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  • The Source and the Bird
  • Hai Zi (bio)
    Translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain (bio)

Translator's Note

In contemporary Chinese history, very few literary figures are revered as much as Hai Zi, a poet who has become a cult figure. He was twenty-five when he committed suicide, in 1989, by lying in the path of a train that ran between Shanhaiguan and Longjiagong. Hai Zi had with him four books: the Old and New Testament, the short stories of Joseph Conrad, Kon-Tiki, and Walden.

Hai Zi's name, literally translated, means "son, or boy, of the sea." He admired Hölderlin and the European Romantic poets, such as Byron, and a central theme in his work is the self-sacrifice of the poet, who is martyred by his art. In Hai Zi's poems, one feels a cosmic harmony: sorrowful yet soothing, natural yet shrouded. Despite the acute desire for death he expressed in his writing, Hai Zi also wrote tender, sensuous prose and poetry, reflecting on the seasons, nature, the beauty of light, and the sorrows of love. His style is figurative and economic rather than rhetorical, though he often refers to epics, myths, histories, and legends.

When translating Hai Zi, I am cautious to avoid a psychological reading, to keep a distance from the schizophrenic tendencies in his work, and from his personal darkness. I am more interested in the mystery in his images, the narrative drive and the music: through them, I travel faster, lighter, and farther.

In the upper river course, a little path leading to the mountain peak blossoms with red flowers that glow like fresh blood. Rotting tree leaves are hooded with a layer of water, as if yearning for firelight and love. Thick silhouettes emerge from tree caves and grottoes. The lakes have flooded half the mountain and forests. Hope and blessing arrive in this mortal world. Crimson herds of horses speed by. A tribe from nowhere is wandering about. The indistinct, snow-capped mountaintop and grass slopes starkly contrast the ugliness of mankind. Men use their dense eyelashes to blind themselves to the rainy season behind their eyes. From beneath their festive life, an immensely painful memory is seeping. Impoverished mountain. Where are we from? Where are we going? Who are we? As we cross [End Page 80] over the night, a red moon and one or two radiant musical instruments, polished by hands and lips, keep us company. That red moon is like a huge, indelible birthmark. On a July evening, I cannot stay silent anymore, and send in agony a story to each basket of fire. About a mother who was wakened in the middle of the night by the kicking legs of the child inside her, tangled in its umbilical cord. About a lover whose hair was burned into curls by my respiration, and settled over the soft chest. About seeds in the snow and sorrow of the North. About friendship and the blood-soaked shield. About shooting stars that fall and fly back up to the sky. About Eupatorium fortunei and lilies-of-the-valley, about the weeping of a bride. About a bloodstained palm of a hand that bears animosity. About righteousness, prayer, and revenge. About the just sunshine that strikes a criminal's naked back like a whip. About a pastoral song and the moon goddess. Many wake up, then fall asleep again. Many fall asleep, then wake up. By the fire, shadows become an enormous mass. Finally, I speak of the bird. Full of wit. Flying cannot be surpassed. Flight cannot be solved by physical strength and intelligence. It is a miracle. If you would stride into the birds' way, you would feel lonely. Your heart expands and contracts under the warm feathers. Your heart is born not for defense but to fly. The guns at ground level take aim at you. In that intensely blue yet sad sky you fly with a chest packed with seeds, and you fly on, lonely, bitter, your companion a hatred toward the profane world.

(1983) [End Page 81]

Hai Zi

Hai Zi 海子 (1964-1989) was born and raised in a farming village in Anhui Province. When...


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