1. On a Winter's Night (冬夜)
Gao Canghai (高沧海)
Pockmark Kang came to propose marriage. He’d taken a liking to my third sister.
He brought a double-bed, a red satin quilt and a bolt of blue, flat cotton cloth. More importantly, he had someone carry over a sack of flour. Lord, it was a bag of high grade, well sifted flour, a bag of smooth, velvety flour, a bag of bran-less, husk-free flour. As Dad twisted his fingers all the way into the snowy-white stuff, he said, “Wow, we’ll be eating what an emperor eats!”
Mom held the cotton cloth to her breast and sobbed. No recollection of ever being able to hold anything so luxurious appeared in her limited memories of fabrics. When her brother had gotten married last year, she’d surreptitiously bought two-and-a-half feet of dacron and made some new clothing for herself. She had to make a decent showing for her family and couldn’t appear too shabby. When she came home after the wedding reception, Dad took off his shoe and taught her a lesson with the sole. “Spendthrift woman! You’re a curse on our Li family!”
Now Dad, with a couple of short shots under his belt, looked askance at her and at the bolt of cloth. “Spendthrift woman!” he said, “you can really bawl!”
Mom bawled even more loudly. When she was done, she got the courage from somewhere to actually pick up Dad’s wine cup from the table and throw it on the floor. Then she kicked it over to a recess in the wall. She said she was going to make two new outfits and no one was going to stop her.
Dad bent down, his butt sticking out, and picked up the cup. He wiped it off with his sleeve. Good Lord, even though he was laughing, we were surprised when he ignored Mom’s impudence and recklessness. Normally he’d have held her down with his knees on her shoulders and slapped her silly.
Dad walked along the village street from the east side to the west. “Looks like there’s no ice blocking the river today,” he said. Then he took a roundabout way from the west side back to the east. “Heard that three dogs had a fight in the woods to the east of the village.” He was as cold as a fish. Mom said he’d scraped his body up and down to get rid of the scales.
I guess even the dogs in our family could tell what he was thinking, except the dogs couldn’t flatter him like people could. “Congratulations, Old Li! Got yourself a daughter who can make you some money! Congratulations!”
As if in a dream, Dad would cup his hands in front of him as a gesture of thanks, and say, “Best wishes to you, too!”
He already totally thought of himself as Pockmark’s father-in-law.
At this point, it was written in stone that Third Sister would marry Pockmark. It was a stone-cold fact.
Third Sister didn’t agree, though. She threw the quilt at Mom. “Whoever loves him can marry him!”
Dad smacked the table so hard it sounded like an earthquake. His three-yuan cup of sweet wine bounced off of the table. He said, “This is a rebellion!” Third sister started to leave, but Dad said, “Lock her up!”
“Send a letter to the Kang family,” he said. “We’ll send her over with her wedding clothes during the New Year's celebration. Pick a lucky day for the ceremony and be ready for her before the first of the year.”
He also told Mom, “We can’t humiliate ourselves by being cheap to the Kang family, right?” He told the go-between, “We’re generous. Whatever gifts the Kang family sends over, be that generous! Not tightfisted!”
Third Sister was locked in a room on the west side of the house. I talked to her through the window. She asked me, “Do you remember Fresh Zhang, Seventh Brother?”
Of course I remembered him. Third Sister and I were cutting ragweed in the summer. He dropped a piece of paper with some writing on it into her basket. She looked like she was eating candy.
She told me to tell Fresh to come and save her. I told her that he’d already come over. He’d been wandering around behind our house every day. Dad had gone at him with a shovel and chased him away several times.
Pockmark came over bringing gifts on the sixteenth of December by the lunar calendar. Dad took the lock off the west room and told me to watch Third Sister. At night when our guest had gone, there’d be some fish and pork for me.
The Kang family’s betrothal gifts had to be carried over on shoulder poles. They were indeed generous. Dad was so happy he replaced his three-yuan wine cup with the two-ounce size. He and Pockmark drank from midday until it got dark, when Pockmark slipped away on wobbly legs, feeling really good. He slipped and fell and cut his forehead, and the blood was flowing, but Dad kept singing. “A good year ahead, a mule, a horse and a big field to plow.”
Third Sister asked me, “Is Fresh still outside, Seventh Brother?” I said he was.
She said she was going to go see him. She gave me a pinky swear and promised she’d be back shortly. I said OK.
She hugged Fresh, crying, and said she wouldn’t marry that Pockmark.
He said, “I’ll take you away.”
She waved to me and said, “You’d best go home alone, Seventh Brother.”
I was speechless. Mom appeared and said, “Don't go yet, girl.”
The moon's bright light showed off Mom's new clothes well, a new blue cotton robe, new blue cotton pants and new cloth shoes with blue cotton uppers. Pockmark Kang was our honored guest, and Mom certainly wanted to put her best foot forward while he was there. It was an opportunity to dress flashy from head to toe, one that she could hardly get once in a hundred years.
"Nobody made him come here as our guest, this rich man Pockmark Kang, the moneybags Pockmark Kang, the wealthy Pockmark Kang, the one-in-a-hundred-miles, no, one-in-a-thousand-miles Pockmark Kang who's joining us as family."
Mom squatted down and covered her face with her hands. "I've eaten the Kang family's flour, I'm wearing the Kang family's fabric, and I've spent the Kang family's money. Our family fell into the pit of famine and the Kang family is offering us a pole to climb out on…. Your mother and father are old, and there's only Seventh Brother, this young seedling of a man. Do you have the heart to see him forced to repay the debt to the Kang family?"
Third Sister took a look at Fresh. His clothes were thin and he was shivering in the frosty night cold and bone-chilling wind…. She burst into sobs.
She straightened Fresh's shirt and brushed back his hair. "Go home," she told him. "Go home and find yourself a good woman to start a family with.
On the twenty-sixth of December by the lunar calendar, my beautiful Third Sister married a very old Pockmark Kang, a man almost as old as her father. In the biting cold of that winter's night in 1977, she put her own self aside.
Print version on page 73. Translated from 就爱故事网 at
2. First Period (初潮)
Zhou Hailiang (周海亮)
The girl finally left the classroom alone. Although she’d heard about this from teachers, and had also read some books, she was still frightened when the day came.
She was afraid people would notice.
She’d found a mirror and looked herself over, left and right, up and down. She hadn’t seen anything unusual about the girl in the mirror. When she left the classroom, she chose to walk toward places where there’d be few people, but she still ran into her home room teacher. The teacher asked her how come she was just going home now. She said she’d spent some time doing homework.
There was nothing strange about that. She often did homework in the classroom.
She walked into a store by the school’s entrance. The shopkeeper didn’t pay any attention to her as she took a turn in front of the counter. She stared at the sanitary napkins on the shelf, things she’d always thought were outside her world. She looked at the shopkeeper, looked at the sanitary napkins, and then looked back at the shopkeeper. He finally came over and asked, “Do you want some toilet paper?”
She thought about saying she wanted sanitary pads, but instead she nodded.
The shopkeeper got some toilet paper down for her. It cost two yuan.
She paid the money and headed home with the toilet paper. She thought she should have been braver back there. What was the big deal about buying feminine napkins? Besides, the shopkeeper didn’t know her.
Her heart wouldn’t stop pounding on the bus.
She didn’t go straight home when she got off the bus. She played with a stray dog in their community for a while, and then she walked out of the community again. She came to a supermarket, a large one with many people in it. She went right to the shelf where they kept the sanitary napkins, plucked up her courage and looked over each brand. She settled on the Young Woman brand because she’d seen their ads on TV. She was much younger than the girl in the ads, though.
She was about to take it off the shelf when, quite unexpectedly, she saw her classmate Little Dragon. He was standing not far away, carrying a plastic shopping basket and laughing at her.
“Buying paper napkins?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Her heart was pounding. “We use them at home.”
“My family’s never used them!” he said. “My dad says, why be so persnickety about eating a meal? And you’re not eating shit!”
She took a package of paper napkins from the shelf.
“You shouldn’t buy paper napkins, either. Little Strong says toilet paper is good enough. My dad says toilet paper is great. The quality’s the same, and you can buy a big roll! My dad says that if what you’re eating is shit, then using toilet paper is like....”
The girl took the paper napkins to the checkout. Little Dragon was still behind her, prattling away. He was a cool dude, except for his crotch-mouth. His parents had divorced when he was young, and for a long time he’d lived with his grandmother, so the girl knew when he said “my dad said” it was actually “my grandma said”.
She once again started to have regrets as she walked home with the paper napkins in her hand. She thought that she should have just taken the sanitary pads and not the napkins. She knew that many of her classmates went out by themselves to buy sanitary pads, so what was the big deal?
She returned home reluctantly. Her father was sitting by the coffee table watching a game and drinking booze. When he saw she was there, he asked, “How come you’re just getting home?”
“I was doing homework at school.” She put the toilet paper in the bathroom and the paper napkins on the table.
“I know playing mahjong at home interferes with your homework.” Her father kept staring at the TV screen. “I save fifty yuan by not going to the mahjong club, though. I saved fifty yuan, that’s great! Anyway, I’m not playing now....”
She went toward her room.
“Go buy a bottle of booze for me,” her father said, standing up. “I’ll cook dinner while you’re gone.”
Her father dug out three yuan and asked her to buy the cheapest rotgut, Erguotou. “It’s something to drink, anyway,” he said, “even if it tastes like hot cat piss.”
“You’re gonna drink more?” the girl said.
“Why not?” her father asked, somewhat surprised. It’s my only hobby.”
The girl left to go to the supermarket again. This time she jogged all the way. She picked up the sanitary napkins and the Erguotou and went to the checkout. She didn’t have enough money, however.
“You’re short two yuan,” the cashier said. “Chose one item.”
“Well, OK…. I’ll buy the Erguotou,” she said after some thought. Her voice was low and constrained. Once again she was at odds with herself.
“You want the Erguotou, or you don’t want it?” The cashier hadn't made out what she'd said.
“Uh.... I don't want the Erguotou,” she said. Actually she’d first said that she wanted it.
After leaving the supermarket, she thought she’d made a mistake – she should’ve kept the Erguotou – her father had a temper and she might be in for some vicious blows raining down on her.
On the way she met a filthy little boy. He was looking up at candied fruits being sold on sticks, and he had to keep swallowing because his mouth was watering so much. She stopped and asked him, “Where’s your mom?”
“She went to buy groceries,” he said. “I’m waiting for her.”
The girl thought for a moment, then took out the two yuan she had left and bought a stick for the boy. All of a sudden he felt that every little boy on the street was as cute as that, and every woman was so kind.
It was the first time he’d had such a feeling.
Her father had dinner ready when she got home, and was waiting for his booze. The girl told him she hadn’t bought it. “Huh?” her father said. She told him, “There wasn’t enough money. I bought these.” She waived her hand to show him. “You shouldn’t drink anymore anyway! There’s nothing good about it.”
Her father stared blankly, at a loss for words. Just as he was about to say something, the girl went on to say, “And don't play mahjong at home anymore! Such a big man, if you want to make fifty yuan, why can’t you just go out and do some work?” When she’d had her say, she sat down and concentrated on scooping some rice into her mouth. She picked up a piece of meat in her chopsticks and put it in her father's bowl.
Her father sat there with his mouth open and didn’t recover his senses. Eventually he called his ex-wife on the phone. “Our young maiden has grown up,” he told her. You should come back and see her some day, when you have the time….”
He wiped his eyes as he was speaking.
Print version on page 24. Translated from 周海亮的博客 at
3. Plum Selling Peaches (卖桃子的梅子)
Xie Dali (谢大立)
Plum carried a basket of home-grown peaches and went to the construction site to see her uncle. A lot of people chased after her to ask, “Are those peaches for sale?” She let them have some, and they said they were really good. One of them said, “This girl looks as good as a peach.” They were juicy honey peaches, and when city people said she looked like a honey peach, she felt as succulent as the peaches were.
When she got home, she asked her husband to mull over whether they should sell peaches in the city. They’d been selling to wholesalers, and she said that if she took them to the city to sell, they could make half again as much money. The money was secondary, though – what she wanted most was to hear the city people compliment her. No one had said such nice things about her since she’d moved from North Mountain to North Lowlands when she got married. The people in North Lowlands only praised for being a hard worker and a pretty good wife.
From then on, the peaches grown by Plum’s family were sold by Plum herself.
One day Plum got off the bus and headed toward the farmers market carrying her peaches. There was nothing but beauty shops on one side of the street from the bus stop to the market. From time to time she heard women's voices calling her, “You there, peach vendor, wait a sec. We want to buy peaches.”
“I’m not selling!” she answered, and kept walking. She’d heard about those women. Ptui! She thought nothing of them. The women of North Mountain married into North Lowlands, and the woman of North Lowlands moved into the city to do any low-life thing. The young girl from next door had come home from the city for the Spring Festival dressed to the nines. Plum heard the girl had some kind of job in a beauty salon. When they ran into each other, Plum just looked at her askance and didn't respond to her greeting at all.
There was another reason Plum wouldn't sell to them. They were natural-born cheaters. Every time they wanted to buy some peaches, they’d have to taste one first, and after they did, they’d try to talk her price down. This was unlike the customers in the market, who would just pay the asking price. They also mistreated her peaches to no end, turning them over and over roughly. These were honey peaches, and once the skin was broken, the juice would flow out everywhere, which would not only ruin that peach but make the others look bad as well.
“You there, selling honey peaches....” Several young boys were calling to her.
Plum ignored them. City kids were like the North Lowlands women who came into the city – they weren’t serious about buying. When she ignored them they stopped her. “What are you doing?” she demanded. She wanted to go around them and keep going.
They surrounded her. “We want to buy your peaches, of course!” they said with mischievous smiles. Plum looked around and saw there was no one nearby except some young girls leaning against the doorway of a beauty parlor, eating melon seeds and looking like hound dogs watching their prey. They turned a blind eye to what was going on between her and the kids.
Plum gave in. “If you want to buy peaches,” she said, “come to the market with me.”
They were still smiling. “We want to buy your peaches here.” As they spoke, one of then took hold of her basket and another grabbed her arm.
She was a little scared. “If you’re going to play rough, I’ll scream.”
"Go ahead,” they said, “scream your lungs out. “This is a rough part of town. Who doesn’t know why you North Lowlands women come into the city?"
Plum couldn't let them confuse her with the North Lowlands women. Right away she said, “I’m from North Mountain.”
“North Mountain women marry into North Lowlands,” they said, “and when they do, they become North Lowlands women. Don't play innocent with me and my buddies….”
A hand squeezed her breast when she wasn’t expecting it. She blushed and said, “If you keep playing rough I really will scream.”
One of the other kids stretched out a hand to grab her other breast. “You ought to fucking learn how to appreciate a good thing,” the kid said. “You’re the one that made me and my buddies want you….”
What should she do? The bravado had all been scared out of her. Just then, a seductive looking woman came out of a beauty salon and walked over to them. Plum’s eyes lit up – it was the young girl from next door! The neighbor’s girl she’d seen at the Spring Festival! But now she had dark black eyebrows and deep red lips, and a layer of rouge on her face....
Plum looked like she’d seen her savior and smiled at her fawningly. After smiling back at her, the woman turned to the boys. “What kind of macho men bully a woman who’s come into town from the country to sell peaches...?”
The boys all directed their gaze at the woman's face. “What right do you have to speak for her?” one of them asked disdainfully. “Are you from North Lowlands, too?”
“Yeah, you could say I’m Old Aunty from North Lowlands.”
Several of the boys started swearing at her. “You’re such a sack of used goods, you really should call yourself Old Aunty.”
“Big Bull calls me Old Aunty,” the woman said. “There’s no way you haven’t heard of him!”
The boys seemed taken aback by what she said and quieted down. The woman turned abruptly and walked back toward the beauty parlor. She called to someone inside as she walked. “Call Big Bull and have him send a few guys over here.”
The boys whispered among themselves. “Big Bull, the underworld boss in the north end. Could she be Golden Flower...?” While they were talking, they slipped away like they had grease on the soles of their feet.
Plum was glad to be out of that predicament. Looking at the woman's back as she walked away, Plum wondered if she should ask whether she was the neighbor's daughter? She hesitated as she watched the woman walk straight into the beauty parlor. Then she picked up her peaches and headed off toward the market.
She was still worrying about it as she walked away. If that woman hadn’t come out of the beauty parlor just now, the consequences would really have been unimaginable. The woman had saved her, and she couldn’t just let it go. She stopped and got out a black plastic bag, and selected some of the biggest and reddest peaches to put in it.
She’d decided to give these peaches to the woman who saved her. She might be one of the women who’d shouted at her that they wanted to buy some peaches, and now she felt really guilty for not selling them any. Giving them the best peaches was a way to apologize. If that woman really was the neighbor's daughter, that would be best of all. She’d have nothing to fear if she knew someone in the city she could turn to when she got into trouble.
Plum walked into the beauty parlor with the peaches an hour later. It was dim in the room, and the women nesting on a row of sofa chairs were all made up with black eyebrows and red lips, and their faces were covered with rouge, so she couldn’t tell who was who.
“I’m looking for the girl from North Lowlands,” she said. Several women speaking at once said, “We have no one from North Lowlands here.”
“She said quite clearly just now that she was from North Lowlands,” Plum said. “If you say so,” they answered, looking at the peaches in her hands. “Did you come to give her those peaches? If so, you can leave them with us.”
Plum handed them the peaches and told them to be sure to give them to that girl. She left and went straight to the bus station.
On the bus going home, she kept thinking about how the woman had dared come out to rescue her at that very dangerous moment. But when Plum had come to repay her, why hadn’t she been willing to show herself?
Print version on page 257. Translated from 谢大立的博客 at
4. The Healer (医者)
Zhou Guohua (周国华)
My mom got sick while I was in my junior year of high school, so sick she was rolling around on the bed in pain. I carried her on my back to see a barefoot doctor. He gave her a shot to dull the pain, then spread his hands. “I’m afraid it’s serious. Get her to the county hospital ASAP.”
We lived far from the county seat and didn’t have a vehicle. I borrowed a tricycle to take her to the hospital. The doctor took me to one side after examining her. “Your mother has cancer, late-stage. It’s useless spending more money, but you can decide for yourself.”
Cancer?! It hit me like a blackjack and my eyes grew dim. My dad had died young, and my mom had paid for my education these last few years by contracting to farm a plot of land. Now....
I couldn't just give up! I was about to do the paperwork to get her admitted to the hospital when she came in, smiling, and said, “Prescribe some medicine for me, Doctor, just to stop the pain. The life force is strong in me. I can make it through.”
I wouldn’t go for it for a long time, but finally I ended up doing what my mom wanted. I knew that nothing could get her to change her mind once she’d made a decision. I tried desperately to hold back the tears while I was taking her home. I had only three hundred yuan in my pocket – that was all our family had left after paying the hospital for the diagnosis.
I couldn't save my mother, but to the extent possible, I wanted her to live a little better for her few remaining days. I went to a small shop in the village to buy some things and happened to overhear someone say that there was an old practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine in the next township who had cured some strange diseases that the big hospitals couldn’t. I went looking for him right away.
A lot of patients with diseases of every kind were sitting in the old practitioner’s home. The old fellow didn’t talk much, and when he did he spoke softly, just asking a few simple questions after taking the person’s pulse. He’d shake his head as he wrote out a prescription and after he finished, give a few words of advice. I couldn’t see anything miraculous about him.
My turn came last. The old fellow gave me the once-over and asked, “Where’s the patient?”
I took out the written diagnosis the hospital had given me, and explained my mom's symptoms and our situation at home. I got more anxious as I spoke. I told him she couldn't get out of bed and asked him to come and see her. My tears were pouring down by the time I finished.
He looked at me. “Such a big fellow and you still cry. Rather immature. Come on, take me to her and I’ll have a look.
The old practitioner took my mom’s pulse and then paced slowly around the room, stroking his white goatee. I stared at him, mystified, with my hands hanging at my side. After a bit he asked me to bring him his snakeskin bag from the tricycle. When he opened it, I saw it was full of herbs, and he gave me some. He told me to divide them into even portions and give them to her over half a year. That should do the trick. If it didn’t, I should come see him again.
I nodded again and again as I took out the three hundred yuan. “It’s all we have. I hope it’s enough.”
He didn't pick up the money. Instead he fiddled with a blue-and-white porcelain vase on the table. He looked at it from all angles and had to nod. “No, keep it for your tuition. Sell this thing to me.”
My mom shook her head right away. “No, this was my dowry. It only cost a few yuan. Us country people don’t have any spare time for flower arranging. I’ve often said it would’ve been better to have a bowl or a ladle we could use.”
The old practitioner shook his head. Stroking his goatee, he said, "I don't care if it's useful or not. I have one at home which just happens to be a match for this one."
Mom did give him the vase, and after seeing the old fellow off, we couldn’t get over such a wonderful thing happening in this world. Still, even though we hadn’t had to pay for the medicine, we’d squandered a thousand yuan on the diagnosis!
Half a year later, I went with my mom to the hospital. The new diagnosis had me jumping for joy. My mom had completely recovered!
I went to give the old practitioner an embroidered banner as a thank-you gift. He smiled and said, “When you have some money, you can buy the vase back. Double the price.” I nodded.
I got my wish and was admitted to med school. I was able to cover the first semester’s tuition with that money. After that, I worked part-time the rest of the way through, and never had to use a penny of the family’s money.
When I graduated, my excellent grades got me hired by a large hospital in the provincial capital. I brought my mom into the city, borrowed money to buy a condo, got married, fathered a child and took some advanced courses to further my career....
One day more than twenty years later, I happened to catch “Reflecting on Treasures” on TV – the Chinese version of “Antiques Roadshow”. A blue-and-white porcelain vase caught my eye. It looked exactly like the one we’d had at home. The expert's estimate of several million yuan made me surprised and resentful. So that old practitioner had known the vase’s value. I remembered his expression as he squinted at it. Hrumph! Deceitful hypocrite!
I took my grievances with me to find the old guy. He’d already passed away, but his son had got my note. When he saw me, he smiled. “My father said you’d undoubtedly become a doctor, and he was right.”
I suddenly remembered that I’d told the old fellow that day that I wanted to give up my studies and earn money to support my mother. I was a little dazed. Was I being too "petty"?
There were two blue-and-white porcelain vases on a shelf in an inner room. They both had the same design on them, but the colors were quite different. The old practitioner’s son took down the one with tarnished glaze. “Republican era, but still worth several thousand yuan.”
I blushed. On the vase’s inner wall I could just make out some marks that I’d mischievously scribbled when I was a little boy. This one was my family’s! I looked at the other vase in puzzlement. It was a glistening, fresh green.
“This one was given to my grandfather by the head of the family when he treated a high-level official.”
I took out ten thousand yuan, but the old practitioner’s son would only take two thousand. “That’s what my father instructed me to take. I don’t dare go against his wishes.
I bowed solemnly three times to the old practitioner’s portrait. My tears flowed freely as I saw once again his half-smiling, half-serious eyes, comforting and yet abstruse.
A plaque hung on the wall under the portrait. The two words on it shone brightly – “The Healer”.
Print version on page 179. Translated from 风如松的博客 at
Bonus: Zebra Finches (珍珠鸟)
Feng Jicai (冯骥才)
How nice! A friend sent me a pair of zebra finches in a simple cage of woven bamboo slats. There was a roll of hay inside the cage, which made a warm and cozy nest for the little birds.
Someone told me that this kind of bird is afraid of people.
So I hung the cage in front of a window by a large pot of an unusually lush French spider plant, and draped the plant’s long stalks with their small green leaves over the cage. The birds were as safe there as if they were hiding in a deep, dark jungle; their flute-like chirping came out from behind the spider plant like delicate beams of light. It was quite relaxing.
When the sun shone in the window and through the spider plant, half of its countless fingernail-shaped leaflets became dark shadows, and half were turned into transparent, mottled green jade, lush and full of vitality. The little birds’ shadows appeared among them in flashes. They couldn’t be seen in their entirety, and sometimes the cage couldn’t be seen at all – only their lovely, bright red beaks stuck out from the green leaves.
I peeled back the leaves and vines to look at them only rarely. Over time they dared to extend their tiny heads to look back at me, and we thus became familiar with each other bit by bit. After three months, a high-pitched, faint twittering came out from the ever-lusher, green vines. I guessed they had a fledgling. Despite myself, I never pried the leaves apart to look inside. Even when I put food and water in the cage for them, I didn’t let my curious eyes disturb them.
It wasn’t too long before an even smaller head suddenly poked out from among the leaves. Hey, the fledgling! It really was a tiny little guy! It was so small it could easily work its way through the cage’s bamboo slats. Look how much it was like its parents: a red beak and feet and gray-blue feathers – but the pearl-like white round spot had not yet formed on its back. And it was chubby. Its whole body looked like a fluffy little ball.
At first the little guy only moved around in the cage, but afterwards it started flying around in the room. It would land on top of the cabinet for a while, and then, its energy restored, it would perch on the bookshelf pecking at the names of the literary giants on the spines of the books. It would bump into the ceiling light cord and make it sway back and forth for a while, then flee to the top of a picture frame. But it would fly back to the cage as soon as the big birds called to it angrily.
I didn't pay much attention to it. After it had gone on like this for some time, I opened the window. It only perched on the sill for a while at most, and absolutely wouldn’t fly outside.
At first it stayed fairly far away from me, but when it saw I wasn't going hurt it, it drew a little closer. Then it hopped onto my cup, leaned down to take a drink of tea, and cocked its head to see my reaction. I just smiled slightly and kept writing. Then it plucked up its courage and ran over onto my manuscript paper, and bounced around the tip of my brush. Its tiny red claws made a "scratch-scratch" sound on the paper.
I wrote with no excess movement or sound, silently enjoying the feeling of having the little guy so close. Thus it became completely reassured. Its red, horn-like beak casually pecked “tsa-tsa” at the tip of my brush as it moved. I petted its delicate fluff with my finger, and it wasn’t afraid, but rather gave my finger a friendly nibble or two.
It passed the days mischievously with me like this, but as the evening approached, it would fly back toward the cage, following the urgent cries of its parents, and wriggle its round little body through the green leaves.
One day, as I was leaning over my desk writing, it actually landed on my shoulder. I unconsciously stopped moving the brush in my hand, afraid to startle it and make it flee. After a moment I turned my head and looked at it – the little fellow had fallen asleep on my shoulder. Silver-gray lids covered its pupils, and the fluff on its breast was just long enough to cover its little red feet. I lifted my shoulder gently and it didn't wake up. It was really sound asleep! It was clucking a little. Does that mean it was dreaming?
My brush moved, and my feelings at that moment flowed out onto the paper:
Trust, more often than not, creates a beautiful environment.
First published in People's Daily, Translated from 百度百科 at
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4. The Healer
5. Bonus: Zebra Finches
Chinese Stories in English
1. On a Winter's Night
2. First Period
3. Plum Selling Peaches
Selections from Authornet (page 3)
Stories printed in China Annual Flash Fiction 2016《中国年度微型小说 – 作家网选片》
With a bonus selection by Feng Jicai. Translated from the webpages cited below.