Confucius Institute Workers (Excerpt)

For Xinqun

Note: Confucius Institutes are being or have been set up at major universities throughout America and the West. Their primary stated goal is educational, but they are also pushing a communist agenda from the Mainland.

In cool grey shadows of the red brick walls
Where timetables and student duty calls,
The Asian Studies annex grows odd fruit —
The red-brick-clad Confucius Institute.

It bleeds the red of Chinese Communism,
Live colours drain blood-red inside its prism.
Its wall-eyed shelves are bluffed with stiffened spines
And roughed-out Party thoughts, so little shines.

The Institute obeys the Embassy.
Has rooms inside the University.
No independence, it will always be
A part of Party culture’s industry.

The staff are diligent and courteous
In dealing up its social incubus
And succubus and other demon types
That they don’t see as demons through its hypes.

Some staff have no intention to deceive
But that’s the dark impression that they leave.
Not ignorant, they want to stay aloof
From Chinese blood dripping through the roof.

Have you forgotten: kindness meets itself?
Have you forgotten: evil meets itself?
This knowledge from your ancient Chinese past.
This knowledge in the roots that you have lost.

For office goods and learnéd artefacts
The Uni boards wear Party cataracts.
The Uni staff and C.I. staff combine
To keep both parties’ interests in line.


Conversations with a Chinese Language Partner from the Confucius Institute

Within the Party’s sea, her mind was grown;
submerged, its grog has been her go-to drink;
the Party was the first thirst she had known;
she pours it through her throat, so not to sink.

And yet she’s spoken, calm, convincingly,
of how her father’s business was wound up
and merely questioning the power’s that be,
on their appropriation, had him locked up.

Like any Westerner might nod and shrug
about the blatant inequalities
that makes their government a curtained thug,
so she of hers, though sweating loyalties.

From other friends, I heard some horror tales
of organs cut without an anaesthetic.
I tell her of the evidence, she wails,
too affronted to be sympathetic.

She pans my words, prospecting, strains to see
the sunshine pinnacles that glint midstream —
the surface glitz and splash economy,
the glass-thin show dance of New China’s dream.

I draw for her the state-wide cash cow farm,
the paddock ward, the penned-in hospital
where organs switch and doctors don’t alarm
so transplant work’s debased and prodigal.

From her: a waterfall of forced defence,
of how the Party does not do such things —
of how she loves her country — how her sense
of love is mashed up by my messagings —

it seems we’ve never had an open bond;
that she backs evil in no conscious way;
reverting to some cramp from back beyond
and she’ll be in its jaws on Judgement Day.

Then I see the cause of her distress—
we now meet on a hanging e-based thread;
one thoughtless comment of some Party mess,
and on trips home she could be jailed (or dead).

Before, we’d natter in some coffee place,
reading gestures, serious but fine.
Since then, she’s got a job, and has to pace,
is trav’ling miles, so now we meet online.

On social media, big brother’s known.
Its Chinese consequences seem absurd.
She fears the depths in which she might be thrown.
While rooting for her country, she is scared.



Eternal flows
___Return, begin;
Inconstant force
___In constant spin;
What’s now will be
___For ever, once —
Truth, Compassion,




Damian Robin is a writer and editor living in the United Kingdom.

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9 Responses

    • Damian Robin

      Thanks James, good to get a thumbs up from a fellow Brit whose work I admire.

      As you only comment on the poem with the most straightforward content, I wonder if you find the subject of the other two troubling.

  1. Amy Foreman

    I agree with James Sale, Damian. All of these are well-written, thought-provoking, and sobering.

    • Damian Robin

      Thanks, Amy. (Including that James Sale would agree, as he has great percepton) I think all of the above can be applied to your poems.

  2. David Watt

    All well-written as has has been said. ‘Song’ conveys a clear and concise message with a fitting musical quality.

    • Damian Robin

      Thank you David. For a long time, I have been too pressed in my immediate life to look often at the Society’s pages. So I have to catch up on its delights, including your work that I know is in here.

  3. Lu "Reed ABCs" Wei

    With abrupt language, rhyme and metre, “Conversations with a Chinese Language Partner from the Confucius Institute” explores the complexities of an individual in a bureaucratic, semi-totalitarian setting. I most admire the casual voice Mr. Robin attains in his portrait of distant evil, a difficult task in rhyme, and the final semi-jarring slant rhyme.

    At times, Mr. Robin is straining after effects that are nearly verbally impossible. Take, for example, this quatrain:

    “She pans my words, prospecting, strains to see
    the sunshine pinnacles that glint midstream,
    the surface glitz and splash economy,
    the glass-thin show dance of New China’s dream.”

    Though I like the metrical exactitude and spondaic moments, the opening verb, the alliteration in, and between, the lines, and the final political phrase, “prospecting” is a verbal triumph, because it catches all parts of the quatrain, while at the same time explaining the human interaction precisely.

    • Damian Robin

      Great to get comments that look closely at one’s work and see things one was not consciously aiming for – just emersed in. Thanks Mr Lu Reed.

  4. Cynthia

    Really enjoy these pieces! Thank you so much for sharing- I sent them to my friends as well!


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