessary things.”

But I’d rather see the original Chinese. Translation itself can often be laced with politics, as I’ve explained in my presentations on AI.

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