Should Spring Winds Return Again

I wanted to tell him, “Kaiyu, the poem you published in Poetry Magazine, “Farewell Iowa”, wasn’t supposed to be farewell forever! ‘A thousand miles of corn fields’ need the touch of a spring wind!”

Nieh Hualing Engle lived through WWII in China, became a short story writer, editor, translator, and creative writing teacher in Taiwan, then, in 1967, co-founded the IWP with Paul Engle. Besides administering and advising the program in various capacities for better part of five decades, she has published an academic monograph, several collections of short stories and literary essays, the remarkable novel Mulberry and Peach (first edition 1976), and, in 2004, the memoir 三辈子 [One Tree, Three Lives]; with Paul Engle she also co-edited and translated many volumes of Chinese and international poetry.  She lives in Iowa City.

Translator's note:

This short memoir comes from the 1st edition of《黑色,黑色,最美丽的颜色《 [Black, Black, The Most Beautiful Color], a collection of essays, letters, and short stories written by Hualing Nieh Engle during her times living in Taiwan and in Iowa, and published in Hong Kong in 1983. “Should Spring Winds Return Again” is about grieving over a lost friend as much as it is about revealing a “slice of life” among overseas Chinese writers, who a few years later were brought together by the Engles in Iowa City for the famed 1979 “Chinese Weekends” to discuss Chinese literature across political lines.

Hualing Nieh Engle writes in an honest, poetic style that evokes profound nostalgia for a far-away home to Sinophone writers in late 1970s’ small-town America. I chose this piece because its description of the “Chinese Weekend” and the beginning of IWP’s expansion to include the Sinophone diaspora provided a rare, interesting insight into the social circle of Sinophone writers of her time.

The difficulty in translating Hualing Nieh Engle’s work is mainly in capturing her exact tone. The original text conveys sense of loss, sorrow, and warmth through simple yet poetic language; the frequent omission of subjects that allows for vagueness, and that fact that simple grammar can effectively produce poetic language in Chinese but not in English make the translation process a challenge. In order for the translation to maintain the same interpretive space for English readers, discussing and hypothesizing about the origin and context for words with vague translations were a large part of my translating work. The phrase “有罪的” can thus mean both “criminal” or “sinful”, the latter with a distinct biblical implication; however, both words are translated the same way. Hualing Nieh Engle used this word to describe the act of bringing chauvinistic attitudes into discussions about western views on Chinese literature; condemning it as simply ‘at fault’ or as ‘a sin’ has drastically different degrees of severity, with one suggesting a lighter offense, the other immoral wrongdoing. Where the context of the original fails to provide any distinction, it then becomes the translator’s responsibility to interpret the tone of the original. I chose ‘offensive’  in the end, considering that the more specific “原罪” could have been used if the author had wanted to stress that the act was “sinful” and not merely offensive.

Another particularly interesting issue during the translation process involved descriptors like “土”, for which there is no singular English correspondent. The concept of “土” is uniquely Chinese, covering a range of meanings such as ‘corny’, ‘cheesy’, ‘old fashioned’, or ‘bumpkin’, but none captures the exact connotation for which the word “土” is used in the vernacular. This makes the process of choosing an adequate equivalent in English a purely speculative task.

I received great help from professor Newell Ann Van Auken to resolve such issues, without whom this translation would not exist.

--Lynn Wang

"Should Spring Winds Return Again"

In memory of 许芥昱 Kai-yu Hsu”1


  Kaiyu2 was like a wind. A spring wind.

  I met him for the first time in 1979; since then we’ve met another three or four times. In June of 1979, I was invited by Harvard to an eight-day conference on contemporary Chinese literature. Chinese literature is intricately linked to China’s history and society, and is inevitably complicated to talk about; the discussion ought to be lively. If one approaches the topic with a chauvinistic attitude, forcing western literary views onto Chinese literature and thereby condemning the latter as offensive, then the whole conversation will be pointless. Just as I was leaving Harvard, Kaiyu arrived. He was a couple days late. His arrival was like a spring breeze that cleared all our heads and lifted the heavy, ponderous atmosphere at the conference. On the night he arrived in Cambridge, Kaiyu, Leo Lee, Zhang Minghui, Huang Jinming and I went to have dinner at the home of Mr. Eugene Wu, then the head of the Yenching Institute Library.

  Kaiyu and I had both been students there during the war3; he was at Southwestern Associated4 in Kunming and I went to National Central5 in Chongqing.

  “I almost went to Southwestern Associated!” I told Kaiyu as our eyes met over the round dinner table.

  “Too bad, why not?”

  “I was killing time in Chongqing,” I responded in Sichuan6 dialect, “didn’t have the travel money to get to Kunming, so I went to Central.”

  “You should’ve been there! We could’ve been schoolmates! I was only two years ahead.” “Mutual regret here.” Leo joked.

  “Cheers!” Kaiyu and I shouted almost in unison, raising our glasses, and downing them empty.

  Then we then went on to sing wartime songs: “Ballad of the Great Wall,” “On Taihang Mountain,” “Behind Enemy Lines,” “Twelve Hours a Day,” “Defending Lugou Bridge,” “On Songhua River,” “Song of the Broad Road,” “Put Down Your Whip,” and of course “On the Jialing River,” which was Kaiyu’s hometown. His eyes were bright, his face radiant with joy--a rather young face, with a thick beard that added a shade of silver to his face. His expression changed with the songs: there was sorrow, righteousness, excitement, then gentleness again, taking us back to the war times when we were young, reminding us of China’s hardships and of our personal struggles. Kaiyu sang on, spellbound, sometimes off-key, turning into a Kaiyu key, bleeding sentiment. The songs were thirty, perhaps forty years old, yet he had committed every word of the lyrics to memory; these were memories etched onto the bones, memories only those who share the same sentiment would have, prompting us all to burst into song. Those who hadn’t been there on the home front, those who weren’t born during the war, all of us. In reality, though, only Kaiyu was singing--we all just followed along; occasionally I requested a song and he immediately responded by singing it, and when he stopped, we’d all stop--- we depended on his recall of the lyrics. Different voices, different memories, the same sentiment: homesick travelers.
  On the second night, our group of friends went to Chen Lili’s home; professor Birch from the University of California Berkeley was with us that day. After dinner we sat on the floor, drinking, chatting. When it was time to go, Lili offered to walk us back to the Harvard guest house. It was midnight, the Cambridge streets empty. There were seven or eight of us, walking in a single line, down the middle of the street, and we began singing again. We held hands, and held our heads high too, as if marching in an army formation, marching, before the enemies arrived, to take over an empty city. The glistening night sky engulfed us. Engulfed us in a “China” that transcended time and space--- our dear beloved China. Kaiyu, of course, was our “leader” again. He marched backwards, facing us, clapping to a beat, his beautiful beard shiny in the night light. We sang, and laughed, and talked, and even professor Birch, usually mild-mannered, had joined us in our “madness”; he volunteered to sing a guerrilla song in Shaanxi dialect that none of us Chinese had ever heard of. Kaiyu blew out his beard with an unconvinced huff, “Even I’ve never heard of it! Where did you learn that?” Birch chuckled and continued to sing in such an over the top way that if your eyes were shut, you would’ve thought the Eighth Route Army7 had invaded Harvard!
  “That’s surreal.” I laughed
  “Kaiyu,” Birch said in a low voice, “don’t tell my wife about this.”
  “Of course.” Kaiyu nodded in all seriousness, as if the two of them had somehow achieved a silent understanding.

  “We’re violating Cambridge! I wonder how the Harvard professors will react to this.” someone suddenly said.

  “Who cares!” another voice answered. And Kaiyu led us into song again.

  Stars blinked in the night sky above Cambridge. We lined up in a row, hand in hand, fervent in song, and marched to invade the Harvard campus.

  After returning to Iowa, one afternoon Engle and I sat on the balcony, talking over drinks. The Iowa river wrapped itself gently around the willows on the shore and flowed---wherever does it go? Beyond the setting sun perhaps, to the blossoming south. I said to Engle, I want my Chinese writer friends to come visit Iowa. He immediately took up to the idea. When? A weekend in September should do! Who shall we invite? From the mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, America… friends who write, all of them, if they can make it! Let’s call it a “A Chinese weekend”! A few drinks later our talk became more excited, an old couple shouting and laughing beneath the walnut tree on the terrace as if our guests had already arrived and were on the same terrace, swapping conversation, face to face and heart to heart. The next day, when we were calmer, we considered the issues. The most prominent one being that of all the “monsters and freaks,” as we called our writers—those who came from different experiences, different historical backgrounds, different literary and political positions, those who were thirty years apart---would they all be willing to meet each other? Would they be able to sit down and exchange “matters of the heart”? There was no way to know for sure.

  I proposed my “Chinese Weekend” idea to a few writer friends overseas. All of them responded passionately, and the first to do so was Kaiyu! He called right back.

  “A Chinese Weekend! Fantastic! It’s about time! People should sit down and have a genuine conversation! What do you want me to do? Just let me know---food, drinks, what do you need? I can bring all sorts of paper, different inks and inkpads for when we’re all warmed up with booze, so they can write something, or paint something. I think that’d make people happy, what do you say?”

  And so we began our first “Chinese Weekend” (in 1979); then the second “Chinese Weekend,” in 1980. After we discussed the “future of creating Chinese literature,” Kaiyu made some plain and simple conclusions; at the second “Chinese Weekend,” Kaiyu hosted a poetry reading. Talking, discussing “matters of the heart,” drawing, writing poetry, writing prose, singing…Kaiyu was like a spring wind, spreading warmth into people’s hearts. Kaiyu’s heart was romantic, but he had a classic, logical mind.

  I remember it was September 14th, 1979, when our writer friends from Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, and America gathered at my and Engle’s home for the first time. Kaiyu, with his silver beard, red shirt, and four treasures8 came in like a whirlwind. After shaking hands with and embracing all our friends, he laid out the paper, put out the brush, and idly began to grind the ink. Liu Kuo-sung took the brush and drew a few strokes across the paper to get things started, and we laughed and cheered for him. Was that a mountain? Water? A human? A beast? It didn’t matter. Kaiyu added more brushstrokes, as if making a modern ink painting. Qin Song took the pen from him and wrote on the painting: “Attacking Tradition”. Chen Ruoxi, who happened to be standing behind him, took him by the striped silk scarf which he had never worn before and choked him with it, laughing heartily…


  When Kaiyu returned from Iowa to his home in Palo Alto, he wrote an article titled “Ripples Outside the Window”, which was about this very “Chinese Weekend”:


On the third floor of the hotel in Iowa, outside the window, a rising sun faced the quietly flowing Iowa River, illuminating the circles on the water. Carps swam in and out of them, munching on the fallen leaves and water bubbles. During that weekend last September, I sat in front of this window every day, staring at the pattern of the ripples, forever expanding away, followed by a new ripple, which seemed to be reminding me of everything that had happened that weekend, and how I ended up there.

  There were 27 of us; Chinese writers from Beijing, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and America were invited by Hualing Nieh Engle, director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, and her associate Mr. Engle, to come together and talk. Yes, just to meet up and talk. If there must be a theme, then let’s just say we talked about the future of creating Chinese literature.

 Indeed, we had a great time. At Hualing’s place, at Lanling’s place9, at the John Deere pavilion, at the garden building of an arts professor’s home, on a boat on the Mississippi River…but most of the talking was before and after meals, at the hotel, every day until the morning light was subdued by the glowing light of day, nearly reaching the water outside my window. Many of us hadn’t seen each other in a long time. Some caught bits of news from published articles. Others had never met except for what they’ve read of each other. We talked about work, life, and children who have grown. Embedded in the conversation was an exchange of world views, opinions of those in power who dictate our lives. We were secretly glad to have survived, and to be able to continue writing after all we’ve been through. Of course, we didn’t try to avoid talking about, nor did we talk about, that particularly divisive world. Our writings were liked by some, and hated by others. We didn’t avoid talking about those in power who opposed us either, nor could we avoid talking about the time we are in now.

  Some of our friends came prepared. They spoke with clear logic and thought during the conference on September 15th. Yet, the most brilliant ideas tended to form during conversations held at mealtime, or in private. This continued talk was like the ripples on the Iowa River outside my window. Forever closing in and then scattering out, but always following along the same topics, where they’d expand, overlap, dissipate, and happen all over again. I will always remember these times.

Kaiyu had another idea based on the Chinese Weekend, which was to establish an organization for “Chinese Writers in America,” about which he told me in a later letter. I passed his idea onto other writer friends, but the responses were few. And so, Kaiyu’s idea ended up in smoke. Of all Kaiyu’s thoughts and actions, the most moving was his sentiment for our homeland; he had a lot of home in his heart.


I reread “Ripples Outside the Window”; by the time I got to the end, I was blinded by tears:

Good times tend to remain in our hearts the longest. Not only because of the moving friendship or the hospitality, or the songs that reminded us of our old home in China. But because first off, above all else, we are people. People who have met, who share the same, unified cultural views. And second, because we are writers, we share the same, unified professional interest.

  We never concluded on anything. Like Paul Engle said, we were too polite, even though we all held different opinions about the theme of the conference. No heated debates. It’s true, we never came to a conclusion. Lengthy, at times repetitive commentaries replaced heated debate. And the commentaries were friendly and persuasive. Those who spoke, spoke with precision as regards their opinions. And every opinion to me was like the center point of a ripple, dissipating outside my window.

Now, in Palo Alto, the ocean waters of the San Francisco Bay beneath my window were as quiet as the Iowa River. Once in a while, the wind would blow or seagulls would fly by, bringing forth a string of ripples on the water. On the other side of these waters, I thought, were my ever-beloved friends. In some way, they have strengthened my ability as a writer, and at the same time, diminished my pain as a traveler away from home.

  1980, Palo Alto, California

  “There was a big storm in San Francisco, a flash flood, and his apartment got caught in it…” Chouyu told me over the phone.

  “A nice guy, such a nice guy!” Engle sat by the fireplace, looking mournfully at the snowy Iowa sky. “He was taken by the flood, taken by the flood, it’s quite his style…”

  My whole body was numb as I simply stood by the phone. I wanted to pick up the receiver, like I always have done, and dial, one---four one five--four three five--three zero two three, to talk to Kaiyu. I wanted to tell him, “Kaiyu, the Iowa River beneath my window has frozen over, and we travelers away from home need the warmth of a spring wind!” I wanted to tell him, “Kaiyu, the poem you published in Poetry Magazine, “Farewell Iowa”, wasn’t supposed to be farewell forever! ‘A thousand miles of corn fields’ need the touch of a spring wind!” And I also wanted to tell him, “Kaiyu, I know you still live at 3491 Park Blvd in Palo Alto, in your favorite study, facing the blue ocean where seagulls pass by, writing poetry, writing prose, painting pictures, missing home…”


February 1982, Frozen Iowa




1) 聂华苓. “春风岁岁还来否”[Should Spring Winds Return Again]. 黑色,黑色,最美丽的颜色 [Black, Black, The Most Beautiful Color], 花城出版社, 生活·读书·新知三联书店香港分店. 新华书店, 1986, pp. 67-74.

2) The unhyphenated pinyin version of “Kaiyu” will be used from this point on to keep consistency with other translated names.

3) The second Sino-Japanese War, 1937-1945

4) When the second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, the most prestigious Chinese universities (Beijing University, Tsinghua University, Nankai University) merged to form a temporary university, which later moved to Kunming and became the National Southwestern Associated University.

5) National Central University was a former location of the current Nanjing University in Nanjing. In 1937, it moved to Chongqing and changed its name to National Central. After the war, the university moved back to Nanjing and was renamed Nanjing University.

6) Sichuan used to be the province of Chongqing before Chongqing became a municipality; they have similar dialects.
7) Officially known as the 18th Army Group of the National Revolution Army; a main fighting force under the Communist Party during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
8) Four Treasures of the Study: brush, ink, paper, and ink stone, used for calligraphy and Chinese-style painting.
9) 蓝菱 in the original. She was born in Fujian, grew up in the Philippines, graduated from Far Eastern University in Philippines, then came to America and studied at UI.

Lynn Wang is a bilingual translator born in Shandong, China and grown up in Iowa. Her interest in literary translation began in high school with internet literature; she is now double-majoring in Translation for Global Literacy and Psychology at the University of Iowa. This translation project was part of her research under the auspices of ICRU (Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates).