Building the Great Wall

Stephanie Han


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There are bodies, selves we cast aside to build the Great Wall.
Our home crumbled; we shored up our stake.
Tiles, dirt, glass, sticks, the rubble of new lives.
A pig’s head. A porcelain tub. A bicycle. A golf club.
Cleaning and clearing soil, boulder after boulder,
week after week, month after month, year after year.

Digging a hole to China nearly killed us.
Nuance foiled. Poetry lost.
Foul water gallon gulped.
Dollars grabbed on bruised knees.
Foreign bodies, invasive species,
earth does not discern,
reptiles come in every shade.
We screamed, cautioned our child, starched, ironed clothes,
but poison shot through our veins.
At the free clinic the doctor said it was no emergency,
with air conditioning, everything is fine.

Great Walls rise on sorrow’s wrinkles, tiger cub egos,
pictogram drama. Slavery? An emperor’s whim.
Gates weaken, parapets crumble. Hoards enter, depart.
We are them. They are us.

Climb to be a Great Man?
We buried our lives to watch these walls rise!
Bones haunt the garden.
Astronauts spoke, but the myth remains:
The Great Wall is seen from the moon.


Walls are sandy tombs trickling down thin-necked bottles
grain by grain into Chinas we all know.
Photographs of ancestors, sorrow and sweat,
Phoenixes and steel cranes, pink dolphins.
Death by Disney.
Extinction in a dirty sea.
This Middle Kingdom, a centre that cannot hold.
Monsters lurk beyond a pancake edge,
stalwart sailors refuse to swim, fear dragons that haunt seas.


Desires scale Great Walls, ascend link by link,
grab vines beyond sticky mud mist
Our smoggy fevers break sewage lines and the corpse rot of papayas.
Frangipani strokes cheeks, flesh falls from bones we spit to the ground,
crumbling, crumbling, to our end.
Building, building to keep us in, to keep us out.

Stephanie Han

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

Dr. Stephanie Han is the award-winning author of Swimming in Hong Kong, and founder of, an online platform dedicated to teaching women to write their truth to power. Her classes emphasise the connection between women’s voices and narrative. Swimming in Hong Kong won the Paterson Fiction Prize, Spokane Prize, and was a finalist for AWP’s Grace Paley Prize and the Asian Books Blog Award. Other awards are from The South China Morning Post, Nimrod International Journal, and Santa Fe Writer’s Project. A PEN and VONA fellow, she received grants from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, and was the inaugural English Literature PhD of City University of Hong Kong. She’s a producer for Hawai’i Public Radio. She lives on O’ahu, home of her family since 1904.