​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Angel of Song
A Classic Folktale Retold*
Wang Xiaobo

            There’s a place where the sky is always pure blue and the warm sun always smiles down from above.
            There’s a river with water forever so blue, so pure, as translucent

as the morning air. Mountains along the riverbank stand tall and erect

as poplar trees on a roadside, not high but splendid. There are no tall

forests on them, but they’re always lush with greenery. The mountains

actually aren’t one continuous stretch; rather, they stand there one by

one, each independent and precipitous, overlooking the river with

gloomy shadows. They seem to have forged an intimate bond or

indissoluble partnership with the river.
            If you’re fortunate enough to be sitting on a beach by the river,

you’ll see how the river surges out from behind the steep stone peaks

and rushes toward you with impunity. You’ll see how each distant peak smiles at you from the waves. Their smiles will have left many laugh lines interspersed in black and white on the surface of the water. You’ll see white birds whose names you don’t know soaring quietly over the river’s surface in the shade of the mountains. Their gorgeous reflections flitting across the water’s surface will make you envious, and you’ll regret that you weren’t born a white bird like them.
            After you’ve been sitting quietly on the riverbank long enough to become used to the water’s rustling, you’ll listen again and hear a faint song coming from between the mountains and river. Like a strand of gossamer, it’s there and then it isn’t. A singing so strange and unusual that you’ll think it’s not produced by a human voice, but it does seem as though someone is singing. There appear to be lyrics but you can't make them out. The name of this good place is as beautiful as the place itself:
Yangshuo, or First Sunlight. And the name of the river is a homophone for “beauty” in Chinese, a name as lovely as the river itself: it’s Lijiang, the Li River.
            People say that a person with a miraculously beautiful voice used to live in this place, and since then, a faintly audible singing has always lingered over the river’s surface. Only legends remain of the deeds of this angel of song, however, and they are as unreliable as the voice. I know the legends are drivel because that’s the sort of nonsense that delights and satisfies people. Nothing that people like can ever last so long; people only talk repeatedly about memories that are unbearable to look back on and difficult to forget. If people say a voice has remained on the river for all this time, then it must be because the voice harbors great misery. I know all about the deeds of this angelic songstress, my children. I know it all for you.
            They say this singer was called Liu Sanjie, or Third Sister Liu, and I have no different opinion on this point. She lived about five hundred years ago in a small earthen building at the east end of Baisha Town in Yangshuo County. At the time Baisha, or White Sands, wasn’t much different than it is today: weeping willows all over town sprinkling greenish shade everywhere on the streets. Third Sister didn’t become known far and wide until she was eighteen, so that’s when our story will start.
            Her looks were terrifying. Her body was shaped such that, from a distance, she looked like a tortoise standing up. If you got closer, you’d find her face purplish black; her eyes drooped at the corners to reveal blood-red conjunctiva; a round face on a big head had a big mouth and thick lips; and her skin was as wrinkled as a half-dried watermelon. Finally, I must have a heart of stone because I can’t restrain myself from adding another stroke to this portrait – it doesn’t matter if I do, though – A large section in the middle of her forehead had sunk down due to an ulcer the size and shape of an eye positioned there. Even though she loved to be clean and washed the area with cold water ten times or more a day, there was always residual yellow pus there.
            Third Sister’s appearance was as especially frightening as that, but her heart was particularly kind. She found joy in helping people and was generous, gentle and hardworking. She felt uncomfortable seeing any youth in town wearing dirty clothes or ragged shoes: Why are these guys in such tatters? She’d ask you for your clothes to wash and mend them for you. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been Third Sister Liu. Although she was forever busy as a bee, her personality was so open that she’d always try her best to help anyone who asked her. She wasn’t stingy in the slightest and never neglected to lend a helping hand to others. She was also willing to give her food to anyone who was hungry, if they were willing to take it; and if no beggar took it, there was no need to say why.
            Third Sister had an exquisite singing voice, both sonorous and mellow. She loved to sing to her brother, Old Four, and was happy to do so even if he wanted her to sing ten thousand times a day. He was a beautiful young man who was so very attached to her when he was young. He was her pride and joy, so much so that she would’ve died ten thousand deaths for him (if that were possible). But as Old Four gradually grew up, he began to notice that Third Sister was as ugly as a hobgoblin.
            It got to the point where an incident happened one day. While they were eating, Third Sister put a few pieces of bacon from the plate into Old Four’s bowl, as was her custom. Old Four frowned as though he’d found several toads with scabies squatting in his bowl. As nimble and quick as he was, he picked them up and throw them back into Third Sister's bowl. She finished her meal with tears in her eyes and ran down to the riverside, where she sat for a long time.
            Their family also included Elder Sister Liu, Second Sister Liu, Old Man Liu and his wife, Old Lady Liu. Elder Sister and Second Sister were also ugly, though not as disgusting as Third Sister. They were always playing tricks on their younger sister, as if she were a lowly snake, perhaps because they seemed a bit better looking than her. Old Man Liu's wife was so muddle-headed, she couldn’t know what mischief her children were getting into.
            Not long after the bacon incident, Third Sister found that the eldest and second sisters were working much harder than before. They always rushed to do the dishes after every meal. She didn’t suspect anything about it at the time, but a little later she noticed that they always picked out her bowl when they cleaned up and waited for her to wash it by herself. They also had her use that same bowl for all meals. She shed tears in silence, but there was nothing she could do about it. Later the other children didn't talk to Third Sister much anymore, and when they did speak to her, they half closed their eyes and covered their noses. Elder Sister started it, but Second Sister and Old Four gradually began doing it, too. Still later, the Liu children spent less and less time at home with Third Sister. They hid from her whenever she was at home.
            When summer came and the weather got hotter day by day, fewer young people stayed home at night. Singing resounded more and more from the nearby mountains. Eventually the so-called Chinese Valentine’s day arrived, the day when the legendary
Cowherd and Weaver Girl would meet in the sky. No unmarried young man remained in the fields that afternoon, only old people and children. Young people were home asleep.
            In the evening, a large group of young men and women stood at the west end of the village waiting impatiently to see the sun sink gradually behind the mountains. When the last tiny bit of dazzling luminescence disappeared from the heavens, they let out cheers of ecstasy and then scattered off in all directions to their homes to eat.
            The four children in Old Man Liu's home all wolfed down their meal. They threw down their bowls and went out the door together before the room was completely dark. Old Man Liu banged the front gate tightly shut, closed off the sluice and went back inside with his old lady to sleep.
            Third Sister got separated from her sisters and brother as soon as they left the house. She left the village along the main road, which was already completely dark by then. The dark blue sky was already full of stars as she groped her way through the blackness along a familiar trail toward the mountaintop. The stars were so dense that there seemed to be five or six times as many of them than usual. Just above her head, a vast cloud of white wound off into the distance.
            Third Sister climbed onto the mountaintop and looked around. Several tall black shadows looked like the cyclops of legend, but there was no need to fear. They were just mountains. The mountains there all appear that way at night.
            You may want to ask, what do the town’s men and women head out into the wilds at night to do? To this day, people of the
Zhuang minority will often “converse” with one another in song, but this particular night is a special custom: It seems that every year on the evening of “double seven day”, the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, the young men and women go out to the wilds to sing. Truth be told, they do it for love, not to pay homage to some Muse or goddess.
            Okay, Third Sister was on the mountaintop making a bit of an effort to calm her breathing. She cocked her ear to listen, and the sound of distant singing echoed everywhere around her. Did that mean she was alone in the area? Nope. Two men on the opposite mountain could be heard speaking. Third Sister took a deep breath to get ready to sing, but she couldn't do it. It was too quiet around her. Leaves rustled in the breeze, and it sounded like someone was wading in a nearby brook. Strangely enough, there seemed to be people all over the place! It made her upset, not knowing who she’d be singing for.
            She took another deep breath and even closed her eyes. Suddenly a song gushed out of her throat; it was so loud, like she was singing her guts out, that it startled even her.
            She listened all around her after she sang one song, but all was silent. What was going on? Wasn’t there anyone on the opposite mountain anymore? Were they saying she hadn’t sung well enough?
            A song did fly across from the opposite mountain after a while, a good, passionate tenor’s voice. However, although the song was beautiful to listen to, the lyrics were rather commonplace. The general idea was nothing more than:
                        “Girl on the opposite mountain,
                        “Though I cannot see your face,
                        “I think it must be beautiful,
                        “Cause you sang the song so well.”
            Third Sister’s face turned red. It was the first time she’d taken part in that kind of activity, after all. However, being surrounded by darkness in the dead of winter can help one get over one’s pretensions. She sent off another song right away, something to the effect that:
                        “Though your kind words make me happy,
                        “I cannot live up to the praise.
                        “We can of course become friends,
                        “But only if you should want to.
            The other side was quiet for a while, but then suddenly a song proposing marriage came:
                        “Double Seven’s Eve, upon the hill,
                        “I chanced to meet a good friend by the by.
                        “Though your servant cannot claim to be rich,
                        “He has a cow on ten acres of land,
                        “A three-room house which faces to the south.
                        “A river in front welcomes guests to come,
                        “And a big green hill stands behind the house.
                        “Never a shortage of rice nor firewood.
                        “Sister on the other side, who might you be?
                        “I must know your name, please tell me now.”
            Third Sister's heart was pounding. She listened to the passionate and unrestrained singing from the other side and already admired him in her heart. She was by nature not a picky person, not about food or clothing or the matter in front of her, so she immediately responded with a song: "I am Third Sister Liu of Baisha...." But after singing just that one line, she was interrupted by a squawk from the other side: "Oh, mother! Forgive me!"
            She found no one else to sing a duet with her that night. She put on a solo concert that lasted until dawn.
            She went home for breakfast after daybreak. She saw her sisters self-satisfied looks at the table and felt extremely sad.
            From then on, Third Sister felt more and more that there was no point staying at home. She ended up moving into an unoccupied earthen building on the east side of town. She worked at planting a vegetable garden below it during the days but closed the door and went upstairs before it got dark. She almost never saw anyone and her emotions calmed down quite a bit. The abscesses on her forehead that had afflicted her for several years also got better without her realizing it.
            Of course, she definitely wasn’t a recluse like the poet
Tao Yuanming. Sometimes she couldn't avoid feeling depressed when she looked out from upstairs and saw people coming and going in the distance. She liked interacting with people, and it can even be said that she liked everyone she met. She felt there was something loveable about the elderly and children alike, but she was no longer willing to go out and meet with anyone. Even the thought of someone seeing her terrifying appearance made her uncomfortable. For one thing she felt guilty about disgusting other people, and for another – well, it goes without saying.
            That’s how she came to be voluntarily locked up in that coffin for the living. Even truly world-weary people have times when they get agitated, and all the more did Third Sister Liu! When the bright moon approached her window as she sat endlessly alone and sleepless, it was inevitable that she’d want to sing a few stanzas. Of course, while she sang well, she was not
Li Qinglian, as the renowned poet Li Po was also known, so the lyrics were unavoidably clichéd: Even the likes of Helen of Troy or Cleopatra wouldn’t assume those lyrics for themselves.
            One night around midnight, Third Sister was awakened from her dreams by a nameless gloom. She knew she couldn’t get back to sleep, so she got out of bed and sat for a while. With shuttered windows on all four sides of the earthen building, the room was no less black than the middle of a big cabinet, but she didn't bother to open them. She just sat like that and sang, not realizing that the sound was a little loud and could be heard almost two miles away.
            That day happened to be market day in Baisha. People going to the market were passing by the east side of town even though it was still dark outside. First a few firewood collectors stopped in their tracks. Then a bunch of mule-drivers got there; the mules stopped and wouldn’t move even when whipped. Fully four hundred people eventually gathered on the road. Following the sound of Third Sister’s voice, they found their way to her earthen building and surrounded it. No one dared cough, and even the donkeys listened with ears upright. Third Sister sang straight through to dawn, when the dew dampened her audience's hair.
            Third Sister felt that she’d never sung so well as she did that night. Her voice grew as she sang, and listeners felt only that silver threads were vibrating in their ears. They seemed to have forgotten everything else. It wasn't until she was exhausted and had stopped singing that people began to go back over the lyrics. They all felt there must be an angel living upstairs, no doubt about it, and nary a peep was heard from them as they waited for the pleasure of a glance of her.
            After listening to this wonderful singing voice, a donkey unexpectedly wanted to try it himself, so it brayed loudly, "Ee-yore, ee-yore...." The mule next to it kicked it several times right away, and a macho man put his hand over its mouth, but it was too late. The Angel of Song had been disturbed and a shutter began squeaking faster than you could say the words! Five or six hundred pairs of eyes (including the mules’ and horses’) fixed on the window....
            The window opened with a bang and a shout suddenly erupted from below. "A monster is coming!" People turned their heads and ran away. Mules and horses slipped their reins and were running free in a flash, knocking down countless numbers of people in the process. Only one donkey remained tied to a tree– it’s owner had run away and it was left to kick around crazily in desperation, stirring up dust.
            Third Sister was stunned. She didn't know why so many people had gathered below, but one thing was clear; they must have been scared away by her “beautiful face”. She leaned out the window and cried miserably. Suddenly she heard a voice calling her from below: "Third Sister! Third Sister!"
            She raised her head and wiped the tears from her eyes. All she could see was someone leaning against a willow tree. He had bald spots on his head and a face like a gourd – fat jowls and a narrow forehead – with a boozer’s nose that was redder than a rooster’s comb and couldn’t have weighed less than two pounds. He sang groggily, too. Short yellow eyebrows topped a tiny pair of eyes, and his clothing revealed what kind of person he was. He shouted to her inarticulately:
                        "Third, Third Sister! They hate that you’re ugly,
                        But that, that, that doesn’t scare me away!
                        We’re ugly, ugly, an ugly pair, but a couple after all!
                        Don't be unhappy. When I sober up, I might
                        look down on you, too, I’m afraid."
            She recognized the guy. His name was Scabby Lu, and he was an incurable drunkard and scoundrel. She felt even worse when she heard what he said. She slammed the window, fell on the bed and cried until she could cry no more.
            She couldn't stay in her earthen building after that. She’d fled from her home to that place, and now this unprovoked humiliation chased her away from there. But what had she done wrong? Was it just because she was born ugly? But no matter what anyone says, people can't choose their own face! Besides, she hadn’t invited those people to gather under her building and look at her!
            Third Sister started getting up early every morning and going to a rocky mountain by the river to sit in a place sheltered by trees and bushes. She watched how the morning fog rose slowly from the surface of the river, revealing the dark blue river water below. She stayed until the sun came up and people went home to eat breakfast before following the path back to her place. In the afternoon, after she finished working in her garden, she returned to that spot to watch how the radiance of the setting sun created a glorious miracle on the horizon.
                                                                                    When only a slight dark purple glow lingered in the western sky, and only                                                                             the black shadows of buildings remained on the river’s surface, fishermen rowing                                                                          small bamboo rafts skimmed across the river. Lanterns had been lit on all the rafts,                                                                        and their shimmering reflections shown on the surface of the river. Rows of                                                                                     cormorants that the fishermen used to
catch fish squatted on the side of the rafts,                                                                           and their reflections looked like little fishermen draped in raingear.

                                                                                  The fishermen were blessed because they could hear Third Sister’s beautiful                                                                        singing in the morning and evening when they passed by Baisha’s East Mountain. Strange to say, her songs never contained too much sorrow. She always sang about the verdant mountains and green waters of Guilin, and about the vast sky above the Li River, as if she were indifferent to worldly concerns.
            Thirty miles downstream was a place called Flourishing Plain Town. A young fisherman from there, Buffalo, came by East Mountain once and was instantly fascinated by Third Sister’s singing. Every morning from then on, Third Sister could see him guiding his small bamboo raft on his route along the river below her.
            Buffalo’s raft was made of three bamboo stems and was so narrow that it could scare a man to death. When it went up against the rapids, it seemed light as a feather.
His favorite thing to do was shoot down Hidden Shoals on the splashing waves in the middle of the river. His tiny bamboo raft would sink into the water all at once and his eight cormorants would instantly disappear. After the raft floated up to the surface, the birds would surface somewhere far downstream, often with big fish in their mouths. Buffalo would laugh heartily, then put his fingers in his mouth and give out a whistle like a robbery alarm. This really put Third Sister in a cold sweat as she watched from up on the mountain, and her heart would thump like she’d just come back to life after a singular death.
            Whenever Third Sister started to sing, Buffalo would raise his head to listen. He’d head the raft against the current, but the long oar in his hand would play gently back and forth, so the raft would remain as motionless as if it were anchored.
            Sometimes Buffalo rowed to the bottom of the mountain, turned his face up and sang a stanza. At such times Third Sister could clearly see his jet-black hair and warm face. A high-bridged nose above a wide giggling mouth, it seemed as he’d never known sorrow and would joke around no matter what. Third Sister felt that was quite unusual: She was surprised there could be such a young man in the world – he was utterly a god!
            All he had to do was turn his face in her direction and she’d immediately shrink back into the bushes and peek out through the branches and leaves. He sang to invite her to show herself and sing a duet with him, but no matter how enthusiastically he sang, she never dared answer a single word. Eventually he’d see there was no hope. He’d shrug his shoulders, pick up his oar and float off downstream. Only then would she dare to poke her head out and watch him going away. As she watched, tears often hung from the corners of her drooping eyes.
            After Buffalo started coming to Baisha regularly, life was even harder for Third Sister. She felt terribly sad every day when she came back from the riverside. She felt even worse when Buffalo would row over to that spot below the mountain and she’d duck back behind the bushes, scared silly and sweating up a storm. But what made her feel worst was the song he sang. Not once did it vary from complimenting her voice to complement her appearance. His lyrics pierced her heart like knives.
            But there was no way she could stay away from the riverside, and once there, she couldn’t keep from singing. One time she did make up her mind not to sing, so as to avoid the torture, but Buffalo thought she hadn't come and was so perturbed he almost hit his head on a rock. That made her break out in a cold sweat. Besides, she also wanted to hear his bold and enthusiastic singing. And further, no one had ever regarded her as a person before. That was a truly lamentable situation, but now Buffalo admired her so much, he called out to her with all the highest adjectives in the world that one can use to praise a woman. How could he know that these words were as difficult for her to swallow as the bitterest drink?
            Another time, a pleasant and beautiful sunny day, a golden light shone on the river’s surface and the water bestowed an azure smile on the sky above the black and green peaks. Third Sister sat in her regular place and listened to Buffalo sing. She felt miserable.
                        "Girl on the opposite mountain,
                        “Why don’t you come out to meet me?
                        “Look how open and guileless your Buffalo is,
                        “Lingering here and forgetting to go home
                        “Because he wants to be here if you ever come out.
                        “I am Buffalo, Buffalo, Buffalo, lingering here for you."
            Third Sister couldn't listen anymore and covered her ears with her hands; but she still heard Buffalo sigh and saw him lazily take his long oar in hand, about to head downstream. Her heart was pounding wildly and she could feel the tears burning the corners of her drooping eyes. All of a sudden, as if she couldn't hold back any longer, a song rushed out of her throat:
                        "I am Third Sister Liu of Baisha Town, a girl
                        “Who’s grown into a person of monstrous visage.
                        “If my brother Buffalo should see his Third Sister,
                        “He would never come to this place again.
                        “Buffalo, my brother, my brother Buffalo…."
She found that she was crying so hard she could make no further sounds.
            Buffalo was silent. He lowered his head and used his long oar to paddle the water gently. Third Sister Liu felt that something had broken inside her, but after a sharp pain, she instantly felt wondrously relieved. At last she knew, Buffalo was also afraid of her.
            He’d probably heard something about this person Third Sister! But after he thought about it, he raised his head resolutely and said: "I'm not afraid! You can’t compare me to those others. Besides, you’re not a monster, and even if you really were, I’d still want to take you home with me! Stand up, now, why don’t you!"
            Now it was her turn to hesitate. She was absolutely unwilling to show her ugly face to anyone! But Buffalo's intractable pleas were irresistible, so she felt as if her heart was being torn apart by two water buffalos; she didn’t dare stick her head out, but she was also unwilling to turn him down. She wanted to drag things out, but the drums and gongs had already announced the beginning of the last scene. Where could she hide? Oh, how she wished she’d never been born!
            At last Buffalo heard Third Sister’s faint voice beseeching him: "Tomorrow, Brother Buffalo! OK?”
            Buffalo sat on his raft and let the river carry him downstream. He couldn't believe that such a wonderous voice could issue from an ugly face! But what if she was ugly? He was infinitely fascinated by that gorgeous voice on the river. It was that voice which had pulled him to the edge of the mountain as if it were the Rope of Fate. No matter what, though, he wouldn't pass out from fear. “That’s right, isn’t it, my cormorants?”
            The cormorants’ heads turned knowingly on their slender necks: They certainly weren’t against him! She must be a good person who wouldn’t let them go hungry. “Brother Buffalo,” they seemed to say, “make up your mind!”
            The golden light of the setting sun shot along the surface of the river and drew subtle ripples on Buffalo's body. That’s right! He’d done the right thing! Third Sister is a sad but good person who would definitely make a great wife for him! Besides, how could anyone be as ugly as the rumors claimed? Buffalo had seen those busybodies, hadn’t he, and he knew how they could defame someone. How can anyone imagine that a disgustingly ugly monster could have a wonderful singing voice? Third Sister was a bit ugly, most likely, but certainly not disgusting, and no way could she be as revolting as people said!
            There was no way that he, Buffalo, could put credence in the aesthetic abilities of those people! Right, Third Sister simply might not even be ugly at all. Or even more simply, she could even be pretty. It was possible! Buffalo’d once seen a woman who’s beauty had been praised by others, but who had a shamelessly big face with plump cheeks. She wriggled around like a maggot when she stood up and wore an expression as sluggish as a pig’s! Those people, you couldn’t believe them!
            He stood up confidently and rowed the raft until it swept along the river like it was flying.
            Third Sister waited until Buffalo was far away before thinking of leaving. Her legs were weak, so she had to prop her hands on a rock to stand up. She looked about, really wanting to scream. She bumped her head on a rock and thought, “Oh, Lordie, why am I horsing around like that! Buffalo will definitely be scared half to death when he sees me, and then he’ll run away! God, why do you want me to run into good people? It's much better with bad guys! How will I dare come here tomorrow? I’ll never see Buffalo again! How can I stand the guilt?”
            Third Sister felt lousy as she walked down the hill, gnashing her teeth in the distress of disappointment. Only then did she feel comforted a bit – no, no, aesthetically comforted. She was downright suffering! In the future she really wouldn’t be able to bear even this much bitterness. Maybe she should find a knife and shave her face off. No, that wouldn’t do – she’d get sepsis from the poisonous pus. What could she do?
            She stopped dead in her tracks. The nearby bamboo forests and villages were sinking into a gloom resembling pale ink, but golden light still radiated on the top of a nearby mountain above her. Everything was still, even though night had not yet arrived. Scattered white clouds floated in the sky overhead, but they seemed higher than during the day as they headed toward the unclimbable heights of the sky. Several bright stars already shone up there. The unclimbable heights seemed to lead directly to the unfathomable depths of space, vast and immense, but still pierced by the golden light of the setting sun in its splendor and glory. What was up there, in the highest and farthest places where our eyesight cannot reach?
            Third Sister knelt down all of a sudden. She didn't believe in ghosts or supernatural beings, but right then she also felt that something must be in control of human life, a master to whom all human sorrows, and all her truly innermost sorrows, should be confessed.
            She didn’t believe in God. When she thought of the being with a long beard that people called the Jade Emperor, she felt it was ridiculous and couldn’t possibly exist. But at that moment she did believe that there must be something great, something supernatural, that would understand all her unbelievable sorrows. There had to be such a being, otherwise, what would be the difference between the world and an ant nest!
            She knelt quietly and appealed wordlessly to Heaven from her innermost heart. But the dark surrounded her as time passed silently, and nothing happened. She stood up and walked mutely towards her home. Strange to say, her heart had become as peaceful as a pool of stagnant water.
            Her surroundings became darker and quieter as she walked. A joyfulness gradually came over her, and it felt peculiar. Her chest was feverish! The rush of heat rose slowly upward until her face became hot to the touch. God! God! She lay down on her bed when she got back to her earthen building. Her whole body was as hot as if she had a fever.
            She stretched out her hand gingerly and touched her face. It seemed much smoother and softer than before, and that the corners of her eyes weren’t drooping as much. Her coarse hair wasn’t so dry as it had been, either. She lay there half the night, constantly making new discoveries until she fell into a dazed sleep.
            It was already light when she woke up the next day. She got up and washed her face. She wanted to get a mirror to take a look at herself but couldn't find one. It seems that she’d previously had two mirrors but had broken them a long time ago. She couldn't even find any pieces.
            She felt light-hearted as she walked down to the river, but before long she began to doubt herself again. In good conscience she didn't believe in miracles, not in this world, because she’d never seen one, but now she’d rather believe they were possible. "Could there be? Yes, but why haven't I heard of such a thing before? And why haven’t I thought of the possibility before? Ha, because I never had that idea of begging Heaven for one before! How stupid I am!"
            She made up her mind that she’d been a fool but now was smarter. That made her feel confident. She went ahead and picked up the pace to avoid doubting herself again. She wasn’t thinking about anything in particular.
            Buffalo was already there waiting by the time she climbed up the hill and looked down at the river from behind the bushes.
            He’d heard her footsteps on the mountain. He raised his head and said loudly, "Good morning, Third Sister Liu!"
            Her answer came down from the mountain. "How are you, Brother Buffalo!"
            It was another perfect, sunny day. The mist on the river was breaking up, the sun's rays were shining warmly on Buffalo's body, and the river water was lapping against the side of the mountain. No one was around and no boats were on the river except Buffalo's small bamboo raft aimed upstream. Buffalo raised his head and his eight cormorants looked up as well. Nine pairs of eyes looked towards the mountain.
            Buffalo waited to see what kind of person would appear. Her face must be relatively dark, and her mouth possibly rather large. It would certainly be full of life, though, and subtle but not flirtatious. Of course it might not be a pretty face, but it definitely wouldn’t be all that disgusting.
            All of a sudden, while Buffalo was picturing Third Sister’s face in his mind, a ghastly face the color of a rotten eggplant stuck out from behind a bunch of bushes on the sun-drenched mountaintop. Her face looked even more terrifying due to her anxiousness: her lips were rounded, with the ends of her mouth turned upwards so that they touched the corners of her drooping eyes! All eight cormorants immediately dove into the water with a loud splash. Buffalo was struck dumb. He plopped down on the raft and was carried downstream by the river.
            They found him near Baisha at noon. He was sitting on his raft with his eyes

staring  off into the distance, shaking his head unceasingly. He could no longer speak.

His eight cormorants stood beside him, also shaking their heads. His crazy head

shaking never got better after that. Twenty years later, people could still see him fishing

on the river with his eight cormorants, all of them shaking their heads crazily.
      Back then Yangshuo had one more famous viewpoint than it has now: some truly

beautiful swaying shadows would appear on the river’s surface in the twilight. People at the time called it Baisha Shaking Its Head, and no scenic spot was more famous. Too bad it’s gone now.
      People never saw Third Sister Liu again after that. At first they could hear weeping on the river’s surface that was sad enough to bring them to their knees. The sound gradually became quieter until, a long time later, it could barely be heard. It no longer resembled weeping – it was more like a gossamer thread of song that’s lasted for three hundred years! All this time curiosity seekers have tried to find the lost Angel of Song. They climb to the mountaintops on both sides of the river, but they only see the mountains crowded together like trees in a forest, and the Lijiang wending its way like a long white tassel from endless clouds down into more endless clouds, the blue sky above like the sea, and the white clouds all around like walls.
*[For a more traditional version of Third Sister Liu’s legend, click
here – Fannyi]

Translated from

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