Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to

This poem is taken from Stand 213, 15(1) March - May 2017.

Sarah Howe Poem
This poem was written as part of a commission from the Bristol Festival of Ideas 2016. It is stitched together from language found in two sources: Poems by Mao Zedong (trans. Open Source Socialist Publishing, 2008) and the Chinese viral pop sensation ‘My Skating Shoes’ by Pang Mailang (trans.ChinaSmack, 2014). The poem’s title comes from Mao’s ‘Little Red Book’. Often indicating the tune to which they should be sung, Mao’s poems are songs for the march to Communist Utopia, but composed in a Classical Chinese vein that might seem to sit oddly with their political radicalism. The translator Arthur Waley once described them as ‘not as bad as Hitler’s paintings, but not as good as Churchill’s’. Pang’s 2014 song, ‘My Skating Shoes’, tells the tale of one young man’s quest for the perfect pair of specialty trainers. Despite its frequently out-of-tune vocals and low budget video, the song proliferated on the Chinese internet, becoming a sort of anthem for Chinese youth drawn to the ‘bright lights’. One of the contemporary results of capitalism ‘with Chinese characteristics’ are the waves of vulnerable, migrant workers moving from city to city in search of opportunity. Something about Pang’s song seemed to capture that life’s mix of aspiration and despair. In this anniversary year, marking fifty years since the start of the Cultural Revolution, I wanted to write a poem that would juxtapose these two very different versions of the ‘Chinese Dream.’

If you don’t hit it, it won’t fall

Young we were, schoolmates, at life’s
full flowering. Why are you

so upset?
I told her I
fancied a pair of skating

shoes. The ants on the locust
tree assume a great-nation

swagger. Away with all pests!
A pair of skating shoes will

shore up the falling heaven.
Sparrow replies, Look, the world

is being turned upside down.

I’ve searched every street and still

can’t find them. The world rolls on.
Time presses. I felt a force

moving my feet. People here
call it the city of lights –

the universe is glowing
red. Where are we bound? Some things

I’ve already forgotten.
I remember how gunfire

licks at the heavens, awesome
for dancing. Stop your windy

Even now the red
flag of revolution swells

with the skateboard shoes I want.
She said time will tell. Just as

I was about to give up
I saw a specialty store:

nothing is hard in this world
if you dare to scale the heights.

Plum blossom welcomes my new
skateboard shoes, fashionable

under the bright autumn moon.
I tell myself this is not

a dream. Six hundred million
people rub it on this smooth

dancefloor. With my skateboard shoes
I’m not afraid of the night.

This poem is taken from Stand 213, 15(1) March - May 2017.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
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