1. Payback (复仇)
Tian Yulian (田玉莲)
An overcast sky, ground covered with smog. A fine drizzle sprinkling indifferently through the air, nagging like a toothache.
Scarface was burning joss money in front of the grave. The fire reflected a face that had seen it all, and its two lines of tears. He was very focused and didn’t notice when someone came up behind him.
"Whose grave is it you’re paying your respects to, old fellow?" Scarface turned slowly and took a look, but didn’t answer the question.
"I came to your place to get something to drink,” the young man continued. “I’m thirsty and tired after walking all day.” The young man was sturdily built, like a bullock. He had a deeply tanned face and piercing eyes like swords shining with cold light. A coarse shirt was draped across his broad shoulders. His speech was vigorous and forceful, revealing a stalwart dignity.
Scarface led the young man into his house without speaking. With a sure hand, he undid the sorghum lid that covered the wok, ladled some water into a black porcelain bowl and held it up in front of the youngster. He finally spoke: "Drink. Boiled it this morning. It's still hot."
The young man was really thirsty. He gulped it down and sighed with relief. He rubbed his hand across his mouth as he set the bowl on the table.
Through the light coming in from outside, Scarface looked the young man over. His square face seemed familiar but he couldn’t recollect where he’d seen it. After a moment he said, "You must be quite hungry. I’ll get you something good to eat." He started moving while he was speaking.
The young man forgot his manners and said, "I really am kind of hungry. My stomach is growling." His eyes were fixed on Scarface.
The smoke in the stove grew thicker, as did a memory of something in the past.
Ten years ago, the knife had not yet left its mark on Scarface. His mother and father had died young. He loved to eat but didn’t like working, so he’d gotten into the bad habit of making like a dog and stealing chickens. One rainy night, he snuck off with someone’s cow. He’d already gotten about three miles away when the cow’s owner caught up with him.
Scarface saw that the cow was about to slip from his hands, and he couldn’t have that, so he started to pull the animal along even faster. The owner tried to grab the tether from him but Scarface wouldn’t let go. In desperation, the owner took out a knife to cut the tether. Scarface reached out to block the knife but, as luck would have it, he slashed the left side of his own face.
He became enraged when he saw the blood flowing from the cut on his face. With all his might, he wrested control of the knife and stabbed the owner in the chest several times. The owner fell in a pool of blood. Afraid of being caught, Scarface dragged the body to a secluded area of uncultivated land and buried it.
Scarface knew that he’d committed an atrocious crime for which he could never be forgiven. He sold the cow to a butcher shop that wouldn’t ask a murderer any questions and fled with the money. While he was on the lam, he burned his face with incense until it was unrecognizable. A few years later, he returned to that secluded spot. He cut down the cane grass in front of the grave and brought rocks from the mountain to build a simple house. He farmed a small plot of land and kept watch over the grave. On the Cold Food Festival in the first lunar month of every year, he’d burn joss paper and incense and kowtow before the grave.
The smoke in the house had dissipated and there was a trace scent of cleanliness in the room. The young man sat there quietly. His shirt had stayed draped across his broad his shoulders throughout, and the expression on his face was unfathomable. A wisp of hot steam had escaped into the air from the pot when the lid was taken off, bringing with it a fragrant aroma. Scarface didn’t know if it was the smoke or something else, but his eyes had teared up again. He filled a bowl with mixed millet and sorghum porridge: "Don't turn your nose up at this. Just get it down and it’ll stick to your ribs."
The young man gobbled it up.
"Ha —! I knew this day would come sooner or later. It’s time for a reckoning, isn’t it.”
"What do you mean by that?" He pulled his face up out of the bowl and asked.
"If you don't want people to know you did it, you shouldn't do it."
"But you did do it."
"I’ll get what I deserve for my crime," said Scarface.
"Seems like, you must have your regrets?"
"I’ve had over ten years of regrets. It’ll be better to die than to go on living." Scarface noticed that he could see the bottom of the pot of porridge. He closed his eyes quietly. "Come on, young man, get on with it!"
"For every grievance there’s a wrongdoer, and for every debt there’s a debtor. Today I’ll take your head to even the score!" The young man wasn’t ambiguous about it, either.
Scarface lay his head on the table in front of him. He kept his eyes closed.
The young man took a knife out from his shirt. All those years of animosity and hatred were accumulated on the sharp blade and in his arm. He howled at the top of his lungs and the cold flash of steel slashed down toward the criminal’s neck.
Scarface, still calm and collected, looked toward the moment when his head would be relocated. He felt a breath of air brush against his neck, but his head wasn’t moved. It seemed that the young man had swung so violently that he’d missed his target – and struck off to the side!
"I’m not going to short-change you!" The knife slashed out again while he was shouting these words, but this blow missed as well, just grazing his scalp and taking off a tuft of hair. The young man took the tuft of hair outside and placed it on the grave. He plopped down on his knees "I’ve paid him back, Dad!"
As he was speaking, he heard an unusual sound behind him. At some time Scarface had also knelt down there, and tears were pouring down his old face....
Print version at page 208. Translated from随便看看吧 at
2. Red Lips at Night (夜红唇)
Huang Yinfu (黄殷夫)
It’s an alley off a small street in a prosperous city. A boundless forest of factories stands not far from the tail end, where accents of people from all over China fill the air like steam rising from a stewpot. Every day, orangish red lights already glow under the eaves along the entire alley even before night’s curtain has yet to fall, and coldly expressionless people come and go quietly. A thick aroma of cosmetics suffuses every corner of the alley.
She’d appeared in this alley a year previously and stood by the gate every evening. Her thick, fleshy lips were as red as chicken’s blood.
She really hadn’t been like that before she appeared in the alley. Her home was in the high mountains, where the air is better than in the city and the water much clearer and sweeter. She was from a farming family whose ancestors had depended on wielding hoes for their livelihood for untold generations. The adults never even thought about letting their children leave the mountains.
She’d never spent a day in school, just like the other girls in the village. When she was little she stayed home with her younger brother. She went out to cut ragweed when she got a bit older, and went up in the mountains to cut firewood when she was older still.
By the time she was eighteen, she’d matured into a beautiful woman with delicate features, a delight to the eye wherever she went. Her mother told her, “Cowie’s family sent a matchmaker over to talk about marriage. Are you willing?”
She didn't even think about it. “The guy’s dumb as a stump. Who’d find him attractive?”
“I’m still young,” she continued. In fact, she’d already started to get ideas. She wanted to escape from the mountains like other young maidens in the village had.
Her parents couldn’t discourage her. All they could do was gnash their teeth and taunt her. “Even a dog doesn’t despise its family for being poor. We think you girls in the younger generation are all under some kind of spell so you just can’t stay at home.”
Just after the first lunar month, she finally broke out of the mountains and came to this city. The first thing she discovered is how really big the world is.
She was a hard worker and could stand up to life’s difficulties. Although she wasn’t cultured, it should have been easy to find an unskilled job or heavy manual labor in a factory. Heaven plays tricks on people, though. She ran around for over ten days and looked into a number of factories, but no one wanted her. Her travel money was almost used up and she was burning with anxiety.
That’s when the stranger appeared, a kindly looking middle-aged man. He told her that she seemed so piteous, with no one to depend on, that he was willing to help her get a job in a factory. The man took her in a taxi to a large building, and into one of the rooms, and then his kindly demeanor turned malevolent.
Before she was able to fully react, she’d completed the transition from maiden to woman. Afterwards two burly fellows the man had called on the telephone brought her to the alley. Her ID card was taken from her, along with her mobile phone and the money she had with her. Her door was closely guarded. At first she vowed to die rather than submit, but after ten days a man forced his way in and, without a word, she was taken for the second time.
Later she became like the many other women in the alley, her thick, fleshy lips as red as chicken’s blood.
Her boss agreed to let her go home for the New Year’s holiday. When she handed her parents several thick piles of currency, they accepted them happily with trembling hands. Her fleshy lips, of course, weren’t blood red at the time. She helped her mother prepare for the New Year’s festivities, and laughed and talked with her parents as if nothing had changed. Her mother thought she was happy and told her, “Cowie’s family sent the matchmaker over again a few days ago to discuss marriage. Your dad and I think Cowie’s an honest fellow who lives a stable life, so how about taking him up on it?”
She forced herself to restrain the pain in her heart and turned her face away. “Tell him to find someone else.”
She fled the mountains again after the Lantern Festival, fifteen days into the new year.
She believed all along that it’s a big world. Until one day, that is, when she actually ran into Cowie in the alley and realized what a truly small, truly small world it is.
It was in the evening and it happened without warning. She was at the gate where she always stood, her lips as red as chicken’s blood, and was snacking on melon seeds. Suddenly she heard her name called out in the countryside accent. She turned and stared, and was surprised to see Cowie. She immediately stifled her frantic expression and pretended that she hadn’t heard. When Cowie called her name once again, she feigned amazement and said in the harsh dialect of this city, “You got the wrong person, handsome.” When he stared at her round-eyed and didn’t go away, she dressed him down angrily. “Are you sick? Get outta here right now!”
The next evening, before she’d had a chance to ask her boss to change her spot, Cowie appeared before her again.
“I thought about it over and over last night and all day today,” he said obstinately. “The two of us grew up in the same place. There’s no way I wouldn’t recognize you. You have nothing to worry about. I won’t tell anyone. And I don’t blame you for doing this. Just come home with me, or go to another city with me and we’ll look for jobs.”
She couldn’t control herself any longer, and two rivulets of tears streaked the makeup on her face. “Oh, my Cowie,” She said sadly, go on home now, and come back tomorrow morning to wait for a message from me.”
Cowie had just stepped into this alley the next morning when he heard someone whisper that the previous evening a “working girl” had, for some unknown reason, taken the easy way out in her room.
His heart froze and he stood there awkwardly, his feet unable to move.
Text version at page 38. Translated from 海崖文学 at
3. Night Navigation Light (夜航灯)
Mo Cun (墨村)
There are no words to describe suffering that’s too heavy. Me, that year when I lost my job on a winter’s day, I fell into a pessimism and despair from which I couldn’t extract myself. After I’d suffered through the most painful experience in my life, there I was, curled up in a tiny room with ripped tendons and broken bones, utterly exhausted by the world’s hurdles and on the verge of my life’s end. I was inhaling the salty, fishy smell of the blood oozing from the wounds, both large and small, that covered my entire body. I wanted to cry but the tears wouldn’t come.
Second Master came and sat down across from me without saying a word, puffing on a jade-and-stone pipe. The cloud of coarse, thick smoke irritated my nose and drowned his face in a blur. A little later, as the cloud of smoke slowly lifted, I saw flashes of his face, crisscrossed with furrows in which the vicissitudes of his life were written. I was too familiar with that face – it had appeared in one of my novellas. His turgid eyes were staring at me.
He finally spoke. “Don't be disheartened, child,” he said. “It pains me to see you like this. I know the kind of person you are. All the elders and all your relatives in our Peng Family Village speak well of you. They say you’re unassuming and sincere, and honest to the bone. You’re the pride of our village, child, always on people’s lips. You went from the village to the city by dint of your own abilities! Right now you’ve hit an obstacle in your life and you’re scared. You lost your job, so what! As long as you’re still above the grass, you’re good. No one can grab the pen out of your hand, and the success you had before came from that pen. You can make a comeback, child, if you just don’t lose heart! You can't disappoint the people and the elders of Peng Family Village!...”
He tapped the ash from the bowl of his pipe before continuing. “You may have suffered through some tough times the last few years, and tasted life’s ups and downs, but now you realize who your true friends are and who’ll stone you when you’re down. You haven’t published a lot the last few years. Now that you’ve gone through this calamity, just maybe this cloud will have a silver lining and you’ll hit it big when you take pen in hand again! I’m no philosopher, but I know people only live if they keep breathing. If you lose heart, you’re really done for. You might as well collapse and wait for the hammer to fall. You’ll hurt your loved ones and make your foes happy.”
Second Master slowly loaded more tobacco in the bowl of his pipe. Then he started to recount a melancholy love story, a long, drawn out tale that he’d buried in his heart for more than half a century.
“When I was young,” he said, “I met a young lady in Niyang City. She was the handmaiden of Zhou Junren of the Satin Village Zhous, and we were so in love! The old man wouldn’t let her marry me, though. He said, ‘You don’t have any land, not even a roofing tile. You want to make your living by imitating a young master and eating out of my cupboard. How would such a poor bastard be able to support this girl? She’s a blueblood and a peerless beauty, but with you what would she have to eat except the northwest wind? On second thought, if you can come up with ten silver yuan as a bride price by this date three years from now, I’ll agree to the marriage.’
“That was in the thirty-fourth year of the Republic, September 18, 1945. I was young and vigorous, just eighteen. My lover and I parted in a drizzle of tears and I went to Hankou, where I became the apprentice of a travelling silversmith. I apprenticed for three years of slavery. I didn’t earn even one silver yuan the first year, but I wasn’t dejected. I put my whole heart into learning the art. When almost three years had passed and I still didn’t have a penny to my name, I thought about nicking some silver dust or gold shavings from customers, but I just couldn’t do it. With the deadline coming, I was so anxious I couldn’t eat or drink anything, and I spent my nights crying alone in bed. After my master found out why I was in such a state, he was so moved that he helped me get ten silver dollars together.
“I bid farewell to my master, my heart filled with hope. Traveling day and night, I traversed counties and townships in a rush to get home, but a different denouement was awaiting me there. The woman who’d occupied my thoughts every step of the way had been sold to a Southern yokel businessman by that greedy moneygrubber, Zhou Junren. That bastard had discovered that the girl was carrying my flesh and blood. That very day, disheveled and barefoot, and crying my name through her tears, the girl threw herself into the city moat. Some men caught up with her and pulled her ashore, whereupon she was forcibly taken away by that Southern yokel businessman....
“No one knew the guy’s name or where he lived. They only knew he was a Southern yokel. I cried and screamed like I was insane. There I was, kneeling by the moat, unable to move, so despondent that I just wanted to die. When I was cried out and exhausted, I calmed down and was able to think more clearly. If I was a man, I couldn’t let anyone beat me down like that. Although I’d lost the woman I thought so much of, I’d learned a good craft. So I sighed, “This is a gift from God. He’s handed me a skill which this poor, clumsy oaf can use to support a family!”
Master puffed on his pipe and his face was again drowned in thick smoke. His voice sounded far away and indistinct. “After that,” he said, “I never married. But those pendants that tinkle so exquisitely, and the rings, and earrings, and head ornaments that glow with the light of life… they are the woman who is still beloved of my heart!”
As he was speaking, Second Master had pulled a silk package from his breast pocket with trembling hands and carefully unwrapped it layer by layer. Suddenly I sensed a gleam of light and my eyes opened wide in surprise. – It was a remarkably beautiful woman, a vividly realistic, magnificent image with radiant eyes and brilliant teeth illuminating her person. She lay quietly and rather shyly on satin as smooth as water, wearing a cheongsam with flowers for buttons and a grainy finish. She was the kind of beauty whose mere glance would make your heart flutter.
Tears coursed down Second Master's cheeks as he stared at her. “This… This is her,” he sobbed, “the one who wanted to be with me. Now she’s always so young and beautiful, always by my side without complaint. We’re never apart. She’s the money I earned with the labor of my two hands. I traded my labor for white gold and I put my heart into creating her. As long as she’s with me, I’m content with my life. She lies beside me every night and we speak to each other as only lovers can....”
I wasn’t sure when Second Master would finish his narrative. He held his beloved in shaky hands and stared at her teary-eyed. After some time he seemed to wake up suddenly. His hand shot up to dry the tears from his cheeks and wipe his nose. He laughed to cover his embarrassment. “Ah,” he said to himself, “after so many years, still so… you make me giggle like a baby.” While he was speaking, he carefully wrapped her up again in layers of red silk and put her back in his breast pocket.
I was profoundly moved by this story that Second Master had been keeping to himself. We were both silent, thinking our own thoughts. An incessant rumbling of traffic came from the faraway street, sometimes coming towards us and sometimes moving away, but never stopping. Second Master took another draw on his pipe, but no smoke emerged from his mouth or nose. The pipe had been out for a long time. He didn’t care and just kept puffing away.
After a long while he finally broke the silence.
“People,” he said, “it’s not easy for us to live in this world. Anything you want to do, you’ve got to plug away at it rain or shine. You spend your strength on it, and work up a sweat. You don't necessarily get what you want, but if you don't work up a sweat, you won’t get it for sure!
He spoke those words with emotion and then left sorrowfully. I had mixed feelings as I watched him hobble off, unbent, and tears covered my face. Later I wrote down the last thing he’d said on a piece of high-quality writing paper and stuck it to my desk. Still later, I left home and headed south to make a living. I went through good times and tough times, and accumulated rich source materials about life.
After ten years, I again put my untalented pen to paper. From time to time, some of my works have been seen in various nationwide publications, and some among them have won awards. I don't know if this counts as a new beginning, but I do know that the only reason I was able to escape life’s doldrums and accomplish these things was because of my Second Master.
Thank you, Second Master. You’re the Muse in my life!
Text version at page 199. Translated from 乐阅读 at
http://www.lread.cc/read/4502/2597283.html, edited, under the name 二爷
4. Woman Drug Dealer (女毒枭)
Shang Chunjiang (尚纯江)
I was on a train, reading a book. A medical tome. I always love bringing a book or two along when I go on a business trip. Scenic mountains and rivers flew by outside the window as the train left the brilliant red sunset behind, hidden beyond a mountain range.
A burst of fragrance wafted over me along with the girl’s shout. I looked up to see that a young lady had come up to the seat opposite me. She held a black suitcase in one hand and was leading a three or four-year-old girl by the other. She went straight to the seat and sat down. A few other people followed her into the car, one of whom was a tall man also carrying a black suitcase. He sat down in the seat behind me.
I only then realized that the train had stopped at a small station. I glanced at the woman and noted that she was tall and slim, with pleasing features and ebony hair piled up like a dark cloud. The little girl’s ebony hair was cut short with matching bangs. Her big ebony eyes shone and seemed to flicker as she looked at me with curiosity.
"What’s your name, child?" I don't have a daughter. Still, I do have a special feeling for girls.
"My name is Jasper," the girl said timidly.
"Jasper! Sorry, let me put this here for now." The woman Jasper had called “Mommy” placed her black suitcase on the floor under my seat. She turned her head and said, "Don't bother the gentleman while he’s reading, OK?"
The woman took her daughter in her arms and looked at me cautiously, obviously not wanting the girl to come too near to me. Relationships between people are very complicated these days, which I understand.
I buried my head in my book again when the train started to move, but I noticed that the girl kept staring at me curiously. When I looked at her, she hid behind her mother like she was shy, but when I went back to reading, she aimed her little hands at me like a pistol: "Ka-pow." Her shenanigans brought out the child in me, and I also bent my fingers into a pistol: “Ka-pow.”
Jasper fixed her eyes on me and laughed. "This child is so naughty. Don't let her interrupt your reading."
“It’s no problem,” I said. I put down the book and continued playing with the child.
Jasper’s mother chatted idly with me. She told me she was a teacher in a primary school in a rural area in the mountains, and she was going with her daughter to see her husband over the summer vacation. Her husband was a white-collar worker with a company in Zhengzhou. The child had been glum for a long time, but when they got on the train, she was excited by all the strange new things she saw.
The train sped along, and time passed bit by bit with the swaying of the car. Sometimes it was dark outside, but sometimes lights flashed by. It was late. A snore started up behind me.
"Can you look after the child for me for a bit, sir? I need to use the restroom." The woman stood up and looked around. Sounds of snoring filled the car in the faint light.
"Go right ahead."
The woman glanced at the suitcase under my seat as she put Jasper in my arms. She kept hold of something that looked like a car key.
"I’m hungry, sir." Jasper looked up at me when she saw her mommy leaving.
I’m a laid-back sort and don’t insist on formal meals, and there’s always food around. I buy instant noodles to eat on the train. I wanted to go buy something for Jasper but was afraid someone would steal the woman's suitcase.
"I’ve got bananas here." The man behind me had woken up at some time or other. He handed me a bunch of bananas and then tucked in his head to go back to sleep.
I peeled one for Jasper. When she finished it and I was about to tell her a story, she suddenly started to twitch and foam at the mouth. This is a symptom of epilepsy. I’m a practitioner of Chinese medicine with a wealth of clinical experience in the treatment of epilepsy, and I had a silver needle in my bag. Jasper’s mother came back while I was giving the girl a shot.
"What happened to her?" The woman’s face looked frightened, but she still checked the suitcase under my seat first thing.
“Does Jasper have epilepsy?” I asked.
"She did, but it’s been a while since it flared up. How come she had an attack now?” She got an extremely anxious look on her face.
"Mommy." Jasper was coming around slowly. I pulled out the needle. "It’s nothing," I said
"Don't move! I’m a policeman!"
The tall man who’d been sitting behind me was standing in front of us. He held a pistol in his hand, aimed at the woman.
"Put down your gun! Stand back!" The woman’s pleasant features suddenly turned incomparably malevolent. She held that key-like object in her hand: "This is the remote control for a bomb. I just have to touch this button lightly with my finger, and you, you, you and this train will go flying off to heaven! The suitcase under the doctor's seat is the bomb!"
"A bomb? What do you think this is in my hand?" Behind the woman was a man dressed as a farmer who also held a suitcase in his hand, exactly the same as the one the woman had placed under my seat. He opened it, and there was a bomb that had been dismantled.
The woman was placed in handcuffs.
I was handcuffed as well, and later I was taken to the Public Security Bureau. At this point a uniformed officer replaced the man who’d been sitting behind me. I told him who I was and he left the room. He came back after about an hour and shook my hand firmly. "Thank you for helping us with this arrest."
"When did you switch the suitcases?" I was puzzled.
"When you were giving Jasper the shot."
"What’s with that woman?"
"She’s a drug dealer we’ve been after. We’ve been chasing her for a long time. We wanted to nab her before she got on the train, but we knew she had a bomb in her bag and there was a child around. There was nowhere we could do it. We didn’t expect your help. That’s what let us switch the bomb."
"What about the girl?"
"The girl is her daughter, and the woman used her as a cover to smuggle drugs. It was your playing with the child that lulled the woman and allowed us to make the arrest."
I was numb from post-traumatic stress. How could I have known? I’d had a life-threatening experience on that trip.
Text version at page 247. Translated from LC期刊 at
http://qk.laicar.com/Home/Content/2372863 under the name 一次危险的旅行
5. Front Page Lead (头版头条)
Zhang Aiguo (张爱国)
It was after ten o'clock in the evening, but the lights were still on in the editorial office of the Widow River Daily. The Editor-in-Chief, the Deputy Editor-in-Chief, the Director and the Editor of the Major News Department and a reporter were gathered in front of a computer in the office. They were all talking at once, telling the Graphics Editor to take a look at this and give that a try. It was a huge room, and it was filled with tension.
Water-Born Yang, the Municipal Party Committee Secretary, had toured an experimental kindergarten that afternoon. The reporter who accompanied him on the tour wrote a press release at six o’clock, but the photojournalist, Young Chen, had only taken three photos of Secretary Yang because his camera battery went dead. In one picture he was inside the kindergarten looking at wall posters, in one he was in a symposium with the kindergarten’s leaders and teachers, and one was a group photo with the children.
They were saying that, with any one of these three pictures, the lead story on the front page of the next day’s Widow River Daily would meet Secretary Yang’s requirements for "photo-accompanied text". The problem was, the three photos couldn't be used. In the first one, where Secretary Yang was looking at the wall posters, a young and beautiful female teacher was behind him shading him with an umbrella. In the second one, at the symposium, a bottle of water costing over thirty yuan sat on the table in front of the Secretary. The third was taken under a scorching sun. Each child in the large group beside Secretary Yang was red-faced and panting, and their faces were covered in sweat, while his face was calm and collected without a drop of sweat – obviously the children had been waiting for him for a long time in the hot sun. Compared to past photos, these would be no problem, but current circumstances, especially the vast numbers of people using computers, could turn them into a fuse and ignite an explosion of public opinion on the internet.
The Graphics Editor had already utilized whatever Photoshop techniques he could, but the results had been rejected by Editor-in-Chief Sunrise Li. Chief Li of course didn’t dare throw caution to the winds because he had previously stumbled in this regard: In a photo of Secretary Yang inspecting the scene of a flood two years before, only his shoes were shiny, while everyone else’s shoes and pants were covered with mud. That photo was put on the front page with the lead story, and the Secretary had called Chief Li on the carpet.
To this day, Chief Li got frightened every time he thought of that “conversation”. Although the photo ended up escaping the attention of readers and netizens, it still caused Chief Li to miss an important opportunity for promotion shortly thereafter. Now, he didn’t dare be the least bit careless – Reliable reports recently indicated that Secretary Yang had passed the Party’s appraisal and was about to be promoted to the Standing Committee of the Provincial Party Committee. Under such circumstances, even a small screw-up might be enough to cause a major mess for Chief Li.
The minutes and seconds slipped by, and the time to put the paper to bed would arrive before they knew it. Chief Li still had no idea what to do, but the photojournalist, Young Chen, who’d been too timid to say anything throughout the discussion, thought of something. When Secretary Yang spoke to the kindergarteners in a classroom, the class’s teacher took some pictures with her own camera, even though she hadn’t known how to take good photos. Seeing a glimmer of hope, Chief Li called the kindergarten director and asked him to contact that teacher right away, to see what pictures she’d taken.
Soon the photos taken by the teacher were sent over. There were five of them, but four were blurry because the photographer was so nervous and excited that her hand shook terribly when she took them. The remaining photo was quite clear. In this photo, Secretary Yang was leaning forward slightly and gesturing as he spoke to a group of children, a broad smile on his face.
Like the others in the room, Chief Li was at first quite satisfied with this picture. When the Graphics Editor cropped it and put it on the page, however, he suddenly called a halt. “Look, you guys. Stand back a little. The way the Secretary looks, isn’t it like… he’s begging for mercy? Like he’s surrendering?"
Everyone backed away a few steps and looked it over. They all felt that the Graphics Editor-was worried about nothing. The Secretary didn’t look like he was surrendering at all. On the contrary, his attitude when speaking was affable and genial, well-suited to the children.
Chief Li asked everyone to take a thoughtful look.
"No doubt about it. Staring at the photo for such a long time,” the Director of the Major News Department said, “for a moment it does look a bit like he’s surrendering. But couldn’t it be a bias because of what Chief Li just told us – an illusion?"
"As long as there’s a remote possibility that people will get that impression, we can’t print it. Remove it! Take it away!" Chief Li seemed to have become a bird startled by the twang of a bow. He remembered a photo of Secretary Yang that he’d published at the end of the previous year: the secretary at a meeting with his head down. He’d in fact been looking down at some documents, but one or two individuals on the internet said he was dozing. That same evening, Chief Li had received a text message from the prefecture’s Minister of Propaganda: "The Secretary asks you, ‘Are you less capable than one would wish for a person in your position?’"
A phone call from the printer told them that the next day’s paper wouldn’t get to readers on time unless the page layout were sent down right then. Chief Li’s head was about to explode. If the paper wasn’t on Secretary Yang’s desk the first thing in the morning, he’d be in deep trouble again.
"Important news! Important news!" A reporter ran into the room. "Secretary Yang has been Shuang-guied.* It’s all over the net..."
Chief Li hurriedly opened the webpage, took a look, and laughed. He slapped his palm down on his desk and said, “These photos, publish them all! This is the lead story on the front page! Change the headline to: ‘Secretary Yang’s Serious Transgressions Under Investigation...."
*[I.e., dual-regulated – brought up on charges before the Party’s Central Commission for Discipline. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuanggui – Fannyi]
Text version on page 20. Translated from 谁说我糊弄人的博客 at
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Chinese Stories in English
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Stories printed in 2016 China Annual Flash Fiction 2016《中国年度微型小说 – 作家网选片》
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