1. Paying the Bill for Youth (为青春埋单)
Liu Xiangyang (刘向阳)
Big Wan, age forty and three, medium build, large pupils, pig butcher in Painted Ridge.
A guy carrying tofu for sale came into the village and a bunch of women gathered around him. Old Wan squeezed into the crowd to join in the fun. He screamed, "Tofu, want tofu," and made the women laugh. Someone made a joke at his expense. "Old Wan, what if you sold tofu and had a ton of women mobbing you every day, but even then couldn’t find yourself a wife?" Maybe that hit a soft spot. Old Wan smiled in embarrassment and walked away, feeling lonely.
When the tide of people travelling to the cities to find work surged, the pig-butchering business turned bleak. Old Wan said goodbye to his aging mother and relatives and headed south to work on repairing the railway.
A forest of factories stood near the railway station, and more young girl workers than there are flowers in the spring strolled around on the station platform. Old Wan squatted down next to a light pole and stared as pair after pair of men and women went by holding hands. He could think of nothing to compare with how affectionate they looked, and his eyes got as round as bronze gongs.
His mother was getting old, and she was looking forward impatiently for a grandson to hold, so he took the initiative to strike up a conversation with the girl workers. No one paid him any attention, though. He didn’t come across as attractive enough for the workers. This made him want to try harder to get the girls’ attention so he’d have a chance to make his move.
In the evening, he came to the platform early and waited as the crowd grew larger and larger. Then he shrieked several times, clung on to the light pole and spun around it. This abruptly attracted the crowd’s attention.
"Is this guy crazy, or what?"
"If he’s not crazy, he’s at least not normal!"
"Looks like he’s not all that young, but he’s acting like a three-year-old. An old street urchin!"
The onlookers seemed like they were watching a trained monkey show. They all had something to say, and the whole place was alive with laughter.
Old Wan was indeed becoming more and more energetic, like a "man who’s gone crazy". He spun around so much that he got dizzy and fell to the ground. From this time on, the people of Painted Ridge no longer called him “Old Wan”. They all called him "Old Urchin."
He strode across the Yangtze River and crossed the Yellow River. He went up North and he went down South, until his cropped black hair sprouted silken threads of white. He looked like a para chino peony swaying gently on a winter’s day. His peers were all grandfathers, but he still ate his meals alone. At least he never left the table hungry.
His mother, on the other hand, grew frail from anxiety. She fell gravely ill and never recovered.
As Old Urchin stooped in front of her bed, his mother said weakly, "You’ve gotten on in years, but still haven’t found a wife. It’s because I’ve been a burden on you." He grasped her hand, as skinny as a chicken’s claw, and shed silent tears.
She went on to say, “Old Yue, the former Village Chief, got a pension of over three thousand yuan when he retired, but he still gets a welfare allowance. I can’t criticize him, though....” She was still going on like that when Old Urchin stood up abruptly and looked around for his rusty old butcher’s machete. He grabbed it and rushed out of the dilapidated brick house.
The noise of firecrackers from a wedding at the Chief’s home could be heard all the way to Heaven that day. Distinguished guests filled every chair in the place for the Chief's son's wedding. Old Urchin's machete definitely added a lot of color to the celebration. The Chief was about ready to get down on his knees in front of Old Urchin, but while they were arguing, someone outside shouted the news: “Old Lady Wan is gone.”
When Old Urchin had rushed out of the house with his machete held high, his mother had reached out to stop him but couldn’t. She’d rolled out of the bed onto the floor....
After burying his mother, Old Urchin went to see the Chief again. This time the Chief greeted him warmly. “Old Wan,” he beamed, “how old are you?"
This puzzled him. He held up his rough-as-burlap hands and extended four fingers on his left hand and five on his right. The Chief leaned close to him, so close that when he spoke Old Urchin’s face flushed red from his brow to his neck. He asked, straight-faced and in deadly earnest, "Do you want to find a wife? Do you want to have a son to carry on the family name, or maybe a daughter you’ll marry off? Do you want to fulfill your mother's expectations, buried in the ground as she is?"
Old Urchin responded at the top of his lungs, "I do! I do! I do!"
Late at night, Old Urchin groped his way through the dark to the Village Chief’s home carrying twenty pounds of tea oil and a carton of good quality Hibiscus cigarettes. The Village Chief didn’t turn him away. He said: "Forty-five to thirty-five. You can be younger if you want. But this oil and the cigarettes aren’t enough for me to run errands for you." Old Urchin said “yes” over and over again.
His new identity card came through two months later, and sure enough, he was ten years "younger". Now he wouldn’t have to worry about finding a woman. He embarked on another migrant worker journey carrying his new ID card next to his chest.
The worksite was located in a mountainous area of western Guangxi Province. He was a junior worker, carrying rocks and mixing mortar. He made 1,200 yuan a month, three hundred less than a senior worker. He didn’t like it, but he didn’t know how to lay bricks.
On payday in January, Little Xiao, who was also a junior worker, got one hundred yuan more than he did, which would be 1,200 more in a year. Now that would make a fellow mad! He went to the boss, so angry he could hardly breathe, to see how the man would explain that.
The boss looked askance at him and laughed. "Old Wan, you really are an urchin. Little Xiao is young, strong and vigorous, so naturally he does more work than you do. It’s normal for you forty- or fifty-year-olds to slow down. Your health is the important thing. Giving Little Xiao an extra hundred is the right thing to do."
When Old Urchin heard the ridicule in his boss’s voice, he couldn’t keep from pulling out his ID card. "Look at this! Look! This old man is only thirty-five, and still single."
The boss didn’t believe it. "Are you a conman? If you think I'm wrong, let’s you and Little Xiao have a competition, huh?"
Old Urchin's face swelled up and turned the color of pig’s liver. "Who’s scared of who? Let’s do it!"
They competed in several areas: carrying cement, lifting prefabricated panels, laying rebar in a weave. When it was over, Old Urchin had suffered a complete defeat.
"It’s really true, time isn't forgiving," he sighed deeply. Then he thought again. “Anyway, I’m only ‘35,’ and those extra ten years were hard to come by. I can’t waste them!”
A kind-hearted person set him up with a divorcee who had a daughter. Old Urchin took the matter very seriously. He washed his face, rubbed on some skin whitening cream and dyed his hair a glistening black. He was so anxious he went to meet her before his hair was completely dry.
When he told her his age, the woman looked up at him. The way she looked at him made him feel panicky. "I'm all of forty-one,” she said, “older than you. And I'm bringing some baggage along. Doesn’t that turn you off?"
Old Urchin was nervous and stammered, "You’re right, you’re right." He wiped the sweat from his brow as he spoke, but the more he rubbed the hotter he got. Some hair dye leisurely followed the beads of sweat through the whitening cream on his forehead, leaving deeper channels here and shallower there, so that his whole face looked splotchy.
How could this be the face of a thirty-five-year-old? The woman knew the answer very well and left without saying anything.
After that, every time he came back from a blind date with his spirits dampened, Old Urchin had to give himself another pep talk. “I’m still young, thirty-six next year, thirty-seven the year after that. There’ll be plenty of opportunities. Those ladies will regret it.”
Time flies. Fifteen more years of his valuable time was now in the past, and Old Urchin was still single.
Painted Ridge now had a tea oil processing factory and a bamboo products factory, so the villagers no longer had to leave town looking for work. They could make money at home while taking care of the farms they were responsible for. Elderly villagers who were sixty or over got a pension of six hundred yuan a month, or seventy-two hundred a year. Basic living expenses were guaranteed. They could spend their time with their grandchildren, or go dancing in the city square, or just kick back and enjoy their golden years.
Old urchin was now sixty, too, with snow-white hair and a face like firewood. He couldn’t take advantage of the rural social security policy, though, because he was only “fifty” years old. He’d have to pay into the system for ten more years. Back then he’d spent money to buy “youth”, and now he was spending more money to grow old....
Text version at page 15. Translated from 钱柜777官网 at
2. This World's Fireworks (人间烟火)
Wang Wengang (王文钢)
Elegance was a middle school art teacher with most of her classes in the afternoon. She prepared canvases and paint brushes in the protracted, indolent afternoon light in her office. At the sound of the bell, she would step out the door and walk lithely toward the classroom a short distance away.
Many of the other teachers at the school were amazed at her gentle grace and the beauty of her well-maintained, ivory-colored skin. Already the mother of a ten-year-old child, she had a princess’s loveliness and the charming femininity of a twenty-year-old girl.
She liked to wear cheongsams, the traditional Chinese dresses. When she put one on and turned herself around, she was just like a willow frond swaying in the breeze, or a flower opening up in a smile, as fresh as a breath of air. She cared for herself meticulously every day, as though she were a perfect work of art, and could feel a sort of spiritual satisfaction from other people’s admiring looks. Of course, she could also maintain her composure when she went out and met with broiling hot looks of envy.
Her close friends let it be known that Elegance always admired perfection. Her admiration and pursuit of perfection had come to her when she was in college. She was a cut above others, exceeding the ordinary, just like the characters and landscapes in her paintings, so that people who saw her felt a sense of wonder.
Her husband was a very capable man. First he set up a factory and then started a company, and the business beat up a storm for several years. Their one son was the jewel in Elegance’s crown. Who knows how many people’s eyes were blinded by envy of a family like that.
One day, though, someone saw a desolate look on Elegance’s face. Traces of tears in the corners of her eyes like raindrops on pear flowers made people want to console her. This continued for several days.
Later the news went around that her husband’s affections had gone off track – he was having an affair. As one who pursued perfection, how could she endure that? But after all was said and done, she had no choice but to endure divorcing him. She had deep bags under her eyes for several straight days, and her complexion was dark and gloomy. She walked with quick, lithe steps, like a piece of paper floating in the air.
Her husband was awarded custody of their son, and Elegance had him on weekends. Once when the boy was playing with some other kids in the yard, he let out a string of profanities. He acted like a brat and refused to acknowledge that he’d done anything wrong. The rumor mill had it that Elegance had spoiled the kid rotten. Looking at her again, her steps were chaotic and a look of worry showed on her face.
One day after half a year, someone saw that a man over fifty years old who carried a leather man purse had been added to her entourage. Sometimes he came over driving a car, and Elegance would bring him upstairs with her head down. She kept her head down if she bumped into acquaintances on the way to her condo. The man trailed behind her.
In the evening, if anyone looked in her dimly lit window, they'd have to sigh. That Elegance, she’s really a broken woman!
As time went by, people came to know that the old man was the owner of an interior decorating business. They say that more than cash can be stuffed in the trunk of a car, but if you have talent, you can paint a great picture.*
This was something that many people hadn’t expected. Then again, it was something that many people had expected.
A number of men from the countryside came to the door of the visitors’ dorm at the school one day and stayed for several days.
People were suspicious and questioned them. They said they were looking for someone.
“Looking for who?”
“The owner of an interior decorating company. His paramour is a teacher and lives here.”
“Is there a problem?”
The men sighed. “The guy shorted us some pay. All we can do is jam him. But we don’t know what building he lives in with the teacher, so we can only wait here.”
At dusk that day, several of them were squatting at the front gate as usual. One of them had a problem at home and was waiting anxiously for money to take care of it. He got choked with emotion and started to sob.
A woman appeared out of nowhere, like she'd floated in on a breeze. It was Elegance, as graceful and charming as ever. She fished two stacks of bills from her purse and handed them over. "Really sorry about the delay in getting this to you so you could use it."
The men stood there, stunned, as Elegance turned to leave. One of them sighed after a moment, and there was a look of regret in his expression.
Shortly after the men had gone, the sounds of a quarrel could be heard coming from the building where Elegance lived. Her voice echoed in the courtyard as it never had before. "Do me a favor and get out of here! I've been blind! I didn't realize what a vicious animal you are, you a heartless beast!"
After a moment, a crowd of people saw the fifty-years-plus old man slink off like a scoundrel with his man purse under his arm.
A lot of people in the courtyard sighed. Elegance had really come back to this world, having fully experienced its fireworks.
The next day, in the afternoon, the light was quite good, empty yet full. No one saw Elegance come to school for class.
Someone in the classroom building saw her standing on the sixth-floor balcony of the visitors’ dorm. She was dressed in a pink cheongsam, beautifully graceful and elegant. While she seemed faintly melancholy on that gorgeous day, she still had an aura about her, that she wouldn't swallow the fireworks of this world!
*[Fannyi admits that he hasn't a clue what the author means by this expression. Best guess: "You can have skeletons as well as money in your closet, but you can still talk a good game if you've got the skill."]
Text version at page 145. Translated from
3. Why No Clever Arguments? (你为什么不狡辩)
Liu Zhengquan (刘正权)
Golden Jade believed that, for things like a clandestine love affair, a man should come up with some clever arguments to justify himself no matter what. But the man hadn’t.
To put it another way, you could say the man no longer had any desire to speak with her. Clever arguments were such a waste of words.
Golden was suddenly overtaken by a nameless hatred. Not a hatred of men, but hatred of her big-mouth sister. Today of all days, their anniversary. Why couldn’t she have picked another day to bring this matter to light?
Ever since her sister had gotten a divorce from her husband, she’d held high the banner of a crusade against men. She’d jabbered on and on, lecturing Golden on the irrefutable truth that there’s no tomcat in the whole world who won’t cheat in his spouse.
This time, her sister was like the "Focus Interview" column, using facts to have a conversation.
Golden’s man, the always even-tempered fellow who would do anything to comply with her wishes, had gone astray. She had photos to prove it.
Going astray was one thing. The real problem was that she shouldn’t have to find out about it on her wedding anniversary.
That was just cruel.
She had no words to describe the pain in her heart. Maybe he’d been forced into it. Even in her pain, she hadn’t forgotten to say something in the man’s defense.
If the man gave her a reasonable explanation, she could imagine that the whole thing had never happened.
But the man had no intention to argue about it. That is to say, he hadn’t been forced into it, but had simply gone into it willingly.
In any case, she had to have the man make some defense of himself, to make it clear that her own existence had some value. She glanced at the man when she thought of that.
The man, however, had actually started to snore, as though he had nothing at all on his mind.
Could a man with whom she’d shared her bed for eight years really be shameless to such an extent? She brightened up when she had a thought. Why couldn’t she make some clever argument herself?
The point of the argument wouldn’t be to make herself believe it. She just had to feel that he’d gone astray because of some secret trouble, or that he’d been tempted into it.
People. Who doesn’t have their secret troubles? Who hasn’t given in to temptation?
Take herself, for example. She had her own troubles.
What were her troubles? She looked inward and did a self-examination. When she did, her troubles came to the fore. Her trouble was that she had a hot-tempered sister.
Her sister didn't have much education. She was shallow and said the first thing that came into her mind, good or bad.
For example, there was that time just after Golden and her man got married and were talking with her sister. Her sister just had to tell her how she should handle things. “Men turn bad when they have money,” she said, “so you should keep close watch on how much money he takes with him. He won’t have a chance to do something bad if he’s got no money on him.”
Golden had cracked a joke at the time. “What if he runs into a woman who’s willing to front him the money?"
Her sister immediately hit her on the forehead like she was too stupid to learn anything. "Front him? Only a dumb girl like you would front a man money!"
There was some truth in that. She really was fronting this man when she married him. All the way through, right from the start, he’d never spent a penny on her.
“Golden doesn’t want to be a common person. What does money count for? Can it be compared to a good man?”
Her sister had turned her husband, who was indeed a good man, into someone with no sense of shame, because she hadn’t forced him to say that.
The man chuckled and added, "A man won’t necessarily like a woman who’s too fine."
Her sister heard the veiled sarcasm in his words, implying that she was too controlling. “Would you have me spend my life being tossed by the seas when the wind blows?” It was hard to think she could use a reference to the old saying, “The wind blows and the seas rise” to refute him.
Her sister’s life with her own husband was really a blowing wind and high seas after that, too. The wind never stopped stirring up waves, right up to the raging seas of her divorce.
Golden had begun keeping track of her man to keep from making the same mistakes her sister had. Actually, in a twist of fate, she'd pulled up the grass looking for the snake.
Her sister had started the wind blowing, but her man had stirred up the seas.
Before the flag of her sister’s crusade had seen the light of day, her man had already left their marriage behind.
Her sister said, "Is he really so cheap?" It seemed like a prelude to another lecture.
Golden glanced at her sister. "Is there something else I can do with him?"
“Yes. If the man leaves you, so be it, but he takes with him the child care expenses and the family's daily living expenses, not to mention the right to keep living in the city.” The residency status of everyone in Golden’s family was recorded in one Residency Booklet. Golden thought to herself, “Perhaps the man just wanted a taste of something fresh, and he’ll be back once some time has passed."
“Men can't control their curiosity.”
That thought calmed her. She could listen to his clever arguments when wanted back. That’s when she could make his life difficult for a while.
The man was a smooth talker and his clever arguments were sure to be eloquent. Not like her inarticulate bumbler brother-in-law. “Let’s divorce,” he’d said, and then he hadn’t said anything or even looked up when her sister heaped a torrent of abuse on him worse than pouring dog spit on his head.
Later on Golden had run into her brother-in-law on the street. "Why didn’t you argue and stand up for yourself?” she’d asked. “If you had, and my sister’s heart had softened, you wouldn’t have divorced.”
"Did your sister give me a chance to speak up for myself?"
But Golden would give her man a chance to make his clever arguments.
However, a year passed before Golden saw the man again. He was in the dock in court.
He was accused of bigamy, or more accurately, alienation of affection.
The woman who'd turned his head sniffled and sobbed while she accused the man and described how he'd dominated her body and her youth. In the end, the woman and her husband stipulated that, if the man transferred his company to them, they would withdraw their lawsuit.
Obviously, this had been planned for a long time.
Golden fully believed the man would pound on the table and raise a torrent of clever arguments on his own behalf. All he did, however, was look at Golden as he told the judge indifferently, "I admit my guilt. Sentence me to however many years, it's OK. My wife is the company's legal representative. I have no right to give the company to anyone."
Golden visited him in prison a week later. He smiled sweetly at her through the TV screen, and she started to cry. "Why didn't you make some clever arguments on your behalf? The company is obviously yours."
She didn't know that the man had taken nothing with him when he left her. He'd quietly transferred the company to her name before he left.
Text version at page 42. Translated from
4. The Guard and the Girl Cobbler (卫兵与修鞋女)
Lin Wanhua (林万华)
His unit was deployed to a new post.
He was a veteran guard with the company.
One day when he was standing guard at the camp’s main gate, he noticed a girl cobbler under the willow tree which grew grotesquely on the opposite side of the road. She was staring in his direction.
In June’s blazing heat, the girl’s dignified face had been burned rosy red and looked touchingly charming.
He thought, she really knows how to pick her spot. There are so many soldiers here, going through training exercises all day long, she needn’t worry about making money. He pulled in his gut and stood up straight, keeping his eyes level. But as time went by, he couldn’t help turning his line of sight towards her; she sewed and mended, nailed and slapped, and glued on soles, doing it all with swift efficiency. She was a skillful girl.
On Sunday, he suddenly remembered that he had a pair of training boots with worn-out soles in need of repair under his bed. He got them out and walked toward the main gate.
She recognized him at a glance. "Shoe repair?" she asked with a smile.
"Yeah." He nodded, then handed his shoes to her.
"Your accent. Are you from Sichuan?" He sat on the small bench opposite her.
Her eyes lit up. "Yeah, Sichuan. What about you?"
"Then we’re fellow travelers," she said pleasantly.
"Yes, fellow travelers."
"What a coincidence!" they both said.
"Do you get homesick, being a soldier?"
He laughed. "How couldn’t I? I keep thinking about our Sichuan spicy noodles."
She laughed, too. "Yeah, really. When I left I made a point of bringing a carton. I'll let you have some tomorrow."
“Isn’t your family concerned, you coming all this way by yourself?”
"They’re concerned that I won't go back!"
She lowered her head and her expression showed a touch of melancholy. After a moment’s silence, she moaned and said, "He was a fireman. Last year he was out on the job…."
He saw a flash of tears in her glistening dark eyes. It made his heart flutter.
She paused for a moment. "I didn't want to rely on the village’s help forever. I'm still young and skilled. Life’s bound to get better." Her determination and confidence were apparent in her voice as she spoke.
He stopped cold and glanced at her with admiration, quite pleased with her.
She lowered her eyes shyly.
He stood guard every day, as he had before. She repaired shoes every day, as she had before.
He kept his eyes level, looking off into the distance. But as the time grew longer, he couldn’t help turning his line of sight towards her.
She watched him wistfully when she wasn’t busy, a look that said she had a lot of things on her mind.
One day, still in June, things changed faster than a child's face. It started to rain suddenly. She ducked under the old willow tree but her clothes were still soaked. He saw her through the glass window of the guard booth and felt he should call her over to get out of the rain, so he left the booth to get her. She hesitated a moment, then came running. He let her inside.
As she was wiping the rain from her face, she turned and saw him standing outside. "Why don't you come in?" she asked. He looked at her and stood up straight, but didn't move.
No one was out walking on the camp’s lanes in the misty rain.
The rainy season passed in a flash. Just as quickly, the leaves had all fallen.
His tour of duty was up at the end of the year. Before he left the unit, he took his discharge bonus and the pay he’d saved up and “loaned” it all to her. He didn’t tell her anything else.
She still repaired shoes outside the camp’s front gate every day, as she had before, but she gradually grew despondent. Later, her figure disappeared from outside the camp’s front gate.
Text version at page 186. Translated from
5. Shave-Head Feng (冯剃头)
Shao Huoyan (邵火焰)
His whole life, Shave-Head Feng had never done anything but shave heads bald.
It’s not difficult to shave a head, provided you have a little technique in the strength and angle at which you apply the razor. Too light and you won’t get a clean shave, but too heavy a hand will hurt; you have to keep the blade perpendicular in some places but angled in others, and sometimes you have to rotate it. If you can't hold the razor in the correct position, a light shave will leave a rash on the scalp and a heavy shave will draw blood.
Shave-Head’s skill level was high enough that he could finish the job smoothly and easily even with his eyes closed, relying solely on touch. He preferred to work slow rather than fast, and that kind of leisurely pace was something his customers liked. Slow work leads to a precision job. With the razor moving around the scalp slowly, lightly, crisply, shaving, shaving – some customers would even start to snore.
Shave-Head rented a storefront on a big street in a small town. Business was steady even though the pool of customers wasn’t large. Most of them were seniors getting along in years, plus some babies just one month old. The seniors liked the convenience because a shaved head is neat and easy to keep clean; the babies had to have their heads shaved on the day they reached one month because it was a local custom. These people were Shave-Head's "bread and butter" customers. He was quite content passing his days in this manner.
But the world changed fast. Almost overnight, a host of barber shops and beauty salons sprung up all around town. Just hearing their names would make you think they were exceptional: Highest Hair Parlor, Silky Tops, Love at First Snip.... Gradually, fewer and fewer people were showing up at Shave-Head’s place. Except for Zhang the Butcher and a smattering of other customers, no one else came.
Shave-Head noticed that his old customers weren’t shaving their heads any more. Instead, they’d started letting their hair grow out and then dying the white hair black. People weren’t bringing their babies in for their one-month shave, either. Young parents said that his place wasn’t hygienic and they were afraid their children would contract some disease, so they went to the maternity hospital where there were doctors specializing in shaving babies. Eventually Zhang the Butcher and the others stopped coming as well. Zhang grew his hair to a flat-top.
With no bald heads to shave, Shave-Head just wasn’t himself. The hand he habitually used to hold the razor always felt itchy. When the occasional customer did come in the door, Shave-Head acted like an honored guest had arrived and he didn’t hesitate to spend hours shaving his head. His wife couldn’t stand to see it and ordered him to sublet the storefront. Shave-Head had a hundred reasons for not wanting to, but went ahead and did as he was told.
At home he had a field of about 1,300 square meters that he’d contracted to farm. His wife could take care of it on her own, so Shave-Head didn’t have much to do. He occupied his time playing around with his shaving tools. Once he bought a melon and pretended it was a human head. He stared intently at it and slowly scraped the surface with his razor.
When his wife saw him she said, “Our son’s getting older but we'll have to help him some more. You can't stay home like this every day, doing foolish stuff out of boredom. You have to get out and find some real work to do.”
Shave-Head slashed the melon with his razor. “I know our son’s getting older and will have a lot of expenses that we’ll need to help him with,” he said. “But except for shaving heads, what else can I do?”
“A job won’t come looking for you,” his wife said. “You have to go looking for it. Can’t you find someone to help you look?”
A few days later, Zhang the Butcher got him a job that was still considered "fit for his profession". Zhang and some others had gone together in a pig slaughtering business. The machetes they used for killing the pigs could never shave the pig's heads clean, resulting in poor sales of the heads. Shave-Head's job was to shave all the hair off pigs' heads on the same day they were killed.
Shave-Head shaved a pig's head as slowly as if he were working on a person, and thus couldn't shave but a few pigs in one day. Zhang thought he was too slow and told him to speed it up. Shave-Head remembered to work faster when he started in on the next pig, but as he got going he forgot and the pig's head became a human head in his eyes. He worked slowly, slowly, meticulous about every hair, as though he were polishing a piece of fine craftsmanship. Zhang took one look and knew he couldn't do the job, so he had to fire him.
Shave-Head returned home, again with nothing to do, and from time to time his hand got as itchy as before. He couldn’t stand it, and he didn’t believe it. There wasn’t one single person in such a big town who wanted his head shaved?
Then one day he was walking down the street when he saw a middle-aged man walking in front of him – a bald guy. He caught up with the fellow in a few steps and asked him, "Excuse me, where do you get your head shaved?" The man stared at him coldly and ignored him. He thought he man hadn't heard, so he asked again in a louder voice, "Could you tell me where you got your head shaved?"
The man stared at him, obviously fuming, and said. “Are you a cop in the middle of the Pacific, with so much time on your hands that you can worry about that? This old man's head isn't shaved – my hair fell out because I got sick and went through chemotherapy…."
The hot face attached to a cold shoulder made Shave-Head really uncomfortable. He averted his eyes and stood where he was, speechless, as the man walked away.
Shave-Head forced himself to stop thinking about "Baldy", and indeed, harsh reality wouldn't allow him to think about the guy. His son was now an adult and would certainly be getting married and setting up his own household in a couple of years. No matter what, he'd have to make some more money to help the young man out.
Luckily a charcoal briquette plant in town was hiring just then. Shave-Head got a job sieving coal powder, something that nobody else wanted to do. It was dirty, tiring work. The dust he stirred up got in every pore. His teeth remained white, but every other part of his body turned black. The pay was relatively high, though. Before he knew it, he'd been getting up before dawn to go to work every day for two years.
One day Shave-Head collapsed suddenly while he was shoveling coal powder. His son took him to the hospital and an examination revealed that his condition was serious – late stage lung cancer. All his hair fell out while he was undergoing chemotherapy in the hospital. He'd become Baldy. He rubbed his head and his hand abruptly felt itchy. He couldn't keep from thinking of the good old days, remembering all those baldies under his razor.
Three months later his condition had deteriorated. One day – maybe it was a flash of lucidity as he was dying – he opened his eyes wide. "Do you want something to eat, Dad?" his son asked him.
"I don't want anything to eat," Shave-Head said. "I just want to do something."
"What is it?"
Shave-Head's eyes lit up. "I want to shave someone's head."
His son knew no one else would let him do that, so he patted his own head and said, "OK, Dad. Shave mine."
Shave-Head closed his eyes, and opened them again only with great effort after a long while. "Bring me my razor," he said.
His son helped him sit up and then knelt down beside the bed. Shave-Head put his left hand on his son's head, and picked up the razor that had already gone to rust in his right hand. His face had a smile that hadn't been seen for many days.
His son waited for a long time without feeling his father's razor on his head. He stood up and saw that his father's eyes had closed forever. But in the corner of his mouth, there was still a trace of that smile of complete satisfaction....
Text version at page 211. Translated from 邵火焰的博客 at
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4. The Guard and the Girl Cobbler
5. Shave-Head Feng
1. Paying the Bill for Youth
2. This World's Fireworks
Chinese Stories in English
3. Why No Clever Arguments?
Selections from Authornet (page 2)
Stories printed in 2016 China Annual Flash Fiction 2016《中国年度微型小说 – 作家网选片》
Translated from the web pages cited below.