The Famine in Anhui, China (1959-62)

by Tammy Ho Lai-ming

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One said, he felt like he was a horse: wild,
Low, hungry, when he was chewing – chewing –
Chewing – chewing those endless biscuits of
Hard grass and tree bark.

One said, doors were unnecessary:
There was nothing to steal.
When she was four and a half, she witnessed this
From an unfinished window (no nails,
No frames, no metal): the old granny
Who sold fish lay flat on the ground,
Her arms were swollen like pig’s legs. Her round
Calves were like spiral paper lanterns, but bruised. An
Innocently remembered image unshed through time:
Fifty years, and those open and red wrinkled eyes
Still glare.

One said, people exchanged with neighbours dead
And lean children. One didn’t eat one’s own.
Trees were all white, branches to roots, in Spring,
In Summer. An unforgettable sight—
Tree bark gone; naked skin
Under the naked sky illuminating the desperate
Energy of hunger.

This poem first appeared in Quarterly Literary Singapore Review .

Tammy Ho Lai-ming is a Hong Kong-born writer. She is co-founder and co-editor of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal , the first and currently only Hong Kong-based online English literary publication. More at

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