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The Spokesperson

Xujun Zhang


A note from Jimo Zhang, the translator:

The following poems are selected from a book of poetry entitled Rejuvenation, which is compared to a Chinese version of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. As China has achieved economic success over the past decades, new problems have cropped up, posing a challenge or threat to its long tradition, with the sad result that people are thrown into confusion. Xujun Zhang’s poetry is designed to wake the people up and get them back on track.



1

I once disguised myself as a saint and a genius, heaping praise upon myself. I even tried to drive

a nail into a stone.

I once knocked the whole world down, sat up among the debris and built new temples with songs

and curses.

There was a vein in my head that hurt all the time.

And for this incurable illness, I muttered insults against all the doctors in the world.

I was once a ragged man, thin and pallid, loitering in a little-noticed corner all day long.

Then, in my small room, I would judge between right and wrong in the capacity of a sage,

offering tips and advice on how to get onto the right path or showing people a way out of their trouble.

Later, I found, to my surprise, that no one needed my guidance.

As a result, the feeling of a job-seeker welled up in my heart. It was so intense, and lasted so long.


2

I once watered wilted saplings, made counterfeit drugs for fatal illnesses, and devoted my life to

the moon mirrored in the water and the flowers reflected in the mirror.

I paid my respects to the going away of spring and of the rosy dawn.

My heart ached whenever I saw blooming flowers and beautiful girls.

I cast reality aside in pursuit of a dream, ignored the already known for the unknown, and made

light of pleasure for a solemn promise.

When trapped, I pretended to be calm.

My body, encouraged and urged on by my soul, loafed about in wilderness like a wandering

ghost.

I always ran around, without a purpose, on the torn land, completely losing my way.


3

I used to be puffed up with pride, like a great man, and transported with joy, like a base man.

I had been torn between sublime impulses and worldly considerations.

I once dressed up as an angel for love and family affection. Yet, the pains of disillusionment

turned me into a gambler again.

I had experienced the joy of self-discipline and dedication. But for a time I was given to sensual

pleasures.

I had praised myself for doing something good, though very small; I had accused myself with

doing something bad, though very insignificant; I had reveled in a minor success; I had made

confession and self-examination as my favorite pastime.

I was overawed by people in authority, and misled by false appearances;

I followed unnecessary advice, and became addicted to silly games.

I had become the target of swindlers, and served as a foil to snobbish people.

I was at a loss in front of big bugs and foreigners and had mixed feelings about them.

Sometimes I wandered in the world with the face of a human being and the heart of an animal.

I went to public places in a suit and tie, posturing and speechifying.

I cheated my sweetheart on our dates.

With an appearance of detachment and a vulgar taste, I flirted with all things good and true.

Every day I witnessed disasters, natural and man-made, in the world; I fell into despair and

became world-weary.

Driven by fear and the desire to survive, I fiddled about, disgusted with myself and people

around me.


4

With a feeling of being left out and a sense of resentment, I began to make merry in the filthy

mire, and like a captured general, who, lured by wealth, rank and beautiful ladies, turned his coat, I

clean forgot my identity and mission.

Liked a cornered animal, I heaved a long sigh after a narrow escape.

Down and out, I began to abandon myself to Nature, chasing the wings of the birds and the

footprints of the ancients.

I was used to the wicked, the vulgar and the ignorant. I styled myself as an ascetic, and acted like

a hermit.

Driven to distraction, I found myself hibernating in a quiet valley, far away from the boisterous

crowd and the showy and luxurious life in the outside world.

Heavy mists hung in the mountain. Not a sound could be heard. The sun went up and down.

Streams gurgled through the valley. Birds flew hither and thither.

I stayed aloof from the mortal life, like a terra cotta warrior, regardless of time and space. What

was happening in the outside world had nothing to do with me.

I had lost my memory, wandering between life and death.

My youth faded like falling petals in my dream, and my soul lay naked, like the wind-dried seeds

in the field.

The shooting stars of my dream sometimes flashed across my mind, but only for a short while,

before vanishing into the dark night sky.

Once in a while, when I woke up from my dream, I would think of my home village and my

family there.

Lifting up my head, I gazed into the long, long way home. My soul began to depart from its

abode, wishing to have wings to fly home on.


5

Now, waking from my dream, I felt that I was beginning to recover.

I stood up and found that spring was gone, and withered leaves and flowers were everywhere.

An autumn wind was blowing, dispelling my fatigue.

On my way home, I felt embarrassed beyond words, not knowing how to face my native soil and

my family.

Now, like a wanderer returning from a far-off place or a prodigal son returning to the fold, I

found the joy of being born again and the long-lost passion.

Standing at the forefront of the tide, I saw a magnificent picture.

The sun is rising in the east; The Great River flows eastward. And range upon range of

mountains soar into the sky.

Vistas of the city and the country keep changing like a kaleidoscope. And the shadows of tall and

straight figures lengthen under the sunlight.

The breath of a new life instills new blood into me, cleansing my heart of its decadent filth,

cleaning my face and purifying my eyes.

I can hear the bugle call to charge from the unseen world. The hidden impulse begins to sweep

over me.

And the resurgent poetic sentiments are like belated glad tidings.

Heaven and earth supply me with nutrients and energy. Rolls of film of social transformation are

developed in the dark room in my brain.

Images of history come back to life before my eyes. The fruits of civilization shine like a fire in

my heart.

The dream of resurrection unleashes a new energy, and the liberated sense organs become more

sensitive.

Powerful currents lash against hard mountains, sweeping away the sands on the riverbed, leaving

behind deep pools and ravines.

The shell of ugliness and hypocrisy falls off, sorrowfully; and grandmasters and idols fall down,

one by one.

Butterflies emerge in their full splendor and fly away.


6

I capture information with the eyes of a hunter and the calmness of a killer;

I observe the world with the sagacity of an eminent monk and the curiosity of a baby.

I set to work with the strong will of a Puritan and the meticulousness of a sculptor, and, like a

master strategist, map out a systematic plan of action.

I dissect the eventful world, like a skilled butcher dismembering an ox; and like a first-rate artist,

I wait for the moment when the curtain goes up. 

I watch and judge what is going on with the critical eye of a poet;

I perceive the world and accept the reality with the breadth of mind of a philosopher;

And I come on the stage in the capacity of a spokesman, trying to leave behind real memories of

my time.


7

A meteor shoots across the sky, leaving behind a beautiful curve.

The furnace cools down, and a double-edged sword comes out of the chamber, glittering like

frost and snow.

An invisible knife is carving, meticulously, with small pieces flying down.

Beautiful statues are thus born, one after another.


Jimo Zhang, translator, is currently a professor of English at the College of Foreign Languages, Qingdao University. His research interests lie in linguistics, literature, cross-cultural management, translation and simultaneous interpretation. His publications include a number of papers, textbooks and a long list of translated works. Xijun Zhang, whose work is translated here by Jimo Zhang, is the author of the poetry collection Rejuvenation, which in China has been compared to the work of Walt Whitman.