Stories by Wan Junhua (万俊华)
1. Arrangement (约定)

      They were a family of three. The father was a government functionary; the mother a grade school teacher; and the son a graduating high school senior struggling through the final lap, getting ready for the Gaokao [the national college entrance exam].
      They say the Gaokao is a test of the parents. That's no lie.
      With only a few months to go before the test, their son still hadn't been able to get his math grades up. Wouldn't it be awful if he didn't test into a top-flight college? His parents were worried sick.
      So they hired a teacher who had been evaluating high school seniors for years. He would do a last-minute cram session with their son for an hour every evening. When they learned that the boy's math grades had developed with miraculous speed, they were so moved that they hugged each other for joy.
      To ensure their son's health, the couple would sit down together every evening to research his next day's meal plan. Whenever they saw him sitting there eating his meals with relish, they would break out in delighted smiles.
      When they saw how hard the studying was on him, the parents talked to each other about letting him ease up a bit.
      It was one weekend when the weather was crystal clear. The three of them, riding in a "Santana" that had been assigned to him by his office, went to the foothills of Plum Ridge Mountain.
      Everyone says Plum Ridge Mountain is as pretty as a painting, and when you get to see the view yourself, you know its reputation is well deserved. You look out and your eyes are filled with the green mountain and the people wandering free and unfettered on it; butterflies and dragonflies flitting over a jade-green stream of sparkling water. As they watched their son enjoying himself to the fullest, the mother and father vied with one another to be the photographer, one taking a picture of the boy with the mountain as background, the other taking his picture with clouds drifting behind him. Ah, getting back to nature really feels great.
      On the third and final day of the Gaokao, the couple completed their supporting role in seamless cooperation. They escorted their son to the school's test hall as a couple; they stood as a couple in the scorching sun outside the school gate, waiting for him to come out; and as a couple they escorted him home, a dignified and exemplary husband and wife.
      On the same day their son received his notice of admission to a highly ranked college, they also received the document for which they had been waiting so long: their Certificate of Divorce.

2. ET's Day (外星人的一天)

      It was late at night. Old Zhang saw a dreadful-looking extraterrestrial through the mist. It had come to earth's global village, to China, to reconnoiter.
      Around five in the morning, ET saw that most of the passengers on a bus were children, each of whom was carrying a huge book bag. Some of these children were reading diligently, while others were listening attentively to foreign languages through headphones. They all had serious looks on their faces.
      That was strange. All the smiles and the looks of childish delight had disappeared from their faces, and gone where?
      Afterwards, ET came to a park. Green-leafed trees reached toward the sky everywhere, and he was surprised to see the shadowy figures of middle-aged and elderly people under each of them. Some were performing sword dances, some were doing Tai Chi exercises, and some were dancing with fans. Chess players were matched against their opponents and opera singers were practicing in full voice. What a bunch of "whitecaps", what a sight to behold!
      A question occurred to him: Where are the young adults at this time? What are they all doing? Were they all born so strong and healthy that they have no need to exercise?
      It was yet another scene that ET saw in the evening. A whole lot of young adults were in bars stuffing themselves with food and drink, boozing it up to their hearts' content, or in teahouses eating snacks and gambling, or in dance halls killing themselves with drugs.
      How is it that these young people don't cherish their own bodies? He broke out laughing: Ha ha! In this world the children are busy studying, the middle-aged and elderly are busy exercising, and the young adults are busy poisoning themselves.
      What good would it do these people even if the middle-aged and elderly ones exercised even better? War is for young adults. And if the young adults of this world have all turned themselves into gluttonous good-for-nothings and gamblers and dope fiends, how can they withstand an attack? In our war with the people of this world, won't the moment of truth come sooner rather than later? Ha ha, the people of this world will die!
      The sound of laughter startled Old Zhang out of his dreams. He was covered in a cold sweat….

3. Heat (热度)

      A family of three: The husband, 168 pounds, the wife, 145, and the daughter, 129, all belonged to the chubby type. So the wife offered a suggestion: "Let's buy a running machine for the family." They all raised their hands in approval.
      The first day after they brought it home, the husband came home early and ran for 15 minutes. The wife came home: "Come on, get off! Let me use it!" The whole family ran with boundless joy, very, very happy.
      The day came when each of the three had learned to let the others go first. The wife said: "Honey, you use the machine first, for your blood pressure."
      The daughter said: "Mom, you go first. You need to hang on to the last bit of your youth."
      The husband and wife both said: "Do your exercises, young lady. Build yourself a killer body and handsome young men will be lining up!"
      One day the husband was lying on the couch reading the paper. The wife was sitting in front of the TV watching the test pattern. The daughter was bent over in front of the computer playing a game. She was playing happily, and every once in a while shrieks of "all right!" would resound from her direction. No doubt, they'd each gained ten or more pounds.
      And so the days passed. The running machine that had cost 3,000-plus Yuan lay there quietly, with no one showing an interest in it. After some number of years, the machine had become a pile of trash spotted with rust. They let a junk dealer have it for 10 Yuan.

4. Three Mothers and Their Sons (三对母子)

     "It's really cold, Mom," the boy said breathlessly after he'd jumped into the water and thrashed around a moment.
      His rather stout mother stuck a foot into the water right away, then hastily pulled it back. "You're right, it's really cold! Come on out, son. It's the Spring Festival and you don't want to catch cold."
      As she helped her son dry off, the rather stout mother asked the attendant, "Why is the water cooler than it was yesterday?"
      "I don't know." The attendant spread his arms wide. "I heard the ice and snow froze up the pipes and the flow of hot water's slowed down a bit. Maybe it'll get better after a while."
      Then a mother sporting a swimmer's haircut came in with her son. The boy dove into the water but his head popped up right away. "The water's really cold, Mom. I won't be able to swim. I'm getting out."
      Just as the boy got up onto the deck, the mother with the swimmer's haircut went in. "The water is cold, for sure, but this is nothing compared to the people who go ice swimming in the winter, is it? Come back in, son." As soon as she said it, she dove down and started swimming underwater. She came up on the other side, then dove again and swam back underwater.
      The boy had no choice but to get back in the pool. He'd only flapped his arms a couple of times, though, before he couldn't stand it anymore and climbed back out onto the deck.
      The mother with the swimmer's haircut didn't say a word when she saw her son getting back out. She just kept on swimming back and forth in the water, despite the fact that even her lips were turning purple. When the boy saw that she'd stayed in, he got back in and started swimming alongside her.
      A comparatively slender mother brought her son in, too. Before she could finish testing the water, her son was already in the pool swimming happily. "Come back out, son. The water's so cold you won't be able to take it."
      "No! I want to stay in and swim with this little guy here. If he can stay in, why can't I? You come on in and swim with me, too, Mom!"
      As it happened, the comparatively slender mother didn't get in the water.

5. The New Bureau Chief’s Grief (新局长的悲哀)

      "Former Chief Li," the new Bureau Chief asked, "is there something you haven't told me?"
      "Of course not. I've passed on everything I should. What area concerns you?" The old Bureau Chief didn't quite understand.
      "Take a look here," the new Chief said as he pulled a sheaf of directives from the desk drawer. "I can't believe there are so many of these directives! There's too much work for too few employees. What am I supposed to do?"
      "Oh, that's what you're talking about," the former Chief said with a laugh. "Not all directives from the leadership need to be done. Some of them are just sent out so you don't feel like you're being ignored. Take a look at the directives from Party Secretary Wang."
      The former Chief picked out two sheets from the stack. "'Chief Li,'" he read, "'please do the following.' You can either do it or not. But this one, 'My friend Li, please think this over thoroughly and take care of it.' This absolutely must get done."
      "Is that true?" The new Chief's eyes grew wide. "The Party Secretary asks you to do something and it doesn't have to be done? You'd better not be fooling me."
      "The more the Party Secretary says 'Please do this,' the less it has to be done," the former Chief said. "Those directives are issued mainly so that whoever gets them can feel important. But when he calls you 'friend' and asks you to 'think about it and handle it,' you'll be up the creek if you don't do it."
      "Oh." The new Chief saw the light. "Turns out directives have a lot of things I need to pay attention to."
      "Take a look at these directives from the Mayor, too." The former Chief chose two more sheets from the stack. "This one with the words of the directive written across the page, you can either do or not. This one with the words of the directive written down the page has got to be done."
      The former Chief continued, "Also, Director Yang writes directives with three different instruments. All the ones written in pencil have to be done; the ones written with a ballpoint pen can either be done or not; never do the ones written with a fountain pen."
      Afterwards the new Chief put off or didn't do the Party Secretary's "Chief Mao, please do the following" directives. He was out of office a few months later."

Stories by Yu Tu (余途)
6. I'd Like That (我愿意)

      I'm very satisfied that I was able to rent such an ideal condo when I came to this city.
      I can see the middle-aged woman across the way when I stand out on the balcony, and occasionally I can see her daughter, too. The woman often places herself in front of the window, but her daughter appears in the dimly lit interior of their condo.
      I hope they're watching me, just like I watch them.
      I spend my life doing my laundry and hanging it out ceremoniously on the balcony. For amusement I scour all the stuff in my condo and enthusiastically set them out to cool off in front of the window.
      I want to let the woman see that I'm quite capable. I think maybe she'll invite me to become her son-in-law.
      Finally I happen to meet the woman.
      "You're quite capable," she says.
      I'm so happy my heart skips a beat.
      "Would you like to do some chores around my place," she asks me, "to earn a little spending money?"
      Thinking of her daughter, I say "I'd like that!"

7. The Kiss (吻)

      The Kiss was a new oil painting by a famous artist. It attracted a lot of viewers when it was first shown in an exhibition hall. People tried to find a trace of a kiss on the pure white surface of the painting, but most were disappointed when they couldn't find any. Some said you could see the kiss in the painting if you wanted to, and it was only people who looked for it that couldn't.
      Suddenly a woman lost control of herself and kissed the painting. Her cherry-red lips were imprinted on the pure white canvas.
      The police were called and responded at once. They arrested the woman.
      The court immediately charged her with "destruction of a work of art." At trial she explained, "I'm an artist, too. The purity and whiteness of the canvas made me lose control and give it a kiss."
      The Kiss's painter appeared in court to argue on her behalf. He said, "The suspect you've accused serves as the creator of the work. She completed the final stroke of the painting. With it, The Kiss was perfected and lacks nothing."
      The woman who kissed the painting was set free at that very session of court.
      That year's Global Arts Awards Ceremony presented a gold medal to The Kiss, as created jointly by the artist and the woman.

8. Oldster with a Broken Neck (断颈老人)

      The old man lay immobile on the bed, wearing a neck sleeve. He'd worn a steel helmet when he was young and had never imagined that he'd be wearing a hard, plastic hoop when he got old. No bullet had ever gotten to him, but now his cervical vertebrae had been pierced and were being held in place by two steel screws. An analgesic pump dripped anesthetics into his motionless body.
      He was paralyzed. Even his eyes, which he was able to move, were getting numb. A woman who'd been hired to take care of him sat by the bed.
      His wife, his life partner, had left this world.
      With his wife gone, the couple's bed had grown larger, but the area he could move around in had grown smaller. On a pitch-black night, he had tumbled out of bed in the middle of a dream and broken his neck, the connection between his head and his body.
      In the dream, he'd wanted to go and help his wife pick up a handkerchief she'd dropped.

9. Peach Blossom, Floating Away (飘去桃花)

      It was during the height of peach blossom season when Mom said that my older sister was very sick. Late-stage cancer had really played hell with her looks.
      I cried when I heard. The last few days, whenever I pass by the peach garden, it's covered in pink. She should be that color, too.
      I'm kind of scared.
      Tell me, should I go see her?
      No, don't. Let the image of her beauty remain in your memory forever, like those peach blossoms.
      The night wind blows petals off the peach blossoms.
      My dreams are filled with her smiling face, like a peach blossom.
      I still want to go see her.
      I miss her.
      So go see her. Let her retain her younger sister's beautiful image.
      I went, taking a peach blossom with me.
      A smile appeared with some difficulty at the corner of her colorless mouth. I kissed her cheek with a smile. The blossom that I'd carried in front of my chest wafted upwards in the breeze.

10. The Woman Beside Me (我身边的女人)

      The plane was late.
      The original 12:00 midnight ETD had been changed to 3:00 a.m.
      She asked if there was anyone sitting in the seat beside me. Without thinking about it, I said no.
      But that was where my wife had been sitting. She'd gone to buy some water.
      She sat down.
      When my wife got back, I stood up to offer her my seat. She said I couldn't even keep my eye on a chair. She took her water and went off to look for a seat somewhere else.
      The woman beside me looked up innocently, kind of pitiful.
      I sat back down.
      It was getting late. The people sitting there were exhausted from keeping watch, their eyes half closed. Before I knew what was happening, her head dropped onto my shoulder and rested there conveniently. I was fully awake instantly. I instinctively looked around for my wife.
      She was sitting a little ways away, watching us, her eyes half open.
      I didn't dare move, with her head on my shoulder.

Stories by Liu Wufu (刘吾福)
11. The Confidant (知己)

      At the end of the year, a bit of news swirled around the HR Department like snowflakes in a storm. The word was that Department Chief Mao was going to be transferred after the holiday. He would be taking a position as chief of the “Clear Water Yamen” – the Bureau of Culture.
      During the days before New Year’s Eve, almost no one visited Chief Mao’s home to bring gifts. Only Er-Han, a foolish fellow who worked in the boiler room, followed the tradition. He gave the Chief two bottles of fine wine and a carton of good cigarettes.
      Chief Mao didn’t get transferred after the holiday. He remained Chief of the HR Department.
      The first thing Chief Mao did in the new year was to take an ax to the personnel roster in the HR Department. He went through the Organization Department to institute staff reductions, reassignments and lay-offs. He also brought in some people from outside the Bureau to revitalize the unit. Er-Han was fortunate enough to get the job of office manager.
      The day Er-Han took the reins of his new job, Chief Mao called him into his office and poured his heart out to him. “Er-Han, now you’re officially my confidant, so I’ll tell you the truth. Before the holiday I was just doing a little experiment. When I said “I’ll be transferred after the New Year”, truth is, I wanted to see how many people in the department could really be regarded as my “bosom buddies”. Those guys, ahh – it’s like the saying goes, “In life it’s hard to find a true confidant”!
      Er-Han wiped the cold sweat from his brow as he left Chief Mao’s office. “Wow, it’s a good thing I went to my home town for a visit and never heard the news that Chief Mao was being transferred!”

12. The Daughter-In-Law (媳妇)

      There’s a woman called “Lady” in my hometown, Willow Cove.
      Lady was a vivacious girl when she was young, and smart, too. A real breath of fresh air. But since she moved to Willow Cove when she got married, it’s like she’s turned into another person. She’s submissive and retiring in both public and private.
      Lady’s mother-in-law happened to be notorious as Willow Cove’s fiercest woman. Even though Lady worked from dawn to dark every day, and was always busy working in the fields or doing housework, growing melons and vegetables, taking care of the pig and feeding the chickens, doing the laundry and washing dishes.... But being tired wasn’t the half of it. Her mother-in-law was almost always mad at her, and if she was even a little bit unhappy, she would curse at Lady at least, and might even beat her with a broom!
      Every year when I went back to my hometown, I’d notice that Lady’d gotten a lot older and grayer. Before I knew it she was sixty. Her hair was white, her back stooped, and she was obviously walking listlessly.
      Last year, I heard that Lady’s mother-in-law had died. Lady’s son was grown, and Lady had acquired a daughter-in-law of her own.
      Not long ago I went back to my hometown to take care of some business. I ran into Lady as soon as I entered the village.
      She was carrying a bamboo pole on her shoulder, with an empty water bucket hanging from each end. The buckets were huge and I thought they’d weigh well over a hundred fifty pounds when full. It looked like she was going to the well at the head of the village to get water.
      “Lady,” I called out politely. She stood there woodenly and it took her several moments to react.
      “Oh, uh – Lucky Kid’s back!”
      I said, “You’re a bit old to be fetching water, aren’t you?”
      She sighed. “Ahh – What else can I do?”
      I changed the subject right away. “I heard your fierce old mother-in-law has passed,” I said.
      “Just so, just so!” she replied.
      “So you’re finally out of the fire,” I said. “And now that you’re a mother-in-law yourself, things must be going well for you....”
      She looked wretched. “Wha’d’ya mean, ‘going well’? What do you know, Lucky Kid? That daughter-in-law of mine, she’s even fiercer than my mother-in- law! Ahh – this old lady’s destined to be a daughter-in-law her whole life!”
      As she said that, Lady shuffled off toward the well with her two buckets, her eyes brimming with tears.

13. Feelings (摸)

      Liangzi went down south to work for a year. His boss reneged on the contract and ran off with his wages.
      He returned home tired and broke at the end of the year.
      His wife came up to him, reached out and felt all his pockets. She felt and felt, then frowned and said, “Such a man you are. You go out and roam around for a year, then, what, gamble away all the money you earned?”
      His aging mother came over, reached out and felt his body all over. With a gratified smile, she said, “The only important thing is you’re healthy; strong bones and no sickness or pain. It’s good you’ve come home safely, and if you didn’t make any money this year, there’s always next year!”
      Liangzi stared at his white-haired mother. His nose tingled and he choked out one word – “Mom!”

14. Hugged by the Mayor (被市长抱过的孩子)

      A devastating hundred-year flood had almost destroyed the formerly peaceful mountain village – fields were drowned, houses collapsed, and trees were even uprooted in the storm....
      The Village Secretary sent a report to the Township Commissioner and the Commissioner sent a report to the Mayor. The Mayor rushed to the area with his entourage, bringing relief supplies and funding.
      When the Mayor arrived at the small mountain village, personnel from the Armed Police were in the middle of the struggle against the flood. They were rescuing people one by one from the roar of the flood waters. Hundreds victims of the calamity stood shivering on high ground, including twenty or thirty children, sobbing and bawling, “wah-wah”.
      The tragic sight pulled on the Mayor’s heartstrings. He hurried over and picked up one of the children and kissed his tear-stained face. Holding the child, he faced the afflicted villagers and said, “We need to trust the Government and work together to overcome this monstrous flood through the dint of our own efforts!”
      Reporters accompanying him photographed this moving scene on the spot. The pictures appeared in all the county and city newspapers the next day as the lead story on the front page. They were followed immediately by statements from the Village Secretary that the relevant government departments would properly care for the child the Mayor had hugged, and from the Township Commissioner that the concerned departments would pay special attention to the child the Mayor had been holding, and that the Mayor often asked how the child was doing.
      The Bureau of Civil Administration, in accordance with the statements of the Secretary and Commissioner, authorized the creation of an assistance fund for the child who had been held by the Mayor. The County Women's Federation gave him a down jacket of the kind normally only worn by city children. The Grain Bureau gave the child’s family a lot of bleached flour, a school officially announced that the child was an honor student, and a well-known entrepreneur decided to subsidize the child’s education through college....
      Reporters from county and city newspapers and from television stations came to interview the child every few days. The newspapers often published photos of the child's happy, smiling face, and stories about the joyful, harmonious life of the child’s family often appeared on television.
      Other children in the mountain village looked on the incomparably lucky child and were envious. “How great it would’ve been,” they said, “if I’d been hugged by the Mayor!”

15. A Taste (滋味)

      I drive the number 29 bus. My route is train station – People’s Square, with thirteen stops on the way round trip.
      It was a Sunday. A middle-aged guy, 50 years old or so, came down to the train station. He stuck a one-Yuan coin into the fare box and found himself a place to sit toward the back of the bus.
      When we got to the end of the line at the People’s Square, all the passengers crowded out of the bus except the middle-aged guy. He stayed in his seat without moving a muscle. With his eyes half closed, he looked to be really enjoying the ride.
      I thought he was asleep and reminded him right away, “Hey – end of the line, sir! Time to get off!”
      He opened his eyes slightly and grunted from deep in his throat, “I know!”
      I didn’t say anything else.
      It was almost time to get going again. A new group of passengers had started to squeeze onto the bus in an orderly manner when the middle-aged man got up, walked to the front and stuffed another one-Yuan coin into the box.
      My bus arrived back at the train station a half-hour later. Strange as it seems, when all the other passengers got off, the middle-aged fellow stayed on like he’d done before. Like before, his eyes were half-closed, and like before, he looked to be very much enjoying himself.
      Once again I reminded him, “Hey – we’re at the train station again, sir. You should get off!”
      This time he didn’t open his eyes at all. He just snorted, “I know!”
      When it was time for me to start the bus again, the middle-aged man came forward again and stuffed another one-Yuan coin into the box.
      This was one strange passenger!
      We got back to People’s Square quickly. The middle-aged man still didn’t get off!
      I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I tentatively asked him, “Sir, what are you looking for, anyway? Or are you waiting for someone?”
      The middle-aged man answered me. “I’m really not looking for anything,” he said, “or waiting for anyone.... Prices are all going up these days, except the fares on public busses. Who’s to say whether they’ll go up, too, soon. So today I came here especially to enjoy the taste of a bus ride at the uninflated price....”

To get Chinese text by return email, send name of story to

Wan Junhua (万俊华)
1. Arrangement
2. ET's Day
3. Heat
4. Mothers and Sons
5. Bureau Chief’s Grief, The

Liu Wufu (刘吾福)
11. Confidant, The
12. Daughter-In-Law, The
13. Feelings
14. Hugged by the Mayor
15. Taste, A

​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Yu Tu (余途)
6. I’d Like That
7. Kiss, The
8. Oldster
9. Peach Blossom
10. Woman Beside Me, The

Flash Fiction Monthly, Premier Issue, Distinguished Authors' Manuscripts, Page 1
Translated from
here, also available here