A Hakka Man Farms Rare Earth in South China


Wang Ping was born in Shanghai and came to USA in 1986. She is the founder and director of the Kinship of Rivers project, a five-year project that builds a sense of kinship among the people who live along the Mississippi and Yangtze Rivers through exchanging gifts of art, poetry, stories, music, dance and food. She paddles along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, giving poetry and art workshops along the river communities, making thousands of flags as gifts and peace ambassadors between the Mississippi and the Yangtze Rivers.

Her publications include Ten Thousand Waves, poetry book from Wings Press, 2014, American Visa (short stories, 1994), Foreign Devil (novel, 1996), Of Flesh and Spirit (poetry, 1998), The Magic Whip (poetry, 2003), The Last Communist Virgin (stories, 2007), all from Coffee House, New Generation: Poetry from China Today, 1999 from Hanging Loose Press, Flash Cards: Poems by Yu Jian, co-translation with Ron Padgett, 2010 from Zephyr Press. Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China (2000, University of Minnesota Press, 2002 paperback by Random House) won the Eugene Kayden Award for the Best Book in Humanities. The Last Communist Virgin won 2008 Minnesota Book Award and Asian American Studies Award.

A Hakka Man Farms Rare Earth in South China

Wang Ping


First of all, it’s not earth nor it’s rare, as they say

It lies under our feet, sparkling the soil we farm

Red, green, yellow, blue, purple, sky of grass

And buffalos, patches of rice, bamboos, sweet yams

We came here as guests—Hakka—fleeing from angry

Lords. Year after year, we bent over the earth

Feet and hands in the neon soil, our sweat

Fertilized the fields, children, ancestors’ graves

Our stove cooked the fragrance from the sun and moon


Now we dig, deep in the mud, our boots

Rotting in the rainbow sludge…Dig, and we dig

Hoes, pickaxes, guns, explosives, acid wash

Ten Yuan a sac, this red dirt speckled with

Blue and yellow. Home, we say, a small haven

Painted with green. Now the mountains are lifted

Deep crates in the fields, blood and pus in rivers

Streams…all because the world wants this earth

“Vitamins” for I-pods, plasma TVs, wind turbines

Guided missiles—things that make the world

Cleaner and more beautiful, as they say


And here we are, in the waist deep sludge

A sac of mud—a tail of greed leached in our stove

Fire licks my wife’s slender hands

Acid fumes her lungs, liver, stomach

Can’t even sip the porridge laced

With the thousand-year-old eggs

In the iron wok,  we exhume

Dysprosium, Neodymium, Promethium

All the names of Gods, they say

If gods have eyes, why didn’t they see us

Slaves of this world that no longer holds?


In the distance, a mushroom of dust—Boss

And his Toyota Prius, powered by the sludge

That chokes my eyes, ears, nose…One Rich Field

25 pounds of metal, ten thousand sacs of earth

Ripped under our feet. We’re slipping

Our chests soaked in blood, backs broken

Digging, pulling, no food or water

Our quota still short, the boss will be mad

But no matter. I light a cigarette, each puff

Is the last. Tomorrow is gone, like our village

Here and far away, where horses ran wild

Under the sky, where we, children of

Genghis Khan, return every night in our dream

That is gone, too, they say. Mongolia

Our origin, now a rare earth pit for the world

Oh, Hakka, Hakka, forever the guests

Wandering on this bare earth


·  Hakka: Nomads from Mongolia, scattered all over China and world. Most of them now live in Guandong, where the rare earth metals are mined and leached in stone age methods. Inner Monglolia and Guangdong produce 95 percent of the rare earth supplies for the world.

·  Toyota: the Chinese name is Feng Tian, meaning Rich Field