Zheng XIaoqiong 郑小琼’s poetry exploded on the Chinese literary scene when it won the Liqun Literature Award from Peoples’ Literature in 2007. The impact was strong – not simply because few had heard of her, but because she lives and works as a migrant worker and writes poetry so startlingly beautiful, vulnerable, and powerful, that nearly each poem stops one’s breath mid-line. While some critics have tried to pigeonhole her as a model “migrant worker poet,” her poetry defies the aesthetic expectations this label often implies.
At one level her work depicts the painful vulnerability of migrant workers within the grist of factory life, but she does so within a kind of industrial pastoral where machines, fire, and, above all, iron convulse into a terrifying sublime. Stylistically her work is quite complex – readers often confront a great deal of enjambment and ambiguity in and between the lines, as well as copious references to Classical Chinese history, literature, and philosophy that make her work hard if not impossible to categorize.
Born in rural Sichuan in 1980, Zheng Xiaoqiong (郑小琼) moved to Dongguan City in southern Guangdong Province as a migrant worker in 2001 and began to write poetry during a six-year stint in a hardware factory. Critic Zhang Qinghua has discussed Zheng’s work in more detail in his essay ‘Who Touches the Iron of the Age: On Zheng Ziaoqiong’s Poetry’ in Chinese Literature Today vol. 1, no. 1 (2010), 31–34. The sampling here may eclipse her efforts, but the poems give a taste of her broad themes and concerns and language play.
For detailed discussion of her work, please refer to this new essay by Professor Zhou XIaojing from Pacific University in the USA.