Skip to content

Han Bo’s “Chinese Eastern Railway” | 韩博《中东铁路》

My translation of Shanghai-based poet Han Bo’s nine-poem cycle 《中东铁路》 is up at the Berlin-based lyrikline, accompanying German translations by Daniel Bayerstorfer, Peiyao Chang and Lea Schneider. The poems are densely allusive, experimental and rooted in the complex layered history of the historic Chinese Eastern Railway running through Manchuria (contemporary Dongbei and Inner Mongolia and, in particular, the old Russian frontier metropolis of Harbin).

They’re travel poems of a kind: Han Bo wrote them while visiting the area his parents lived in during China’s post-war years of ideological and economic upheavals. They’re also ecologically minded meditations on the transformation of the landscape by successive generations of human populations, with a focus on the railroad’s history as a tool of Russian (and subsequently Japanese) imperial ambitions, wartime strategic value, and oil-hungry post-war PRC industrialization — a history of the modern Chinese state, Chinese modernity, and the lives lived, broken, and lost among all the geopolitical, military, and economic machinations.

I’ll be working to bring out a small-batch chapbook with notes and a short introductory essay later in the year via Seaweed Salad Editions (book design: Monika Lin). In the meantime, the poems are up at lyrikline (an absolutely fantastic resource for world poetries), complete with recordings of Han Bo himself reading the originals.

In addition to lyrikline, thanks go out to Zheng Zhang, Andrea Lingenfelter and Matt Turner for critical readings of early drafts of the translations.


Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 12.19.57 PM

1933 Foreign Affairs piece on the CER and the trouble it bred…


Han Bo poetry | tranlsation David Perry |

Aesymnetes LAWKI / Holocene, Sweet Holocene

A utilitarian AI charged with global sovereignty by a cabal of well-intentioned scientists and their monied supporters.

Its goal: in the face of cascading catastrophic climate change, nothing less than the preservation to the greatest degree possible of Life As We Know It — life on this planet as it has emerged in the last 10,000 years or so (stitch it into a throw pillow: Holocene, Sweet Holocene).

It has 20 years to clean up the mess and course correct: 20 years before relinquishing power to force the changes necessary to slow, halt, even reverse, AGW — an Aesymnetes or Roman dictator AI of sorts.

Does LAWKI take over like a benign — at least the humans hope… — Skynet or do members of some form of representative democracy yield their power for the greater good?

What can’t it do?

What couldn’t go wrong?

Title (and plot) TK, 632 pages, science fiction, trade paperback/ebook.

Metastate of Exception

The anthropocene means a “permanent” — intensifying, long-duration — state of exception.

Reichstäglich fires: Western democracy burns and burns. It’s capital!

The tire fire, the coal bed fire.

Natural causes.

metastate of exception? What is a “metastate?” Wikipedia says: “In statistical mechanics, the metastate is a probability measure on the space of all thermodynamic states for a system with quenched randomness.”

As poor metaphor derived in sloppy fashion from physics, it will more than do. (The best ones always. Do.)

Quenched randomness! Except in a state of exception randomness remains unquenched, hence the exception, right?

Notes derived from: Masha Gessen, “The Reichstag Fire Next Time,” in Harper’s: (Continued)

Old poems, new place, good times

Three Shanghai poems from Expat Taxes, originally published in various editions of Larry Fagin‘s Sal Mimeo, are up at Alluvium, the house publication of Literary Shanghai. Plus one they like because it has the word “alluvial” in it, previously published in the Brooklyn Rail, as a li’l promo salvo in advance of the reading event at Madame Mao’s Dowry.

The poems are old — like 5, 6, 7 years old, except for “Sea Lyric,” which is what, 3? 4?

Write some new shit, holmes.

OK. I’ll be reading and talking some newer work next next Saturday, April 22, 7pm at Madame Mao’s Dowry. We’re all in Shanghai together, so I’m sure I’ll see you there.

Soft focus, soft censorship, self-censorship: “Poetry,” “China,” and Biz Journo Expats

As much of a pleasure as it was to appear at the Shanghai International Literary Festival with Jen Bervin, Jen Hyde and Wen Jin, it was one mixed — as is always the case for me here in Shanghai — with significant measures of the odd and the off.

Don’t get me wrong: One of the things I like about life in Shanghai is that the “odd and the off” are clearer in the mix than might otherwise be (or at least this is how it seemed to me prior to the Trumpening, one effect of which has been that many dissonant tones and out-of-sync beats that the producers of the Washington Consensus mix of the late-2oth century hit “Pax Americana” had studio-polished to the point of inaudibility for the ears of smooth-sounds-loving progressives are now gratingly, harshly present in the cacophonous “Make America Great Again” alt right-produced nü metal-new country-no soul-“Trumpism is the new punk rockundercut hate hit dominating the charts of late).

One place, of course, to detect the odd and the off, is within various neighborhoods of the regime of censorship — the softer the censorship, the better. The hard stuff tells you what you already know. The soft stuff can remind you of what you’d already forgotten — including the fact that yes, discretion is often the better part of valor.

Among the Anglophone expat community in Shanghai, the softest form of censorship is certainly that of the self- variety. The current example, which I go into below: I submitted copy on our Poetry Panel to the SILF, and it was not just altered editorially but critically, and with the Public Security Bureau in mind.

The SILF organizers are fantastic people. They work hard to make an amazing series of events possible, events at which almost anything and nearly everything are discussed with candor, openness and degrees of freedom that would likely shock the many Americans whose ideas about China often seem frozen in some fuzzy Cold War-Cultural Revolution matrix.

At present you can talk about Tiananmen and Tibet, Mao’s vast bad side (all bad? Discuss…) and Xi’s dye-job freely and openly — within expat-saturated Anglophone zones and bubbles (SILF being one, my employer certainly another, the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents Club yet another, and so on).

But you can’t — or you feel you shouldn’t — be too open about it, and you must be ready to defer to the actual censor (if you publish anything for distribution within the PRC) or the censor in your head (if you have, as you do, relationships with PRC citizens, in particular Party members or those who the Party is or may be watching with particular intent).

And state surveillance and censorship dovetails in interesting ways with what other expats want to hear. They’re generally — we are generally — business people. That’s what’s tolerated, more or less: Come for business, do your business, and don’t interfere with anything that’s not your business, such as the policies and practices of the PRC, both internal and external. Have your events and talks and talk about what you like (a good model for keeping an eye on the outsiders, for sure, letting us tend our little gardens of 100 blooming flowers) but keep it to yourselves and watch your words if they might leave the Special Zone (I work in a very special zone).

This all worked in a couple of ways when it came to the poetry events I organized and participated in at SILF. In the grand scheme, exceedingly minor, yet, even as minor symptoms, quite telling with respect to the grand scheme.

The first: My submitted promotional copy for our event went from describing my work as reflecting on “the experience of expatriation in a time of growing planetary crisis, even as China and its expat population are celebrated (and often celebrate themselves) as engines of progressive globalization” to reflecting on “the experience of of expatriation in a period of progressive globalisation.”

The organizers are careful readers and good editors, so I didn’t think, when I saw the printed brochure (see the scanned image below) that this was just an editing error. My suspicion was confirmed when I pointed out that the brochure copy was a long way from my intended meaning, in fact, it was nearly opposite. The email response: “…we were simply trying to avoid any controversy on the printed program since the PSB does check up on us.”

Printed matter is a real sticky point to be sure, and I understood. Digital content is different, and the organizers changed the Web copy to “the experience of expatriation in a time of globalisation in deepening crisis.”

Good enough, and I’m glad to have the print brochure souvenir, even as it grates. It’s the the off and the odd, after all, and I like it like I like a look of agony (or at least awkwardness or embarrassment), because I know it’s (more likely to be) true: yes, we are and I am party to censorship, and we do it ourselves.


Ragged Claws at HKU Museum and Galleries


raging claws



Prufrock the Destroyer, an Anthropocene Mutant arisen from the floors of silent seas…. From the HKUMAG site (with thanks going out to the excellent James Shea, Collier Nogues, and Chris Mattison):

About his talk, David says, “I’ve lived in Shanghai for over a decade now, and I’m fascinated not only by its storied past as a cosmopolitan entrepôt (not to mention its myth-in-the-making present) but also as a key site in the networked production of intensifying crisis – economic, geopolitical, environmental, global. My recent book of poems, Expat Taxes, emerges from this fascination with Shanghai at the (likely) dawn of the Anthropocene, as does my current project to explore and write about neighborhoods surrounding many of Shanghai’s 364 Metro stations as directed by pseudorandom processes that include a set of necessarily mistranslated English texts.”

David Perry has lived in Shanghai for over a decade. He is the author of Expat Taxes (Seaweed Salad/French [Concession] Press), Range Finder (Adventures in Poetry), Knowledge Follows (Insurance Editions) and New Years (Braincase Books). He teaches in the Writing Program at NYU Shanghai and holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa.

Ragged Claws stages monthly discussions in Hong Kong about an element of poetic craft or practice. Ragged Claws is always an open event, and everyone is welcome. The name is taken from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”


Shanghai International Literary Festival appearances


Jen Bervin’s Microscopic Silk Poems Meant to Live Inside the Body


I’ll be reading and speaking at two SILF events. First, Saturday 11 March at 2pm, with Austin Woerner and Nina Powles, I’ll be reading a few poems and previewing the Thursday 16 6pm reading and panel discussion with Jen Bervin, Wen Jin and Jen Hyde.

Thursday’s event has been long in the making, bringing Jen & Jen back to Shanghai. Jen Hyde’s wrote most of her first full-length collection Hua Shi Hua while doing a post-graduate fellowship at NYU Shanghai; she also organized a fantastic Jen Bervin talk on her Emily Dickinson projects. Now Bervin’s back in China, working with Charlotte Lagarde on her fantastic Su Hui’s Reversible Poem project (if you click through one link today, make it the this one).

The Thursday panel is shaping up less as originally conceived (a panel grappling with difficult questions surrounding Anglophone American writers “writing China”) and more as a panel on culturally complex poetry and art practice: Jen Hyde’s book includes drawings and arises from her interest in China’s paper and bookmaking traditions; Jen Bervin’s Su Hui work is a beautiful project involving silk, embroidery, poetry and the history of Chinese women as woven through all of the aforementioned; finally, my new aleatoric & algorithmic Shanghai Metro-writing project, 16 Lines, which marks my first foray into poetry that goes beyond “the page,” with its eventual form projected to be an interactive website (technical help from NYU Shanghai colleague Luis Morales-Navarro) that will generate hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of line-combinations in the spirit of both Su Hui (her poem can be read 7000 different ways) and Raymond Queneau with his Cent mille milliards de poèmes. We’ll be joined by Wen Jin, who will moderate the discussion and Q&A, bringing the perspectives and insight she’s developed as a scholar focused on the complex interactions between and among Chinese and US American literatures (see her book Pluralist Universalism: An Asian Americanist Critique of U.S. and Chinese Multiculturalisms).

The Saturday event came together quickly to fill a spot left vacant by a late cancellation. Austin, who happened to be coming to town, was happy to come read from his powerful translation of Ouyang Jianghe’s masterful Phoenix, an ekphrastic long poem written in response to Xu Bing’s massive phoenix sculptures. Nina, who I’ve gotten to know through her frequent attendance of the NYU Shanghai reading series I’ve been curating, agreed on the shortest of notice to read recent work; she’s a very active (and very good!) young poet making ‘zines and helping create an international poetry scene while studying Chinese at Fudan University. I’ll be reading some work from Expat Taxes and talking a bit about 16 Lines.


16 Lines... and counting

16 Lines… and counting


Not Your President

“Not my president.” The phrase need not be thought defiant or felt as performance of defiance. It’s merely observational. Descriptive.

Instead of subordinating himself to the position – or even pretending to – Trump subordinates it to himself. He overwrites the role with himself and in this sense he is not anyone’s president.

This is the authoritarian style.

He is the leader, the one, “the only one” who can rule, who can “fix it.” He will not serve but rules, he imagines. And much of what he has imagined has come to pass, of course. He intends to rule by his definition – one that shifts with whim and mood and that is driven by the bottomless need to assert his primacy and power – thus redefining and “fixing” the role of president.

As much as he loves to claim an imaginary landslide majority win – the biggest, the best – he intends not to be your president, but to be the CEO of the USA or, as his adoring alt-right fanboys put it, God Emperor.

“Democracy” has nothing to do with it. He said he’d accept the election results if he won, and he has kept his promise: He accepts the Electoral College results but rejects the popular vote count. He states it (likely tweets it, whatever redefinition of what’s “true” and “real” it may be) and at some point, so far, the state becomes him a little bit more, a little bit more, and with a sudden leap, a lot more, a lot more.

The process is far from complete, but given how far and how fast he has come, and given his alt-right troll army’s successful freaking-of-the-norm(ies) via meme magic, it is imperative to move forward with the horizon of totalitarian Trump as the real possibility against which the anti-Trump thinks and defines itself. (Continued)