​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Midis Page Four

  8. Mass Texting
  9. Facing Life
10. Wang and Li

1. It Was Your Mistake
2. Girlfriend Pays the Bill
3. The Distant Flute

1. It Was Your Mistake (你才表错情)
Tan Xu (覃旭)

            I work for the divorce registration office. Quite a lot of people come in in the mornings to get divorced.
            It was a well-dressed couple's turn. While they were making the "We Mutually Consent to Divorce" statement, the woman's tears were falling like rain. I said, "It seems we can't complete the divorce under these circumstances. It'll be necessary to wait for her emotions to calm down, then reconsider. Next couple!" The woman got up and left, the man following close behind.
            I kept an eye on them while I was completing the procedures for other people. The woman had gone to the waiting area to sit down, and the man took the seat right next to her. She wiped her eyes every once in a while but didn't say a word. The man had his head bowed and was whispering. After a bit he started to wipe away tears, too.
            One seldom sees men crying here, and I thought their marriage could still be saved. When they were the only two left in the waiting area, the man suddenly knelt at the woman's feet. I decided I would wait a moment, then do my best to mediate their dispute.
            When all the others were gone, they sat in front of me again. "It's no small thing when a man cries," I said sympathetically. "When a man comes to tears, it means he truly cherishes his love. And when a man has children on his knee, it's like gold. The fact that this man got down on his knees just now shows that he's changed his attitude and is so sincere and steadfast. And the fact that this woman's face is awash in tears shows that, in her heart, she finds the breakup very difficult. So why don't you give it another go!”
            The woman laid her head down on the desk and burst into tears when she heard that.
            "Go on home," I said, striking while the iron was hot. "Take charge, man, take her home and live out your lives together.”
            The man picked up their materials rather clumsily and stroked the woman's shoulder. The woman up, her face buried in her hands, and the two of them went out the door. I couldn't help but feel a sense of accomplishment at being able to sway the couple.
            Who could've guessed that, as soon as we opened the door after lunch, the two of them came back in. Their eyes were red and swollen, but when they declared that they were consenting to a divorce, they both kept their emotions under control, so I had to do it for them.
            As soon as he picked up the divorce certificate, the man hurried out of the room alone, as though he'd come there by himself. The woman stayed seated while she slowly collected her things. "My friend," she asked me, "do you know why he ran off in such a hurry?”
            "He must be heartbroken," I squeaked. "It was a mistake for him to show his emotions by kneeling down to you!”
            I couldn't believe it when she started giggling. "You're laughing? Do you have a heart of stone?! ”
            She kept laughing, but with a touch of bitterness. "No, my friend," she said. "It's you who made the mistake. When he knelt down, he was begging me to give him what he wanted. And the reason he ran out so fast was to hurry to take the divorce certificate to his mistress and tell her the good news...."

Translated from here, also at http://gushi.96chengbao.com/xinqingriji/tianmiriji/9852.html
2. The Girlfriend Pays the Bill (女友埋单)

Unfettered for Now (逍遥拉兹)

            Wang Hua got his Master’s Degree, got himself a pretty good job, and, not long after, got himself a girlfriend. He was wild with joy. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. What happened next mystified him.
            Their love needed to be cherished and kept fresh, so Wang Hua and his girlfriend often went strolling in the shopping malls, or went to parks. From time to time they went to a blockbuster movie and occasionally to a karaoke bar or skating rink. No one would ever tire of such an elegant and unconventional life, but after a while there wasn’t much left of his savings.
            However, just when he was put in the awkward position of not having any cash, and was worrying about the costs he was incurring, things took a turn for the better.
            It was the weekend again, and Wang Hua had just picked up his cell to make a date with his girlfriend when suddenly the phone rang. His girlfriend beat him to it and wanted to make a date to see a movie.
            When they got to the theater, Wang Hua was slow taking his wallet out. He felt like his forehead was already sweating: He was worried whether there were enough funds in his wallet to cover the expenses for this date. But who would have thought? His girlfriend quickly pushed Wang Hua’s arm away as he reached for the wallet, and said: “You don’t have to get the tickets. Today’s on me!” And she paid all the expenses for their date that day.
            She took the initiative on the following dates, too. Whenever there was an expense, she almost didn’t give Wang Hua a chance.
            This puzzled Wang Hua. How did the natural order of things get turned around? Is the sun going to start rising in the West?
            All of a sudden he had an idea. He had read it in some book: The IQ of a woman in love is zero. That must be what was going on.
            Thank Heaven that worked out so well. His girlfriend’s rush to take the initiative enabled Wang Hua to get through the crisis.
            And gave him a breather from being macho all the time.
            Happiness bloomed in Wang Hua’s heart. He thought to himself: A man has his dignity, and as the saying goes, a gentleman needn't rush to repay a kindness.

3. The Distant Flute (永远的箫声)

Ling Dingnian (凌鼎年)

            Pale moonlight, faint starlight, the so-called time of the hazy moon and muted birds – a gorgeous night. Even more beautiful was the softly poignant sound of a bamboo flute wafting over from the far side of the river, drifting slowly across. She could hear the calm in the flautist's heart clearly tonight. The music was unhurried, full of emotion but still delicate. It had the kind of appeal that permeates one's heart, and was made even more so by the humidity near the river.
            Piper Heh put down the book in her hands and listened, enthralled. What sort of person was this flautist?
            She'd asked several people that question, indirectly, but all of the answers had left her unsatisfied. That is, none of the answers had told her clearly whether the flautist was a man or a woman, a youth or an oldster.
            Perhaps it's a broken-hearted girl like
Daiyu, the character in the novel "A Dream of Red Mansions". Or perhaps it's a retired old man, conveying his feelings through the flute to dispel his long-standing loneliness. Or perhaps it's – no, it should be – a young man; otherwise, how could he play so wonderfully, how could he pull so strongly at the strings of her heart?
            The flautist was really strange, too. Every evening, almost without exception, when the darkness started to paint the sky, the sound of the flute would come uninvited across the river. The music spoke of some past wrong but was neither resentful nor impassioned. Piper Heh wasn't ready to say that she understood it completely, and wasn't even willing to say what it was that she did understand, but she felt as though the flautist was conveying some heartfelt secret.
            If the flautist on the other side of the river should fall silent some evening, for some unknown reason, Piper Heh would feel a terrible sense of loss. What she would be losing, though, she couldn't really say.
            Was she falling for the flautist? Not likely. She'd never even seen his face, and didn't know what sort of person he was. How could she begin even to like him? It was just that, more than once under the sound of the flute, she had described or sketched out what the flautist was like. In her imagination, he was certainly emotional but very conventional, certainly well-grounded in traditional culture....
            Later, the desire to see what the flautist looked like became a knot on Piper's heart. On several occasions she walked along the river after dusk, heading by accident
or design toward the big bridge in the distance. When she got to the other side, she followed the sound of the flute, searching high and low. When she eventually found the shed, though, she didn't have the courage to go up to it. She was afraid she'd ruin a beautiful dream, so she returned slowly to her side of the river.
            Still later, she went overseas to go to school. She left the river, left her home town. She, she'd never again hear the low, deep melody of that flute. A stranger in a strange land, that familiar music would often echo in her ears. The flautist's music became a memory she would keep forever.
            Piper even thought, it was only because of the flautist's music reverberating in her heart that she returned to the fatherland and to her hometown when she completed her studies.

小小说名作、佳作阅读与欣赏 Famous Mini-Story Masterpieces to Read and Appreciate
http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_6ceb4af10101f1qd.html, Story #19
4. Survey Questions (一道测试题)


            Not long ago an American website published these survey questions. If you were going to leave this world tomorrow:
            (1) What advice would you leave for your son?
            (2) What would you most like to do on your last day?
            (3) What one thing would you like to take with you?
            The web site said, "Sigmund Freud designed these questions in 1902 in order to ascertain people’s core desires. Today happens to be the one hundredth anniversary [of the test's publication] and we’ve been commissioned by the Helen Keller Charitable Foundation to reissue it. If you are interested in providing answers to these questions, leave your address and you will receive an unexpected gift."
            I’m not in the habit of answering survey questions on the net, and I don’t like reading comments left by visitors from the virtual world. Also, I really didn’t need any gift. But when I saw the name Helen Keller, I paused in front of these survey questions. I thought I’d go ahead and click on the test as a charitable act, because I know that on the internet, on a lot of sites, if you give it a click, advertisers will pay it some money.
            I opened the survey and found that there had already been 14,358 visitors to that page. To express respect for this greatest blind person in the world, I answered the questions in strict accordance with the instructions, as follows.
            (1) The advice you would leave for your son: Do what you love to do.
            (2) The last thing you would want to do: Sit on a lawn or in a garden with my entire family, having a picnic and singing songs.
            (3) The thing you would take with you: Nothing.
            Finally I filled in my email address and sent it off.
            I haven't been able to find out whether or not my click resulted in a bit of income for the Helen Keller Charitable Foundation, but I instantly felt a sort of solemn urgency after I finished answering those three questions. Yes, if I were to die tomorrow, what would I do now? Would I chase after things extraneous to life, at the expense of life itself? Would I still be preoccupied with using and overusing my life to get more, without knowing how to taste and enjoy the life I have? Would I still think that a person's status and value is decided by how much money he makes? Would I still nag on and on over every tiny mistake my child makes? Would I still be indecisive about whether to keep working or to resign?
            Just as I was drifting off into these contemplations, my son knocked on the door. He was home from school, and I jumped up to open the door for him. And I reached up and touched his face. He gave me a strange look and asked what was wrong. I didn't answer, because my mind had been washed as clear as the air after a rain by those survey questions.

City of Qingdao News Net, Green Qingdao Community, Teacher's Forum, 2007-12-26
5. Love in a Wishing Bottle (许愿瓶里的爱)

by Lisa Treiss (Spelling Uncertain) (丽莎.特瑞斯)

            Rui Erfu was my best friend when I was a kid. I was a real loner at the time, a girl who didn’t like to mix and mingle. I just liked to practice my basketball on the playground by myself after school when no one else was around. He and I only became acquainted because he enjoyed watching me shoot baskets and could accurately correct my mistakes. After we got to know each other, we often went to the student cafeteria together for colas, and we'd chat about the interesting things happening around the school. Once I told him that he was such a smart and handsome boy, a lot of the girls in our class secretly liked him. He laughed and said that young love is naive and impetuous, for the most part, and not worth worrying about. I corrected him very earnestly: young love, in a beautiful dream, can also become truly eternal.
            We said our goodbyes in the small school cafeteria the year we got accepted to college. There was a high sky that day, and a gentle breeze rustled through the white poplars. We didn't know whether to be happy or sad. A lot of people were in the cafeteria playing a game: They'd try for a wishing bottle that was hanging on the wall, then write wishes on different colored papers and stuff them in the bottle. After several years they could come back and see if their wish had come true. Rui Erfu went and got a bottle. After he finished writing he asked me, "Don't you have a wish you want to make?" "My wish is not to be separated from such a close friend as you," I said. "But tomorrow we're going our separate ways, so I might as well not make the wish."
            Five years went by just like that, and then suddenly one day I got a phone call from Rui Erfu. He said he'd be going away with his teacher on a scientific expedition to a faraway place, but he'd be passing through our hometown in a few days and hoped he could see me. I was making preparations for a wedding at the time; I'd be a bride the next month. There was a swirling drizzle the day I went to that little cafeteria in our hometown. As I stepped onto the ancient wooden floorboards, I saw a tall figure leaning against the counter, stuffing a folded piece of colored paper into a small glass bottle. The youngster who kept me company while I persisted in shooting baskets in the twilight still remembered that little game from so long ago, even after he'd grown into a handsome man, and I was no longer an introverted, reticent young girl. I called out his name happily. As he handed me an ice-cold cola he saw the ring on my finger.
He hesitated a moment, then flashed his trademark twinkling smile.
            Afterwards Rui Erfu went on an expedition like he said, but to an even more faraway place. We lost contact with each other, until we met again at a class reunion eight years later. Too much had happened over the eight years, really too much. A car accident had taken my husband, turning me into a taciturn but tough and durable mother living alone with a five-year-old daughter. That evening I passed through the boisterous crowd, an iced cola in my hand, and lingered by myself on the patio. After a while, I don't know how long, someone sat down softly beside me and said, "I just put another wish in the wishing bottle. Kinda dumb, aren't I?" I laughed. "Are you going somewhere even farther away this time?" I asked Rui Erfu.
            But this time he didn't go away again. He started teaching at our hometown college, and we had many more casual conversations in the little cafeteria. We chatted about all sorts of things, and gradually the conversation turned to one subject: my life. He mostly asked, "Do you need my help with anything," or "Can I come to the party you're giving for your daughter this weekend?" I pretended every time that I didn't really care, but I found myself more and more reluctant to be away from his attentions and consideration. Finally one time the cafeteria owner watched as Rui Erfu put a wish in the wishing bottle. "You've never made a wish?" he asked me, laughing. "When I was 18," I said, "my wish was to be with him always. My wish has come true, you see, so I don't need to make any more." Rui Erfu was looking at me, his eyes glistening, but for the first time I avoided his gaze. "I'm afraid of losing a fulfilling and precious friendship," I said, "so I'm willing to go my whole life without saying 'I love you' to anyone."  After saying that, I was so embarrassed that I covered my face. After a long while, Rui Erfu gently pulled my palms open. "Come here," he said. "Take a look at the wishes I've made, starting when I was 18." I opened my eyes and saw that the counter was covered with a pile of still new, folded papers. The same sentence was written on each one: "If young love can come true in a beautiful dream, please let me be with Lisa forever."
            We were married three days later. Without planning it, we both chose to say the same thing as we exchanged vows: "You're the one I wished for when I was 18."

6. Seeking a Mentor (拜师)

by Cai Zhongfeng (蔡中锋)

            I tested into a good job after I graduated from college.
            Shortly after I started work, I discovered that the very capable director of our unit, Chief Zhang, liked to dabble in creative writing. I'd majored in Chinese in college and had often had fillers and other items published in newspapers and magazines.
            So, that night, I picked up a bunch of gifts and went to his place to request that he take me on formally as his apprentice: "Chief Zhang, I've come to ask you to be my mentor. I'm the type who likes like to write things, and you're an experienced hand and a leader in literary circles in our county. I know you'll teach me well!"
            Chief Zhang was very pleased to hear that. "Ah, young people, when they like to learn, that's great! I accept you as my pupil!"
            I was also very pleased. "So from now on, instead of Chief, I'll call you Teacher!"
            Chief Zhang smiled and said: "Good, good, C, my boy!"
            Sure enough, after that Chief Zhang considered me his personal student. He showed special concern for me in my work, my personal life and my studies.
            This year, the head of one of the major departments of our office reached retirement age. Chief Zhang pushed hard to have this student of his take over the job. But the appointment went to Little Wang, one of my co-workers who had started work at the same time as I did, which is something I hadn't expected. I was very despondent about this.
            I mentioned the matter when I was chatting with my mentor one day. "Little Wang is apprenticed to County Magistrate Liu," Chief Zhang said. "He personally arranged to have his student fill the empty position. I had to obey."
            I said: "I know you did all you could, and I really thank you very much. When someone's got a higher level official putting pressure on you, there's nothing you can do!"
            Chief Zhang laughed out loud when I said that. "My child, you really know how things work," he said, patting my shoulder.
            Six months later, there was another shuffle in the county leadership. An exception to the rules was made so that I could be appointed to a Deputy Director's position.
            I was very surprised: "Master Zhang, how were you able to do this for me? It's amazing!"
            "In fact, it was quite simple," he said. "Young Wang's mentor is a County Magistrate, but my mentor, which means your mentor as well, is the head of the Prefecture."

Translated from 分节阅读12, also available at http://www.scimao.com/read/1051094
7. A Workplace Situation (职场事)

From The Way Things Are Series (原来如此)
Wang Kuailiang (王会亮)

            Wu Caihua had just graduated from college with a degree in Chinese, but now it was autumn and he still didn't have a job. Then one day an opportunity fell on him like manna from Heaven. Before he knew it, his childish face had been "tamped" into a "flower" – he went from childhood to being a young man. His uncle, who was an Assistant Director in a certain government administrative unit, gave Wu's father a call. He said that the former copywriter in their office had given up his cushy job to get an even cushier one. He asked if Wu's father might be willing to let his son take the job.
            How could anyone pass up such a great opportunity? Wu's father immediately took the job on behalf of his son.
            The next day, Wu followed his father to his uncle's office and stepped into the job without a hitch. For a few days, a satisfied flush was the expression most often seen on his face. A good view can change quickly, however, and it wasn't long before Wu was feeling lost and disappointed. The main reason was that the "Number One Big Shot" in their office didn't like any of the copy Wu had written. The talented young man stewed about it until he was exhausted, but he couldn't figure out what he was doing wrong.
           Recently Wu had heard about a copywriter named Hu Dayou, who worked in the C__ office in the same city. Everything he wrote could be summed up in one sentence – the leaders loved it. In order to keep his job (his "rice bowl", as they say) Wu went to pay a courtesy call on the man.
           After some pleasantries, Hu began to talk leisurely about his observations and experiences being a copywriter. "Actually, I don't have any magic formula for writing things for the leadership. I just do what my dear old dad taught me to do, that's all."
            "May I ask what insights your honorable father had?" Wu inquired.
            "My father once told me," Hu continued, "that writing something for a leader is like making a shirt for him. You select the material, you cut it, you sew it together, and you press and iron it. And you can't be mediocre about any of it."
            Wu was doubtful. "What does that mean?"
            "When you're making a shirt," Hu said, "You go to a market to buy materials. Writing an essay, you go to the Internet for material. When you've found good material, you cut and sew it for a shirt, or copy and paste for an essay. Then you press and iron, which means editing the places where other agencies are mentioned, and time references, and any unusual terminology, to make the material flow smooth and easy, so the leader won't think it's foolish when he reads the draft."
            "What about the details of the work the leader is doing?" Wu asked.
            "Work?" Hu Dayou laughed. "The leaders are so busy, how can they find the time to do any actual work? Just mention their job in passing."
            Wu thought it over and decided, yes, Hu was right. He nodded in respect.
            As he was leaving, Wu seemed to suddenly remember something. "May I presume to inquire," he asked quickly, "what position does your honorable father hold?"
            "Position, shamishion!," Hu replied. "He has a tailor shop, that's all."
            Oh! So that's the way it is. Wu seemed to have suddenly found a new skill, an instant understanding of his job.

柳州晚报, 2014-03-16, p. 23, Liuzhou Evening News
8. Mass Texting (短信群发)

A-Fang (阿芳)

            A con man sent out over a dozen copies of the following mass text message: "You must have heard about the Shanghai judge's organization visiting prostitutes, right?"
            It went out to eighteen leaders, but eight didn't reply. The con man knew those eight wouldn't fall for the scam, so he deleted their phone numbers.
            The ten who answered asked, "Who are you?"
            The con man replied by sending them another mass text: "Don't worry about who I am right now. What I want to tell you is that I possess evidence of your whoring."
            All ten leaders responded, but two of them said, "Bull. Who are you anyway? If you keep up with this bull, I'll go to the cops immediately.
            The con man knew he couldn't fool those two, so he deleted their numbers.
            The remaining eight replies were basically the same: "Who the hell are you?"
            Con man answered them: "I'm not so stupid as to tell you who I am. But I can tell you I used to work in a hotel and specialized in video surveillance. That's how I got evidence of you consorting with prostitutes."
            One of the eight leaders texted back: "You're a liar. Liars are all over the place these days."
            Another asked: "What hotel did you work at?"
            Still another replied: "I know you want money. Give me the evidence, and I'll give you money.
            The con man knew those last three weren't going for it, so he deleted their numbers.
            The remaining five replies were: "What are you going to do?"
            The con man sent a mass text to all five: "I haven't decided yet, but a financial forfeiture may avoid a calamity."
            One of the five returned the following: "I understand the logic of that, but I cannot, repeat, cannot give you money without knowing for sure. Tell me one fact. What day did I get a room at your hotel?"
            Of course the con man couldn't say, so he crossed this number off as well.
            Another one of the five answered: "I can give you money, but we'll have to meet in person."
            The con man couldn't do that, either, so he also deleted this number.
            The other three sent back this text: "How much do you want?"
            The con man replied: "Fifty thousand."
            One of the responses came immediately: "Too much, don't you think?"
            The con man answered: "At least thirty thousand."
            The response: "OK, how do I get it to you?"
            The con man: "I send you an account number, you transfer the money and we're done."
            The response: "So send the account number."
            The con man: "Workers Bank, Chizhou, Wenchang branch, account of Hu Meng, #6222XXXXXXX3838."
            About an hour later, thirty thousand Yuan was deposited into the con man's account.
            As for the other two, they didn't negotiate the price, but answered directly "How do I get the money to you?"
            The con man: "I send you an account number, you transfer the money and we're done."
            Two replies: "Send the number."
            The con man: "Workers Bank, Chizhou, Wenchang branch, account of Hu Meng, #6222XXXXXXX3838."
            Only one of these two deposited the fifty thousand into the con man's account. This was enough, of course. The con man had got eighty thousand Yuan just for sending a few text messages, and he felt he'd earned it. But it was too soon to celebrate. About an hour later, Public Security came and arrested him for fraud.
            It was the last leader who'd turned him in, the one who hadn't deposited any money into the con man's account but instead had reported the matter to the police upon receipt of his account number. Public Security had been able to trace him through that account number. Once they'd tracked him down, they dispatched officers to bring him in.
            Some people wonder how that last leader had dared call the cops. Was there no reason to fear that damaging information would be made public?
            Of course there was no reason to be afraid.
            I'll tell you why not. The last leader was a woman.

2013 Annual Humorous Writings of China, from Comedy World Magazine, Ding Si, Ed., p. 48
Translated from
this version, also available here.
9. Facing Life, I Give In to It (面对生活,我屈服了)

By Lights Out for the Night (熄灯一宿)

            I’ve been in Shenzhen a little over a month and my money is almost gone. For a man who has already graduated from school, it’d be quite embarrassing to go back home and ask for money. When you don’t have a job, you feel pressured every second of the day. I can’t get out from under, and I’m starting to regret some of the decisions I’ve made.
            If I hadn’t chosen to repeat my senior year in high school, and instead had obediently gone to study computers, I might already be the tech guru for some company. Even more likely, that co-ed I love would already be sitting beside me. If that’d really happened, it’d be so good, but regrettably I didn’t do it. And again, even though I decided to repeat senior year, when I graduated if I hadn’t decided to leave the company where I had a work-study job, now at the very least I wouldn’t have to worry about food and clothing. But, it’s like they say in that TV show i-Partment, there’s no what-ifs in life.
            I’d come to this city because of my so-called dream. But the city answered me with just one word, and that word was “reality.” A single month in the long river of life really isn’t very much time, but it was enough to get me so far down I can’t even breathe. Should I give up my dream, or keep at it? That question is stuck in my head like an amorphous sound wave, so I can’t get any rest or eat in peace.
            If I give it up, will I really have nothing left? Will I become a slave to life, or will I have it good like everybody else does, even if I’m doing something I really don’t like? If I don’t give it up, and continue with the struggle instead, what will I use to bear the pressures that existence gives me? How long will I have to persevere until I can see the end? Nobody will answer these questions for me, and I don’t know the answers, myself. I can only count on luck, like “everything will turn out for the best,” and keep on going. But then, right at that moment, I see a reference on the net. I close my eyes and can see my own future.
            “Youth haven’t tasted the flavor of worry, and compose their poems with forced melancholy.” At this moment I so very vividly understand the insight Xin Qiji had when he wrote those lines, I can’t hold back a sorrowful sigh. A student’s life is so easy, it really makes you bristle! I yearn for it, yearn for it, endless yearning. There’s no way I can return to the past, but maybe I’ll find a shred of comfort from what I had back then.
            I don’t know if all young people are this… mixed up, bewildered. But what I can say is, right now I am. If only I could get away from this noisy world and go to a scenic heaven-on-earth, high as the mountains and long as the rivers, and rest there a while. Even if it’s only a momentary peace, I think I would be very much relaxed. That kind of place is only imaginary, so I guess it would be better if I find a peaceful place to pour out my woes. Even though pouring out woes reveals a man’s weak side, I’m going to give in to it, to make myself feel better.
            Having come to this point, as I expected, I felt a lot better. I’ve got a job interview to go to tomorrow, dear readers (if there are any), so do me a favor and wish me well! A peaceful life for a good person, my dream.

10. Chief Wang and Secretary Li (王局长和李秘书)

Liu Lang (刘浪)

            Bureau Chief Wang was very smart. Whenever someone came to ask a favor, or to have him do something for them, he would go through the motions before advising them, "I have an important meeting to attend. How about this? Go find Secretary Li and talk to him about this. We can speak again when I know more about the matter."
            Secretary Li was very smart, too, and whenever petitioners came looking for him, he knew exactly what Chief Wang was thinking. So while he was talking to them he would sound them out a bit, and drop a few subtle hints, all the while showing concern for their problem.
            For the most part the petitioners were very smart, too. When they came back to see Secretary Li again, they would always stick an envelope in his hand and say, "Here's a little something for your trouble. Go ahead and take it." And then they would fish out a much thicker envelope and say, "Secretary Li, may I ask you to hand this to Chief Wang? Thanks in advance!"
            So everyone was happy. Chief Wang avoided directly taking a bribe, Secretary Li was able to pluck a few feathers for himself, and the petitioners got what they wanted.
            In officialdom, a secretary is essentially a member of the leader's family, and generally no one gives this procedure a second thought. Chief Wang certainly didn't worry about it, and neither did the petitioners. It was Secretary Li, the man in the middle, who had been thinking about it. He observed that, as long as things went well, Chief Wang and the petitioners never even breathed the same air – they just passed messages back and forth through him as the middleman. And even if they should meet at some later time, neither side would ever mention the dealings between them.
            Secretary Li was no longer satisfied with the small tips that people gave him, so when an envelope or paper bag was turned over to him, he would keep a little bit of the contents. He made up a reason to justify this to himself: After all, he was taking some risks as well! If something were to happen later, it was entirely possible that Chief Wang would come off looking clean by pushing the whole thing over onto his shoulders. Since there were risks, there should of course also be rewards.
            Secretary Li was shaking in his boots the first time he did this, but as time went by with no problems, he became quite casual about it.
            One day, Secretary Li went to the city with Chief Wang for a three-day meeting. Chief Wang went to a sauna the first evening, as was his custom, while Secretary Li stayed in the hotel room to polish the draft of the Chief's speech for the next day. Someone knocked on the door as he was writing, and he opened it to see a fat, middle-aged man who looked somewhat familiar. The man walked into the room without being asked.
            "You're Chief Wang's secretary, I presume," the man said. "The Chief certainly is a busy person. I just tried to call him but his phone is turned off. All right, just give this to him. He'll know who it's from."
            The fat man took a thick package wrapped in paper from the briefcase he had with him and handed it over. Secretary Li had at first been a bit uncomfortable with the visitor's tone of voice, but his discomfort was immediately dispelled by the fellow's familiar actions.
            Secretary Li opened the parcel and counted it as soon as the fat man left: Twelve bundles of cash totaling one hundred twenty thousand Yuan. "Boy, he must be doing something really big." But as he thought more about it, he realized that the fat man really wasn't very familiar with the way things are done – contrary to form, he hadn't prepared a little goodie for the secretary. Once he thought of this, Secretary Li's habit became second nature. He pulled out two of the bundles and stuck them into his pocket without hesitation.
            Next morning, Secretary Li walked into Chief Wang's room and handed the package over to him. As he was explaining what had happened, the Chief started to look very glum. Secretary Li felt that was a bit unusual but, not knowing what else to say, he continued, "This guy was kind of interesting, like he was speaking in official jargon."
            "Do you know who he is?" Chief Wang exclaimed. "He's the new Minister of the Prefecture's Communist Party Department of Organizational Affairs. If he's returning this, it looks like there's no hope for me!"
            When Chief Wang opened the package, he looked surprised. "Hey, what's the meaning of this? I definitely give him a hundred and twenty thousand as a get-acquainted gift. How come he only returned a hundred thousand?"
            Secretary Li, sweating, hemmed and hawed, but couldn't say anything....

2012 Annual Humorous Writings of China, from Comedy World Magazine, Ding Si, Ed., p. 202
Translated from
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