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Seminar on Contemporary Chinese Writing

Novels about peasants are generally good
(In general the peasantry is good)
They may sound rather boring
But they are not

One of them is entitled ‘The Well’
And set in a remote village
Where are many hardships

Another is called ‘The Village’
Concerning a peasant and his wife
Who have two sons
And each son has a wife

(If the Chinese professor sounds rather boring
It is due to the translation
But he is not)

Was one of the sons
The son who laid himself flat on a frozen river
To melt the ice and furnish his parents
With fresh fish in the winter?

No, that is not a contemporary writing
It is a very old story
We have better ways of melting the ice
Nowadays

do peasants ever write such novels?
If they do they are not peasants
Do they read them?
A chuckle, translated as a chuckle

(One has met at most one Chinese peasant
The only villager to own a television set
He was proudly illiterate)

No, ‘Golden Lotus’ was long ago
It is true that sex was making a comeback
Until it suffered a setback

(London is a large urban centre
There are beggars but no peasants
The lecture room is centrally heated
Sex has suffered a minor setback
But our hardships are relatively light
Soon there will be a break for coffee).

In memoriam R.G.C.

What (hardly his best) I best remember – not
The essays on the Great Reviews in Scrutiny
But the matter of the little bat
That we happened on, hurt and twitching
At the bottom of a staircase in the quad,
Like a creature struck by fine distinctions.

Someone should put it out of its misery
As educated people would agree,
But we were all so bloody tender
(And I had been reading Dracula) –
Then he came by, for some our supervisor,
Soon to join the Friends’ Ambulance Unit.

Not famous as a friend of Chiroptera
But famously anxious and kind-hearted,
Older and wiser, a College officer.
He pulled a face as we led him to the spot.

One purblind peep, and the bat arose hangdog
And teetered off. It recognised authority.
Like Lazarus! we said: which grieved his modesty.

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