Letter to My Mother

Ou Ning on his career as a poet and filmmaker – translated by Nicky Harman

This is the third piece in a series of four translations of long creative non-fiction essays that first appeared in Chinese in OWMagazine 单读, translated in collaboration with Read Paper Republic. In this personal essay, literati Ou Ning remembers his hometown and reflects on his movement away from it into the world of social activism. To support further translation such as this after the series ends, give now to our translation drive by donating to our Patreon page.


I am in Baan Mae village, Sanpatong County, Chiangmai, Thailand. The sun has just gone down and night is drawing in. Darkness seeps across the rice fields, the bamboo forests, the banana palms and rape flowers, and as my friends light the lanterns, I feel a light breeze. I’m thinking of you, Mum, in the bitter cold of a Beijing winter, and thinking too, of our home. Xialiu, the village in Guangdong, where, just like here, smoke from kitchen fires fills the air. When I was a kid, you’d work all day in the field before rushing home to make dinner. We were all so poor back then, we could barely afford rice. Meals were mostly sweet potatoes stewed to a porridge with a little rice. Lately, I’ve been getting nostalgic for that porridge, so sweet, so perfectly thirst-slaking. I miss my life there and as the years go by, my memories grow more and more melancholy. But that is why I decided to bring you to Beijing.