​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Long River (page 10)
Stories printed in Best Chinese Mini-Stories 2017
2017年中国微型小说精选, 长江文艺出版社,责任编辑:孙晓雪
Text at page noted after story; translated from the webpages cited below.

1. Uncle Gen
2. Wastepaper Isn’t Rotten
3. The Meeting
4. Seventh Great-Granny

1. Uncle Gen (根叔)

Zhao Dengke (赵登科)

      Uncle Gen remained a bachelor all his life. His reputation had spread dozens of miles around even before I was born.
      Uncle Gen would use boiling water to make tea from the oily specks left in his rice bowl. When food fell from the table, he’d pick it up and put it in his mouth with the agility of a much younger man; "More savory than what comes straight from the bowl!" he’d exclaim with relish. He never took a bus to get to the county seat; he knew a way over the mountain by which he could walk there in a few hours. He was the only one in the village who got out of bed and lit an oil lamp to go out in the fields to do chores; and this had the whole village abuzz in no time at all.
      An old lady matchmaker spoke to him about an object for his affections, but he politely declined. Later, he just giggled when a man asked him why he hadn't married. The man asked him if he was deficient in that regard, which gave everyone a good laugh.
      I heard he’d gotten sick recently and hadn't been about for several days. I went over to visit him and heard a moan when I got to his door. He sat up in bed, a forced smile on his puffy face. His hands trembled as he fumbled around in his pocket for a cigarette, but he couldn’t find one. I urged him to go to a hospital to get checked out, but he shook his swollen head and told me, “I’ve worked a long time to make my money.” I urged him to take a broader view of things: “When the money’s gone you can make more, but once you’re gone, that’s all she wrote.”
      He ended up going to the hospital. The doctor took him to one side and, with some difficulty, told him, “It's lung cancer. Go home and get your affairs in order!"
      This undoubtedly hit him like a bolt of lightning on a sunny day. He’d never had as much as a cold in his whole life, and the first time he gets sick it’s cancer. His whole body trembled as he took a cigarette from his pocket, puffed on it twice and then coughed violently. He stared at the cigarette in a daze before throwing it abruptly to the ground and stomping on it a few times. He spit on the ground and said, “It was these things that ruined everything.”
      All of a sudden, as he walked along the road to the village, he became as melancholy and sentimental as a poet. He touched a tree, looked at a patch of sky and sighed as his heavy footsteps dragged him along. He leaned against a big tree and saw a pure white cloud in the sky. A tiny gust of wind, and the cloud turned into his mother’s face. She smiled and waved at him. He rubbed his eyes and – where’d she go?
      That night Uncle Gen lay on his bed with his bloodshot eyes open. He got up abruptly and soon his brand-name fountain pen was swirling across paper under the dim light. It turned out that Aunt Li still owed him five hundred yuan, and Uncle Zhang owed a thousand. He picked up his hoe, dug a hole at the foot of his bed and retrieved some money wrapped in a plastic bag. He took out the money and counted it carefully.... The lamp in his home stayed lit until dawn.
      The sky had just gotten light when Uncle Gen went to the village school and handed the principal two hundred yuan. The principal yawned and asked him why he was making the payment ten days early this time. Uncle Gen opened his mouth to answer but swallowed the words as soon as they reached his throat. Instead he asked, "Principal, has all the rice from last time been eaten?"
      "Yes, it’s long gone,” the principal replied.
      "Then I’ll give you some more."
      "We can’t take any more from you. The school owes you too much."
      Uncle Gen had some yellowed books that contained essays he’d written. He gave them to the principal and said, “Let the children study these, lest they forget there was a farmer-writer in our village."
      The principal felt his nose twitch in sorrow and wondered, “How come he’s straightening out his affairs like he’s about to leave this life forever?” As he watched Uncle Gen going away, the morning sun stretched out the man’s shadow so much that it reflected on the school’s glass windows like that of a giant.
      Uncle Gen went to the village chief's home that evening. He took a thousand yuan from the sole of his shoe and handed it to the village chief with trembling hands. “Here’s money for road construction,” he said.
      “What’s your hurry?” the chief asked. “The ink’s not even dry on that project yet. It’s early!”
      “Keep the money here for now,” Uncle Gen said. “I might be going on a long trip.”
      The village chief was speechless for some time. “This old guy always was kind of weird,” he thought. “He doesn't even give a thought to his own medical insurance, but he worries about other people's business for no good reason.”
      Uncle Gen was most worried about Teacher Wang. That tough old bird was three years into her nineties at the time and her only son had passed away the previous year. She’d jumped into the river in the middle of the night, but her attempt at suicide failed and she landed in a home for the disabled.
      Uncle Gen addressed her with the traditional greeting, “Have you eaten yet, Teacher Wang?”
      "Lunch or dinner?"
      Teacher Wang said she hadn't eaten breakfast for years. Uncle Gen put down half a bag of rice and made to leave, telling her to take care of herself. Teacher Wang’s face twitched and she said, "You’re a doll, the only one who still remembers your teacher. You really must take care of yourself, and that’s all there is to it."
      On the way home, he suddenly remembered that he didn't know who said, "Death is heavier than Mount Tai, or lighter than a chicken feather." Uncle Gen slapped his forehead. Doesn’t seem like it was "chicken feather". He slapped his forehead again, whap, whap. Did it matter whether it was "chicken feather" or "duck feather"?*
      He lay in bed every day thinking of his mother in heaven, and how he could finally go see her. But after many days had passed, he hadn’t seen his mother, and actually felt a lot better. The swelling on his face had miraculously disappeared.
      The village chief saw him working in his field and asked: "Back so soon from your long trip?” Uncle Gen laughed, revealing two black dimples and a row of yellow teeth.
* [It’s actually “goose feather”. The phrase 人固有一死,或重于泰山,或轻于鸿毛,用之所趋异也 is attributed to Sima Qian and can be translated as, “Everyone dies. Some deaths are meaningful [are heavier than Mt. Tai] and some aren’t [are lighter than a goose feather]; the difference is in the aim for which one uses their death.” – Fannyi]

Text at p. 225; Translated from 邵阳日报 at
2. Wastepaper Isn’t Rotten (废纸不腐)

Zhang Aiguo (张爱国)

      On August 15 [1045], after entering the Musical Performance Academy office, Northern Song Dynasty official Su Shunqin watched from the window as the sun set lazily and the street gradually became busier and busier. He couldn’t keep from sighing, and his good friend Obedient Liu asked him why. Shunqin smiled bitterly and spoke of what was distressing him.
      It seems that Shunqin, a poet famous throughout China, gathered with his poetry friends in the capitol’s Literary Scabbard Pavilion every year during the Mid-Autumn Festival. There they admired the bright moon, watched musical and dance performances, boozed it up and composed poems. According to their usual practice, Shunqin should be the host this year, and the invitations had been sent out half a month before. As of that day, however, no payments for the evening banquet had arrived.
      Obedient smiled. "Man of great learning that you are, Su, you can't even handle the arrangements for a banquet. You shall have people dying of laughter."
      "Don't laugh, my brother. Is it conceivable that you’d be able to do the job?" They both laughed.
      "Laughable it is! Look at them. Traffic comes and goes at their mansions all day and night. They drink and feast under subdued lighting, amid the clamor of singing and dancing, until host and guests alike fall down drunk. When would they ever worry about money?" Obedient wiped away the tears from the corners of his eyes. "You and I, confined in a government office the whole day, are the very picture of laborers over official documents. We worry about everything from ancestral temples to the wilds of the countryside. How is it that we cannot afford even a banquet?"
      "Don’t be angry, Brother Liu! When people adopt a different Path, the choices they make will differ as well. They’ve made their choices, and you and I have made ours. And since you and I have made these choices, we live in accordance with them." Shunqin looked at Obedient and added, not without a note of seriousness, "Each has his own way of living in this world. They find happiness in that way of life, so what basis would you and I have for finding it sorrowful?"
      "Enough! Enough! Brother Su, you should resolve this burning conundrum rapidly." Obedient’s eyes lit up as he spoke, and he bent down to pick up a piece of wastepaper on the floor. "Got it! Brother Su, why shouldn't you and I collect paper of this grade to sell?"
      "No, that wouldn’t do!" Shunqin hastily waved his hand. "This paper, then, is the property of a government office. The Imperial Court has a rule that government property cannot be taken for private use."
      "Brother Su, you’re being inflexible! It’s no more than a scrap of wastepaper, not a chance in a hundred that it has any use. If you and I really put it to another use, it would be in line with the emperor's advocacy of frugality in lieu of luxury, and what would be the problem with that?" He began to pick up the wastepaper as he spoke.
      Shunqin thought it over. “Yes! The office has produced more than a little wastepaper in recent years. Mostly it’s been treated as rubbish and thrown away indiscriminately, which truly is a waste; a portion has been used for wiping off tables and chairs or burned in fires for heating. It’s an extreme pity.” Shunqin seemed to have found himself an excuse, so he also knelt down to pick up some paper.
      A long while passed. The two men collected and rummaged through several years of wastepaper from the floor, from inside and outside cabinets and from the corners of the room. They wiped off the sputum, footprints and mildew, tied them into bundles with twine, and carried them out to sell.
      No need to mention that Shunqin's evening banquet not only had excellent wine and food due to the money from the sale of the wastepaper; he was also able to hire Beijing’s most famous song and dance troupe to participate and liven things up. The guests were overjoyed and praised Shunqin’s generosity. When they asked him how he’d become rich, he sat down among them, completely plastered and smiling broadly, and didn’t say a word.
      However, something happened that no one had expected. At the beginning of the Imperial Court’s early morning session the next day, one of the Imperial Censors reported Shunqin to the emperor. He charged that Shunqin had flouted the law, transgressed against public order; expropriated public property for his own use, and generally committed heinous crimes.
      A bang went off in Shunqin’s brain. He shouted to himself, “This isn’t good!” He knew it wasn’t directed at him, but at the
New Administration rerforms currently being propagated, and at the reformer’s leader Lord Fan Zhongyan. – Shuqin was a loyal supporter of Fan and one of the active proponents of reform. The New Administration had been obstructed in every possible way since its implementation because it struck a severe blow at the vested interests of nobles and bureaucrats.
      Shunqin also knew clearly that this platform of the Imperial Censors had already become the front line for the conservatives to attack the reformers. He wanted to explain, but before he could open his mouth, more than eighty percent of all the Court’s civil and military officials knelt down in unison. They argued without end, making a mountain out of a molehill, and petitioned the emperor to severely punish Su Shunqin and other corrupt officials and egregious thieves.
      The emperor watched the battle in front of him. After pondering for a long time, he demoted Shunqin, Obedient Liu and all those who’d attended the banquet to the status of commoner and immediately expelled them from the capital.
      An autumn rain had just stopped outside the capital. The sunset glowed but gloomy clouds looked bleak. The autumn wind rustled the air and blackbirds cawed in dismay. Obedient Liu wiped the tears from his cheeks and said angrily, "What bastards they are. Such an unexpected ado over mere wastepaper, putting you and I in this situation. "
      "Don’t be angry, Brother Liu. As the saying goes, ‘Maggots can’t eat uncracked eggs – they must have a way to gain access.’ Suppose you and I could have restrained the selfish desires in our hearts yesterday. What then could they have done, even if they’d wanted to press the two of us to the point of death? Our selfish desires and greed brought all this upon us, so don’t blame them." Surprisingly, Shunqin even smiled faintly. "And why stop at not blaming them? We should be grateful."
      "We should thank them?"
      "Brother Liu should know what I was thinking when the assembled guests praised me last night. I shall not lie to my brother. At the time, I was thinking that I’d won such praise without spending a cent, and I was quite proud of it. I was thinking about what things I could sell in the future. Please think, brother. What could I sell next? Wastepaper, surely, but how about new paper? And if new paper, how about pens and ink, desks and chairs? And if visible, tangible objects can be sold, what about intangible rights? In the end, why not sell off the learning we worked so hard to obtain back then, with the goal of creating wealth for the people? In that way the crime of our murders could have been completed, and our names would also be cursed throughout the ages." He added, in all seriousness, "Brother Liu, they nipped off our selfish desires and greed in the bud. How could we not be grateful?"
      "Brother Su is so stern. How could a trifling bit of wastepaper lead to this?” Obedient sighed lightly.
      "You haven’t got it, Brother Liu! Since ancient times, voracious beetles with giant greed have never been made in one day. They are all formed from baby-step errors leading to thousand-league crimes, and thus to shame for ages." Tears suddenly covered Shunqin’s face. "Brother Liu, our dismissal is a small matter. But if the misfortune had reached Lord Fan and the New Administration, you and I would surely have been shamed for ages...."
      Supplement [by the Author]: The "New Administration under the Qingli Emperor (庆历新政)" initiated by Fan Zhongyan during the Northern Song Dynasty failed less than a year after its implementation. History records that the failure was closely related to this incident of “embezzlement” by Su Shunqin, which ended up giving the conservatives an excuse to wipe out the reformers in one fell swoop.

Text at p. 227; Translated from 谁说我糊弄人的博客 at
3. The Meeting (开会)

Hu Ping (胡平)

      Near Enlightenment is a bold and forthright fellow. He likes to run around town, especially to other people's homes – regardless of whether he has any business there, and regardless of whether the people welcome him or not. Sometimes he’ll spend an entire afternoon in a person’s home expounding on a broad range of theories.
      Words flow in a torrent from Near’s mouth. Some people like him and some are disgusted with him. Most of the people who like him are in the same boat as he is: they have nothing to do all day long. The reason the people he disgusts don’t like being around him is that they’re afraid of wasting precious time on idle chatter.
      His eloquence can’t be denied. He has baskets of tales in his leather bag, classics from both ancient and modern times, and from both China and foreign countries as well. Listening to him spin tall tales isn’t such a bad thing, as long as you have the time.
      One day Near felt particularly bored and went running around town again. In the afternoon he came to an avenue and followed along it from place to place. He wanted somewhere he could talk.
      He didn't know how he’d come to this place. He’d seen the big building first, and then the door.
      Contrary to his expectation, the door opened when he pushed it gently with his hand. He saw a meeting room with heads of people crowded together. They were sitting around a long, oval table in the center of the room. Their arms were folded.
      When he first opened the door, he wanted to withdraw. But then he noticed that everyone had turned around and was looking at him.
      The deciding factor was that one person among them took the lead and began to applaud. Then everyone began to clap — the applause was very warm, and it was obvious that everyone was welcoming him. He could only stiffen his upper lip and walk in.
      His blood ran cold when he noticed, as he walked in, that there was an empty spot in the middle of the oval table.
      He paused for a moment at the thought that the empty spot was a bit like the place where a leader would sit, but then went ahead and slowly sat down there.
      He tried to control his guilty conscience as he swept the place with his peripheral vision – he noticed that everyone was looking at him. Their eyes were full of admiration and expectation. All he could do was sit up straighter in the formerly vacant seat.
      As soon as he sat down, the person next to him said: "Everyone please welcome our leader, who has come to speak to us!"
      "When did I become a leader?" Near thought. He rubbed his head, feeling dizzy.
      He coughed instinctively and wanted to say, "You all may have made a mistake!" However, what actually came out was, "Hello everyone, I, I'm late!"
      He regretted it to the max as soon as he said it. However, an arrow can’t be turned back once the bow is released, and words once spoken cannot be recovered.
      Now that he’d spoken, his only choice was to keep on talking, following his own chain of thought. One must understand, Near has always been loquacious, so lecturing and giving speeches is a piece of cake for him.
      He thought to himself that he might just as well keep on going, since he was already riding the tiger’s back and jumping off would make things worse. With that thought he relaxed, and the desire to speak became stronger and stronger.
      "What should I talk about?" He turned his head and glanced at the committee’s logo, and knew the answer with certainty. He even imagined he really could serve as this group’s leader.
      A cup of tea that had already been brewed was on the table. He picked it up in both hands, tasted it and blinked. His mind rushed to find the content that he would talk about.
      "That’s it. Let's first talk about the general situation at home and abroad." He felt that discussing the overall situation would be suitable for almost all meetings.
      He began to speak. "Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “world affairs are in a very unstable state at the moment. Small bands of imperialist lackeys are always restless and ready to spoil the plans of our socialist nation. I’ve gathered everyone together today just to make it clear for all of you: We must tighten the reins to battle against and prevent revisionism at all times. We must not fall for the schemes of the evil imperialist elements...."
      After he’d talked about the international situation for a while, he began to talk about the domestic situation.
      He took a sip of tea to moisten his throat and said, in an unhurried and leisurely manner: "Comrades, the international situation is very severe, and the domestic situation is very complicated. According to my observations, spies sent by the imperialists have penetrated into various areas of our society with the intent to destroy the construction of our great socialist economy. We must open our eyes wide and judge every doubtful thing in minute detail. And by analysis of suspicious things, we must dig out any suspicious people therein...." He then produced another long speech regarding the domestic situation.
      During a break in the discussion, Near took a look at the entire assemblage. He noted that everyone who’d come to the meeting was listening carefully and attentively taking notes. Given the favorable atmosphere, he talked expressively and smoothly about anything that came to mind.
      It was getting dark when Near suddenly remembered something: When he’d left home that noon, his wife had told him that he needed to go to the grains and oils store and bring home a bag of rice. She’d repeatedly told him that they were out of rice and, if he didn't buy some, they’d have nothing to eat that night but the northwest wind.
      Once he remembered that, he felt he should end his speech as soon as possible.
      He moistened his throat with tea once more and said, "It's late, comrades, and today's meeting will end here. Thank you everyone!"
      Someone near him immediately announced, "The meeting is over!" when he hurriedly ended his speech.
      Once they were dismissed, all the attendees stood up and walked towards Near.
      He wiped the perspiration from his face with his hand. “Excuse me,” he said to the people walking towards him. "Excuse me, I didn't mean to...."
      The people really didn’t seem to hear, however. They had sincere looks on their faces as they saluted and bowed to him....
      "Your speech really was excellent!”
      “You’re so humble!”
      “You’re awesome!”
      “You’re so...."
      Near automatically stretched out his hand, and the people coming up to him stretched out theirs. They shook hands warmly.
      A middle-aged man even opened his arms as he ran over from the other side of the meeting room and hugged Near tightly.
      Near heard the fellow whisper in his ear, "I was really happy to attend your meeting, really happy to meet you! You were great. Downright terrific…."
      Near had to expend a good deal of energy to break free from the man’s embrace.
      He saw that all the attendees were whispering to one another in an impassioned frame of mind – undoubtedly sharing what they’d learned from their experience at the meeting – and taking advantage of this rare interval, he quietly moved to the door, opened it, and slipped away like a thief!

Text at p. 230; Translated from 点阅头条文章 here

[For reasons unknown to your translator, this story is no longer available online. However, the author also wrote the story as a poem (but with a rather different content for the speech) and the poem can still be seen at https://m.jintang114.org/html/shige/2015/0201/20058.html### – Fannyi]

4. Seventh Great-Granny (七阿太)

Cen Xiejun (岑燮钧)

      Seventh Great-Granny was ninety-three when she died. Despite her advanced years, she didn’t die of old age.
      I despised her when I was young. One summer she set up a popsicle stand under a willow tree by Zhou Pond Bridge. She called for me to stop when I happened to pass by, and asked me if I could watch the stand for her. She handed me a popsicle with both hands and, since I was greedy, I happily agreed.
      My mother scolded me when she got home the next day. “Why do you owe money to Seventh Great-Granny?” Blockhead that I am, I couldn't figure out what she meant and said I didn’t.
      "You’re really getting too big for your britches. You even dare to buy popsicles on credit. See if your father doesn't fix you!"
      I got nervous when I heard that. “Go ask Seventh Great-Granny,” I said. “She’s the one that gave me the popsicle herself. It was melting and broke when I took a bite.”
      "Who are you kidding?” my mother replied. “It was Seventh Great-Granny who asked me for the money." I felt so wronged that I really could’ve died. I got so upset that I started crying, and my mother lightened up a bit.
      Whenever I ran into Seventh Great-Granny after that, she was the one who said hello to me. I’d just keep walking along on my merry way.
      She was still meddlesome, though. Once when we went swimming in the summer, and everyone was diving off Zhou Pond Bridge, she yelled at me, “That’s dangerous!” That night, my mother warned me in no uncertain terms. “If you dive off the bridge again, don't bother coming home!”
      Fortunately our families got to feuding soon after that, so she no longer felt the need to stick her nose in my business. For as long as we’d had our old house, my family’s wastewater came out and passed by the back door of her place. The wastewater had gunk in it and was unavoidably smelly, so Seventh Great-Granny would throw curses our way from time to time. Her younger son had a more dispositive solution: He simply filled in the ditch. My dad was furious and read him the riot act. Seventh Great-Granny piled on the abuse and her five sons came on the scene – their attitude was obvious.
      My family still had wastewater and it still came out of the house. The wastewater collected behind our house and the area became a path of mud.
      And from that point, the feud was on.
      The easing of the relationship between Seventh Great-Granny and my family began when she quarreled with her daughter-in-law – her youngest son’s wife – but that was more than ten years later.
      Seventh Great-Granny lived on the far side of her youngest son's house. It was agreed that the room would be returned to the youngest son, but only after Seventh Great-Granny reached one hundred. Housing was tight, though, and the son wanted to keep on the daughter-in-law’s good side. They planned to give their bedroom to their son as his own residence and asked Seventh Great-Granny to give up the front half of her room so they could move in.
      Seventh Great-Granny wouldn’t go for it. For one thing, the agreement had been made with the clan elders when the five brothers divided their parent’s properties between them. For another, she’d lived in this room and never anywhere else since she married into the family. Also, even though the old man had passed away many years before, his bed was still set up there. But even more important, that part of the room faced the sun and was warm, and the elderly don’t like the cold. If she gave up the front half of the room, she’d never feel the sunlight again.
      So their plan failed. The daughter-in-law ended up looking on the old lady as an enemy, and her grandson never called her "grandma" again.
      Before the falling out, Seventh Great-Granny and the youngest son's family had used the same door to go in and out of the house. They ate from the same pot, too. The old lady’s chores were cooking the rice, cleaning the veggies, washing the dishes and sweeping the floor. Afterwards, the door from her room to the central hall was blocked off. She opened up a plank doorway to the south, making her room a separate residence. She prepared and ate her meals alone.
      Once it rained heavily while no one was home at our place. My mother hurried home and found that all the laundry she’d hung out to dry was gone. Seventh Great-Granny, who was sitting under the eaves chanting to Buddha, waved to my mother. It turned out that the old lady had brought the laundry in for us.
      "Thank you! Thank you!"
      "No need to thank me. We’re from the same clan!"
      We made hairy taro the next day and my mother had me take a bowl over to Seventh Great-Granny. Her youngest son, who happened to be picking soy beans at the time, didn’t say a word. A few days later, he put three Manchurian rice plants outside his mother’s door. His wife happened to see him do it. She picked up the plants and threw them into the gutter.
      When neither the son nor his wife were around, Seventh Great-Granny would walk over to our door with her cane to chat, and my mother would pull out a chair for her to sit on. She no longer had that acerbic attitude of past years. She wore her hair in a "round the head" coil secured by a wooden hairpin. She looked very much like an old lady, with hair more white than black.
      Her eyes were getting worse. They got smaller, too, until only a slit was left.
      She’d heard that there was a kind of eye drop that was effective, but no one would go with her to the clinic. Later on I bought eye drops for her once. They seemed to be a treatment for cataracts.
      She often groped around her room alone in the dark. Sometimes, when we had some good food at our house, we’d take a bowl to her.
      Her daughter-in-law would yell at her when she begged for money for food. "If other families are better than us, you can go get food from them.” My mother said this was like the old saying, “pointing at a mulberry tree to curse a locust tree” – an oblique criticism of our family.
      What worried Seventh Great-Granny most was, what would she do on the off chance that she really went blind. She had no daughters to care for her. When she saw people of her generation, she’d always say, “You’re so blessed, your girls will look after you.” To comfort her, those people would say, “Daughters are all alike. They can only help out occasionally. They have their own families to watch over, so how can you count on them? As the saying goes, you’re lucky to have sons because you’ll need to rely on them in the end!” Seventh Great-Granny seemed relieved when she heard that.
      One day she somehow fell into a puddle by that patch of mud. Luckily my mother saw her and was able to push and pull and drag her out.
      Seventh Great-Granny seemed to deteriorate a lot after that. From time to time, she’d lie in bed for a few days, and finally she could no longer live alone.
      Public opinion in the clan was all over the place. Several clan elders told her first and second sons that their mother needed to be taken care of. Those two sons agreed that, as previously settled upon, whoever was to inherit the house would provide care for her – the other sons need only kick in a monthly payment for meals – and since the house would go to the youngest son, he was the who should provide care. When all five brothers got together to talk it over, the youngest one’s wife agreed with the older brothers because she refused to give up the house. She said, “I’ve already taken care of the old lady for so many years, and now that the end is near, you want to split up the house!”

      So everything went on as before. The other sons and their wives occasionally came to visit, but only to visit. The eldest son was getting seriously old himself; his back was stooped and he was too busy taking care of himself. The second son’s wife did the best, which still wasn’t much because she had cancer.
      No one knows how Seventh Great-Granny managed to live from day to day. The days she spent sunning under the eaves became increasingly rare. Sometimes we heard her daughter-in-law berating her for something in a loud voice, but she was too old to say anything back. My mother looked in on her from time to time, and the old lady always asked, “Why don’t I die?”
      The daughter-in-law was increasingly busy. She was taking care of her son and their workshop as well. She always sighed when people came around, “I’ve got both an old one above me and a young one below – other people’s mothers-in-law are all gone, but I’m not lucky....”
      The daughter-in-law’s son was engaged in another construction project, and his parents were always dead on their feet, so the door of the old house was always closed.
      My mother told Seventh Great-Granny, "Your grandson’s working on a huge building, three stories up and three underground. Are you glad?"
      "Yes, I’m glad!" But she was wiping away tears.
      One day early in the morning, people noticed a pair of black cloth booties placed neatly on Zhou Pond Bridge. A wrap-around blouse lay primly over them. Several passers-by expressed surprise – “Who forgot these things here?”
      Just then a burst of firecrackers created a very lively scene – the final beam was being placed in the building Seventh Great-Granny’s grandson was putting up!
      At noon, by a pier not far away, someone hollered in surprise. “A dead body!” He lifted it ashore and saw it was an old lady – Seventh Great-Granny.
      The village immediately exploded like birds scared into flight by a hunter’s shot.
      The youngest son recalled afterwards that he’d heard a slight noise next door at three or four o'clock in the morning. He’d also glanced out the window: the moonlight was dazzling, as though it were snowing.
      Then he mumbled, “Mother, you did this to show me!”

Text at p. 233; Translated from 岑燮钧博客 at

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