Stories printed in Chinese Mini-Stories 2017
2017年中国年度微型小说, 作家网选编, 冰峰•陈亚美主编
Text at page cited after each story; translated from the webpages cited below.
1. Blowing Up a Water Tower (炸掉一座老水塔)
Xu Guoping (徐国平)
“I’m definitely going to blow up this water tower!”
That’s what East-Is-Red Fan told me forty years ago.
He was skinny as a bean sprout at the time. I laughed at him and asked, “Doesn’t your Ma care what you eat?”
He covered his stomach with his school desk. He looked pained and said, “My Ma’s the only one in the whole family with a ration card. How can four people fill their stomachs on that?” I felt sorry for him, so almost every day I stole some dried food from the house to give him. He'd eat it so fast that he’d choke and his eyes would get round as balls.
Fan and I were iron-clad buddies, of course, and he took me with him to climb the water tower several times.
The tower he talked about blowing up stood in a large machine factory. It was the tallest structure in the county. For me, it had a magical feeling.
I remember one day when the school had us go out in the street to copy big character posters. Fan and I quietly went in the front gate of the machine factory. It was the first time I’d been in such close proximity to the old water tower. It was more than ten meters high, and its green brick walls were covered with slogans and posters.
Fan’s home was in a green-tiled building under the tower. His mom had her head down at that moment, looking at water coming from a pump. She ignored us.
Fan encouraged me to climb the tower. While he spoke, he took the lead and started climbing like an agile monkey. I was cautious and held on to the ice-cold iron railings with a death grip. When I eventually reached the top, my body swayed back and forth in the wind. I was trembling with fear. Fan, on the other hand, was all guts. He sat on the edge of the tower with his legs dangling over the side and pointed his finger at the panoramic view of the county seat.
Birds flew twittering and chirping below us.
I happened to notice some small holes in the water tower. There were several of them, and they looked like the entrances to ant nests. Fan said they were bullet holes from armed struggles. He looked sad. He bit his lip and was silent for a while, then said, “My father died on the water tower. A bullet got him in the brain. Brain fluid and blood oozed right out of his head. His eyes were wide open. To this day the memory scares me.”
Him talking like that suddenly made me feel that the water tower was a dark place. My whole body was trembling.
That’s when Fan's mother saw the two of us. She looked up and yelled, “You little devils, come right down from there. Aren’t you afraid of falling to your death, you two?”
Right away Fan tugged on me to obey and slid on down.
I saw his mother clearly. She was tall with pure white skin, very easy on the eyes. The king-sized gray-green overalls she was wearing weren’t enough to conceal her ample breasts.
Fan obeyed his mother. I asked him why he was so afraid of her. His eyes moistened and he looked quite pained. “My mom goes out early in the morning to work our family plot. After my Dad died, the factory arranged for her to come to work in the factory to watch over the water tower. She gets so tired supporting the family by herself. Several times I’ve woke up at night and seen her crying secretly.”
But he said that the family had good times as well. The factory manager often came over personally to bring them rice or wheat. That was the only time his mom ever smiled.
Once, while school was suspended, Fan asked me to climb the tower again, except, when we got halfway up, he stopped climbing. He was staring at his house so intently that he looked foolish. I followed his gaze and, through the glass window of his house, in the dim light I saw a man, naked as a shaved pig. He was lying on top of a woman and I could see her face – it was Fan's mother.
Fan's face turned blue and green, and a fierce, wolf-like fire lit his eyes. With trembling hands, he took a slingshot and a ball bearing out of his pocket. He closed one eye and pulled back the rubber band as far as he could. I heard a “sst” sound and “pow”, saw the glass window break.
Fan went on a hunger strike for a few days after that, on the ground that food cooked by his mother wasn’t clean. On several occasions, she made a point of bringing meals to school for him, but he deliberately avoided eating them and, finally, she'd go away crying.
I couldn't take it. I told Fan that he should take pity on his mother. He put his head in his hands, burst into tears and cried painfully.
Fan never again took me to climb the old water tower. He never even mentioned the three words, “old water tower”. It was like he’d become ashamed of the place.
We’d finished grade school and Fan was going to return to his hometown. We’d come to the bottom of the old water tower again. He kicked the tower viciously, grimaced and said, “I’m definitely going to blow up this water tower!”
I didn’t see him again after that. I heard his sister say that he hadn’t graduated from junior high and had moved to South China on his own.
Five or six years later, I graduated from college and returned to my hometown. I went to the machine factory to ask about Fan. The old water tower looked utterly dilapidated. Fan’s mother still lived in the old house and said that the factory was going to close down soon, so she wasn’t looking after the water tower. She was working as a cleaning lady.
To my surprise, before half a year had passed, she’d committed suicide. People said that on the day it happened, Fan’s little sister had been clamoring for braised pork. The factory hadn’t paid a penny in salaries for a year. Fan’s mother took out her last five cents and told her daughter to go buy the meat. As it happened, the butcher took pity on the child and gave her a few extra ounces. Fan’s mother was disconsolate when she saw her daughter happily eat up the braised pork before going to school. She climbed up the old water tower and jumped.
I was away from the area when I heard the news and was shocked to the core.
The factory had already been torn down by the time I returned, but the old water tower was still there. It looked like a gnome, obviously incompatible with the high-rise buildings that had sprouted up around it.
Nostalgia compelled me to walk up to it, though. I discovered a middle-aged man holding a bouquet of white chrysanthemums standing respectfully under it. I looked him over carefully. It was East-Is-Red Fan, whom I’d not seen for many years.
We old classmates were astounded to see each other again. I clung to his hand and said, “You son of a gun, I’ve had a bunch of our classmates tell me you lucked your way into becoming a real estate tycoon. Why haven’t you blown up this old water tower?”
“I was going to blow it up when I first started developing this area,” he answered indifferently, “but I hesitated and decided to keep it.” He got more emotional as he kept on speaking. “At first my Ma couldn’t get the place out of her mind, but if she’d lived until today, it should’ve gotten a lot better….”
Text at p. 25; translated from 每日頭條 at
2. A Snake (一条蛇)
Taro glanced at the mahjong tile in his hand and got a little excited. Out of the corner of his eye, he took a peek at Corncob sitting across from him. Corncob’s brow was squeezed into three deep lines.
Taro had wanted to go up the mountain to cut some grass. He’d contracted for a hilly pasture to raise a flock of sheep in, and he’d be able to turn them into a large pile of cash when they got bigger. He was deeply grateful to the Village Chief for his good fortune because, with his weak, sickly body, he couldn’t leave the area to get a job and earn money. He’d have no way to raise sheep if the Village Chief hadn’t contracted the pasture to him. Then he wouldn’t have this feeling that he had a fistful of cash. And, of course, it was also thanks to that that he could stand tall before his woman.
He’d run into Corncob on the way to the mountain, and Corncob had said, “Come on, let’s play a hand. There’s three guys at the mahjong table and they need another player.”
“My wife’s away visiting her family,” Taro thought, “so no one’s got an eye on me.” He went off with Corncob after a half-hearted show of resistance.
He hadn't expected the tiles to be so good to him. He won almost every hand and was practically walking on clouds. He was singing to himself, “It’s a good day today, and I can succeed at anything I want to do.” That is, he’d intended to sing to himself, but he didn’t keep his trap shut, and before he knew it he was singing out loud. Some of the other players put their hands down and looked at him with dissatisfaction. Even Taro was startled at the sound of his own voice. He hurried to take out a pack of cigarettes and pass them out around the table.
“The old saying got it right,” Corncob said with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. “Unlucky at love, lucky at cards. Ain’t that the truth!” The smoke from his cigarette swirled around his mouth as he spoke.
Taro put down his hand and asked him, “Wha’d’ya mean?” He wasn’t real happy.
Corncob didn't say anything and continued playing a tile. He kept switching what remained of his cigarette from one corner of his mouth to the other.
Taro didn’t say any more, either, and of course he’d stopped singing. He played a tile when it was his turn and the hand was soon over. He’d won again.
Corncob threw the money he’d lost down on the table. “No more! No more! My luck’s wretched,” he said.
“If you don't want to play anymore, so be it! If you want to gamble, you’ve got to accept your losses.” Taro picked up the money he’d won, got up and headed for the door.
Corncob grinned at the other players and said, “There’s one thing in this life that’s sometimes the heaviest and sometimes the lightest. I’ll buy drinks for whoever can guess what it is.”
Taro stopped and guessed along with the others. Nobody got it.
Corncob grinned again and said, “It’s a hat. When you’re wearing a white hat, it means you’re at a funeral mourning the loss of a parent, and that hat is so heavy it makes you cry and wail. But when we say someone’s wearing a green hat, we mean they’re a cuckold, and that hat’s so light, you can wear it for a long time and never know it.”
The people around him were momentarily silent before they started laughing together and sneaking looks at Taro. Taro’s face abruptly turned scarlet. He raised his hand and threw the money on the ground, and then escaped out the door.
Taro and Corncob became enemies then.
One day, when Taro was up on the mountain cutting grass, the grass was so dense that he couldn’t see what was in front of him. He could hear a noise, though, so he straightened up to his full height and saw the Village Chief pressing a girl down on the grass. She was struggling with all her might.
“Give me what I want and I’ll give your whole family a minimum subsistence allowance.” It was the Village Chief’s voice. The woman struggled as hard as she could.
“Give me what I want and I’ll let your family have contract rights on a pasture in the mountain.” Again, it was the Village Chief's voice. The woman struggled with another burst of effort.
Fucking bully! Taro picked up a stone and was going to throw it at him, but then he saw that the woman was Wheat Flower, Corncob’s wife. He put the stone back on the ground and slowly squatted down, letting the dense grass enclose him. Eventually, he didn't know how long, he saw the Village Chief walking off down the mountain. Later he saw Wheat Flower heading down the mountain, too. She was crying and carrying a basket of grass in her hand. Taro headed down after a while as well, carrying a large bundle of grass he’d cut.
Taro wasn’t tired from carrying the large bundle of cut grass. He just felt light and free. “Okay, Corncob, now you’ve got a green hat on your head as well!” he thought happily. “When everyone’s got a headful of lice, no one can laugh at anyone else.” He felt a little uncomfortable nonetheless. He could hear the sound of Wheat Blossom’s struggles buzzing in his ears.
The next day, Taro heard that Wheat Flower had hung herself. Corncob was out of the area working and didn’t know about it yet. Taro couldn’t hear anything clearly because of the buzzing in his ears. He couldn’t hear well in the days that followed, either, because the bees were buzzing away.
One day when Taro was on the mountain cutting grass, he saw the Village Chief coming along.
The Chief greeted Taro. “Cutting grass, eh?” That surprised Taro. Previously the Chief had never taken the initiative to say hello to him.
His ears were still buzzing, so he couldn’t tell that the Chief was just laughing at him.
"Wheat Flower was also cutting grass on the mountain the other day,” the Chief said, eyeing the meadow in front of him. “Did you see her?”
Taro couldn’t hear what the Chief was saying because of the buzzing, so he just smiled and kept looking at him. Then he saw a snake approaching the Chief’s foot and the smile suddenly froze on his face. It was a highly poisonous “three-steps-collapse”, so called because if you were bitten, you couldn’t walk more than three steps before falling down. Taro could see it clearly.
The Chief saw Taro’s face. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
The stiff smile on the Taro's face slowly stretched out again. He didn't move a muscle, just continued to smile as he watched the Chief's face. Then he heard the Chief scream "aah" in horror, and he heard it quite clearly. And he saw the Chief holding his foot as he fell down on the grass.
Taro watched the Chief twitching on the grass, but he could no longer see the snake. He only saw a gust of wind running over the blades of grass, and he heard a swishing sound.
Text at p. 28; translated from 山东青霉素的博客 at
3, The Adman (广告人)
Huang Dagang (黄大刚)
I never thought that Mountain Ya would come to the point where he'd want to jump from a building.
Mountain and I were classmates. After we graduated from college, we entered society like two little fish swimming into the sea. We rented a house together in the provincial capital and looked for jobs. When we were about to run out of money for food, we had to take a job passing out ad brochures on a pedestrian overpass.
I was diligent about passing out every one, and when a passer-by would take one and throw it on the ground, I’d pick it up and give it to someone else. Mountain sat on the steps smoking with the stack of ad sheets under his butt for a pad. When I was almost done passing mine out, Mountain pinched out his cigarette, took what I had left in my hand plus the ones he had, and stuffed them all into a trash can. "When will we ever make our mark doing this stuff?” He asked indignantly.
Mountain carried the autobiography of a business giant with him. He was looking for a way to copy the guy’s road to triumph. He read one way after another to hack his way to success, but his first pot of gold was still in the indefinite future. Fortunately I’d found a clerk's job, so for the time being he didn’t have to worry about room and board. He was disdainful about my work, though, as if he’d seen the outcome of my career as a wage-earner. I advised him to find a job first and then worry about what’s next. He could change jobs later when he got the chance. He’d already been through one job interview, but when he was filling out the application forms, he couldn’t find his ID card.
It seems that, on his way home from getting his replacement ID, he picked up an idea as valuable as a gold ingot. His eyes were glowing as he told me excitedly, "Asia Village, I know how to get money quick – advertising. You see, these days nobody can get away without ads. You see them wherever you go in the city, and they’re fucking pricey. Just twenty words or so will go for around two hundred yuan or more. And any place bigger than your thumb might be even more expensive. Those ads we see on TV, they rake in a bundle for every second.”
Mountain was eager to give it a try and barged into the ad business like a newborn calf. Night or day, rain or shine, he’d ride his electric scooter around the city streets and climb the city's tall buildings, but despite all this effort, the advertising business wasn’t looking good. In a month's time, he hadn’t got himself a steady gig, and his earnings weren’t even enough for cigarettes. I was anxious for him and advised him to change careers. He got job introductions from many sides, but he wasn’t enthusiastic and didn’t even go to the interviews. When I nagged him about it, he got annoyed. "You don't understand..." I don't know if it was because he was disgusted with my pestering, but he moved out of our rental.
Every time he did a billing for an ad, he’d come over with a sense of accomplishment and take me out for a meal. He looked forward to contracting for or erecting billboards more than anything. "You don't know it, but if you have several billboards, you don’t have to do anything all month except count the money you’re making for each day."
Once I discovered an ad for solar water heaters lined on Mountain’s face. I thought it was a decal, but when I asked, he said it was done with a needle. "What did you go and do that for?" I was angry.
"The direction of our thoughts determines the direction of our movements. You don't understand. What advertising does is to innovate, and what it wants is to attract attention." He was spewing out stuff from his Advertiser’s Bible.
"I know you’re making money from it,” I advised him, “but there is a bottom line."
"It’s no big deal. Other people get tattoos, don’t they? It’s just that the content of mine is different." He shrugged his shoulders to show he didn’t agree with me.
Seeing his reaction, I ridiculed him. "Don't give up your self-respect to get money."
"Don't say that.” He suddenly screamed out in anger. “I can make myself into a billboard if I want, can't I? Who am I bothering?"
We went our separate ways unhappily.
He called me again later. Pretending to be busy, I said a few quick words and hung up. His appearance made me sick.
He came to the rental house. When I looked outside and saw him, a lot of cigarette butts already littered the ground around him. He wore a black hat like he was trying to cover his face. I hadn’t even opened the door all the way when he stammered: "Can you lend me some money, Village Ya? I want to get the tattoos on my face removed."
"What's wrong?" I saw that a substantial advertisement for a brand of cleaning supplies had been tattooed on his face.
"This brand sells fakes and has been banned," he said with dismay.
"Didn’t they pay you?"
He lowered his head and didn’t answer.
I gave him all my savings.
There were already a lot of onlookers gathered around outside when I arrived at the Century Building. I looked up toward the roof of the building along with everyone else. I couldn't see the man’s face, but the figure looked a bit like Mountain.
I was a bundle of nerves as I rushed to the top of the building and found Mountain standing calmly on the edge. The ad on his face had been cleaned up a bit – it was lighter – but it still left scars. The wind was blowing so hard on the roof that his clothes were flapping around. He seemed unsteady on his feet and got a horrified expression on his face when he saw me. "What are you doing here?"
"There’s no hurdle you can’t get over, Mountain. What’s more important than life? You have to think what’s best for you, and also for our parents and brothers and friends, don’t you know?" There were sobs in my voice as I said that.
"Don’t worry, I’m just fine." He smiled to comfort me. Then his body swayed and he fell.
Screams of alarm came from below. I ran over and leaned on the parapet to look. Mountain hadn’t fallen – he was suspended in midair with an eye-grabbing banner hanging below him. “Bungee Jumping at Cloud Gate Cliffs, Jump Once for an Extreme Thrill."
That's when I saw that several police cars had come along. I knew that Mountain’s advertising business was about to get screwed up.
Text at p. 36; translated from 刊参考网 at
4. A Must-Write Story (这个故事我不写不快)
Book City [Dai Xi] (书城 [戴希])
Asia Jade Tang told us a story at the class reunion, one from her personal experience —
One day she and her mother were walking home together after dinner at a relative's house. They were enjoying Hong Kong’s beautiful nighttime scenery as they walked. They were in a good mood because the relative had agreed to lend her mother the money to pay for medical treatment that Asia’s father needed.
They hadn’t figured on encountering two gangsters shortly after they turned into a small side street. One of them had a pointed knife in his hand and the other held a wooden stick. They both looked murderous.
No one else was out walking on the street, and Asia panicked. Her mother, on the other hand, remained calm and composed. She tugged on the hem of Asia’s blouse and whispered, "Don't be afraid. It was our destiny to meet with a calamity, and we couldn't have escaped it if we’d tried."
Asia was still anxious despite her mother’s words.
"Listen, you two. We only want to take your money. We don't want to kill you or rape you. If you know what’s good for you, leave your money and hit the road!" The one holding the knife pointed it at the women. The one with the stick stood off to one side like a tiger eying its prey.
Asia had never had such a confrontation and was so scared that she couldn't even speak, but her mother’s expression hadn’t changed. She stood in front of her daughter like a traffic barrier.
"You guys are young,” Her mother said calmly. “Can’t the two of you do something to earn your money? You have to smear dirt on your faces and come out on to the streets to rob people?"
"What else can we do?" said the one with the stick. "Our crooked boss quit the factory and ran off. We sweat blood for that money for a year and it was all gone. We couldn’t even go home for the Spring Festival because we couldn’t face our families!”
The one with the knife spoke up. "You two have more money than the two of us. We can't even go home. If we don't rob you, who else would we rob? If you want to blame someone, blame your own bad luck. That’s enough talk! Take your money out right now! We only want your money, not your lives."
Without hesitation, her mother fished money out of her purse. There was only HK$700, about US$90.00. She held it up leisurely and said, slowly and clearly, "Young men, since you already have enough problems, you don't need to add more my stealing, right?"
"Not steal?" The one with the stick was startled. "Instead of stealing your money, you’ll just give it to us out of the kindness of your hearts?”
"Of course!" Her mother nodded.
"Then hand it over and we’ll be done!" said the one with the knife.
"Nope!" Her mother shook her head. "I’ll only give it to you after you give me an IOU."
"Why?" the one with the stick asked sharply.
"Because," her mother said, staring at them, "robbery is a crime, you know! Even if you can escape legal punishment by some fluke, neither of you will be able to wash the stain of the crime off yourselves for the rest of your lives."
"That’s...." The hand holding the knife trembled a little.
Her mother was watching the men’s body language carefully. “If I give you the money as a loan,” she continued, “it’ll become a normal economic transaction between us. Once you have some money, you can repay me whenever you like."
"That’s...." The two gangsters still hesitated. They were worried that her mother was trying to put one over on them.
Without saying anything more, her mother quickly took a pen and paper out of her backpack. “Whish, whish, whish,” she wrote out an IOU in the dim light from a streetlamp. Her signature and contact information were on the IOU.
When she finished writing, she smiled and held the pen and the IOU out for the men to sign in the space for the borrower’s signature.
"You’re trying to trick us into giving you information you can use to file a police report, aren’t you?" the one with the stick asked perceptively.
Her mother snorted. "You still don’t trust me, young fellows? You think I’ll turn you in? In that case, you can either sign as borrowers or not sign, and keep the IOU yourselves. That’ll make it all OK, right?"
The one with the stick took the IOU from her mother's hand and shoved it in his pocket.
Her mother handed the money to the one with the knife.
Once they had the money, the two of them turned and ran. They soon disappeared into the depths of the alley.
Asia and her mother continued walking home.
"Really, it never rains but it pours!" Asia complained, "Dad's been sick for so long, and the family didn't have any money, and now, tonight..."
"Those two guys were between a rock and a hard place, too." Her mother was still cool and calm.
"But," Asia asked anxiously, "will those two pay you back?"
"I don't know." Her mother shook her head.
"Well, why did you want them to sign an IOU?" Asia was puzzled.
“To let them have a sense that they were borrowing the money!” Her mother smiled. “If they have consciences, they'll definitely pay me back when they have the money. Even if they don’t have consciences, they may still feel a sense of benevolence or duty. Besides, by letting them feel safe when they took the money, they wouldn't get the urge to hurt the two of us, would they?"
Asia nodded: "You're right, Mom. It's just – what you did, it lets them get away with breaking the law, doesn't it?"
"You have to look at it like this," her mother said. "First, thanks to our tutelage they completed the loan procedures, and the nature of the matter has therefore been changed. What they did no longer constitutes a crime. Second, the goal of legal propagation and administration is to teach people to respect and abide by the law, and ultimately to improve and better themselves! Now that Hong Kong has returned to the motherland, don't we all have the duty and responsibility to make Hong Kong's tomorrow better?"
Asia gave her mother a thumbs-up.
Half a year later, her mother received a money order for HK$1,300. The borrower's name was written in the remarks column along with the time and place of the loan, plus a one-sentence explanation: "The extra 600 dollars is interest and a thank you...."
I wouldn't feel happy if I didn't write the story down, so I dashed this off.
Text at p. 43; translated from 加拿大网络电视 at this page
5. The Specially Hired Master of Turtle Inspection (特聘鉴鳖师)
Wang Yunfei (汪云飞)
Recently, in a certain county where freshwater soft-shelled turtles are raised, a small bit of news spread quietly through the streets. The turtle inspector working specifically for the county's Clean Government Department had been fired. Almost everyone in the large turtle-producing county knew this inspector, especially the long-term general managers of major restaurants. What was this fellow's name, and how had he been hired as an inspector? Let’s put those questions aside for the moment.
Merciful Wu, a resident of Pensive Wu Township in Purple Creek County, got a phone call early one morning that morphed him into a public figure in the county.
Four generations of Merciful’s family had dealt in soft-shelled turtles. People in the town said that this guy Merciful had been catching turtles, raising turtles, playing with turtles and mulling over turtles his entire life. They also said that the Wu family was turtle-rich and enjoying turtle-happiness.
Purple Creek County is in hilly country. It has no famous mountains or big rivers within its borders, but ridges and hills are scattered all over the place, and because of that there are naturally more than a few creeks and canals as well. A few decades ago, turtles thrived everywhere in the creeks, canals and rice paddies. You could put a tile tank anywhere near the mouth of a pond and you were guaranteed to have caught a big, fat turtle the next day. And they were authentic wild turtles, too.
Merciful’s grandfather, like most of the people in his generation, was poor and didn’t own much land. He would often go to the creeks and ponds to catch turtles to support his family, carrying a bamboo pole in his hands and a bamboo cage on his back. He’d take his catch into Pensive Wu Town to trade for enough rice and wheat to live on. In his father's generation, the government parceled out the fields held by the landlord, Old Moneybags, and the poor people wound up in a commune. That kept his father busy, but he also found time to catch turtles as a way to get some extra money for the family. Merciful had better prospects in his generation. With his son, he actually made his living by catching turtles.
But think about it. In those nine decades, is there anything that flies in the sky, crawls on the ground or swims in the water that people haven’t eaten? Even more than other animals, soft-shelled turtles, especially the wild ones, are fare for the dining table, or more precisely, for high-end banquet settings. They’re especially prized at banquets when the leaders are having meetings. Since Merciful was good at catching turtles, and even better with the wild ones, he eventually became great friends with the big restaurant managers and the heads of guest houses attached to government departments. As a master turtle catcher, Merciful had not only built himself a stylish, multi-story residence in Pensive Wu Town, but had also purchased two rental units in an upscale area of the county seat.
One day when he was feeling pretty good about all this, something else good happened. Somebody called and told him that the Clean Government Taskforce, which had been formed from several units, was hiring someone especially to serve as an outside inspector. Merciful thought to himself, “No one in eighteen generations of the Wu family has been an official. This year, why can’t a turtle-catcher wear a phoenix crown [sic]?” It turned out that the newly established Clean Government Taskforce urgently needed a turtle inspector, or more specifically, someone who could accurately distinguish wild turtles from farmed ones.
But saying that so abruptly is certain to confuse people, and after thinking about it, it has to be clarified a bit. It seems that Purple Creek County had issued a regulation as part of its government clean-up: wild soft-shelled turtle from the area could not be served at official banquets no matter what level of government officer was being hosted. The reason was that the price of local wild turtles had soared to two hundred and fifty yuan a pound. Serving local turtle would not only increase costs, but more importantly, it would also facilitate and breed corruption. That being said, Purple Creek County was known far and wide for its soft-shelled turtles. Wouldn’t it be overkill to forbid serving all such turtles, without considering the pros and cons of each type?
Therefore, the relevant departments had inserted a parenthetical statement in the regulation noting that farmed turtles were an exception. This was because the price of farm-raised turtles was similar to the price of fish raised on pig or cow manure, and thus did not require strict prohibition. But, when all is said and done, how do you distinguish wild turtles from farmed turtles? After discussion it was unanimously agreed that an expert would have to be found.
That expert was Merciful Wu. He’d been jokingly dubbed the "King of Soft-Shelled Turtles" in the township. That title would have to be changed after he was hired as a Clean Government Inspector, though, so some people proposed calling him the "Master of Turtle Inspection". The place erupted in applause when the audience heard that. Given that "Master of Turtle Inspection" was obviously not a classic title like the Monkey King’s “Protector of the Horses”, and further that it was not an official staff position, the salary naturally wasn’t much. It did have a fair amount of authority, though.
Merciful renewed his in-depth research on the body shapes, skin colors, habits and personality characteristics of the local soft-shelled turtles so as not to disgrace his commission. He naturally felt self-confident after numerous sessions honing his skills. In his own words, “I can tell a male soft-shelled turtle from a female from three meters away with one eye closed. If I lug one in my hand, even blindfolded I can tell whether it’s wild or not. And if you don't believe that, kill it, put it in a pot and simmer it until it’s tender. Ladle out a spoonful and hold it under my nose, and I’ll be able tell the real from the fake with only one whiff, just the same as I could by looking.”
Thanks to all this overly hard work, Merciful had been able to handle several “hard-nut” cases. One time, when the leader of a certain unit was promoted, the office manager took it on himself to run over to Pensive Wu Town and spend big bucks to buy a local turtle weighing over four pounds from Worrisome Wu Family, a specialist in farming turtles. To hide it from prying eyes and ears, the chef served the turtle’s head in a bowl in which he had deliberately mixed a ladleful of fish soup. He didn’t realize that all the preparation in the world wouldn’t have been enough for the inevitable clash.
It was inevitable because the leader had offended a lot of subordinates while he was in office. After they discovered what was going on, they immediately reported it to the Communist Party’s Commission for Discipline Inspection. Merciful accepted the task and got his butt over to the scene of the crime. The office manager handed over the soup bowl with the remains of the turtle head right away. Right in front of the co-conspirators, the "Master of Turtle Inspection" stuck it under his nose and, after one whiff, spat out, "There is in fact a local turtle in this bowl, with a ladleful of fish soup mixed in." All four people at the table were shocked at this announcement. Everyone can guess the outcome of the matter.
There are no Daoist magicians in this day and age, and Merciful wasn’t an exception to this rule. One time, a few steadfast friends of the new County Magistrate came to visit their buddy. They indicated clearly that they’d come to Purple Creek County wanting to eat Pensive Wu Town’s specialty product, the local turtles. This put the County Magistrate in a rather tight spot. His people thought through the problem and decided to arrange a meal in a small, nondescript restaurant in Pensive Wu Town. Local turtle would have to be available there, of course, and moreover, since the County Magistrate was new, the local people shouldn’t recognize him. They didn’t figure that there would be a slip-up.
It turned out that the Magistrate’s adversary, a fellow who had lost out in the competition for the job, was still stewing over the matter. He’d been sneaking into Purple Creek County for days with a plan in mind. Now, assisted by a pack of scoundrels, at long last he had a handle on his opponent.
At the crucial moment, the "Master of Turtle Inspection" honored the restaurant with his presence. The master looked over the table, and looked again, making a show of the seriousness of the matter. Then he pronounced, “This is just a common turtle that’s been dressed up, worth only around a dozen yuan a pound." The restaurant owner argued strenuously against him. "You’re an old hand in the turtle business, but it’s plain as day you’re lying through your teeth. Isn’t it obvious that what I bought from Worrisome Wu’s pond in the wilds is a local turtle? How could it be a common, farm-raised turtle? Look, there’s another one here, and it’s fierce as all get-out!” He deliberately pronounced the name "Worrisome Wu" particularly loud and clear.
Merciful seemed not to have heard the underlying implication. "Fakes can often be mixed in with anything these days. As for this one, you think I’m stupid? It's from a mating with a wild turtle, and the color was also dyed on. As for its ferocity, it’s just been injected with stimulants. If you don’t believe me, look again a few hours from now. I guarantee it’ll be docile and tame."
Everyone, including the comrades from the Commission for Discipline Inspection, accepted what Merciful said as authoritative and reasonable. They concluded that the report of wild turtle consumption was not true.
The next day, the County Magistrate’s secretary called honorable Master of Turtle Inspection Wu and told him that the County Magistrate would be going to Worrisome Wu’s large-scale farm to investigate. He should have his son make some preparations.
When the Master of Turtle Inspection heard that, he was as happy as if a jasmine flower had blossomed in his heart.
[This is where both the book and the author's website end the story. Fannyi has no explanation.]
Text at p. 52; translated from 江西汪云飞的博客 at
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