1. Forgetting (遗忘)
Unlike ordinary amnesiacs, he forgot "I".
He had no memory whatsoever of anything that involved himself as an individual. “Your name?” He’d forgotten. “When were you born?” He didn’t know. “Who’s your wife?” He couldn’t remember. “Where do you live? To whom are you related? With what persons have you formed friendships?” He couldn’t give you a clue.
He told the police that the May 4th Movement took place in 1919, and that the October Revolution sent Marxism to China with an explosive cannon shot. The Chinese Communist Party held its first National Congress on July 1, 1921, with twelve delegates representing over fifty party members nationwide. There were still twelve delegates when the second party congress was held the following year, but by that time there were 195 party members in the country. The delegates were so-and-so, so-and-so, and etc.
He could also talk about things from first United Front, the Northern Expedition, the August 7, 1927 Meeting, the Agrarian Revolutionary War, the Struggle against Encirclement and the Long March, through the War against Japan, the War of Liberation, the Founding Ceremony, the War to Resist US Aggression, the Movement against the Three and the Five Evils, the Gao Rao Incident, the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, the Lushan Conference, the Cultural Revolution and so on. And he was thoroughly familiar with the international communist movement and the international situation as well.
The police called upon an expert doctor to work with them and help discover what this person had gone through. Everyone was deeply puzzled and unable to gain an understanding. They uniformly agreed, however, that if they ignored the special characteristics of what the man was wearing, he must be a senior politician or famous scholar suffering from severe paranoid amnesia.
They took his photo and disseminated it in missing person announcements over TV and in newspapers to help him find, as soon as possible, the family from whom he’d become separated.
The effectiveness of modern media was demonstrated on all fronts when the elderly man’s family arrived at the police station without delay. However, he still drew a blank when he came face to face with them. He couldn't tell which of them was related to him in exactly which way. He called his wife and his sons and daughters "comrades" or "war buddies."
Curious, the police and doctors asked the old man’s family about his life. Contrary to what the experts had expected, he was neither a senior politician nor a famous expert. He was just an ordinary civil engineer. He’d started having trouble remembering anything about his private life, including who he was, about ten years previously. Regarding major historical events in politics, the economy and other areas, however, he was able to talk about them in meticulous detail, and with complete accuracy, as though he were counting his family’s assets.
According to his “war buddy” – his wife – the old man actually didn’t personally experience the events that he was able to describe in such detail. Working in his factory, he’d run up against the political movements of the “Anti-Rightist Campaign” and the “Cultural Revolution” in the same way as everyone else in the country. His class background was vague – between middle peasant and rich peasant – and in successive struggles it was therefore necessary to take positive steps to clarify the ambiguity of his family's status. You might say he used his own performance to help the organization forget about the apparent shamefulness of his family background.
Between the Anti-Rightist Struggle and the “Cultural Revolution”, when the person responsible for the working group entered the factory, he'd often have Lenin’s famous quote on his lips: “Forgetting the past smacks of betrayal.” This became his mantra.
This working group leader had his own unique understanding of the teachings of the revolutionary fathers. He believed there has only one criterion for distinguishing a revolutionary from a counter-revolutionary, and telling whether he might be betraying the revolution or not. He'd see if the guy could remember the past. Thus he'd often call people he suspected of problems in to see him, and ask them all kinds of bizarre questions about the revolution. Ones who could provide accurate answers would earn his temporary trust. For the others, things like detention, interrogation, and criticism would be their companions.
With his head full of this kind of knowledge, the old man passed successive "exams" in the work group. At the time, these things were the content of his conversation even when he talked in his sleep.
For self-preservation, he twisted his brains memorizing these things that had nothing to do with himself. They've remained fresh in his memory right up to today. His eyes light up when he reads things with this kind of content, and anything that passes his eyes stays in his memory.
However, if you ask him, "Last name? First name? Address? Wife's name?" – things like that – his mind goes blank.
2. The Debater (辩手)
I’m afraid no one who’s studied at a university is unaware of the debate competitions prevalent on campuses.
They’re a kind of oral game that’s quite stimulating. One must conduct a cruel verbal campaign in accordance with the rules, but speaking reasonably isn't the secret to victory. That is to say, one makes use of artificial and preposterous reasoning.
The pro and con debaters line up on either side with a moderator sitting in the middle. His role is to prevent physical altercations while lighting and fanning the flames of competition. Three people appear for each side, referred to, respectively, as the First, Second and Third Debaters. The propositions are determined by drawing straws. If it’s "The chicken came first," then the con side must maintain that "The egg came first." The next step is mano-a-mano combat, and in a flash the question of whether the chicken or the egg came first turns into one of the fundamental problems of the world.
Each side pompously quotes authorities chapter and verse, and mocks, ridicules, and persistently pressures the other side. They debunk the lies and the laughable premise of their opponent's views until they confirm, in the end, that the chicken flew the coop or the eggs got scrambled. Either way, both sides achieve joy from this infuriating situation. The winners also get a "chicken-feed" grand prize competition trophy or certificates of merit.
Having been egged on by my classmates, I signed up for one and only one competition while I was in college. I'm naturally weak, timid and afraid of stirring up trouble. When I speak in front of people, my face turns red, my heart pounds and my legs tremble. If the Communist Party Branch Secretary hadn't said that my ability to participate in this competition would serve as a test of whether I was qualified to join the Communist Youth League, I never would have made such an exhibition of myself.
I wanted to win as much glory as possible for my class, so I spent more than half a month preparing the piecemeal knowledge I would need for the debate. I also recited tongue twisters to improve my speaking skills and repeatedly trained to increase my speed at answering questions.
The day finally arrived. The debate was held in a large, 400-person capacity lecture hall filled with cheerleaders and curiosity seekers who had come to see the show. The proposition that day was "Having Money Makes Things Easier" versus "Not Having Money Makes Things Easier". We drew the "Having Money" side.
The battle of words became enflamed right from the beginning. When the free debate period started, my throat was so dry it was smoking and I couldn't say a word. A silly little girl on the other side took the opportunity to interrupt and sprayed rapid-fire questions at me in machine gun fashion. She asked the judges to take note of my ignorance and logical confusion. She also hoped the audience would understand my mental retardation and incoherence. Every time she said something, she began by asking everyone to recall how "the views just expounded by my debate opponent" are so, so ridiculous and sad, so, so absurd and ridiculous, so, so ignorant and shameless, and so on and so forth.
God, was I speechless! My blood boiled up into my head. I didn't think morals and decorum should be ignored in a debate. How could she tell such lies in public and inject new concepts in the debate. Such sophistry! She put words and conclusions in my mouth. I'd absolutely never "expounded" what she called her "opponent's views".
To my surprise, her unreasoning rudeness was met with thunderous applause and cheers from people in the audience even more rude than her. I couldn't stand it and lost control. I forgot the rules of the debate game. I stood up and "bang", I shot out like an arrow, seized that debater's neck and gave her a loud, roundhouse slap in the face.
I still don't know what would've happened if the moderator and the other debaters hadn't pulled me away so quickly.
The result was, she won the "Best Debater" title and I was placed "under observation" by the school. All because I violated the rules debating – a gentleman fights with his words, not with his hands.
People with tempers, as well as reasonable people, certainly shouldn't participate in this kind of competition.
4. Statistics (统计)
“Statistics show results, but they also reveal problems. Statistics make cadres, statistics make benefits, and statistics make errors.”
This friend of mine had been drinking, but what he said was still rhythmical, insightful and well-grounded in fact. The preceding paragraph was his generalization of the significance of statistics, as formulated after the third round.
He also said that statistics are a bit like kneading dough: If it’s too wet add some flour; if it’s too dry add some water; and keep adjusting it until you get the right balance of hard to soft. He also said that "Statistics are a kind of quantified feeling: Just like drinking, high and low or more and less are only relative. The standard is ambiguous, so there’s no use being too much of a stickler about it."
He’s only a department-level officer and can’t be considered a big shot, but certainly mustn’t be confused with ordinary people, either. I’ve grasped this point and keep my place. Even though he’s a classmate as well as a friend, and even if we’re meeting privately, I don’t dare tap him casually on the shoulder or head. This I understand.
Because he’s my friend, I don’t want to mention his name. That could easily lead to trouble for him. Tabloid reporters these days will dare to write anything, so you just use a pseudonym. For example, you often see “Old K” or “Ah Q” in literary works. The more accomplished among tabloid reporters can still figure out who it is by guessing. Of course, there are occasions when they attribute something to the wrong person, and things get so screwed up you don’t know whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy.
My friend said that the economic growth rate, the gross national product, the per capita GDP, Engel's coefficient and such things don’t lack for padding. “But there are layers upon layers of specialized departments that handle such things for us, so you needn't worry.”
He said that some figures can be said to be inaccurate. For example, how many things have actually been done, or how many letters of commendation have been received, and the level of satisfaction among the people. Then there are things that can’t be easily verified, like the one-time pass rates for various types of examinations and the ratio of compliance with the government’s comprehensive environmental management. “That’s not a big deal, though. A little more, a little less, a little higher, a little lower, none of that will interfere with the people’s food and drink. They’re just proper adjustments to make things look and sound better.”
They do have to be cautious about the occurrence rates and solve rates of public security and criminal cases. Occurrence rates that are too high coupled with solved rates that are too low can cause panic in the society. Therefore, one needs to spend some time thinking about it, and the easiest thing to do is, “Not solved, don’t list”. Minimal records should be kept of cases that don’t get solved. “We need to maintain a proper balance between the number of crimes and the number of cases solved. You understand?”
He told me that the most accurate statistics are about himself. He took out a tiny notebook and pointed out where he wanted me to look. In the past year, he had received 4,886 written invitations and meetings announcements. “I opened, responded to and attended 1,011 of them.”
Celebrations for factory openings, school anniversaries, project completions and such: 1,032.
Forums, lectures and report sessions: 843.
Receptions, banquets and thank you meetings: 790.
Seminars, society get-togethers and tea parties: 915.
These of course did not include regularly scheduled work meetings. He had actually attended 1,971 of those. “The average was four or five meetings per day, the shortest lasting ten minutes and the longest three hours.”
He had eaten a total of 2,190 meals throughout the year, an average of six meals a day, equivalent to twice the normal number. Of those, eleven were furnished to him at home, all of which were breakfasts held to conduct official business. He had dinner at least once a day, and sometimes up to eight times. “There are many occasions when I had to attend banquets three times a night.”
As for alcoholic beverages consumed over the year: 4,132.5 kilos of Chinese baijiu (figuring 250 grams per meal), 6,500 kilos of wine and 12,500 kilos of beer. These figures are limited to the director himself. “Statistics weren’t kept for the others.”
He’d received 1,800 souvenirs and small gifts all together, including shirts, razors, electromagnetic cups, belts, thermal underwear, etc…. (“No consumables such as cigarettes, alcohol or tea were counted.”)
During the year about 20,000 photos of meetings were developed, two boxes-full. “That’s just an estimate.”
Eight trips abroad and 116 business trips (“including meetings; several meetings were held during each business trip”).
And 97 media interviews (“including television, newspapers, and magazines”).
I was astounded by his energy and appetite. Even more, I admired his meticulousness.
“No way could I remember all those things,” he said with a laugh. “The secretaries wrote it all down.”
“Being an official is tough,” I said sympathetically.
“And how, but there’s nothing for it. Of course, sometimes I feel like the cloud has a silver lining.” He was really light-hearted about it.
Later I heard that my department-level friend was "shuang-guied", that is, sent up before the Party's disciplinary court. I remembered the "small notebook" I'd seen. It was truly a cry for justice for him. What leading cadres haven't accepted banquet invitations and received small gifts? And what of it? Moreover, his notebook also recorded figures for the many times he'd gone deep into the grassroots to visit poor people and people in difficulty, where he'd made warm-hearted contributions and donated money and materials to help poor students go to school. It's just that the impression those things made on me wasn't so profound.
Still later, the newspaper reported news that he'd been indicted. It said that he also had another "tiny notebook" clearly recording statistics on various items, except that the nature of the items was different and the amounts were larger.
I only saw the one "tiny notebook" and didn't see the other one. Even when he'd had a little "too much" to drink, he didn't bring out the wrong notebook.
Someone said he was a bit of a "statistics fiend". I think so, too.
[Fannyi is reminded of the young lady who smuggled cocaine and posted a video of her exploits on Instagram.]
5. The Sea Turtle (海龟)
We call people who have returned to China after completing their studies abroad the "sea turtle faction." Sea turtles are renowned for returning to the place they were spawned, and also, the words “return” and “turtle” are homophones in Chinese. It’s a friendly and playful name and its form provokes feelings of fondness. The sea turtles are quite well respected.
The sea turtles swam back on the high tide of the market economy, taking advantage of the driving force of the government’s reform and opening up policies. As a result, there are handsome men and beautiful women sea turtles paddling away everywhere in important positions in government agencies, vital departments and large educational institutions, as well as in famous companies.
My middle school classmate, Big Vernacular Hu, is a famous sea turtle. "Big Vernacular" is a nickname which we gave him purely out of respect, because it sounded better than his formal name. That’s why he preferred that we use his nickname rather than the name under which he was registered at school – Put Down Hu.
His original name was Big Release Hu, and his twin brother was Big Bright Hu. You could tell they were born in 1957 just by hearing their names, which referred to the Hundred Flowers Campaign of that year. Later the brothers changed their names by removing the word "Big", becoming Bright Hu and Release (or Put Down) Hu. This played down the political connotations and also hid their age – they could flaunt their old age or pretend to be young depending on the needs of the moment.
Big Vernacular Hu wasn’t really a good talker back then. As I said just now, we did call him that, but “Vernacular” was a play on “Hundred Flowers”, a near homophone, so it was just a verbal modification.
Put Down Hu blew the entrance exam for colleges in China, so his father, who was an official, sent him directly overseas. He spent a total of twenty years abroad. For the first few years, when his mother saw me, she’d often complain that he was a disappointment who’d neither studied nor worked for a long time. According to her, he’d call on the phone complaining that the studies were too difficult and working tired him out.
In fact, I knew, the Put Down Hu I remembered was too stupid to study and too lazy to work. His parents put a lot of thought into how to let him keep muddling along overseas. They flirted with the poverty line so that they could provide him with over ¥200,000 in "tuition" each year.
Last year Put Down Hu returned to China with the status of someone who had completed his studies abroad. That meant the government bent over backwards to buy his allegiance by offering official positions and material benefits. They were trying hard get first-rate people with superior talents to return to the country. I learned this news from newspapers, television and other media.
Put Down Hu had changed his name again and taken a combination Chinese-foreign name. He called himself “Soup Matriarch” because it sounds like “Tom”. To tell the truth, he really should have found himself a consultant and not ended up with so ridiculous a name. Even “Dog Leftover”, the transliterated name of John Godson, is more elegant than Soup Matriarch Hu.
Tom Hu used his doctor’s title, which had been granted by some famous American university, to get appointed as the Deputy Director of the Provincial Economic and Trade Commission. Six months later, he was deemed to have "not much understanding of national conditions" after he proposed raising kelp in a freshwater lake in the Yangtze River Valley. He later served as the Standing Deputy Mayor of a city, but was transferred after two months when he recommended granting approval for a sea turtle colleague to open a casino. He's currently working at a large research institute.
It had never been my lot to reconnect with him. I'd been a “ground beetle” for more than 20 years, that is, I’d never been abroad, and I felt rather inferior and ashamed about it. After Tom Hu returned to China, though, things were looking up. Lower ranking as I was, I could catch glimpses of my former schoolmate’s august countenance just by turning on the television. I didn’t dare expect any contact with such a high-status person.
One day this summer, someone unexpectedly called me while I was giving a lecture to graduate students. I returned the call as soon as the class took a break. It turned out to be Put Down Hu, or rather, Tom Hu himself, who had called. I was pleased and overwhelmed at the unexpected honor. He magnanimously made a date for us to have dinner together and I couldn’t accept fast enough.
We met in a very sophisticated restaurant. We chatted while we ate, and I listened to a lot of stories about the things Big Vernacular Hu had seen and heard while he was overseas. They were all “news” I’d heard about hundreds of times from newspapers, magazines and television stations over the last decade or more, including hackneyed anecdotes about things like “the Gambling City” Las Vegas, red light districts, homosexual love and the like.
He periodically complained about China’s economic, technological and ideological backwardness, as well as its other shortfalls. He also resented very much that his talents were not being fully utilized. He cited the benefits received by other sea turtles who had come back at or around the same time as he had. So-and-so had been promoted to a ministerial level position, and another guy to a vice-ministerial level, and another was assigned luxury housing, still another got a high-class car, and another got an astoundingly high salary. He went on and on about how unfairly he’d been treated.
I felt sorry for him, too, and even commiserated with him about his current housing, which was several times better than mine, and his salary, which was ten times higher than mine. Compared with the treatment accorded to other sea turtles those days, though, he wasn’t getting much.
Put Down Hu, no, Tom Hu, constantly mixed in profanity and dirty language when he spoke, as well as adulterating his comments with English words. Leaving those out, he didn’t say much of anything that night. It took me a lot of time later on to extract what he did say from his dirty language and foreign words.
After we finished eating, he asked the waiter for a piece of paper, took out a pen and spent a while writing something. I thought he was leaving me his mailing address or E-mail and phone number, that sort of thing. He surprised me when he said in all sincerity, “Thank you for having dinner with me. We spent ¥242.60 tonight. Going fifty-fifty, each pays half. You pay ¥121.30.”
I’d never had anything quite so awkward happen. I even felt kind of insulted.
My voice choking like I had a frog in my throat, I asked, “Didn't you invite me?”
“No, I didn’t,” he said seriously. “I was quite clear. I said we could have dinner together. And you agreed.”
“Fuck,” I thought to myself. “Who in China would distinguish between ‘have dinner together’ and ‘have dinner with me’? How did this tortoise, this bastard, turn into a sea turtle when he left the country?”
Out loud I said, “Forget it, I’ll get the check. It’s on me.”
“No, that won’t do.” Big Release Hu, or Put Down Hu, or Tom Hu told me like it was something really important, “We agreed in advance, and we must not violate a prior agreement. We’ll each pay half.”
I was angry. I hurried to get out some money, wishing that I could throw it in his face.
Crap! I’d changed clothes to meet this asshole and forgotten my wallet. Once again, I was stuck in an extremely embarrassing situation.
“I didn't bring any money.” My face got so red it seemed like I was going to sweat blood.
He harrumphed and said, “OK, we’ll do this. I'll pay for you now, and you pay me back in two days. And you'll give me an IOU. Here’s a pen and paper.”
I was about to die from stifling my anger. I took the pen and wrote at rocket speed. My whole body was shaking.
“No, you’ve made a mistake. You only owe me ¥121.30, not ¥242.60. I’m paying my half. Please write it over again. This is a matter of principle. You’re too ‘foolish’.” He used the English word.
I grit my teeth so hard they almost came loose, but I was able to grin and bear the humiliation. I rewrote the IOU.
That same evening, after I got home, I had someone take him the ¥121.30 and bring me back the IOU.
The IOU is now under the glass top on my desk. It will remain there as ironclad proof of my backward and obsolete ideas.
7. They All Say (都说)
"Everybody says I have good character, and the truth is, they’re right. I’m a warmhearted person, and that’s all there is to it. I can't watch while other people are wronged or suffer hardships. I’m willing to come to grief myself, but I have to help them. If anyone is in need of this or that, I get anxious and can’t get to sleep all night long. Money, material possessions, food, necessities, I’ve spread so much around these last few years, but I don’t have the figures....
"They all say I’m generous and don’t keep a score card. Hey, if you want to keep track, so be it, right? What’s mine is theirs. If I run across a beggar with no parents or kids, I’d regret it if I couldn’t treat them like my own relatives or friends, or my parents or kids. I’ve helped out orphans, widowed mothers, disabled people, jeez! But I don’t have those figures, either.…
"They all say I’m high-minded. Isn't that the truth! Anyone who isn’t high-minded can’t be called human. Whenever I encounter something I don’t approve of, I want to take care of it. See what’s right and act courageously! Uphold justice! Stand up for the people! These things, I’ve never pushed them aside. I won’t walk around blind, like I've got sand in my eyes. I’ve offended a not inconsiderable number of people because of that. I don’t have the figures........
"They all say I'm capable. That's their way of encouraging me. Whether I'm capable or not, I can't just keep blathering on about it. Some people just talk a good job, but it's obviously crap that he's trying to talk into a flower. I don't like that type of person. Getting the job done is better than talking about it, and doing is better than talking. All these years, I've led the people through wind and rain to do a lot of good and practical things. These things, I won't say any more. I don’t have the figures....
"They all say I'm a hard worker. It's because I can't rest. I start thinking over the next day's work before I finish today's. Every day I get up while it's still dark. By the time other people head off to work, I've already done almost as much as they'll do all day. No matter how hard it is, or how tiring, I'll step right up to do it. I do have a shortcoming. I'm not comfortable at all when I'm not working. If I don't keep busy, I ache all over. All the hard work I've done, all the tiring work, and the blood and the sweat, jeez! I don't have the figures….
"They all say I've made outstanding achievements in overseeing community service work these past few years. They're exaggerating. Since the organization trusts me, everyone supports me. In my position I have to do things for them, help them through worrisome situations on behalf of the government, solve problems for the masses. Besides, these achievements can't be said to be mine alone. Although I gave advice and made the decisions, and did more work than the others, you can't give all the credit to me. Hey, I did have some accomplishments, but exactly how many, I don’t have the figures....
"They all say I'm incorruptible, and it's a fact. As a woman, I don't smoke or drink, and I pinch every penny. I keep such meticulous accounts of community and neighborhood committee expenses that everyone laughs at me. Sometimes, when I'm busy working for the people, I get tired and my throat is raw, but I can't bring myself to spend public money to buy a bottle of water. No matter what rank they call me, I'm still a leader.... I've saved so much, but I don’t have the figures...."
"Well, OK, I came to talk to you on behalf of the neighborhood. In this year's year-end appraisal, the cadres and the masses gave poor appraisals of you. The neighborhood committee cadres and the community residents rated you in each of five categories, ethics, ability, diligence, performance and honesty, and the scores were very low. Worst in the neighborhood….
"You keep insisting that "they say, they say". Who are the "they" that say these things? I think you're really like you said yourself —— It's all 'don't have the figures….'"
8. Drunken Talk (醉话)
“I'll raise my glass to you, again, Boss. You don’t have to drink. You can just sniff it, if you want. I drained my glass. No problem, no problem. I drained it.”
As soon as Old Zheng had stretched out his neck, he’d tossed a full of a glass of baijiu accurately into his mouth, tracing a beautiful parabola through the air without spilling a drop. His movements, posture and heroic style were astounding.
Old Zheng was a better-than-average drinker. He couldn’t drink a lot, but his manners and style while drinking were impeccable indeed. Not one of the people who went drinking with him failed to be impressed.
He was the vice president of a conglomerate. He’d bend his elbow at business functions, but otherwise he seldom touched the stuff. His connections and reputation had all been won by his performance while drinking.
That’s something he told me personally one time when just the two of us were having a drink. We were at the point where we were feeling mellow, and he told me a lot of things straight from the heart, including his secrets for building relationships with people, creating a reputation and getting results. The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how much sense he’d made.
I pondered over and over the insightful inferences that he’d shared with me that day while drinking, and not just for my own benefit. I decided to pass along the high points to all of you. This is for reference only.
Old Zheng said: "You certainly must drink when dining with others. When you drink, it’s best to drink high-proof liquor. And drink to get drunk.
"Whether entertaining superiors or colleagues, or at get-togethers to negotiate deals with customers, or at a gathering with friends, alcohol must be available. Without alcohol it’s not an event. Without alcohol it’s not lively. Alcohol is both a prop and a mask. It can make you strong and brave, it can make you impressive, and it can make you successful in important matters.
"Chinese baijiu is best because the high proof is more quickly effective and gets you high quicker. The desired state and result can be expressed with one word – drunk. Drinking without getting drunk is equivalent to wasting the alcohol. Being afraid to get drunk is most intolerable because when you're afraid: The more you drink the more nervous you become; the more you drink the more constricted you become; the more you drink the more estranged you become; and the more you drink the more alienated you become. Sobriety while drinking is a criminal act. It’s allowing others to determine who you are.
“Don't laugh at me. I'm telling you the truth. In vino one speaks veritas. Of course, you must retain your composure when drunk. And you must know when to stop. It's right when you get to that good place.
"Can't hold it? It’s because you haven’t brought the training all the way home, and because you lack life experience and wisdom. If you insist on getting drunk to the point of a 'live broadcast' or 'blowing your guts out', you’re a stupid idiot.
"When people have just started drinking, they’re usually affected and embarrassed. They’ll raise all sorts of excuses and act ashamed or bashful. There’s no need for it. If you’re going to drink, enjoy it. Don’t compete with other people, and, even more, don’t be so petty as to force others to drink. You feel like you want to hold their nose and pour it down their throat? Wouldn’t that be something a thug or ruffian does?
"We can’t possibly drink with migrant workers. Customers and friends are all people with a certain status and quality. Don’t adopt the attitude of a seasoned cart-driver from the countryside.
"Everyone should drink together the first few rounds. Don’t rush to toast the leader like it’s a duty you want to get over and done with as soon as possible. When the atmosphere is right, raise your glass to the leader a few times, acting as though you're only slightly intoxicated. Why? Because you’ll have to talk while you’re drinking with important people, and your glass of booze is a microphone.
"You’ll be clear-headed when you start drinking, and so will the others. At that time, when you say something, be straightforward and honorable. If you speak shallowly, you won't impress the leader, but if you speak too much about your personal thoughts, it’s awkward and people will be uncomfortable. After people reach a certain degree of drunkenness, they’ll be bolder and will talk more, and their spirits will be up. Then talking about such things will be more natural and vivid, and more apparently sincere. What will the leader think? 'This kid’s all right. He’s drunk and still acts like a leader at heart.'
"You don't need to worry over the propriety of what you say while you're drunk, except you do want to make sure you're headed in the right direction. That is, always say nice things, which is beyond some people. They start babbling nonsense and stuff not worth listening to once they get a couple of drinks under their belt. They're completely done for and would be better off passing out drunk under the table, where they'd keep quiet and develop a good reputation as a dependable drunk.
"After a few rounds you can relax because no matter how much you flatter the leader, no one will think it's overly maudlin. You drank right along with everyone else at first, and they rushed to drink toasts to the leader, so they're no less drunk than you.
"No matter what the occasion, though, or how much alcohol gets consumed, the highest ranking person at the table will absolutely never get drunk. If I'm the highest ranking person at the table, I certainly won't get drunk. This principle is too simple. If the leader's not drunk and you are, you'll certainly come off as more messed up than the leader. And if the chief's not drunk, his deputy has to get drunk. That's because you can make him believe and remember what you say only if you're drunk and he's not.
"Be most clear about my basic info. I didn't stay in school straight through to get a Ph.D. like you did. But now I'm a vice president in the conglomerate. Although you think of me as a superior, I really don't feel that way. They all say that I'm drinking myself to death, but that's nonsense. If I wanted to die I'd go jump off the roof. No need to waste the alcohol!
"I've drunk too much today, bit by bit. I kid you not, old buddy, I really depended on the booze to come up in the company. I drank my way from ordinary worker to Section Chief, then to Assistant Bureau Chief, to Bureau Chief, Assistant Division Chief, Division Chief, Director of the Factory Office, Director, General Manager and now to Vice President. I've never been drunk, but I got drunk every time."
I've been trying to apply Old Zheng's experience. The results really haven't been bad.
I've stopped being apprehensive about drinking. Further, whenever I'm half drunk and half sober, I never miss the opportunity to say something drunken. As a result, I've reaped some gain almost every time I've gone drinking. Now I've been allocated housing, my salary has gone up, I've been chosen for career advancement, and I've gotten promotions. The fly in the ointment is that my blood sugar, cholesterol level and blood pressure have all gone up as well.
Well, of course I still can't compare to Old Zheng. Last year he was transferred to the Ministry to be an aide to the Minister. Others couldn't accept it and gossiped about him. That's because their level of understanding isn't very good. Me, I said I accepted it and I really did. You could say that the person I admire most in the world, if it isn't Old Zheng, it's no one.
Old Zheng has his problems, too. Namely, he came down with alcoholic hepatitis not long ago. Taking the long view, that's not so terrible. Old Zheng said that nothing would be worse than cirrhosis of the liver. Then he'd have to get drunk every time he drank.
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5. The Sea Turtle
6. See Lao Ma B, #3-08
7. They All Say
2. The Debater
3. See Lao Ma C #4
Chinese Stories in English