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Government-backed Contest Encourages Chinese Migrant Workers to Write Poetry

By Harriet Staff


Wall Street Journal’s “China Real Time” blog reports that a recent government-backed contest encouraged migrant workers in Shanghai to write poems about “the beauty of labor” and the “China Dream.” Unsurprisingly many of the poems featured from the contest are upbeat, though there are several included in this story that have a somber tinge.

In a contest that saw winners announced this weekend, migrant laborers were asked to write poetry about “the beauty of labor” and the “China Dream,” a phrase promoted by Chinese Xi Jinping that now peppers urban billboards as well as official rhetoric. The poetry competition, the first of its kind in Shanghai, was held by a roster of state groups, including the Shanghai Federation of Trade Unions and the Shanghai Spiritual Civilization Construction Committee Office.

Some of the poetry comes up with the rosy language you would expect with such prompts: “Beautiful Memories in Shanghai,” and “A Different Sun Each Day” were each among the titles of poems that won awards, according to Xu Ze, the chair of the organizing committee, which came with cash prizes between 1,000 ($161) and 3,000 yuan. Another particularly patriotic submission praised factory workers’ ability to withstand “insults and grievances” and declared, “Come on, Chinese workers! You are our greatest heroes.”

Other verses, though, had a darker cast.

“We’ve become brothers with the machines,” read one submission from Ban Meiqian, a worker at an electricity firm. “Overtime, more overtime… our parents turn the big sixty this year / but we can’t take off, can’t celebrate,” she wrote. The poem goes on to mention the struggles of the children of migrant workers, whom the poet describes as not knowing how to say “papa, mama” because they’ve been brought up by grandparents instead. […]

Visit Wall Street Journal to read this story in its entirety.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, July 7th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.