Wellington Bamboo Branch Songs: A Crowd Translation project

Are you curious about Chinese poetry written in and about Wellington? Explore a little-known poetic genre, the life and work of Lionel Chan, and celebrate the transformation of early New Zealand Chinese literary heritage into Kiwi English for a new generation of readers.

About Wellington Bamboo Branch Songs 《惠靈頓竹枝詞》

Then-editor Lionel Lai Hung Chan works in the Chinese NZ Growers Journal office
The Journal's then-Editor, Lionel Chan (Chan Lai Hung 陳賴洪) working in the office, circa 1960s. Image reproduced courtesy of Ting Chan.

Wellington Bamboo Branch Songs 《惠靈頓竹枝詞》is a collection of 24 poems originally written for and printed in the NZ Growers’ Journal between 1967-1970 by its third editor, Lionel Lai Hung Chan 陳賴洪 (1919-2000), under the pseudonym 葉飄零 (A Scattered Leaf).

These poems were part of a long tradition of diasporic verse published, often pseudonymously, in local newspapers, and features an innovative blending of dialect forms. Chan’s clever word play, intermingling of classical Chinese, colloquial Cantonese, and transliterated English, plus sardonic observations furnish lively insights into everyday life in his adopted Wellington.

Wellington weather; no three days are perfect

You go out with dry clothes, come back with wet.

Best to take a raincoat, then you’ll feel more confident

You won’t come home looking like a boiled chook

[Translated by Colin Lee]

Hear local Chinese community leader Gordon Wu read an excerpt in Cantonese:

Hear another Cantonese speaker read the entirety of the first poem.

A Crowd Translation Project

Fifty years later, launched on the occasion of Moon Festival 2020, Wai-te-ata Press | Te Whare Tā O Wai-te-ata at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington is undertaking a crowd translation project bringing together the local Chinese community, scholars, translators and letterpress printers.

Watch various speakers and learn more here:

a stanza of Wellington Bamboo Branch Songs set up in a letterpress forme
A stanza from Wellington Bamboo Branch Songs, hand-set with the heritage types

As part of the Chinese Type Restoration Project, the Press envisions publishing a bilingual edition of Wellington Bamboo Branch Songs using the original metal types.

Contribute to the project

Wai-te-ata Press will be running a series of translation workshops throughout the year. To register your interest, please email wtapress@vuw.ac.nz.