​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Chi Zhanyong (迟占勇)

  6. Granny's Festival
  7. Phone Call Heaven
  8. Hold Mommy's Hand
  9. The Ladder
10. Afternoon Battle

Zhang Shuwang (张树旺)

16. Merit Contribution
17. Convenient Meal
18. Career Evaluation
19. “Plugging the Holes”
20. Evaluate Comparison

Yun Zhongyang (云中羊)

1. Birthday
2. Students’ Banquet
3. Goldie’s 2nd Career
4. Lonely Soul, Wild Kid
5. Old Lady Ma

Song Dianru (宋殿儒)

11. National Law
12. To Make Love
13. Keeping Watch
14. Test
15. Fishing

Author 022 Yun Zhongyang (云中羊)
1. Birthday

      It was the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, Old Man Lai’s birthday. As of twelve noon, he’d be sixty years old. He’d been mulling over something the last few days: If his future daughter-in-law still insisted on her idea after twelve o’clock, he’d do what he’d planned.
      Old Man Lai was a farmer. His family was poor when he was young, and he was over thirty before he married a half-blind woman. They have two sons. The older one took after his mother and was born half blind; the other son is healthy, but too shrewd.
      Relying on his own strength, Old Man Lai raised the two boys to adulthood. He even built a four-room brick house. He’d originally intended to let his younger son use two of the rooms when he got married, while the old couple and the first son would live together in the other two. These days, however, who wants to live in two rooms after getting married? When his second son got himself a girlfriend, she told him even before she ever came through the door that she wouldn’t marry him unless she could have all four rooms in the house!
      Now his second son was already twenty-seven or twenty-eight, and that thought made the old man sick with worry. He was sixty years old, though, and these four rooms were the only family property he had after a lifetime. Where could he go to live, dragging a pair of half-blind people with him?
      "Dong, dong, dong...." The clock struck twelve. Just as Old Man Lai was about to get going, his trembling, half-blind wife brought him a bowl of "longevity noodles".
      "Eat them while they’re hot."
      His half-blind son also groped his way in, out of breath, and handed the old man a bottle of "Erguotou" white lightning.
      "It’s your birthday, Pop, have a drink."
      The old man choked up as he looked his blind wife and his blind child, and tears blurred his eyes. He stood up, turned around and went into the kitchen. He took out the package of “Extra Strong Rat Poison” he’d previously made ready and quietly threw it into the oven....

2. Students’ Banquet

      The sun was scorching that golden autumn season. One by one, student banquets were being held. What few restaurants there were in that small town had been booked solid a month in advance.
      The joint was jumping at the Welcome Spring Hotel. A riotous party in the banquet hall shook the heavens with laughter and conversation. Mr. Kuan, a teacher, was so drunk his face was red and he couldn’t see straight. He was among the last to leave the banquet.
      As he went to get up, Mr. Kuan staggered and almost fell between the tables. He was seen by the new teacher, Young Han, an agile and sharp-eyed fellow, who strode forward and took ahold of his shoulders
.     "Turn left, sir."
      "There’s nothing wrong. I know where the door is!" Mr. Kuan tapped his embarrassingly empty wallet and pointed at something over by the door.
     "We’ve about weathered the storm this year,” he said. “All that’s left is for the principal to spend some big bucks. I wonder when he’ll have his students’ welcoming banquet.”
      "I heard the principal won’t do a banquet,” Young Han told him in a whisper. “He’s afraid the Communist Party’s Disciplinary Committee would investigate him for using it as a pretext to collect money illegally."
      Mr. Kuan glanced at the naïve young fellow and asked meaningfully, “He wouldn’t do that, would he?”....

3. Goldie’s Second Career

      After Goldie received the call from his old classmate, Shiny Ma, he started making arrangements to go to the southwest. His wife Literary Elegance was right on his ass all day long nagging him.
      "Don’t go! It’s such a long trip. What are you going for?"
      "Go away, don’t bother me!" At first Goldie had tried speaking gently to explain, but then he grew impatient. "It’s my business. You needn't concern yourself!”
      When his wife saw that words weren't working, she added tears to what she was saying. A woman's tears are what men hate most to see, and when Goldie saw his wife crying, his heart softened and he hastened to try persuasion one more time.
      "Look at yourself. My friend has opened a small company there, and he doesn't have enough manpower. I'm going to help him run the place because, first of all, I'll have a job again; and second, it'll help my friend. But the most important thing is that it'll increase our income. So what reason would I have for not doing it?"
      Goldie had been an office manager in a certain governmental unit. He was given an early retirement in a reform, even though he wasn't yet fifty years old. Since then he'd been going downhill. If he wasn't drinking, he was sleeping, and sometimes his temper got the better of him. A few days ago when he'd received an unexpected call from his old high school classmate, Shiny Ma, inviting him to a city in the southwest to help take care of his company, he'd agreed right away. Bit his wife said she'd die before letting him go.
      She'd given it her best shot, but he finally made it past his wife's efforts. He felt like a heavy burden had been taken from his shoulders. Filled with happiness at the thought of starting a new career, he flew to the southwest from his home in the northeast.
      At first he phoned his wife often from the southwest, but the calls began to taper off after he had her send him fifty thousand yuan, which he said was to purchase shares in the company. His wife couldn't stop worrying. When she phoned him, if his line wasn't busy his phone was turned off. She began to have all kinds of wild thoughts. "Men! You've got to keep them on a tight leash. Once you turn them loose...."
      One day she was unexpectedly called in to the Public Security Bureau. Her heart was hanging in suspense and pounding so hard it seemed about to jump out of her throat. On the way to the station, she thought of a million things it might be.
      When she got there, Literary Elegance learned that Goldie had been detained. Surprisingly, the reason was that he'd been engaged in an illegal pyramid scheme....

4. Sights and Sounds of a Lonely Soul and Wild Kid

      My name is Little Beauty Huang. I was always the teacher’s pet from grade school through junior high, and a good little daughter to my parents. After starting high school I wasn’t so good.
      When I got to high school, they always arranged the seating according to test scores. In the beginning I could still sit in the first three rows, but later, as my scores steadily got worse, my seat was naturally moved toward the back. By my sophomore year, I was so far back that I couldn’t go back any farther. Could I get into college with such scores? When I was through crying, I said to heck with it and broke free of the mold. I got into skipping class, surfing the net and making friends....
      I met someone called “Red Heart Knight” online and we became internet buddies. We could really chat up a storm. One day, out of a clear blue sky, he asked me to meet him. I didn’t think twice about it, just went. But I started to sweat when I got into his black sedan, whether from excitement or fear I don’t know.
      "Red Heart" handed me something to drink when he saw how much I was sweating. I took a few sips from the bottle, got drowsy and fell asleep.
      When I woke up after I don’t know how long, I found myself floating in the air above a small forest. I saw another me lying face up under a big tree. She was naked and her clothes were in a pile beside her. Her body was black and blue, lying in a pool of blood with a white nylon rope around her neck. The driver and "Red Heart" were hard at work digging a hole in the ground off to one side....
      I wanted to jump down, untie the rope from my neck and put on my clothes, but I couldn’t get down there for anything. I was like a trapeze artist hanging in the air from a rope, floating there, but unable to land. All I could do was shout:
      “Hurry, someone, help me!"
      But no matter how I screamed, the world remained as quiet as if it were in stasis, without even the least bit of an echo. I looked on helplessly as those two guys lifted me up, threw me into the hole and quickly began to fill it with dirt....

5. Old Lady Ma

      Old Lady Ma is a real terror and is well-known far and wide; when she chews someone out, the whole neighborhood knows about it.
      She's a lonely old woman. No one ever saw her husband, and no one knows whether she has any children. Still less does anyone remember when or from where she came to Mountainside Station. All anyone knows is that she's ugly. Her face is covered with pockmarks, her back is humped like a camel's and she walks with a limp. She loves to gossip and to curse at people.
      When the young couple in the Zhang family made noises about a divorce, Old Lady Ma sat at home on her heated brick bed and carped about them full throttle, without even taking a break to eat or drink. She carped until the young man's mood got rosier and the young wife's tears turned to laughter....
      The Li's son didn't care about his family and spent his days away from home goofing off. In the cold of winter, his parents were freezing in their drafty home. Old Lady Ma latched on to the boy's ear and read him the riot act until he knelt down and begged for mercy. He promised never to ignore his parents again....
      The young women in the village were mischievous. They made fun of the blind guy who told fortunes and teased the lame guy who begged for food. When Old Lady Ma ran into them, she'd pick up a stick and chase after them, limping and cursing all the while. She'd curse until they split up in confusion. While they were running away they'd shout, "Old Lady Ma is ugly, Old Lady Ma is lame, Old Lady Ma has a back like a camel...."
      That didn't make her mad. She'd just yell louder, "Little scamps!"
      The sound of her cursing assailed people's ears almost every day. Then, surprisingly, one day Mountainside Station was unusually quiet. It seemed to people that something was missing. They thought about it for a long while before the realized that they hadn't heard Old Lady Ma chewing anyone out for a long time.
      They followed the twisty path to her home and found the courtyard gate closed tight, but the door to the house wide open. When they got up the courage to go inside they saw Old Lady Ma in front of her stove. She'd been dead for some time....

Author 023 Chi Zhanyong (迟占勇)

6. Granny's Dragon Boat Festival

      The Dragon Boat Festival was still many days away when Granny began to worry about her oldest granddaughter. "Poor Petal, I wonder if she’ll be able to have a meal of zongzi rice dumplings.”
      Petal is her great granddaughter. Last winter she got married and moved to a particularly poor canyon. She was deeply bitter about it, but she couldn’t defy her father.
      She was homesick after she got married, especially for her grandmother. Granny had raised her from the time she was a baby. The two were the closest of the whole family.
      Granny rose early on the day of the Dragon Boat Festival. She’d just got out of bed when she started to mutter, “Poor Petal, I don’t even know, will she be able to have an egg for breakfast?”
      Times were hard in those days. Farming families all kept chickens, but they usually weren’t willing to eat them. They’d only part with one or two of them for the Dragon Boat Festival.
      Granny loved her granddaughter so much it hurt. She’d gotten sick a few years ago and her granddaughter was the one who’d taken care of her. Helping her go to the bathroom, making her shoes, it was all done by her granddaughter. The shoes were done just right, soles and tops as well, and were embroidered with beautiful peonies. The neighbors all said, “You’ve got a wonderful granddaughter!” Granny beamed from ear to ear and the walnut pattern of her laugh lines grew even deeper.
      But Granny didn’t like it when her granddaughter was married off to that distant canyon in the mountains.
      "She’ll come back to spend the holidays with us," Petal’s father had said.
      So Granny spent her days looking forward to the holiday. She’d sit on her heated brick bed, gazing out the window at that mountain to the south. On the other side of that mountain, and then across a few more mountains, was where Petal’s husband and his family lived.
      Petal didn’t come home for half a year.
      The ancestor and the grandchild hugged each other and began crying together. While she was crying, Granny took two eggs from her blouse and, trembling, placed them in her granddaughter's hand.
      Both eggs had already been removed from their shells, and the soft membranes had been blackened from handling. They seemed to smell a bit.
      Looking at the eggs in her hand, Petal's tears flowed even more fiercely. They poured like rain onto the blackened eggs....

7. A Cell Phone Call from Heaven

      When they were putting the box containing their cousin's bones and ashes into the grave, his wife tearfully placed his beautiful Nokia phone into the box with him. “A-Chen loved this phone when he was alive,” she said, “So let it keep him company! Remember us, A-Chen, and give us a call when you get to heaven....”
      A-Yang and his wife didn’t say a word on the way back from the cemetery. They were saddened by their cousin's death. He’d been a good man, and he was only thirty-eight years old. Who could have imagined that he’d suffer a sudden cerebral hemorrhage. Before they got to the hospital he’d…. Jeez!
      As A-Yang and his wife were lying in bed that night, the topic of conversation happened to shift to A-Chen. They sighed and moaned in sorrow.
      They talked and talked, and eventually mentioned the phone.
      A-Yang’s wife said, "His wife must have money to burn. That phone was worth more than 2,000 yuan and she buried it in the ground. What a waste.”
      "What do you know?” A-Yang replied. “That’s what people call ‘feelings’! It’s called ‘romance’!"
      "A bit too romantic."
      "Bzz—" A-Yang’s phone rang.
      No one spoke.
      A-Yang looked at his phone and his face paled!
      "It’s A-Chen’s number!"
      [Fannyi would have added: Next morning they discovered that A-Chen's grave had been dug up. His wife had changed her mind about the phone.]

8. Hold Mommy's Hand

      The sky was full of clouds when my mother and I were in the field pulling up seedlings for replanting. Before long the thunder and lightning started and it began to rain. Mother took my hand and ran towards home!
      By the time we got to the bend in the formerly dry river, it was already full of flood water and roaring with a deafening noise. Mother and I held hands and stepped carefully onto the single-plank bridge.
      All of a sudden I stumbled and fell into the water. "Mommy, save me!" I thrashed about in the water.
      Mother reached out right away and pushed me toward the shore with all her might. Another wave hit, and in the blink of an eye her tall body was completely under water!
      "Mommy! Mommy!" I shouted.
      "What? What is it? Mommy’s right here, son." My mother’s silver-haired head rose up from beside the sickbed. For two days she’d been keeping watch over me, almost without shutting her eyes.
      "Nothing." The blue veins stood out on her hand as I grabbed it tightly, not willing to let go. I told myself to stop crying but my tears wouldn’t obey.
      "Look at you, such a big boy still acting like a mama’s boy.” She looked at me tenderly. “The doctor said you almost died. Amitabha Buddha, scared the life out of me. You’ll be all right once your two broken ribs heal."

9. The Ladder

      I woke up and saw a ladder standing against the wall of East Hill. “Huh? What’s another ladder doing there?” I looked again and the building’s door was wide open. Mother was surprised. She rushed in to look and then shouted, "Damnation! The meat’s gone!"
      We rubbed the sleep out of our eyes and quickly ran outside. All that was left of the pig we were going to eat for New Year's was four trotters and the head. Damn thieves! Mother's hard work for a whole year, wasted!
      We were partly at fault. We’d been living out of town and had arrived at our parent’s home for the holiday the night before. We hadn’t seen each other for a year and stayed up late visiting, then slept too soundly. We’d never even heard a sound.
      Father looked at the ladder closely. Then he shook his head and went back inside without a word.
      A little later, Uncle Wang from East Village came over. He’s a distant relative and I hadn’t seen him for years. He’d aged a lot and his clothes were ragged. I almost didn’t recognize him.
      "Hey, man, I heard you guys got hit by a thief. That ladder’s mine, but really, I didn’t steal your meat! Some damn A-hole stole my ladder!”
      Father gave him the ladder and let him go.
      Obvious, isn’t it? So early in the morning and he already knew our meat had been stolen?
      "I’d noticed that it was his ladder. Ah, forget, it! His sons are worthless. It’s not worth it. Look how they are. You call that a family?"
      Father coughed a couple of times after he said that. Then he told us, "The holiday’s tomorrow. Buy some meat and we can celebrate the New Year just the same!"

10. Afternoon Battle

      A blazing sun baked the earth mercilessly one summer afternoon. Not even a trace of a breeze stirred over the vast yellow land, just waves of steamy heat.
      The warriors of the two armies faced off against one another. One side wore brown and the other black. The sun’s reflection off their armor dazzled the eyes.
      The silence was frightening. It seemed as though you could hear a pin drop.
      This was a place that military strategists had to fight over. Armies had come and gone for many years, and they’d all wanted to appropriate the land to themselves.
      A battle cry erupted and cut through the air like a bolt of lightning. Even the broiling sun seemed to tremble. The battle had begun! The black and brown armies came together. The sounds of killing shook the heavens and the field was enveloped in the dust of battle.
      Suddenly the sky turned dark like it was blocked off by a giant pillar. Both armies were gripped by intense fear and stopped their butchery. Then a huge column of hot liquid poured down from the sky. The two armies had nowhere to hide. The screams of terror went on and on.
      It was short work for the sun to lick up the last drop of liquid from the column.
      All was quiet over the corpses lying in the wilderness, as though the world had come to an end.
      "Poppa, come and look at your son! So much piss! He sprayed on some ants and killed a bunch of them!"
      The young woman picked up her son and went happily back into the house.
      The blazing sun was still hanging in the sky.

Author 024 Song Dianru (宋殿儒)

11. National Law

      A woman and child and husband were living in a small room of less than ten square meters [107 sq. ft.]. Her husband had just come home and was smoking one cigarette after another. The smoke made the woman and child gasp for breath. They couldn’t stand it but had no way to turn the smokestack off.
      As the women reluctantly led her son outside for some fresh air, the public-address system loudspeaker in front of their door suddenly reported on the national government’s latest regulation:
      "Any cadre with an official rank of section-level or above who smokes in a public place, parentheses, a place with three or more people is a public place, will be dealt with by having to eat his wife’s cooking three days a month, and by having to sleep with his wife at home in their bed three nights a month...."
      That’s all it took for the woman to proclaim to herself, “My lord, the government is so wise!"
      Actually, the women had forgotten one fact. Her husband had committed an offence and no longer held a rank of section-level or above. You can take it for granted that he wasn’t accustomed to living in a slum, either.

12. To Make Love

      Man: “Luckily, Nature has provided these woods.”
      Woman: “You need to take it easy. I might have someone else.”
      Man: “If you’re not OK with it, I’ll get another. There’re more cakes in the bakery.”
      Woman: “The price of real estate has doubled in the last year.”
      Man: “When prices go up, my wages do, too.”
      Woman: “Keep your voice down. Seems like someone’s over there doing something.”
      Man: “I know. If this isn’t OK, we can go to my parent’s house during the day and fix up the attic. I’ll move that old sofa up there and you can come back at night, when everyone’s sound asleep.”
      Woman: “I’m almost forty.”
      Man: “If that’s not OK, we can get a license. I’ll blow a month’s pay for three days in a hotel....”
      Woman: “And after those three days we’ll still be sneaking around like god-damn thieves....”

13. Keeping Watch

      The woman sat in front of the door looking down the road where the man had gone, after drinking that bottle of pesticide. Before long, her eyes were eternally fixed on the road the man had taken....
      The cat in her arms slipped away without looking back when she was no longer warm.... Only the dog at her feet remained on guard, right up until there was no longer any earthly color in its eyes....

14. Test

      The oral examination of lower-ranking cadres to recruit Political Reviewers was about to begin. The County’s new Party Secretary was presiding.
      When the new Party Secretary entered the examination room, the first reaction was everyone turning to look at him. You could almost hear the "swooshing" of their eyes. After that came deathly silence, broken only by the sound of breathing. Then everyone saw the Secretary put something black under his desk. Some of the people in the room thought about covering their noses, but no one dared move.
      “Don’t be nervous, people” the Secretary said, "just answer truthfully. The subject of today’s test is honesty. Let’s begin!”
      "Comrades!” he continued, “this thing I brought you, is it fragrant or stinky? You have one minute to think about your answer."
      After a minute he said, "All who agree that it’s fragrant, please raise your hands."
      "Swoosh!" Almost everyone raised their hands.
      The Secretary stood straight up and looked toward the farthest corner of the room. He saw two people sitting up straight with their hands not raised.
      He approached them and asked, "Why didn’t you raise your hands?"
      "To tell the truth, you must’ve farted when you came into the room. Otherwise it wouldn’t stink so much."
      “Great!!! You two pass,” the Secretary said. Then he pulled that that stinky bag from the under his desk.

15. Fishing

      Village Mayor Li loved keeping fish. Township Mayor Zhang loved to go fishing.
      When Mayor Li was chairman of the leadership subcommittee, he contracted to run the team's reservoir. Others who had done so always operated at a loss, but Mayor Li made money. The others had not allowed the public to fish in the reservoir, but Mayor Li opened it up for fishing.
      This attracted the attention of Mayor Zhang, since he loved to go fishing.
      One day Mayor Zhang spent the whole day at the reservoir without catching anything. He complained to Mayor Li, "You’re a son of a monkey, and your fish are all monkey spawn, too!”
      "Come back tomorrow,” Mayor Li replied. “I guarantee you’ll catch a fish every time you drop a line."
      Mayor Zhang did go back the next day, and Mayor Li took him to a spot facing the sunrise. Against his expectations, Mayor Zhang did catch a fish every time he dropped a line, and every one of the fish was a carp!
      The following day another fisherman went fishing at that spot facing the sunrise. He didn’t catch a single fish the whole day.
      Mayor Zhang came to fish at the same spot on the fourth day. Once again he caught something every time he dropped a line, and everything he caught was a large carp.
      The villagers were puzzled. One curious fellow waited until Mayor Zhang left and then snuck into the water to investigate. He ended up getting caught in a net full of carp that had been placed there earlier.

Author 034 Zhang Shuwang (张树旺)

16. Meritorious Contribution

      A month after a certain gentleman had changed to a new bicycle tire, it blew out. He sought out the old fellow who'd changed the tire and asked him, “Why did you use such an inferior product?”
      Who would’ve figured that the old fellow would smile affably when he heard the question. “Don’t get excited,” he said. “You seem like a cadre, so you must be broad minded. It’s not worth getting mad over.
      “While this product is inferior, there are many advantages to using it. The factory prospers, so the workers don’t get laid off and are able to feed their families. Think of it like this: You’ve guaranteed that workers didn’t get laid off; and the ones who would’ve been laid off still have food to eat. Haven’t you made a great contribution to society?”
      The gentleman marveled at these remarks.

17. Convenient Meal

      Since the village started large-scale farming of fresh-water crabs, the mayor has often gone to the breeding sites to stay in touch with the workers and do his work "on-site". When it gets late he eats a “convenient meal” at whatever site he’s visiting. He’s quite amiable and tells the breeders, “Just cook me a few crabs – don’t bother making anything else.”
      One day the mayor went to breeder Wang the Dolt’s place on an "inspection tour”. Conveniently, right at noon, he said, “So this is where you eat your meal.” The Dolt’s crabbing operation wasn’t doing too well and the mayor’s comment made him uncomfortable. He scowled and said, "I’m not running an eatery here!"
      The mayor laughed and said, "Your whole place is full of eats, isn’t it?”

18. Career Evaluation

      More than thirty people from the unit signed up for the Mid-Level Professional’s Evaluation, but the higher-ups had limited participation to twelve people. The bosses researched the issue and set up an Evaluation Subcommittee to grade the candidates and decide on a ranking.
      Little Forest Cui’s wife advised him to greet the Subcommittee politely to avoid getting a low ranking. Little Forest waived her off. “No need for that! No matter how you look at it, I’ll be one of the top twelve.”
      His wife was still worried. “It’s still better to speak politely.”
      Little Forest was impatient with her. “You’re worried about nothing.” She didn’t say anything more about it.
      When the scores were posted, Little Forest had come in twelfth. When he came home at noon, he said to his wife triumphantly, “How about it. I wasn’t wrong, was I?”
      “You think you’re so hot,” his wife sneered. “If I hadn’t spoken politely to each of the Committee members, you wouldn’t even have come in twenty-second, let alone twelfth.”
      Startled, Little Forest just stood there with his mouth open and didn’t say anything.

19. “Plugging the Holes”

      Old Cow, my classmate, got a job in a different area last year. When I spoke to him on the phone, he was full of resentment and said, “I left my old department over three million yuan ahead. If I’d only known....”
      I asked, “That was precisely one of your career achievements, wasn’t it?”
      “Bullshit!” he said. “What’s the point of saving money? If I’d taken a few hundred thousand of it to scratch people’s backs, I’d be an assistant district chief by now, for sure, or a district chief. Now, just my luck, they’ve issued a transfer order sending me to a debt-ridden department to ‘plug up the holes’!”

20. Evaluation by Comparison

      It was a small unit, but it came in first every year in the township’s All-Category Comparative Evaluations.
      This year during the organization’s Professional Ethics and Administration Evaluation, the boss said: "This year we didn’t give out any gifts and we didn’t host any banquets, but we aren’t getting the top spot." The Office Manager was mystified. The boss just smiled mysteriously and said, "What a downer!"
      Sure enough, the unit only came in third. Two units that perennially ranked at the bottom, on the other hand, unexpectedly moved to the fore. Everyone had an opinion about this.
      Before long, however, the township revised the rankings. As in the past, the unit got first place. An exposé on a television station had shown that the two units which had been ahead of it had hosted banquets during the competition. Not only did the two units lose the honor of being considered outstanding in the professional ethics competition, their leaders were punished as well.
      Faced with this dramatic change, the Office Manager was still mystified. The boss said, in a very sincere tone of voice, "The new mayor of the township advocates doing the job right. Wouldn’t it be a downer if we tried to fake it?

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An Exhibition of Contemporary Chinese Flash Fiction Writers (In Process)
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