July 1, 1958
When I read in the Renmin Ribao of June 30, 1958 that schistosomiasis had been wiped out in Yukiang County, thoughts thronged my mind and I could not sleep. In the warm morning breeze next day, as sunlight falls on my window, I look towards the distant southern sky and in my happiness pen the following lines.
So many green streams and blue hills, but to what avail?
This tiny creature left even Hua To powerless!
Hundreds of villages choked with weeds, men wasted away;
Thousands of homes deserted, ghosts chanted mournfully.
Motionless, by earth I travel eighty thousand li a day,
Surveying the sky I see a myriad Milky Ways from afar.
Should the Cowherd ask tidings of the God of Plague,
Say the same griefs flow down the stream of time.
The spring wind blows amid profuse willow wands,
Six hundred million in this land all equal Yao and Shun.
Crimson rain swirls in waves under our will,
Green mountains turn to bridges at our wish.
Gleaming mattocks fall on the Five Ridges heaven-high;
Mighty arms move to rock the earth round the Triple River.
We ask the God of Plague: “Where are you bound ?”
Paper barges aflame and candle-light illuminate the sky.
–to the tune of Lu shih poems
Poems from the Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung – http://www.marxists.org
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Mao Tse-tung was determined to wipe out Schistosomiasis or Bilharzia, a debilitating parasitic disease, which affected or threatened millions of Chinese working on the land.
Renmin Ribao – The People’s Daily
Hua To was a famous Chinese physician of the Han Dynasty, credited with being the first to use anaesthetics.
The Cowherd in the poem is one of a pair of stars in Far Eastern mythology, set on either side of the Milky Way, but perhaps also refers to the role of cattle in the transmission of the disease.
Yao and Shun were two of the emperors referred to as the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors (3rd millennium B.C.), considered as the founding ancestors of Chinese civilization.
Five Ridges and Triple River is used to represent the whole of China.
The god, or gods, of plague, Wen Shen, were often driven were away in a ceremony that involved the burning of a boat, still practised notably in Taiwan.
Lu shih poems – a classical form of Chinese verse.