Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Ten Thousand Waves

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Ten Thousand Waves

Article excerpt

Wang Ping. Ten Thousand Waves. Poetry. San Antonio. Wings Press. 2014. 101 pages. $16.00. ISBN 9781609403508

Ten Thousand Waves is a unique collection of poems that blends together social commentary and human experience. Wang Ping oscillates between poetry and short story, giving a platform to the Chinese voices that are all too often silenced. Her blunt yet elegant style tells the stories of minority peoples in China, migrant factory workers, peddlers, garbage men, and many more. Through the eyes of ordinary people, these poems bear witness to the human cost of China's rapid economic and social change.

The sea is an important symbol throughout the collection. For some, the sea represents the east coast of China, where the economic system is booming with opportunity. Xia hai, a Chinese slang term that translates to "plunge into the sea," describes a person quitting a normal job and joining a seemingly lucrative business. In the poem named after this term, "Plunged into the Sea," a couple sells all they have and takes out loans to start their own taxi business. At first they see good returns for their initial investment, but the tides change when the price of a taxi license is raised so high that all of their money vanishes, leaving them stuck in a failing business with no way out. The promise of economic success blinded the couple; after plunging into the sea, they were overcome by the waves. But the sea also represents transportation to a new land of opportunity. The poem that the collection is named after, "Ten Thousand Waves," is based on real events in 2004, when more than twenty Chinese immigrants in the UK who were collecting cockles by the shore were tragically swept away by the tide. In her poem, Wang Ping details the inner thoughts of each of the victims. They express feelings of desperation, alienation, and homesickness. The sea is once again a source of both opportunity and hardship.

Wang Ping tackles the issue of workplace safety in the poem "The Price of a Finger." The poem is composed of quotes from factory owners and workers about workplace conditions. There is an obvious disagreement among workers and owners as to the cause of workplace accidents-workers blame long shifts and fast-paced assembly lines, whereas owners blame the workers' lack of education and diligence. The poem references a poster commonly seen in factories that details how much pay a worker would lose for various types of injuries. …

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