Chinese Stories in English
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.
3. I Want to See the Lanterns
1. Massaging Her Man (给男人按摩)
Zuo Junming (左军明)
When Blue married the guy, it wasn’t perceived as a case of opposites attract, even though her tiny, delicate figure contrasted sharply with his large size. They lived a quiet life together, as sleepy as Old Man River.
Blue apprenticed in a massage room on the border between the city and the countryside. She saw lots of customers every day, but the massages were quite proper. Meaningful glances and untoward activities weren’t allowed. As she came into contact with more customers, she also developed an eye which enabled her to face all kinds of men. Looking back at her own man, she found him wooden and inarticulate as a bump on a log, not pleasing to her in anything he said or did.
Dealing with men who patronize massage parlors isn’t entirely rocket science, but even if you’ve done your homework, they’ll still nitpick about every little thing you do. Eighty to ninety percent of them have something improper on their minds. They each roll around prone on the massage table like a little bug on the crops in the field, lying in wait to latch onto you and take a bite.
Blue would think about what was on a man’s mind, observe his behavior, and then prescribe the right medicine. Whatever evil intentions he might have, the amount of pressure she applied and her grasp on acupuncture points would relieve him of the courage to act. Men on the massage table would gradually become lab specimens in her hands, and the rest of her work would proceed smoothly.
One day when Blue was in a good mood, she turned her head and, without thinking, locked eyes with a delicately featured man. She blushed. The man stared at her, lost in thought, and her face became increasingly red. “What’s going on?” she asked herself. “She hurried to gain control of her thoughts, but there was nothing for it and she became even more disturbed.
She hadn’t yet snapped out of it when she got home. Her man called to her, but she seemed distracted. “Cat got your tongue?” he scolded.
She came to and pointed to a large tree in their courtyard. “Go climb a tree,” she said.
“You go ahead,” he scowled and said, “but don't fall out of it.”
Blue started hanging out with the stranger. They eventually slept together. Her man at home smelled something fishy and kept an eye on her. She knew she was playing with fire. Sometimes she really wanted to slap herself. Her man worked at the grain supply station carrying bags, struggling up narrow wooden planks with 170 to 180 kilos on his shoulder. She earned no wages working as an apprentice, so they depended entirely on the man to supply whatever they needed at home.
One day the man, her paramour, got in a car accident. As he lay spread out prone on the ground, his legs twitched, then twitched again and again. He struggled on the ground like a chicken with its head cut off. Blue stared at him, stupefied by his painful condition, the blood surging through her veins. Then, in a panic, she took her household money gave it to some men standing there next to him. The men looked at each other and lifted her lover into a car.
Blue was terribly upset and distracted at the loss of her lover. She bounced around like a rabbit in its cage.
She was timid and a little afraid when she got home. After all, she’d taken all the money they’d saved up at home. Her man looked at her and she shivered. He looked again and she shivered again. He was lying in a wicker chair with the flesh on his belly moving up and down as he breathed.
At first, every day was like a year for Blue. That man was in her heart, but she was afraid of the man she had at home. That man was gone, and the man at home was constantly busy puttering around when he wasn’t at work. She was disconsolate, always at sixes and sevens. Later she heard her sisters say that that man was a con artist who had absconded with her money.
When lightning struck, Blue was completely dumbfounded. The time had come for a showdown, no matter what, and in the end you can’t put out a fire with paper. Blue had walked home slowly and seen her man sitting on the sofa, sighing. It was clear that he knew.
He had an ugly expression on his face, a sign that he was angry. "You got duped?" he asked. Blue lowered her head in fear but didn’t say anything. The man narrowed his eyes, then abruptly opened them wide again and shouted, "You got stuck on a guy and threw money away. Are you an idiot or what?"
Blue’s mind was in a dither. She realized that he was going to hit her as hard as an eagle grabbing a chick. Unsurprisingly, the man gave her an order: "Come here."
Blue inched toward him. When she could hear him breathing, she thought, “I'm about to step into a minefield.”
"The money you lost, we can earn again,” he said. “But the next time you fall into that trap, it’s all over for this family."
Blue twisted the bottom corners of her shirtfront with her hands, lowered her head and sobbed.
"Come here!" the man suddenly shouted, "You give massages to men, don't you? So give this old man a go!"
Blue looked up. She walked over timidly, put her hands on the man's thick shoulders, and began kneading and squeezing to massage him.
When Blue thought about the attachment she’d had with this man, her nose began to tingle. She tried to hold back, but her tears wouldn’t do what she wanted and started to roll down her cheeks one after another. She cried, and her nose ran as well. The more she cried the more she hurt, and when she reached the highest point of her pain, she alternated wiping her runny nose and her tears on the man's shoulder.
The man closed his eyes and sighed again. Gradually he calmed down and, later, fell asleep.
Text at p. 123; Translated from 三门峡日报 at
2. Niner Goes On the Wagon (阿九戒酒)
Dai Yingkun (代应坤)
Niner’s dad loved his booze, two bouts a day come hell or high water. He was a noisy drinker. He’d throw the first peanut into his mouth and start crunching away. After a few more crunches he’d stretch out his neck and, "ee-noo", empty his cup. It made Niner so greedy for a drink that his mouth would water.
Niner was so thirsty for the sauce that he’d sneak some from his dad's jar of booze. However much he drank, he’d replace it with that much plain water. Eventually his thievery was exposed, and his dad chased him around the house several times.
“If you want to drink, go get a job in a distillery!” And so on February second of that year, Niner got packed off to the "Three-Mile Aroma Distillery".
As an apprentice, Niner wouldn’t earn a salary, but he thought to himself, “As long as I have booze to drink every day, that’ll do!” Thus, his first night at the distillery, he started to drink with abandon. When Boss Lu set out sixteen differently priced spirits for him to taste, he didn’t hold back politely. He arranged them by price from highest to lowest, which Mr. Lu applauded, making him feel even more self-satisfied. Then he drank until he couldn’t see straight and was teetering like he was on stilts.
He got out of bed at dawn and shook the cobwebs out of his brain. He was more than a little embarrassed.
Mr. Lu came in just then. "You sure can hold your booze,” he said. Then his eyes stopped on the jars of spirits stacked in the room, and all of a sudden he got an ugly look on his face. He walked quickly out of the room and shouted for three guys to come over.
The four of them each took an inventory and then counted again. They all said there were forty-five jars; five jars were missing.
“Did you bolt the door last night?” Mr. Lu asked Niner.
“I did,” he answered. “I absolutely bolted it.”
“Did you go out during the night?”
“Yes, I did. I went to the bathroom four times.”
“Oh, that’s right! You were in bed when I came in just now, but the door wasn’t bolted.
So all of them whispered, “Somebody stole five jars of booze.”
Niner's face was burning, then turned from white to green. Suddenly he started to bawl loudly. He half-shouted, half-cried, “I’ll pay for them. Even if I have to sell myself, I will pay....”
Niner’s dad was in high anxiety when he when he heard the news. He rushed over to the distillery and said, “I'm really sorry, Mr. Lu. I’ve lost face. Count up how much money you lost and I’ll repay all of it.”
Mr. Lu got his accountant's calculations. Five jars of top-quality baijiu were worth twenty silver dollars.
Niner’s dad actually gasped. "Mr. Lu,” he said, “you’re an important and magnanimous man. Let me pay in installments, okay?"
“All right. How’s five years?”
Niner’s dad straightaway nodded gratefully. “OK, OK.”
“My disaster of a son can't stay here in disgrace,” he continued. “Fire him!”
“But he’s just an apprentice, isn’t he?” Mr. Lu replied. “He can stay.”
Niner’s dad sighed, gave his son a fierce look and left.
Niner "plopped" down on his knees and kowtowed for all he was worth toward his dad’s receding figure. He kept kowtowing until Mr. Lu helped him up.
That day went by so slowly that Niner understood, for the first time, the old saying “A day passes like a year”. At dinnertime, Mr. Lu sent someone to call him in to eat.
Many dishes were set out on the table, and the booze exuded a strong fragrance into the room. There were only two people at table, Mr. Lu and Niner.
Mr. Lu poured two cups of booze, one for Niner and one for himself.
Niner's face immediately turned red. “I don't want any alcohol.”
“You can have a little. Just don’t get drunk.”
Niner hesitated a moment before saying, “No thanks!”
“Not even to show me some respect?”
“Not even to show you some respect.”
“If you don't have a drink, I’ll fire you tomorrow!”
“Fire me.... I still won't drink.”
Mr. Lu snickered and drank alone. He absent-mindedly told the story of "A Lifetime of Drinking, A Lifetime of Humiliation". Finally he said, “A Master of Spirits must always keep his wits about him. Sample the booze but don’t drink it, or else bad things will happen. He has to be especially attentive to detail, too. Pay attention to every cigarette butt and every ash....”
Niner nodded frequently.
Niner didn't talk much, but he loved to smile. The exception was when he saw Old Zhang, the Master of Spirits. He said something wasn’t quite right about the man. When asked what was wrong with him, he said Old Zhang always turned his back to him when he mixed ingredients. He did that even though Niner bought cigarettes for the guy.
So Mr. Lu called Old Zhang onto the carpet. “Niner’s been your assistant for three years now,” he said. “It’s time to pass on some of your recipes to him.”
“The kid who busses my dishes,” Old Zhang said. “How can I just up and show him stuff?”
“You learned your skills here at ‘Three-Mile Aroma Distillery’, didn't you?” Mr. Lu answered. “You didn’t bring them with you from home, did you?”
Old Zhang said, “OK! I’m getting old, so I’ll just retire and go back home.”
Mr. Lu sighed and urged him to stay on.
But the next day, Old Zhang left with his big leather suitcase.
Eight guys were left standing around the distillery like posts. They were chickens with their heads cut off.
Niner spoke up. “Let me have a go at it, Mr. Lu. I’ll work for free and you can fine me if I don’t do a good job.”
“Deal,” Mr. Lu replied.
Niner brought his dad in. Niner tested distilling methods and his father sampled the results. They spent entire days in the boiler room, except for when they slept. On the seventh day, Niner called Mr. Lu and the guys in to taste the "first batch".
Mr. Lu was first to give it a thumbs-up.
So Niner took over as Master of Spirits, and the name "Three-Mile Aroma Distillery" rose to fame inside the county and beyond.
One evening when the moonlight sparkled like water, Mr. Lu invited Niner and his father to a banquet. After the third round of drinks, Mr. Lu stood up, clasped his hands in front of him in the traditional gesture of respect and bowed at the waist. Shamefaced, said, “I apologize. That night when Niner got drunk, we were not in fact short even one jar of booze. I thought Niner hungered too much for the sauce, but I also saw that he had in him the makings of a Master of Spirits, so....”
Twenty-five years later, the "Three-Mile Aroma Distillery" has become "Niner’s Distillery". Niner, who only got drunk once in his life, stands at the doorway with a broad smile on his face. He’s raising a glass to toast visitors who’ve come from all over the country. Of course, it’s a porcelain statue.
Text at p. 126; Translated from 湖南红网 at
3. I Want to See the Lanterns (俺想去看灯)
Zuo Shihai (左世海)
"I heard the city’s putting on an exhibition of lanterns for the lantern festival again this year,” Dad told his son, Strong, who’d returned to the village for New Year’s. “Those lanterns are so well done. Can you take me to see them?"
Strong, who was in the middle of a poker game with friends, was taken aback. "There will be a lantern exhibition,” he said softly. “But it's so cold, and you're not getting any younger! What if you freeze to death? Let’s talk about it in a few days!"
Dad didn’t say anything when Strong finished talking, just coughed.
A few days later, Dad saw some villagers laughing and talking as they headed out for the city to see the lanterns. He told Strong, "The shape I’m in, I'm afraid I can't hang on much longer. I heard some people coming back from seeing the lanterns say that the exhibition is really beautiful this year. I’d like for you to take me to have a look while I still have a breath of life in these old bones, OK?"
Strong hesitated a moment before answering, "It’d be better to wait until after New Year's to talk about it. These days are the peak time for seeing the lanterns and it’s way too crowded. It'd really be inconvenient, with you being so old."
Dad gasped but didn’t say anything.
Time flew by, and before long it was the fifth day of the new year. Strong was hard at the mahjong table when Dad said, "I heard that the lantern exhibition will be winding up at the end of the month. I think...."
Strong was losing money and got impatient listening to Dad. "Isn't it just some dilapidated old lights?” he interrupted. “What's so great about that? I heard that the entrance fee has just gone up, too, fifty yuan per ticket. Going all that way just to get a look at some lanterns, that’s like burning up money, isn’t it? Besides, I’m leaving for my job tomorrow and have to pack my bags tonight. You’ll have plenty of chances to see them later on if you want, right?"
Dad sucked in his breath at that. He turned around and pulled up the hem of his shirt to wipe his eyes.
It wasn’t more than a few days after Strong left the village to return to his job that he got some unexpected news – his father had taken ill and passed away.
Strong rushed back to the village. While he was making arrangements for Dad’s funeral, he happened upon a letter in the old man's pocket. He opened it with some misgivings and saw the following, written crookedly across the page:
“Neither of us has much time left. I’d like to see the lantern exhibition with you one last time, to fulfill the cherished desire we’ve each held all these years. Make a note, I’ll be waiting for you forever under the ancient city wall. I won’t leave until you get there!
Strong was stunned. He remembered that on the fifth day of the year following his mother’s death, a woman who was unable to speak had come to the village by herself to visit relatives. She wanted to get together with Dad and they agreed to go to the city together to see the lantern exhibition. Strong found out about it unexpectedly. He felt that it was improper and shameful, so he caught up with them halfway to the city and brought Dad back. He thought he’d put the kibosh on that business. The dumb woman’s name was Plum. He hadn’t heard anything about her since then, and never thought that after more than two decades had passed, they’d still....
"Oh, Dad!" Strong clasped the letter in both hands and couldn't help crying. He made up his mind: “Tomorrow! No, the exhibition’s still going on, so I’ll get going right now.” He took Dad's funerary portrait and caught the last bus to the city.
Text at p. 129; Translated from KK News under the name 老爹的心愿 at
4. Mayor Herb (草药村长)
Resonance Xi [Du Chuncheng] (羲韵儿 [杜春成])
Director Tree Root Liu of High Peak Village was quite troubled. The project to extend the dead-ended public road in the village lacked funds, and money was also needed to renovate the river embankments. He’d reported this to the township government but hadn’t heard any news. Now he was killing time after dinner by laying on the sofa watching a soap opera on TV.
The program’s plotline was reaching its climax, and Tree Root was heavily into it when there was a knock at the door. The knocking stopped, and someone outside the door whispered, “Is Mayor Herb at home?"
Mayor Herb was Tree Root’s nickname.
Lots of medicinal herbs grew between and around the fields in the area, and also on the nearby hills. Tree Root collected them, dried them, and kept them in his home. People would come to his place with headaches and low-grade fevers, or chills and colds, and spent a few yuan to buy herbs to steep in boiled water. That’s why they called him Mayor Herb, the village’s herbal medicine dealer. He’d gotten the most votes for Village Director in the election to reshuffle office holders three years previously, so the township cadres and the people in the village started calling him "Mayor Herb".
Last year, when Tree Root went to the home of the village’s Communist Party Secretary to file a work report, he saw the Secretary's mother lying on a sofa in the central hall. The Secretary's family was moaning and wailing as they made preparations for old woman’s funeral.
Tree Root checked the old woman's breath with his hand. She was exhaling but not inhaling. He went outside the house and walked around, picking herbs. He came back with a handful and told the Secretary, "Steep these in boiled water immediately. When she drinks it, she might take a turn for the better."
The Secretary was desperate enough to turn to any doctor he could find, so he took Tree Root at his word. He boiled the medicine himself, pried open his mother's mouth himself, and poured in a bowl of the medicinal water. Three days later, the village secretary's mother surprisingly recovered. It turned out that foreign matter had got stuck in her throat and blocked her windpipe.
The entire village knew that Tree Root’s herbal medicine had cured the Secretary's mother, and the news spread throughout the township as if it had wings. Even the township’s Vice Mayor Zhang came to seek medical treatment.
The Vice Mayor had a strange illness. His belly was distended and he hadn’t eaten or defecated for several days. When he got to Tree Root’s home, he didn’t have the energy to make it inside without his driver’s help.
"I went to several major hospitals to get checked out,” the Vice Mayor said. “They said there was nothing seriously wrong and gave me a prescription for a few days’ medicine. The medicine didn’t work at all, and not only that, I got even worse. Now I can't eat and can't shit. Man, I feel terrible!”
After listening to the Vice Mayor describe his symptoms, Tree Root got a packet of medicinal powder out of his home’s medicine chest. He told the Vice Mayor, "Pour this into two bowls of boiled water and drink it all down at once. You’ll see results tomorrow."
The Vice Mayor went home and drank the medicine. It took effect that evening and he spent the night in the bathroom. The bathroom door was closed, but the smell still permeated the whole house, so the entire family didn’t sleep well. It turned out that his stomach had accumulated many years of exotic foods that he hadn’t been able to digest.
When he recovered, the Vice Mayor specifically asked Tree Root, "What medicine did you get for me that was so effective?
Tree Root knew he couldn't tell the man it was just cotton seed, so he laughed and said, "Common herbs."
His reputation grew even greater after that. Officials and commoners, young and old, they all called him “Mayor Herb”….
And now, the voice outside the door was even more urgent. “Is Mayor Herb at home?"
"They won’t even allow a man a peaceful evening," Tree Root muttered softly before opening the door. When he saw who it was, he said quickly, "Township Mayor Wang, please come in and have a seat!”
He handed the Mayor a cigarette, made some tea and served fruit. When he was finished, he wanted to say, “I was going to give you a report about the highway funding the day before yesterday, but didn’t get to, so I’ll do it now that you’re here.” By the time the words got to his mouth, though, they’d turned into a respectful, "Mr. Mayor, what urgent and important things bring you here in person? It only takes a phone call to get me to do your bidding."
"I came to see you. How’s your work been going lately?" Sitting on the sofa and sipping his tea, the Mayor said with a smile, "That selection of herbs you sent me for insomnia the day before yesterday worked well. Today, I’d like to pick up some more herbs. "
Tree Root had heard people say that Mayor Wang had begun to lose sleep after the County Inspection Team had come to the township and convened a mobilization meeting. He suspected that his superiors didn’t trust him.
The day before yesterday, when Tree Root took him those herbs, he’d wanted to take the opportunity to report on the highway funds. When he’d seen that the muscles of the Mayor’s face were slack and he had dark circles under his eyes, however, he’d put off saying anything about it. He’d just smiled and said, "Get some rest, Mr. Mayor."
"When you want some herbs,” Tree Root said as he handed the Mayor another cigarette, “just call and I'll send them to you."
"You don’t like that I came here today?" the Mayor joked.
"You’re welcome here, of course. I still have the recipe for your insomnia prescription," Tree Root said with a feigned enigmatic expression. "I’ll just write it down and you can get the herbs yourself."
He went into the bedroom and got a pen to write out the prescription.
He came out of the bedroom half an hour later and handed the prescription to the Mayor. The Mayor took it and read it out loud:
"Ginseng and milkwort, but avoid snowy parsley,
“Peppermint and weak bamboo, cinnamon and sedge.
“Not too much plum, but some golden daisy flowers,
“Horsetail, honeycomb, a touch of red lady.
“Oxyphylla, magnolia bark, orange zest is good,
“Soothing salvia, jujube and ginger, too.
“Hyssop to purge pathogens, and energy pills,
“Some borneol, add realgar, but avoid filth.
“Detox, stay out of wind, take regular breaks, too,
“Rectify qi with peony and costus root.
“Dodder silk along with almonds are a clear match,
“Holly fern root, winnowed in medical leaven."*
The Mayor remembered the poem very well. His teacher had told him the story of this prescription** while he was in training at the City Communist Party Academy.
"Your prescription comes just in time. Thank you." The Mayor shook Tree Root's hand and said, "Come to town tomorrow and we’ll put through the funding for the road and riverbank repairs."
As soon as the Mayor left, Tree Root immediately returned to his bedroom and sent a text message on his mobile phone to his nephew, who was working in the County Communist Party Disciplinary Committee. “The prescription you sent me has tentatively had the desired effect.”
*[This is a poem by Zhang Zhongjing (張仲景), an Eastern Han dynasty pharmacologist and physician. See here. Fannyi is neither a practitioner of Chinese medicine nor a poet, and your corrections of the translation will be greatly appreciated.]
**[The “story of the prescription” apparently concerns a typhoid epidemic in the city of Changsha toward the end of the Eastern Han, of which the doctor/poet famously said: “The ills of a nation are difficult to cure” (国病难医). See here (in Chinese).]
5. A Great Servant Girl (大青衣)
Hu Ling (胡玲)
The normally peaceful village erupted with noise. Folks were jumping and hollering and running around to tell each other, “Big Household Li's family has invited Moonlike Liu to perform in an opera tonight.”
Moonlike Liu, well, she had an outstanding reputation in that area. She was a star in the county’s theater company. To hear her sing and observe her graceful bearing was many people’s dream.
At dusk, folks rushed to Big Household's place like the tide coming in. Green Lotus followed along behind the throng, curious about what was happening. Big Household's courtyard was all lit up and people were crowded in front of a high stage, craning their necks to stare and holding their breath as they waited anxiously for Moonlike to appear. Green Lotus arched her back and used all her strength to tunnel her way to the front of the crowd like a little fish slithering through weeds.
The resounding rhythms of gongs and drums filled the courtyard when Moonlike strode leisurely out from behind the curtain in an elegant green dress. She held herself gracefully and moved as lithely as a goddess traversing a cloud on high. The noisy throng immediately fell silent.
Moonlike cast her eyes over the crowd, stood on tiptoe and raised her hand in a traditional dancer’s gesture, thumb to middle finger with the other fingers extended. When she shook out her long sleeves, she moved as naturally as drifting clouds or flowing water, unobstructed and unconstrained. Her vermillion lips parted slightly and sweet, agreeable sounds as crisp as an oriole’s song emerged unhindered from her mouth. People stared at her and listened, completely mesmerized, as though they were wooden figures stuck in place.
Green Lotus was still too young to understand the plot of the play or the operettic language, but she was completely seduced by Moonlike’s magical power, so much so that she couldn’t take her eyes off the singer. When Moonlike cried, Green Lotus cried as well; and when Moonlike laughed, Green Lotus also laughed.
When the play was over, Moonlike took a curtain call and left the stage. The other folks left the courtyard reluctantly, but Green Lotus stayed behind and snuck backstage.
Moonlike was in front of a mirror removing her makeup and saw the reflection of Green Lotus standing behind her. “Why haven't you gone home yet, little girl?” Green Lotus watched Moonlike closely but kept her lips sealed.
The star turned around and looked Green Lotus up and down. She noted the girl's delicate facial figures and slender figure, and the firm, strong spirit in her eyes. “Really a good little bad girl, perfect to sing the part of a servant girl,” she said. But Green Lotus didn't speak no matter what Moonlike said. Moonlike ended up asking her, “Would you like to study acting with me?”
“Yes,” Green Lotus said at last. “I want to sing opera, just like you.”
When Green Lotus started studying with Moonlike, everyone said her ancestors must be dancing for joy in their graves. You have to understand, Moonlike didn't readily accept students. She was very strict with the young girl, using the teach-by-doing method to coach her in singing, dialogue, acting and acrobatic combat, and if Green Lotus didn’t learn exactly right, she was bound to be punished.
Famous teachers produce good students, and after ten years of diligent study and assiduous training, Green Lotus had become the best servant girl in the troupe. She looked elegant and dignified in costume, her voice was clear and full-bodied, and her acting was exquisitely grave. From Fragrant Lotus Qin to Chastity Bai and Jewel Bracelet Wang, she played all the servant girl roles vividly and true to life.
It’s not known when it started, but attendance at the theater began to fall off. On stage, Green Lotus’s performances were vigorous; but off stage, you could count her visitors on one hand. Over time, her passion and enthusiasm slowly evaporated.
One day a stylishly dressed man came to the theater looking for her. “Miss Green Lotus, our company is packaging singers. With your image and singing skills, you’re a sure bet to catch fire. You must be interested, eh?”
She didn't even think about it. “Nope, not interested!”
“The market for traditional plays around here has already fizzled. Who still comes to the theater?” He put a business card on the table. “Miss Green Lotus, you can take a walk on the sunny side of the street, or you can leave yourself hanging out on a limb. Decide for yourself.” With that, he left.
The man’s words echoed in her mind all day. She couldn’t sit or even stand still. She went to Moonlike. “Master, this guy said I can be a star singer.”
“We are singers, in operas, not mere actors,” Moonlike replied.
“No one likes to watch plays anymore,” Green Lotus said. “I’m thinking of finding another way to get ahead.”
“We have to keep singing, even if there’s only one person in the audience.”
“No,” Green Lotus said, taking off her costume. “I won't sing in one-man shows anymore.”
“If you leave the company, it will be the end of our relationship as master and apprentice.”
With tears in her eyes, Green Lotus walked away from the theater and didn’t look back.
Green Lotus did indeed get hot singing and doing concerts. She was flushed with success. Her exciting and marvelous life had long ago made her forget the theater. She performed in many venues, as had Moonlike.
One day five years later, Green Lotus was to meet her boss in a coffee shop to discuss arrangements for a performance. She arrived early and ordered a cup of coffee. Several young men nearby were staring at her and whispering. As a star, she’d long been accustomed to people paying attention to and talking about her. The men’s conversation drifted into her ears.
“Look, isn't that the singer, Green Lotus? She sings really well. I’ve heard she used to sing servant girl parts. Her singing, movements and expressions all have an air of traditional opera.”
“So, she used to sing in operas. No wonder her singing has a different flavor than all the others. I’ve wanted to ask you about that for a long time.”
Her boss arrived and Green Lotus asked him, “Back then, why did you think I could make it as a singer?”
He smiled. “Because you had a grounding in theater and sang distinctively. How could you have caught fire otherwise? People who can sing are a dime a dozen these days, you know.” Green Lotus felt like she’d been thrown against a huge rock and was being pounded by ferocious waves.
That night she dreamed that she and Moonlike were singing in “Madam White Snake”. Moonlike played the title role while she performed as the evil monk, Sea of Laws, which is traditionally a male role. In the fight scene, Green Lotus pierced Moonlike's chest with a sword. Moonlike fell to the floor, blood staining her white costume red. That’s when Green Lotus woke from the dream.
The next day Green Lotus canceled all her activities and rushed back to the county theater company. She found its doors closed. She asked around the area and learned that the company’s business had dried up and it had shut down six months previously.
Green Lotus searched out Moonlike’s home, but all she saw was a memorial tablet. An old lady performing the mourning rituals said, “I'm Moonlike's cousin. Are you Green Lotus?”
“How did you know?” Green Lotus asked in surprise.
“Moonlike said you’d come sooner or later.
“How did she die?”
“She was crazy about the theater,” the old lady said. “When attendance fell off, fewer and fewer people knew how to play the roles, and she spent her days depressed and cheerless. She was taken seriously ill after the theater company went bust. She left us last night, but before she died, she told me to give you something.”
As she spoke, the old lady brought out a box and handed it to her. Green Lotus opened it and found a servant girl costume. It was the clothing she’d worn when she’d first seen her master singing an opera.
“Oh, Master!” Green Lotus burst into tears and knelt down before Moonlike’s coffin.
It wasn't long before the county theater company reopened. The troupe’s boss was nobody but Green Lotus. The resounding rhythms of gongs and drums filled the hall when she strode leisurely out from behind the curtain in an elegant green dress.
Text of p. 133; Translated from 中国古诗词 at
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