1. Snatching a Bride
2. Returning Face
3. The Cats in the Window
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.
4. The Dragon Lady
5. The Scent of Lotus
1. Snatching a Bride (抢亲)
Stone Upper Stream [Hu Shanquan] (石上流 [胡山泉])
The Weis were a renowned well-to-do family in Gold City.
Master Wei had three daughters at his knee, all apples of their father’s eye. The first two had been married off with impressive ceremony, and now only Cherry remained in the women’s apartment of his home.
Cherry was well-behaved by nature and gracefully beautiful in appearance. Master Wei couldn't help pampering her to a fault. He hoped to marry her into a good family who would guarantee her a life free from worry.
In fact, when Cherry was a young girl, Ethos Yu had already taken a liking to this beauty in the making. He tried to get in good with the Wei family and hoped that Cherry, when she grew up, would marry his son Dragon Changeling Yu.
Ethos was from another rich family in Gold City. The two families visited each other from time to time. Master Wei considered Ethos arrogant and was a little hesitant about establishing a relationship with his family through marriage.
But times do change. Before long Ethos was victimized by a conspiracy and his family’s fortunes suffered a steep decline.
Ethos wasn’t willing to live in poverty and dejection, with people giving him strange looks, so he moved his family south.
The Yu family’s relocation took a weight off Master Wei’s mind. Cherry, on the other hand, was melancholy for some time – she couldn’t forget her childhood sweetheart, Brother Dragon Changling.
The river of time continued to flow unhurriedly. Cherry grew form a little girl to a young woman, ready for the first awakenings of love.
On the night of the Lantern Festival, Cherry happened to bump into a man as she flitted like a happy butterfly under the lanterns.
She looked up in surprise and saw his delicate features. Her face flushed instantly under the soft and gentle look in his eyes.
He was a scholar from Gold City named Historian Su.
His father, Hero Su, had passed away at an early age. His mother supported the family and paid for Historian’s education by working as a servant.
Although Historian was educated and talented, and handsome as well, what family would be willing to marry off a daughter into a family like his?
But darkness possesses its own destiny. Under the colorful sea of lanterns, Historian and Cherry met like strangers in the night.
The two began to see each other but kept it secret from their families. They searched out every opportunity to be together. They were each immersed in a sweetness they’d never known before.
But fire can’t be contained in paper. Master Wei eventually caught wind of what was going on.
Persuasion failed, so he tried to forbid Cherry from seeing the boy. She showed a stubborn streak he hadn’t seen before, which greatly annoyed him.
Lest he suffer long nights filled with bad dreams, Master Wei considered finding a suitable family and marrying Cherry off as soon as possible.
Once the news got around, the matchmakers in Gold City started to get busy. Master Wei weighed the choices over and over, and finally chose the Gu family.
The Weis and the Gus were roughly comparable in status. Their third son, Remote Gu, was young but had a rarely seen business acumen. Coincidently, his and Cherry’s birthdays matched well, so the wedding date was set for an auspicious day in mid-April.
Cherry was kept in the women’s apartment through all this. All three meals each day were delivered by the maid at the appointed time.
She resented her father's sanctimonious views and his picking a complete stranger for her to marry. She wished she could sprout a pair of wings and fly out of this suffocating home.
At the time, Historian was away in Beijing for the highest level scholar’s exam, so the future was uncertain. She felt extremely lonely and helpless.
On the evening before her wedding day, no matter how Master Wei and his wife tried to reason with her, Cherry kept crying and refused to surrender. In desperation, the couple threatened her with death.
Under the circumstances, all the fire went out of her. Her heart was like ashes.
The next day, Cherry was all decked out in her wedding gown. She was beautiful as a nymph. No one knew that her heart was bleeding.
A big sedan chair decorated with auspicious dragons and phoenixes left Weis’ House amidst the festive sound of firecrackers.
The Gus’ Mansion wasn’t too far away from Weis’ Mansion, but not too close, either. The sedan chair had to pass the Big Blue Mountain area on the way.
As the welcoming procession passed Big Blue Mountain, a group of bandits unexpectedly arrived and stole the sedan chair.
The dowry nanny stumbled back to the Wei mansion. When she reported what had happened, Mrs. Wei abruptly fainted.
Master Wei was extremely angry but could do no more than keep a stiff upper lip. He waited for the return of the servant who’d been dispatched to make discreet inquiries. Only then did he learn the robbery had been the work of "The Flying Dragon".
Bandits often harassed the area within a couple of hundred miles of Gold City. The Wei family didn’t go light on bribes to these gangsters in order to be left alone, so naturally they’d relaxed their vigilance. Who could have expected that deranged gangsters would choose this moment to rob his loved one in front of the gods and everybody?
Master Wei was quite unfamiliar with this "Flying Dragon".
He asked around some more and learned that "The Flying Dragon" was actually Dragon Changeling Yu.
There’d been no news of the Yu family since the time they’d fallen into difficulties and moved away, but no one thought the young man would turn to banditry.
In no time at all, Gold City was roiling with the news that bandits had stolen Miss Wei to be the Mistress of the Stockade, that is, Dragon Changeling’s wife. The marriage to Remote Gu was of course cancelled.
Master Wei was naturally disinclined to take this lying down. He spent lots of money to rehire martial arts masters and killers of the Wulin school and sent them off to Big Blue Mountain. Dragon Changeling's band had long since disappeared, however.
Two years later, Historian completed his exams in Beijing and returned home wearing the brocade robes of an official.
When he’d first arrived in Beijing, Historian happened to catch a chill and had to stay in his room at an inn, missing the exams.
And it was destiny or coincidence that he had the good fortune to meet Lord Zhuang, Chancellor of Imperial Envoys. Lord Zhuang had a discerning eye and accepted Historian as a guest in his home.
Historian repeatedly made policy suggestions to Lord Zhuang that were quite successful, thereby winning the Lord’s confidence. Later, Lord Zhuang recommended him to the emperor and entrusted him with important tasks.
Now, on returning home, his first concern was his beloved’s white-haired parents, and his second was naturally Cherry.
Not even in his dreams had Historian imagined this would happen. His home was still there, as always, but his beloved wasn’t.
Just when Historian was in the midst of an unlimited sadness from which he could not extract himself, a small green sedan chair came along leisurely from the pathway.
It stopped in front of the Su's house. The curtain lifted, revealing a beautiful face.
Historian stood there for a moment, shocked, unable to say a word.
Dragon Changeling came out from behind the sedan chair in a flash. "Stupid boy,” he
said, laughing loudly. “I’ve brought Little Sister Cherry here for you. If you don't want her,
I’ll for sure take her back to my stronghold to be my wife."
Historian was overjoyed. He clasped his hands before him in the traditional gesture of
thanks and said, "I cannot thank you enough for such great benevolence, Brother Yu. You are as chivalrous and righteous as a knight, and I, your little brother, will remember it always!"
Master Wei rushed over when he heard the news. He stared at his daughter, for whom he’d longed day and night, and tears filled his eyes. Then he glanced at historian, who was standing tall and dignified, and at Dragon Changeling, who looked bold and uninhibited. For a moment he had mixed feelings.
After all these ups and downs, Cherry had come to Historian Su with her virginity intact, and in the end the two achieved a happy marriage.
Text at p. 138; translated from 海 崖文学 at this page
2. Returning Face (还面子)
Yin Xianhua (殷贤华)
Secretary Wang was sitting in his spacious office when a weird feeling suddenly welled up inside him.
A few rays of warm sunlight filtered through the trees and into the office. The mottled light played across the walls. A pink butterfly floated over and landed carefully on the bonsai that sat on the windowsill. Two yellow leaves stayed close to one another as they drifted down and fell on the front edge of the windowsill, making a slight noise!
Suddenly Secretary Wang realized something: the weird feeling had come over him because things were too relaxed and too quiet!
Yes, Secretary Wang was completely chained into a routine. Most days, if he wasn’t in the city reporting on his work, he was welcoming superiors on inspection tours; or if he wasn’t out of town studying and investigating, he was down at the grassroots level doing research. How could he ever have time to return to his office? Even if he occasionally did have time to plop down in the office, subordinates would be lined up to report to him; or even if no one came to the office to disturb him, there’d always be a large stack of documents waiting for him to read and sign off on!
Today, though, he had nothing on tap: no guests to receive and entertain, no research trips to arrange, no subordinates coming in to report on their work, no documents to review and comment on – and Secretary Wang suddenly felt that something wasn’t quite right. He called his secretary in and asked, "Is the County Party Committee’s office having a reception today? Are there any guests visiting us?"
"No," the secretary answered with certainty, but after thinking about it he added, "but Young Zhang from the Secretary-General’s office is taking some of his old schoolmates from college around. He’s asked me to meet them for lunch."
Secretary Wang nodded. "Go tell Young Zhang, I’ll accompany his guests for lunch today!" he said with a smile.
His secretary’s eyes opened wide. He thought he must’ve heard wrong! Someone with the status of County Party Committee Secretary actually offering to receive the guests of a clerk in a small section was a first – truly unprecedented!
Young Zhang got to the restaurant early, just before noon. He ordered the food and waited for Secretary Wang. He still couldn't believe that the top leader of the county would honor them with his presence. His heart was pounding. He didn't dare tell his friends from college, though, just in case it was a joke.
But, against all precedent, Secretary Wang really did come!
This really gave so much face to Young Zhang! His face turned red from the excitement, and he stammered when introduced Secretary Wang to his college classmates. These young guests exchanged glances, stunned with surprise!
One day many years later, Mayor Zhang was sitting in his expansive office when a strange feeling suddenly surged through him.
A faint breeze blew in through the door, making it cool and comfortable. A dragonfly flitted into the office and lit cautiously on the curtain. A gecko crawled over from the corner quickly and noisily!
Mayor Zhang had a sudden realization. This strange feeling was because things were too relaxed and too quiet!
His heart jumped. He called his secretary in and said, "I finally have some free time today. Get things ready. I’m going to go visit my old boss. He gave me so much face back then, and I have to pay him back! "
His car stopped on a remote mountainside facing a row of high walls. Mayor Zhang sighed.
"Come on out, twelve-eighteen!” the prison guard shouted. “Someone’s here to see you!"
"Twelve-eighteen" walked out, his head drooping and his eyes blank. It had been a long time since he’d come to this ghastly place. No one had come to visit him in all that time, not even former colleagues, subordinates, friends, or even family members. He’d become a lonely man, and his cellmates often ridiculed him for it.
He stood tall and held his head high when he returned to his cell, however. His face was red and his voice loud when he excitedly told his fellow inmates, "Young Zhang, I mean Mayor Zhang, came in person to visit me. He graciously called me Secretary Wang. This is so much face...."
Text at p. 141; translated from 殷贤华的博客 at http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_6d4709100102wped.html
3. The Cats in the Window (对窗的猫)
Wang Weifeng (王伟锋)
Mrs. Lin was in the hospital this time because of two cats in the window that faced hers.
The two kittens had been lying in the window of the condo opposite hers on the sixth floor, snuggling with each other.
She rubbed her eyes. Yes, sir, it was two kittens with their feline ears stuck up at right angles, like they were listening to something downstairs. They were still lying on the windowsill a few hours later, not having moved a muscle.
This made Old Lady Lin curious. She struggled to open the window screen, then
propped her hands on her hips and took a good look at what was going on downstairs.
There was nothing but people and cars going in and out of the building.
She’d happened to look up and see the two kittens that morning while she was
watching TV in her living room.
Her son had given her the TV to show his respect for her. She was supposedly
watching, but in fact it was more like listening. The old lady had been a widow for
many years and had suffered a lot while raising her son. Her eyesight was long gone Photo courtesy of RF Parsley
after years and years of hard work, plus the occasional night spent weeping. There always seemed to be a layer of something impermeable between her and things.
As she put it, “A layer of frosted glass separates me from the world.” Humor aside, the real world on the other side of the frosted glass was still tough as ever.
For Mrs. Lin, the actual problem was that her son didn’t yet have a girlfriend. He’d had several opportunities but they didn’t work out for one reason or another. Mrs. Lin had always felt she was a drag on her son, so she became more and more careful not to add to his difficulties.
The wind had come up outside at noon that day. It was quite strong and made low-level growls and sharp whines as it blew back and forth between the buildings. Mrs. Lin hurried to the balcony to bring in her laundry and closed all the windows in the condo.
What would happen to the two kittens in such a strong wind? She glanced at their window from time to time. They were still lying on the sill, stretching almost halfway out. What if the wind blew them down to the ground? Mrs. Lin couldn't keep her heart from trembling.
She even thought she could hear their faint meows of distress mixed feebly in the sound of the wind. Each meow scratched at her heart like a hundred claws, making her stand up and then sit down again. She eventually made up her mind to call her son.
Her son thought something was wrong when he answered the phone. She rarely called him at work. Somewhat alarmed, he asked her what had happened. She was afraid he’d be worried, so she pretended to be unconcerned as she told him about the two cats in the opposite window.
Her son felt relieved after they’d exchanged a few sentences. He was also baffled and asked, somewhat impatiently, "Why are you going on about cats and dogs. I've been busy enough all morning that I haven't finished sorting out all my data. Is that all there is, Mom, just the cats…? You’re not in any discomfort? Don't hide anything from me."
Mrs. Lin had nothing else to say so they hung up. The more she thought about it, though, the antsier she got. She opened the security door to go downstairs – she had to find a way to call this to the attention of the people who lived in that condo.
As she was on her way downstairs, Mrs. Lin, thinking about cats, got careless and slipped. She fell down the stairway....
Fortunately she wasn’t seriously injured – just a slight fracture in her right leg – but she needed to go to the hospital.
Neighbors had already taken her to the hospital by the time her son rushed over there. A thick plaster cast and bandage had been applied, and she lay in bed humming softly.
Her son looked frazzled when he got there, so Mrs. Lin apologized wholeheartedly. She still couldn't hold back, though, and started talking about the cats. She insisted that her son go back to her community and say something to the people in the opposite condo.
The boy understood that his mother was a kindly person and didn't like to see anyone suffer. He was afraid the old woman wouldn’t get any sleep if he didn't take care of the matter that day.
He sighed. To keep his mother from worrying, he took a taxi over to her community and got whatever clothes his mother would need in the hospital. Then he climbed, out of breath, up to the sixth floor in the opposite building and knocked on the heavy security door.
The door didn’t open after he’d knocked for a long time. Then, unexpectedly, someone opened the door across the hall, stepped out and looked at him suspiciously for a long time. He summoned up the courage to tell the fellow the whole story. The guy said an old man lived there by himself but was usually sure to be out at that time of day.
The son suddenly had a premonition that something bad was going to happen. He went downstairs and got the property manager to call the old man, but no one answered the phone.
Luckily the property manager had a number for one of the old man’s daughters. She was anxious when she heard the story but was out of town and couldn't make it there for a while. She thanked the property manager profusely and asked him to call the police, and she’d be there as quickly as possible.
People crowded around when the police opened the old man’s door and went in. They discovered the old man lying naked in the bathroom. There was a pool of dark red blood on the white tiles. The old man was in a coma but fortunately was still breathing.
The son suddenly remembered the two cats while the old man was being taken to the ambulance. He walked out onto the enclosed balcony and needed only a quick glance before he started laughing.
The two cats there were evidently a pair of snow-white shoes. What stood up so straight wasn’t two pair of cat’s ears, but toilet paper the shoes were wrapped in.
It was already midnight by the time he got back to the hospital. He tiptoed into his mother's room lightly and pulled her quilt over her feet. She opened her eyes abruptly and stared at her son.
He held out his phone to her and pushed a button to let her see. The screen showed two snow-white cats frolicking on the sofa, so close that nothing could come between them, each prettier than the other.
Mrs. Lin smiled with satisfaction. She blinked her eyes and sleep suddenly overcame her. She temporarily forgot the pain in her leg, yawned, and soon she was snoring soundly.
Text at p. 146; translated from edited version under the name 母亲的心事 at this page
4. The Dragon Lady* (蛟女)
Mou Xiwen (牟喜文)
Lots of fishermen in Binzhou, Shandong, starved to death in the third year of the
Republic of China (1914). The reason was that the fish and shrimp would disappear
whenever the fishermen put their nets in the water.
No one knows when the Dragon Lady arrived in Binzhou. Just like no one knows
why Big Family Li suddenly blew his riches.
The Dragon Lady opened a laundry service in the second shop on the west end of Old Binzhou Street. She looked slim and beautiful in her set of white robes.
In the normal course, women have to put the clothes in a basin and rub hard when they do the laundry. If an article of clothing is stiff, they have to pound it with a mallet, but even then the clothes still might not be clean, even after several repetitions. When the Dragon Lady did laundry, however, she’d just hang the clothes up, take a sip of water in her mouth and spray it all at one time onto the clothes. The water would turn into a thick mist that didn’t dissipate for a long time, and before your very eyes the stains on the clothes would fade away and be gone. Once the clothes were clean, the spray from the Dragon Lady’s mouth would turn purple and the clothes would straighten themselves out until they looked like new. And they’d not only smell clean, they’d also have the ability to invigorate the person who wore them.
What was even more mystical, there seemed to be rivers and rivers of water hidden in the Dragon Lady's mouth. No matter what, the clear water she sipped was somehow never used up.
Some men in Binzhou had money to spare and wished their clothes would hurry up and get dirty. Some of these pampered young bucks secretly spilled oil on their clothes and rubbed them in dirt or ashes until they were filthy, thus giving them a reason or excuse to see the Dragon Lady. Despite being dirty, these fellows were all well-behaved for fear of annoying her. They didn’t want to lose face like an adult falling into the holy water font and splashing water all over the monastery.
There was only one fellow who wasn’t afraid – Big Family Li. He liked to sit quietly in one of those old-fashioned armchairs and drink tea while he watched the Dragon Lady. Other men with money would carry birdcages whenever they went out, to give the birds some fresh air, but not Big Family. He always had his household manager, Third Li, carry his fishbowl wherever he went, like he was afraid people wouldn’t know he was in the business of selling aquatic products.
Spring was gone and winter arrived in the blink of an eye. The surrounding countryside was white with snow. Sitting in his study, Big Family said to Third Li, who was standing hunched over beside him, "What? Isn't that OK, either?"
Third Li said: "You’ve already spent a thousand silver dollars, but the Dragon Lady...."
"So I spend two thousand or three thousand!” Big Family interrupted Third Li stiffly. “She’s just a woman, isn’t she? It’s really not impossible. Can’t you use your head? You’ve wasted the last two years for this old man! Anyway, this woman, I’m the master here and I’ll make the decision!” He sniffled fiercely a few times while he was speaking and didn’t forget to pull the fur coat he was wearing more tightly around him. The aroma of incense arose from the coat and covered him from head to toe. He’d just brought the coat back from the Dragon Lady.
Things had been going strangely for the Dragon Lady, too. No matter how good a job she did, no one had brought her clothes to wash for a week.
The next morning Third Li came by the Dragon Lady’s shop and asked her, "How about it, sister? Instead of washing clothes for everyone, it’d be better to just do laundry for one person, my master. Easy work, and respectable, and as for money, he’ll pay whatever you want.
The Dragon Lady groaned and said, "OK. Three thousand silver dollars a year, and not a penny less."
"You’ve got a deal!” Third Li said, feeling invigorated. “I'll come get you tomorrow morning." He hummed a little tune as he swaggered off.
When he saw the Dragon Lady come through the door, Big Family was happier than words could say. He gulped down the well-aged booze in his glass, looking at her out of the side of his drunken eyes. He stuck out his hand to grab her slender waist.
She revised her usual haughty attitude and gently pushed his hand away. "Master,” she said, “everyone says your cold storage facility is miraculous. Let your servant girl have a look at it, okay?"
"Nothing to it. Whatever is your master's is yours, too, isn’t it, my precious? Ha, ha, ha."
"Then, when shall we go there?"
"Right now." Big Family had Third Li ready a cart and took the Dragon Lady straightaway to a small mound beside Fragrant River.
She watched closely as Big Family removed a one-inch-square sheet of black iron from his neck and inserted it into a mysterious hole. With a "clang", the mound cracked open with a flash of light, and a thick iron gate appeared out of thin air. Then, the iron door “creaked” open wide and a rush of bone-chilling cold poured out. Third Li's teeth were chattering.
"Useless thing." Big Family kicked Third Li. "You don't need to go down this time,” he said. Stay up here and watch the door."
" O ... OK, Mas ... Master. " Third Li popped a few words out from between his teeth with more than a little difficulty.
Abundant as were the preparations which the Dragon Lady had made to get herself ready, she was still stunned at what she saw going down into the storeroom. She noted a large storage area of over two thousand square meters filled with frozen fish, shrimp and crabs of various sizes, fully tens of thousands of tons.
The Dragon Lady’s eyes filled with tears. She tried to reach out and touch several fish but found that her hand suddenly wouldn't move.
" Ha, ha, ha!", Big Family grinned. "You came to Binzhou with a scheme in mind,” he said to the Dragon Lady. “You came to search out my secret storehouse, didn’t you?"
"You, do you know everything?" The green veins on the Dragon Lady's neck bulged up, like a swarm of thick, powerful earthworms.
"Remember this,” Big Family said. “No one can escape from this master’s hands! You’re no exception! You don't know it yet, I see, but this frozen bead is the bane of you aquatic creatures. With it, all living things in the rivers, lakes and seas are mine. I can take them whenever I want to. And, of course, that includes you as well — the unacknowledged descendant of the Dragon of Fragrant River. Ha, ha, ha!” Big Family pointed upwards and all eyes focused on a magnificently
understated but incomparably icy pearl hanging from a beam in the center of the warehouse.
"That's not necessarily so." Following his voice, Third Li walked in from outside the door, a hawk metamorphized, and the frozen bead came down into his hand. Usually a wretched creature, he straightened his back instantly and took on an overwhelmingly heroic air.
" You… are the two of you in this together? " Big Family looked at the Dragon Lady and Third Li in surprise and shock.
"The end of persistent wrongdoing is death," Third Li said forcibly and with a sense of righteousness." We just couldn’t bear seeing you steal the livelihood of future generations, so we started planning this two years ago. "
"You... both of you?" Big family’s lips turned purple and he couldn’t stop shaking.
Right then a cloud of mist sprayed from the Dragon Lady’s mouth and wrapped around the frozen fish, shrimps and crabs. The animals abruptly opened their eyes and came back to life....
Fragrant River returned to its former beauty and calm, but there was one thing. Big Family Li seemed to have become a different person. He was often seen kneeling by the river, pouring baskets of steamed buns and cakes into the river. He was extremely pious about it.
And there was one other change. Many men in Binzhou were no longer willing to wear the clothes that the Dragon Lady had washed for them.
[The crypto-creature in the title (蛟) is a dragon- or serpent-like animal said to live in rivers and lakes – Fannyi]
Text at p. 148; Translated from version at this site
under the name 聊斋故事之蛟女
5. The Scent of Lotus (莲清自香)
Gao Yufang (高玉芳)
Old Lian, Chief of the district Procurators Office, was about to retire when a disabled person came to his home, walking with a limp. Old Lian hurriedly helped him to a seat on the sofa. He recognized the fellow as Little Li.
The Procuratorate had handled his case fifteen years previously. Little Li, a driver by profession, had hit someone while driving and killed them. He was found seventy percent liable and sentenced to two years in prison, sentence suspended on condition of good behavior for three years. Little Li had also had both legs amputated. His wife divorced him forthwith and his life was ruined.
Old Lian felt that the Procurator’s office should not only examine cases, but should also pay attention to the offender’s livelihood. He helped Little Li apply for a business license and acquire a small shop, and he also made the initial payment on a 50,000 yuan loan for him. He’d never required Little Li to reimburse him for the loan payment. The small shop had developed into a large supermarket by then, and Little Li, general manager of the supermarket, was not the person he used to be. Now in Old Lian’s home as a guest, he said: "You’re retiring, Inspector Lian. I have this small memento for you."
No expression showed on Old Lian’s face. He had a lot of experience in this sort of gift-giving. When hangers-on asked him to find some way around the law, he’d react like an angry lion and throw them out. When faced with friends and family who wanted favors, he’d be all sweetness and light, reasoning with them and explaining the harm before patting them on the shoulder and gently suggesting that they leave. Beautiful women had come to ask him for leniency for a kinsman, shooting hot glances and amorous eyes at him, even making explicit hints, but he gave them a cold look straight in eyes, striking panic in their hearts.
Little Li held a scroll in his hand. He unrolled it to reveal a Chinese painting which had
not yet been glued to the scroll: lotus plants with a blue sky and white clouds showing
between the lush green leaves, and a few pink lotus flowers in full bloom which seemed
to exude a whiff of fragrance.
Old Lian loved this painting very much. Its artistic conception conformed to his frame
of mind. Despite his appreciation, he refused the gift. "I understand your kind intentions,
Little Li, but please take it back."
The guest sat up straight but made no move to leave.
They were at an impasse when the guest stood up abruptly, in obvious difficulty, and threw himself prostrate in front of Old Lian. "My Benefactor,” he said through his sobs, “if you don't accept this gift, my conscience will never let me get over it. You saved my family back then, but I didn't give you any gifts at all. And that fifty thousand yuan of yours, you’ve never asked for it back. This painting will count as repayment for the fifty thousand yuan payment you made for me. Is that all right? "
Old Lian quickly helped Little Li to his feet. Given what the man had said, he nodded and told him "All right, I’ll accept it, Thank you."
No wall is impermeable, so news of how he’d acquired the painting made it all through the office. That one stone stirred up a thousand waves, things like: “This piece is from a master of Chinese painting and I’m afraid it must’ve cost a lot of money”; or “You can be honest your whole lifetime, but getting old is what it is and you have to be careful of falling into the quagmire of the ‘59-year-old’s phenomenon’ – socking it away to get ready for retirement.”
The next day, the Chief Procurator said farewell to his staff in the Procurators Office. Teasingly, he said, "Today I’m turning in my badge and going back to life as a private citizen. No gifts, but I’ll leave you this painting. Everyone has the right to appreciate things, even if the right to own them belongs to the state."
He unfurled the painting, "Scent of the Lotus". He’d added an exquisite new scroll and spent the money to hire someone to affix the painting to the scroll, adding to its elegance.
The inscription "The Scent of Lotus " on the painting had been written by the Chief in his own calligraphy. He hung it as a vertical scroll on the office wall. The office seemed to brighten immediately, becoming especially dynamic. Everyone was silent, lost in thought.
Then came a burst of applause. Chief Procurator Lian bowed deeply and fixed his eyes on "The Scent of Lotus" for a moment before he turned and walked proudly away.
Chinese text at p. 151; translated from
https://kknews.cc/zh-my/story/z565aba.html under the name 莲香自清
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