The Picun Writer’s Group: Part Two

More stories from a migrant workers’ village collective – translated by Jeremy Tiang

This article from One-Way Street Magazine is published in collaboration with Paper Republic. The translation was made possible with support from Sinocism and individual readers via Patreon – donate now to join the effort and help us raise $300 a month to fund more!

Editor’s note: This is the second of two posts (read the first here) that brings stories from the Picun Writers Group, a collective of migrant workers who live in Picun (皮村) on the outskirts of Beijing, into English. The group came to international attention when an essay by one of its members, titled ‘I am Fan Yusu,’ went viral in April 2017 – which Ting Guo writes about here. But there are many other essays, vignettes and poems that the group has produced, which we believe deserve to be read. Here are a few more of them. – Alec Ash


The Picun Writer’s Group: Part One

True stories from a migrant workers’ village collective – translated by Jeremy Tiang

From the editor of One-Way Street: A few years ago, the Picun Writers Group caught the attention of Chinese society and the wider world of letters. This was not just because of their social status – they are not writers in the traditional sense – but because of their output itself, which comes closer to capturing realities than the work of many professional writers. Their words cut straight to the heart of our times, and roused the sympathy of readers. They clearly and comprehensively related the life changes of ordinary Chinese, which these days is more important than any literature technique, school or style.

The Picun Writers Group first started its community writing classes on September 21, 2014. Every week, volunteer teachers and fellow workers would discuss how to use writing to record and reflect on their lives. The workers gradually started to write and let their voices be heard. Nowadays their works have been successively published in a variety of nonfiction venues, and rising numbers of readers are paying attention to them and the communities they represent. This post is the first of two (the second will follow next Friday) that will bring some of their writings into English for the first time. – Wu Qi


A Tale of Two Migrants

After laboring abroad, coming home with all or nothing – Zhang Zizhu, translated by Sam Hall

Wu Wei and Lin Tong are from the same town in Fujian Province, and were also high school classmates. Both were born in the 60s and both journeyed across the seas in the 90s to find work. Now, after 30 years, they have returned home from overseas – Wu Wei sitting on 20 million yuan, and Lin Tong empty handed.


Lessons in the Law

Campus awakenings in Beijing – by Xie Ding, translated by Natascha Bruce

In fall 2003, around midday every Wednesday, I used to bike from the Wan Liu dorms over to class on the Peking University (Beida) campus. I was always in a rush, a little on edge.

It had been a tense year. First came SARS, which kept us all cooped up in the dorms. Then I caught a cold and was whisked off to a guest house in the southwest corner of campus, where I spent days quarantined in a tiny room, contemplating mortality. Then the new term started. We forgot about the upheaval we’d just been through. Our lives had ground to halt during the SARS outbreak and then, just like that, we put it all behind us. The same would soon be true of those leisurely hours spent in study and contemplation – just like that, graduation and job hunting would come to replace them. It was my final year at Beida. I selected a few courses at random, to make up credits. At the time, Zhao Xiaoli was a lecturer, teaching a course called ‘The History of Western Legal Thought.’


Searching for Bodies

New reportage by Ma Jinyu, translated by Kate Costello

This is a translation of an article from One-Way Street magazine, with their support, translated by and published in collaboration with Paper Republic; it was made possible by Sinocism and individual supporters of China Channel on Patreon.

On October 11th, the village hosted a big show. This was always the most lively time of year in the village. Stalls selling mutton soup, beef meatballs, oil-cakes and hand-shaved noodles crowded around the stage. The steam swirled and the oil-cakes bubbled in their pot, the mutton soup at a rolling boil. The drums of the opening scene pulled at the villagers’ heartstrings, as the soulful arias of ‘Orphan Zhao’ resounded in the heavens. But Old Man Liang shut himself indoors.

For many years Old Man Liang had held back from the village festivities, even though he lived only a dozen meters from the stage. Occasionally, if he walked past the road in front of the stage, the villagers would turn to look back at him, shouting their hellos. He said that he wasn’t willing to participate, but judging by his expression I guessed that it was more likely that he thought that a man of his profession might dampen the mood.