1. Following (跟)
Liu Lang (刘浪)
The community was well known in the area because basically all the area leaders lived there.
Auntie Yu was very well known in the community because her husband was the Secretary of the local Communist Party Committee.
She was unshakable in her habits. That is, after dinner every day, she went for a walk and always made several circuits along the road through the community, even though it was unevenly paved with cobblestones of varying heights. Sometimes she simply went barefoot and carried her shoes in her hands.
No one knew who she was in the beginning. She’d walk by, alone and quiet, and walk back, alone, quiet and in a hurry.
Later it was different. Some woman in the community started to smile and nod when they ran into her, or even say hello and chat for a bit. Thus everyone gradually became familiar with her.
Still later, there’d always be some women hovering around downstairs after dinner, some graceful and glamorous, some bright and pretty, and some beaming from ear to ear. They’d get excited when they saw her coming downstairs and exclaim “Auntie Yu, so you've come again!” as though they hadn’t expected her.
And so it was that everyone naturally began to follow her and chat while they walked. Some even adopted her style and walked barefoot on the cobblestone road. On occasion, when she’d taken off her shoes and just couldn't find them again, they’d magically return to her hands when she was about to go upstairs.
The number of people who followed along behind Auntie Yu gradually increased. It got so that the people in the rear couldn’t hear what she was saying up in the front, but everyone liked to follow along with her like that and have a look around. They looked forward to seeing more neighbors while they were strolling with her through the community.
Auntie Yu’s life changed late one night.
Several cars drove into the community.
Ten or more people got out of the cars silently and went directly to the ground floor of her building. Several of them stayed downstairs and several went up in the elevator without saying anything to anyone.
Auntie Yu’s husband was taken away.
This matter had just started a few days before and most people in the community didn’t know about it.
Auntie Yu continued her walks along the road, even though it was unevenly paved with cobblestones of varying heights. What everyone wondered about was, “Why has the group of people following her suddenly disappeared?” The flash of insight didn’t come until later, when they saw the news reports on TV.
Auntie Yu no longer talked and laughed like she had before. People no longer heard the sound of her laughter in the breeze. She no longer ran into those neighbors who used to burst out with smiles when they saw her coming in the distance. Those women who’d walked with her before, now, when they saw her coming, would get phone calls and turn away with phones in hand, disappearing without a trace once they turned a corner.
But if I said that no one walked with her, that wouldn’t be right. There was a middle-aged woman, somewhat over forty, who always followed behind her from beginning to end. When Auntie Yu walked a circuit, she walked a circuit. When Auntie Yu got tired and sat down on a stone chair, she’d sit down with her and hand her a cup of tea as well. Who was this woman? Everyone talked about it among themselves.
Finally, one day someone asked around and found out. She was Auntie Yu’s housekeeper. She’d been with her for almost two years and often accompanied her on her walks. Everyone thought that was odd. How had they never noticed that Auntie Yu had had a housekeeper following along behind her?
It wasn’t long before the housekeeper who’d been walking with Auntie Yu disappeared as well. She was replaced by a brown puppy that would follow along, yipping, behind its master.
Auntie Yu walked along the road, even though it was unevenly paved with cobblestones of varying heights. The puppy followed right at her heels, one circuit after another. Sometimes it would stop suddenly and stick its nose up in the air, or sniff at a stone chair or bench or the litter under a flowerbed, but whenever it looked up and saw that Auntie Yu had walked on ahead, it would jump up and chase after her, and be back at her heels in no time at all.
If it got tired, Auntie Yu would hold her shoes in one hand and hold the puppy to her breast in the other, a dignified and peaceful look on her face.
The puppy’s name was "March of Time". When people passing by heard her call it that name, they’d think long and hard but still not understand. A strange feeling would creep over them about the name, and about Auntie Yu as well.
After a few years, a time came when people no longer cared enough to pay attention to Auntie Yu, but then a bit of news came that made her once again a topic of conversation among the women of the community.
Someone noticed that when Auntie Yu went out walking, she was followed by a man with white hair and balding a bit.
People said that Auntie Yu had gotten a divorce after her husband got in trouble. Had she now found another partner?
The answer to the women’s question eventually came, of course, from the mouths of their men.
Auntie Yu had not gotten a divorce, and the white-haired man was her husband. The man who’d been a Communist Party Committee Secretary back then had completed his sentence and been released from prison.
No one could believe it. “That little old man is the big leader we saw on TV back then? The imposing-looking guy who wore suits and leather shoes? Look at him now, following along behind Auntie Yu. Looks like a submissive little runt!”
Auntie Yu walked along the road, even though it was unevenly paved with cobblestones of varying heights, and the man followed right at her heels, one circuit after another.
Sometimes, and everyone saw this, when Auntie Yu went barefoot, her shoes were in her husband’s hand.
Text at p. 83. Translated from 中国民主促进会 at:
2. I Only Wanted to Help (不过是想帮助她)
Ji Ming (季明)
The old lady had spent her entire life working hard and was used to it. She couldn’t remain idle. After she moved down the mountain, her children and grandchildren provided for her like she was a revered ancestor. “You’re not allowed to do this” and “You can't do that.” Her whole body felt uncomfortable and she got sick.
Now, though, she was standing on the mountain road with a load of firewood on her back, a skinny old lady holding a bamboo stick over a meter long.
It must've been her walking stick, because the end she was grasping had been polished smooth and slick. The bundle of firewood wasn't large but seemed heavy – she was stooped under its weight. When she looked up, her disorderly white hair swayed gently in the mountain breeze.
She was headed down the mountain and the traveler was headed up.
The mountain road was steep and narrow, like a dust-covered vine wrapped tightly around the mountain. The old lady stared blankly for a moment when she saw the traveler, then moved to the side with some difficulty to make way.
The traveler’s nose tickled when he took in the scene. He had a camera in his hand and snapped a few shots before rushing forward to take the bundle of firewood from the old lady’s back. She didn’t want to let go and pulled on it a few times, but the traveler was young, after all, and he took the firewood and put it over his own shoulders.
The firewood wasn’t heavy but it was difficult walking on the mountain road. In a loud voice, the traveler asked, “How old are you, Ma’am?”
She wasn’t deaf, and could still see clearly as well. “Eighty,” she said.
“And you’re still chopping wood at that age?!”
She smiled, her mouth devoid of teeth. “I’m used to it,” she said faintly.
Her home was halfway down the mountain and the traveler escorted her there. She walked in front, her back still stooped. Her gait was rather wobbly but she was quite sure-footed. The bamboo stick bit at the mountain road, one peck after another, its “ta, ta” sound echoing through the mountains.
Her home was in a clearing on the mountainside. It was good-sized, with stone walls, a thatched roof and a fenced courtyard. A flock of chickens was foraging leisurely in the yard and, when she pushed open the gate, a big yellow dog wagged its tail and greeted her happily. The traveler put the bundle of firewood by a woodpile in a corner of the yard. The pile was high as a mountain. A vegetable garden next to the woodpile had plots of mung beans, green beans, cucumbers, eggplants, chili peppers.... It was quite lush. It seemed that the old lady really was a hard worker.
As the traveler looked around, he asked, “Do you live here alone, Ma’am?
She nodded. “My children and grandchildren all moved to the town down the mountain and built multi-storied homes.”
The traveler followed the old lady outside to the edge of a slope, where he got a bird's eye view of the town down the mountain through a gap in the white clouds. The old lady pointed and told him, “That building is my oldest son’s, that one is my second child’s, and those are Old Mo’s and my oldest grandson’s....” Although the traveler nodded every time, in fact there was row upon row of buildings down the mountain and he couldn’t tell which house was which. He could tell, though, that the old lady gazed down on her children’s and grandchildren’s homes more than a few times on a normal day. He admired her, too. “Such an elderly person and she still has such good vision,” he thought to himself.
“Well…. Why don’t you move down there?”
“I’ve lived on the mountain most of my life,” she answered faintly. “Can’t leave. Used to it.”
The traveler looked at her silently and thought she wasn’t telling the truth. He was certain that her children and grandchildren didn’t want her. Anyone who honored their elders wouldn’t let a person of her age live alone in the mountains.
He got angry.
He was so indignant that when he came down from the mountain, he posted a comment on a website. Basically it said that an eighty-year-old woman with a full complement of children and grandchildren was living alone in the mountains, leaning on a walking stick while she cut firewood.... He carefully selected a photo to attach to the comment. The old lady was carrying her bamboo stick in the photo, with the bundle of firewood on her back, stooped over with her head raised slightly, her eyes staring blankly forward, her white hair tousled by the mountain wind....
The comment spread like wildfire as soon as he posted it. Lots of people clicked on it. The netizens were filled with indignation when they saw the tear-jerking photo. They used fiery rhetoric to denounce and crusade against the old lady’s children and grandchildren.
The old lady’s children and grandchildren saw it, too, and couldn’t sit still. Led by the oldest son, they went up the mountain and knelt down in the fenced courtyard. In the past, they’d begged the old lady countless times to move down the mountain and live with them, but she wouldn’t do it for the life of her. She’d lived in the mountains for decades and was used to the peaceful and quiet life there. She’d never grow accustomed to the crowded and noisy life down the mountain.
This time the children and grandchildren had hearts of steel. No matter what, they were going to take the old lady down the mountain with them.
Kneeling on the ground, the eldest son said, “Ma, if you don’t move down the mountain, we really won’t be able to face the world. It’ll be amazing if people don’t curse us to death!”
The old lady looked at them kneeling there. For a long time she couldn’t think of what to say and just sighed.
Half a year later, the traveler once again came to town. He thought of the old lady and asked the townspeople how she was.
They said she’d passed away two months after moving down the mountain.
The traveler was stupefied. “What happened?”
“She’d spent her entire life working hard and was used to it,” they said. “She couldn’t remain idle. After she moved down the mountain, her children and grandchildren provided for her like she was a revered ancestor. ‘You’re not allowed to do this’ and ‘You can't do that.’ Her whole body felt uncomfortable and she got sick.”
They also said, "She was strong as an ox and could’ve lived several more years. It’s that fucking traveler's fault, the one who wrote the post that caused the whole thing!”
The visitor said, stupidly, “But I... I only wanted to help her.”
Text at p. 86. Translated from 文学论文 at http://m.xzbu.com/5/view-8184976.htm
3. Rules (规矩)
Huang Dagang (黄大刚)
"If you come to work here, you have to do what I say. It’s a rule." Old Bear spoke firmly, and Young Du was quite uncomfortable. Old Bear was merely a crew chief who had been chosen by some of the workers at the interior decorating company, but from his tone of voice, he seemed to really have appointed himself to be boss.
The other workers did indeed listen him. When he said what time they were going to start work, no one dared be late. If it was past lunch time and their stomachs were growling from hunger, no one dared say anything as long as he was still working. It was the same for everyone. If it upset Young Du, he had to keep it to himself.
Old Bear had another rule. “Whoever brings in a job gets two percent of the profits as a reward.”
That got Young Du motivated. After quitting time, he didn’t have anything else to do, so he took a turn around a new residential building to see if he could scare up a job. And he really did find one, painting the interior of a 120-square-meter unit. The owner talked it over with Young Du and would pay him 2,400 yuan for labor. Young Du figured he’d get a nice bonus of two yuan per square meter. He was afraid the owner might get buyer’s remorse, so he took a deposit from him.
Young Du hurried back to tell Old Bear about the job. The old man’s face darkened as he listened and he didn’t even wait to hear the whole story before he started to bawl the kid out: "Pigs call you daddy! Don’t you understand? Materials for a paint job are figured on the area of the wall and the ceiling. The area of the rooms doesn’t mean anything! You got sold a bill of goods and you’re all smiles, counting your money. "
"If that’s how it is” Young Du replied nervously, “let's not go do the job. Anyway, the owner doesn't know who we are."
"You took a deposit and now you’re proposing something that unethical!" Old Bear’s voice was getting louder.
The workman assigned to prepare the concrete walls knew what to expect, but still, when he saw that the wall area was so large and the wages so small, his legs got weak. He cussed about Young Du while he worked and made a mess of it. He didn’t use a lamp when he smoothed out the walls and they came out uneven. Old Bear looked the job over and ordered it redone.
Young Du applied the latex paint, but he stopped after finishing one coat. He snuck off to the bathroom to dump the rest of the paint. Old Bear followed him into the bathroom and saw the heresy. "What are you doing?" he screamed.
“For such low pay, the work I’ve already done is enough. There’s no need to apply the rest of this paint.”
"You're the one who negotiated with the guy for how much money we'd get. He didn't force you. Since you agreed to it, you need to do a good job. Otherwise no one will hire you from now on."
With Old Bear supervising, the paint job turned out fine. The homeowner was quite satisfied and offered to give them some extra money, but Old Bear refused it. He said they'd negotiated the price and a deal's a deal. The owner was impressed and told other homeowners in the community what good work they did. He even brought people into his home to see for themselves.
Homeowners who were looking for decorators scrambled to hire Old Bear's team. He was too busy to get to them all, so they waited in line.
Young Du took such joy in his work that he couldn’t help but attract Old Bear's attention.
The multimedia classroom in a school was being renovated, and a middle-aged man who called himself the school's principal sought out Old Bear. He said that the job had to be done before school opened so as not to affect the students' studies. The school had been losing money and he really couldn't afford to pay that much, but he asked Old Bear to do a good deed and get him out of this jam.
Young Du overheard and wasn't happy about it. He threw his own two cents into the conversation. "We're not a charity. We need money to support ourselves, and not only ourselves, but also the kids and oldsters in our families. Tell us how we can do that on the wages you want to pay."
"Come on, please understand and help us out," the principal pleaded.
Old Bear glared at Young Du. "Who told you to talk."
"What I said is true," Young Du argued.
"In the morning, if you want the job, go with me."
The next day, Old Bear got their tools and left for the job. Young Zheng, Young Jiang and the others left with him. Young Du hadn't planned to go, but seeing he was the only one left, he hesitated a moment and then tagged along.
They were drenched in sweat for a full week working busily in that sultry multimedia classroom. When the middle-aged man came over to look, he smiled in satisfaction. He quietly pulled Old Bear aside. "Invoice us at the going rate. I'll get your money to you ASAP. You've worked hard."
"That's not the price we originally discussed."
"You're right, but, you understand." He poked Old Bear in the ribs.
"No, I don't understand. If you want an invoice at the market price, you'll have to pay us the market price and not skim anything off the top."
The principal shook his head. "I really have to be frank. If you don't bill us the market price, don't blame me if I don't pay you."
Old Bear had no choice. The guy was holding a knife by the handle and he was grasping at the blade.
It wasn't too long before someone turned the principal in to the authorities under his real name. Not long after that, the principal was dismissed from his job.
The principal knew it was Old Bear who'd turned him in and he came looking for him. "Why'd you report me? I never did anything to hurt you."
"You're right, you didn't, but I couldn't tolerate the harm you were doing to the school and to the children at the school."
It was smooth sailing for Old Bear in that city. His fondest dream was to set up his own interior decorating company and expand the business to make more money.
But he announced that he'd be returning to his hometown to take care of his mother, who was bedridden because of a blood clot in her brain. Young Du and the others had the idea that he should hire someone to care of her. Old Bear shook his head. "I can make money any time, but there aren't many days left I can spend with my mother. I can't buy more time with her."
Old Bear turned the decoration team over to Young Du, who told the team members, "Old Bear is still the boss. I am just a stand-in. That's the rule. You got that down?"
Text at p. 94. Translated from 搜狐 at:
4. A Heavy Egg (沉重的鸡蛋)
Blue Moon (蓝月)
A basket full of free-range brown eggs sat on the table. The eggs were clean and sparkling.
They’d been sent from the countryside by Second Mommy. She said free-range eggs aren't rare or anything, but they are nourishing.
Second Mommy was actually the wife of Other Zheng’s uncle. One bloodsucking evening at dusk when Other was 5 years old, his parents were hit by a tractor driven by a drunk driver. They both died at the scene. His grandma couldn’t stand the blow and followed them in death.
Other, who hadn’t yet reached the age of reason, was then raised by his uncle’s wife. He’d called her "Second Mommy" since then.
Second Mommy had one son. His name was Tiger Zheng and he was one year younger than Other. The two were like brothers. They were both naughty, and neither one liked going to school. They climbed trees to grab bird’s eggs, went down to the river to fish, and stole fruit and melons from the fields. Because of those things they'd felt the business end of Second Mommy’s broom more than a few times. At such times Other would stand up and beg her to go easy on Tiger.
Other also spared no effort in helping Tiger with his studies, and eventually both of them tested into high school, Other first and Tiger next. Second Mommy had a problem, though. Other’s uncle suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and it suddenly got worse during this period. His joints were deformed and he was basically unable to work in the fields, so the heavy burden of caring for the whole family fell on Second Mommy. The two children’s tuition fees became a hardship among hardships.
Other said: "Second Mommy, let Tiger go to school."
Second Mommy, who’ always been amiable, got a fierce look on her face. "I know what I’m doing. You just pay attention to your own studies."
Other didn’t dare make a sound.
As a result, Tiger dropped out of school and went out to work for a contractor in the village. "How is this acceptable" Other asked.
“Tiger isn’t student material,” Second Mommy answered. “If you calm down and study, our Zheng family will have the top scorer in the college entrance exam. Our ancestors told me so." Having said that, she pulled a wrapper of free-range brown eggs from her blouse and gave them to him. He could eat them when he got hungry studying in the evening.
With tears in his eyes, Other watched his thin Second Mommy scurry away. The eggs were still warm. She’d almost run to get them to him so fast!
Second Mommy's free-range brown eggs accompanied Other through his graduation from the Politics and Law University, to his job, and later when he became the Chief Judge of a court. Tiger was also a determined young man willing to work hard. Because of his nimble mind, he was able to pull together a construction team and became a small contractor.
The villagers urged Second Mommy to enjoy the good life it town with her sons, but she said, "Life in the countryside is very good. You can’t raise chickens in the city, and store-bought eggs aren’t any good. I heard that they have some… amine-something….”
"It’s called “melamine”, Second Mommy."
"Yeah, right, that’s it.” She smiled happily and her face was covered with laugh lines.
She always scurried away after bringing eggs. She wouldn’t stick around no matter how much Other urged her to. She said there was too much going on in the countryside and she didn’t have time.
Today, for a change, she did sit for a while. She chatted away without really saying anything, and when she stood up to say she was leaving, she was wobbly on her feet. In a flash, Other realized how old she’d gotten. Her complexion was haggard, her hair was completely white, and her back was seriously stooped....
He cried out, "Second Mommy…." Her body trembled as she broke into tears. "Other, baby, Tiger’s situation, do what you should do."
Other’s eyes looked worried as he watched Second Mommy leave. “Tiger, oh Tiger,” he thought to himself, “you’ve messed up!”
It wasn’t a minor thing that Tiger had done wrong.
That day, Tiger had been upset because a project payment hadn’t arrived at his bank. A migrant worker rushed in and said he needed money urgently because his mother was sick. He wanted Tiger to pay him the wages owed to him for work already done. Tiger stood up impatiently to leave, and who could’ve expected it, the worker grabbed his shirt and wouldn’t let go. Tiger blew his stack and hit and kicked the guy. Just his luck, the guy was suffering from a brain tumor that hadn’t been discovered yet. Tiger’s beating him injured the guy and brought about his death. The guy’s mother filed a complaint and Tiger was sent to prison.
Tiger burst into tears when Other saw him. "Brother,” he said, “you’ve got to help me out of this! Don't think about anything else, just think about our mother’s position. You can't leave her without a son. And besides... if I hadn’t beaten the guy, who knows when he might’ve died anyway...."
"Do me a favor and shut up! Things the way they are and you’re still making excuses for yourself!" Other was so angry his face turned white. His heart hurt like it had been torn in two.
This case of Tiger’s, it wasn’t beyond all help. After all, the migrant worker had been sick. But....
Two images of women’s faces kept appearing alternately before Other’s eyes. Both women were old and white-haired, and both faces were covered with wrinkles…. One was the mother of the laborer who was the victim, and the other was Second Mommy.
Other reached out to pick up one of the eggs that Second Mommy had brought, but it seemed to weigh a ton. He couldn’t keep his hand from trembling. The egg fell to the floor and broke to pieces....
He looked at the mess on the ground and cringed. He could break a perfectly good egg just by loosening his hand, and if did it again....
He rushed to the country overnight. He needed to have a serious talk with Second Mommy....
She was sitting in front of the stove when he arrived, staring at the flames in the firebox as they reached up to singe the bottom of a pot. The pot was steaming and seething.
Other quickly picked up a piece of kindling. "I’ll boil them," he said.
Second Mommy didn’t say no. She moved to the side and said, "You got here at just the right time. In a little while, when the eggs are done, take them to Tiger. He hasn’t had any of my boiled eggs for years.... Tell him his mother said, we don’t distinguish between rich and poor when considering people’s lives. A debt’s a debt and must be repaid."
Each of her words resounded in his ears. They were the same words she’d taught him so kind-heartedly back then.
"Second Mommy...." Other burst into tears.
Translated from 子哟微信 at:
5. The Opponent (对头)
Wang Zhendong (王振东)
Literate Xu, the proprietor of the Lucky Vigor Rice House Restaurant, took pleasure in doing a good job. The restaurant served a rich variety of low-priced meat and vegetable dishes prepared by expert chefs. The waiting area was as busy as a market all day long and there were never any empty seats. It wasn’t in business long before it surpassed the Ceremonious Vigor Restaurant to become the dominant establishment in the food and beverage industry.
Now wealthy, Literate still lived a simple life, but he did give generously to charity. Every year during the Spring Festival, he selected twenty poor families and sent them food – rice, noodles, meat and cooking oil. In years when there was a disaster, he erected food tents to make porridge for the victims. Every evening before he closed up the restaurant, he had the chefs pour the remnants and leftovers from the day into a pot; he’d have them mix in some noodles and fresh vegetables and bring the mix to a boil, then let beggars who came around asking for food eat their fill. The crowd of beggars volunteered to take turns guarding the restaurant at night. Literate didn’t give them permission to do so, but he couldn’t stop them and had to go along with it.
It’s often said that a tall tree attracts the wind, meaning that a famous or rich person attracts criticism. The popularity of Literate’s restaurant embarrassed the other restaurants. Full House Li, the proprietor of the Ceremonious Vigor Restaurant, the place which had been toppled from its top-ranked position, gnashed his teeth and was especially rancorous. Previously the restaurant he operated had always been the top dog in sales, but now Literate’s place was blocking the spotlight from shining on him. How could he accept that, conceited fellow that he was?
Reputation was of the utmost importance for those other restaurants to get their rightful share of business. The greater their reputation, the more money they’d earn. Full House therefore understood very well the value of the “Number One” position. However, he didn’t seek the reasons for his loss of prestige in the quality of the food, attitudes of the wait staff or similar aspects of his own operation. He stubbornly attributed responsibility to Literate’s restaurant instead. He vowed to squash this opponent and return his restaurant to the number one throne.
Full House got the ball rolling on his nefarious plot. He acquired some arsenic secretly and sent one of his relatives, a fellow Literate wouldn’t recognize, to Literate’s restaurant on the pretext of having a meal. When the two people at the next table went to the restroom, this relative took the opportunity to pour the arsenic onto their food. They both died from the poisoning. In no time at all, news that “Lucky Vigor Rice House dealing in poisonous food; two customers dead” spread through every street and alley of the town like the plague.
This was a huge disaster for Literate’s restaurant. Not only did he have to pay the funeral expenses of the deceased, but their families also sued for damages. To settle the matter, Literate called in favors, bribed major and minor officials and generally spent a lot of coin. Although he didn’t have to pay with his life, the restaurant’s business was badly hurt – its reputation was greatly affected and patronage dropped so much that birds were nesting in the vacant waiting area. Literate knew that someone had surreptitiously plotted against him, so he quietly started an investigation, but he didn’t discover anything.
The crowd of beggars was devastated by the prospect of the unexpected calamity rapidly approaching Literate’s restaurant. Each of them excoriated himself. Beggar A said: "Some evil person made this treacherous attack on you, Proprietor Xu, someone who truly has the heart of a snake or a scorpion. We all blame ourselves for not doing everything we could to protect the restaurant."
Beggar B said, "Proprietor Xu, we’re panhandlers whose lives are worth nothing. It’d be better to just let us die. If we were dead, for sure we wouldn’t be extorting your restaurant’s money."
Literate smiled and told them, "My restaurant is in the bright light, and the evil plotter was in the dark. It was impossible to defend against him! Don’t blame yourselves. This thing had nothing to do with you."
Despite all that had befallen him, Literate still treated the beggars the same as he always had. The crowd of beggars was so moved that they watched over the restaurant at night even more conscientiously than before.
People were well aware of Literate's humane qualities and knew that he'd been framed by an evildoer in this murder case. Therefore, while business suffered for a brief time, the restaurant was soon red hot again.
The recipients of Literate's largess all said that this was the kind of loving concern that Heaven should show for good people.
One night, snow wrapped in a north wind attacked the city. The wind was so fierce that it blew the snow sideways, forcing people to turn off the lights early, get into bed and bury themselves under the covers. Customers who'd dined at Literate's restaurant all went straight home to bed. As he always did, Literate had the chefs collect the remnants and leftovers, add some noodles to the pot, stir up the potful of food and let the beggars have a meal to better withstand the cold winter night.
Beggar A and Beggar B had their turn guarding the restaurant that night. When they heard the sound of the city's night watch from not far away, "dong, dong, dong," they knew it was midnight and suspended their patrol. They huddled under the eaves of the building to keep each other warm.
The two beggars were surprised to see a dark shadow sneaking towards them in the faint light. "This late, it couldn't be someone coming to the restaurant to eat, could it?" The two were immediately on their guard and kept their eyes fixed on the shadowy figure. As it got closer, they could make out a bucket in the figure's hand. They held their breath and stayed concealed at the base of the wall, not moving a muscle, looking to see what the shadowy figure was doing.
The shadow came under the building's eaves and splashed something on the wall's wooden siding.
"It's tung oil! That's no good," Beggar A whispered to Beggar B. "This crook might want to start a fire! Hurry, we've got to grab him."
The two pounced on the shadowy figure like tigers leaping down from a mountain. Before the shadow could react, they had him pinned to the ground.
He twisted and struggled as they took him forthwith to Literate. He broke down under questioning and confessed the reason he'd come. It turned out that Full House Li, seeing that his poisoning scheme hadn't put Literate's restaurant out of business, had thought up another plan. He'd used big bucks to entice a male prostitute he had under his control. Under cover of darkness on this moonless and stormy night, the gigolo was to splash tung oil on the wooden siding in order to set it on fire and burn the restaurant down, causing his sworn enemy to completely disappear.
Literate didn't get angry when he heard that. Instead, he said calmly to the man, "Go back to Proprietor Li and tell him that seventy-two commercial streets, thirty-six residential byways and retail shops for a population of 130,000 is big enough to completely accommodate both our restaurants. And the human breast is even wider than that. The money won't come rolling in unless one has a broad and open heart."
The man who'd wanted to put Literate into the Land of the Dead didn't expect Literate to have such a broad mind. It was no wonder that even the beggars were unwavering in their support for him. Full House was so ashamed of himself that he was unwilling to show his face in public.
Full House went to Literate's restaurant in person the next day to admit his guilt and apologize. Seeing that Literate was not prepared to stop him, Full House grabbed a paring knife from the kitchen, put his left hand on a wooden table for eight, closed his eyes and swung the knife toward his hand.
"Proprietor Li, you can't do that!" Literate's voice roared and he took the knife from Full House.
"Don't stop me! If I cut off a finger, it'll help me remember." Full House was indeed sorry.
"You've already admitted your crime. I only hope you won't repeat it in the future." Literate's words were sincere.
From then on, the two restaurants competed benignly. They pushed each other and improved together. Both proprietors often did good deeds. They each donated a thousand ounces of fine silver toward building a stockade to protect the town's retail shops from incursions by bandits.
Legend has it that Literate eventually died peacefully. During the three days he lay in repose, Full House sat by his coffin to guard his spirit, as a filial son would do. He dressed in mourning clothes for the funeral as well. Several hundred beggars also joined the procession.
Text at p. 107. Translated from 新年献瑞 at:
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2. I Only Wanted to Help
Chinese Stories in English
Long River (page 05)
Stories printed in Best Chinese Mini-Stories 2017
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