1. The Magician (魔术师)
Gao Canghai (高沧海)
In his dreams, the magician always wore golden clothes and boots for one curtain call after another, enjoying waves of applause on a brightly lit stage. Then he’d take a train full of flowers through one city after another in the company of a lady in pink, returning to his wealthy and honored hometown carrying blossoms and wearing embroidered silk as badges of his prosperity.
But the magician was just a nobody. He and his brothers in the acrobat troupe performed on threshing grounds or on soil mounds with sections of broken columns. His brothers would do tricks like “Break a Stone on His Chest” or “Swallow a Steel Sword”, then he’d come onstage wearing an exaggerated pointed hat, a red nose and weird clothes. He’d have little felt balls in his hand, which he’d make disappear right under everyone’s eyes, and then he’d make them reappear in the shirt pocket of some audience member with a big mouth standing on the periphery. He’d take the laughter as his reward. Later he’d leave, grabbing a seat in their canopied truck, and wander off to another country village.
After spending a night parked beside a field of dahlias, the truck unexpectedly decided it never wanted to go on the road again. It coughed and sighed in the clear morning light like an oldster who’d just gotten out of bed. It moved a bit and stopped, and then would move no more, even though they jumped up and down and cursed to get it going. A bicycle repairman from the village walked around it a few times before indicating that he was powerless to do anything for the big lug. He could, however, help them call an auto mechanic in town.
And so their journey was delayed.
The magician sat under dahlias growing in a flowerpot, enjoying the coolness.
When the wooden door beside him creaked open, the magician saw a woman's face peeping out. Her eyebrows were just like the warmth of a March breeze and the fragrance of osmanthus in August, or even more like a dahlia in full bloom.
The woman giggled and said, “I know you. You’re the magician, the one who made the balls switch over to Second Cow's wife’s breast pocket last night.
“She made every woman in the whole village jealous,” the woman continued.
“I didn't see you,” the magician said, “otherwise I would’ve switched them over to you.”
She tittered and said, "You only had Second Cow's wife in your eyes. How could you have seen anyone else?"
“That fat woman was like a wall,” the magician replied. “She single-mindedly kept inserting herself into the light. With her in the way, how could I see anyone else?”
“I’m right in front of your eyes now. Switch one over to me and I’ll see.”
She said that in what seemed more like a pleading tone of voice, and her eyes shone like crystals. A breeze from the south blew against the magician’s face and its comfortable warmth wanted to make him sneeze. He even smelled the aroma of fruit wine on his body. He took out a felt ball and looked at the woman’s face. He saw her delicate, exquisitely white neck and knew that he need only flick the ball lightly and it would slip along her collar and down onto her breast, like a hand.
And that’s exactly what it did. Like a hand, it slipped long the woman's neckline and onto her breast.
That night, the moon was as splendid as water. The magician stood in the dahlia’s shadow.
He could see lights in the woman's house through a gap in the wood door. They looked like beans or stars. He could even hear her sigh softly, like orchids or osmanthus. He raised his eyes and saw the truck not far away. Moonlight draped it like heavy armor, majestic and cold. Tomorrow or the day after it would set them adrift once more… but to where?
He wandered back and forth in the shadow of the dahlias. The light from the door accompanied him until the sky brightened.
He insisted that the woman accept half his life savings. Holding her slender fingers, he told her, “Your man’s gone. It’s OK for you to keep this to get yourself some clothes. And you’re so thin, you should fatten yourself up a bit.” The woman bowed her head and said she should give him a pair of cotton shoes to wear through the cold winter and the Spring Festival.
The mechanic had someone bring more parts from town. After several false starts, the truck eventually spewed out black smoke and happily hit the road.
The magician was sitting in the cargo compartment. His head was enshrouded in darkness and kept bumping against the canvas top. The truck passed by small hills and through endless wheat fields as it went along. Summer flowers had just opened in the magician's palm, but the winter snowflakes were already falling on his shoulders.
He couldn’t stop thinking of the woman's eyes when they’d parted.
He got the new shoes she’d give him out of his suitcase.
When he started to put them on, he found a small cloth bag stuffed up inside one of them. He couldn’t believe it – it contained the money he’d given to the woman.
He turned the bag inside out trying to find a note or at least a sentence of explanation, or maybe a little embroidery on the bag. The summer dahlias were blooming, and in the pleasant south breeze, the wooden door that had been left ajar for him, that he could’ve opened with a slight push, was still there. It was as bright as it had been the night before, even though inside the truck was murky. His heart ached.
He put on his new shoes carefully.
In the end, he hadn’t been able to become a great magician. Many years later, on a muddy road in some village or other, he’d seen a peasant woman walking by. She was leading a water buffalo. He thought that the woman under the dahlias, in that faraway place, should also have reached that age.
His eyes full of tears, he plucked a blue morning glory that had been protruding from the side of the road. Using a well-practiced technique that no one had ever figured out, he gently placed it between the peasant woman's snowy temples.
Text at p. 153. Translated from 高沧海小窝的博客 at
2. Veteran of the War against Japan (抗战老兵)
Tian Shifan (田诗范)
Grandpa Qi, a childless man who lived on the East side of the village, was over ninety years old but still in excellent health. He could prepare his own meals and even go up the mountain with a pack on his back to dig red sweet potatoes. His eyes were severely clouded, though, like they were covered by a thin fog with a layer of water, too. Tears flowed from the corners of his eyes every time he blinked, but he definitely wasn’t crying!
One strange thing about him. Whether he was standing, sitting or sleeping, he kept both arms folded across his chest. We kids were so mischievous, once we snuck up and took his arms away while he was sawing logs. As soon as we let go of them, though, they immediately went back the way they were like they had springs in them. We took another look at him and he hadn’t woken up at all. Because of this habit, everyone suspected that he must have suffered a serious injury when he was young. Either that or he was born with this infirmity.
There were some lively goings-on at his dilapidated old house recently. Group after group of reporters came to interview him carrying “long guns and short mortars”. (That’s what we call film and videotape cameras.) After that, we heard about all kinds of things that we’d never heard of before, like the Burma Campaign, the Expeditionary Forces, The Siege of Myitkyina, the Battles of Tengchong and Songshan....
Also, a strong light seemed to come through Grandpa Qi's muddy and hazy eyes at the time. His back was much straighter than it had been, too.
Then we saw a group of government officials bring a plaque saying, "Anti-Japanese War Hero" and a certificate that said, "Veteran of the War against Japan". Someone else handed him a red envelope which, from the looks of it, must’ve been quite heavy, stuffed with more money than Grandpa Qi had ever seen in his life. He said, "As long as I have this little thing, this plaque, I don’t need all this!” His voice trembled a little and a lot of water flowed from his eyes, not cloudy water, but crystal clear!
We crowded around in front of him after those people were gone. "Grandfather Qi, why didn’t you tell us you were a hero?"
With tears crisscrossing his cheeks, he said: "Children, you don't understand!"
We wouldn’t listen to any excuses. "Grandfather, grandfather, come on, tell us!" we demanded.
Uncle Qi couldn't get out of it. "I was a Nationalist soldier at the time!" he stammered.
"The Communist Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army fought against the Japs!” we kids said in surprise. “Did the Nationalist soldiers fight them, too?"
"Yes," he answered.
"Was it tunnel warfare?"
He shook his head.
"Did you use landmines?"
He shook his head again.
"Did you have armed working teams?"
He still shook his head.
We were getting anxious. "Then how did you fight the Japs?"
Grandpa Qi looked off into the distance, as if he were seeing some distant world. After a long time, he said, "We fought big battles, inhuman battles. I remember our leader admonishing us, before we went into battle, 'A hundred thousand students, a hundred-thousand-man army; an inch of a mountain river, an inch of blood! You are the backbone of our country, the elite of our nation. If our nation weren’t facing annihilation, I’d never push you into battle....' That’s where he started crying, really crying!” It turned out Grandpa Qi, who’d been pretending to be illiterate for decades, had been in a student army!
He didn’t say any more about these things, just mumbled, "Thanks to your parents, the history – they were clear about it and protected me through all those political campaigns...."
The next day, my mother told me to deliver a meal to Grandfather Qi. I saw him lying quietly in the middle of the room. He was holding that bright red "Veteran of the War against Japan" certificate in both hands. No matter how much I yelled, he didn’t pay any attention to me.
My mom and dad heard me yelling and thought something was wrong, so they rushed over. My dad put his hand under Grandpa Qi’s nose to check his breath, then shook his head. My mom started crying. "Old man Qi, you couldn’t catch a break. You should be getting recognition, but instead you’re gone...."
My parents quietly arranged Grandfather Qi’s funeral. My dad wanted to dress him in his burial clothes, but his arms were locked across his chest so tightly he couldn’t pull them away no matter how hard he tried. My mother said: "You’re going to twist his arms off! His arms have been like that all his life. Let him be."
My dad had to lay the clothes on top of him. Afterwards, while they were straightening up the belongings Grandfather Qi had left behind, they saw a letter addressing him as "My Honored Brother” and signed "Your Brother Scar". My mother said, " Since he had a brother like this, we should let him know.”
"You’re right!" my dad said.
When I saw how Grandfather Qi as laying with his arms locked across his chest, a thought struck me. "Grandfather Qi always crossed his arms in front of his chest while he was alive. Was he waiting for that long-delayed ‘Veteran of the War against Japan’ certificate?"
They looked at each other for moment, then nodded. After a while, they shook their heads.
Grandfather Scar arrived the next evening. When he saw how Grandfather Qi was laying, he knelt at his feet and cried out, "Squad leader! Why are you still crossing your arms like that?" Then he fell prostrate and cried. My dad hurried to help him up and poured him a bowl of water. Only then did he regain control of himself.
Then we listened as Grandfather Scar tearfully told us the story. "My honored brother! That time we’d been fighting in the Siege of Myitkyina for more than ten days. When we withdrew, only the platoon leader, you and me were left from our whole regiment. Tired and hungry, we fell asleep on our feet leaning on a tree. Our rifles dropped to the ground.
“All of sudden I heard the platoon leader shout. I woke up and saw a Jap devil's bayonet aimed right at your chest. The platoon leader raised his rifle and sprang to meet the Jap's bayonet. His bayonet pierced the Jap’s chest at the same time the Jap’s bayonet pierced his. As he was falling, the platoon leader cursed you, ‘Rotten student, couldn’t you hang on to your rifle when you fuckin’ fell asleep?!'
“I saw you pick up a machine gun and mow down a bunch of Japs while the platoon leader closed his eyes forever. Since then, whenever and wherever you were, you always crossed your arms like you were hugging a rifle when you went to sleep!"
Grandpa Scar stood up when he finished the story. He straightened his hat and clothing, stood straight as an arrow and shouted, "Ten-hut – "
My mom and dad and I all stood up and brought our heels together. We heard Grandpa Scar yell, "Salute – " We followed his lead and solemnly raised our right hands!
Text at p. 158; Translated from here.
Not surprisingly, however, the story is no longer available online.
3. A Fish out of Water (离开水的鱼)
Wang Cou (王湊)
Stone decided to close his fish stand for the Lunar New Year when there were still two months to go before the holiday.
People who came to him to buy fish were puzzled. They could earn him more money over the next month, and he still wouldn’t have to miss the New Year!
Stone was scraping the scales off a fish with dexterity. "That won’t cut it,” he said. “I have to get things ready."
What Stone meant when he said "get things ready" was indeed a large project that would take a lot of effort.
First he went to the supermarket to buy some soap. He picked two expensive kinds, one good at getting rid of bacteria and one for whitening the skin, and took a bar of each. He thought about it some more, then picked up a bar that would act as an exfoliant.
He made a beeline to the shower as soon as he got home. He lathered on some of this kind and smeared on some of that, scrubbing like he was scaling a fish. From time to time he put his hand in front of his nose and sniffed: sweaty smell, gone; fishy stink, seemed to be gone, too. The top layer of his skin was still black as the ace of spades, but that wasn't crucial. The critical thing was that it was splotchy, so he looked like he had a bunch of fish scales stuck on him. But the killer was, his hands and feet were full of gullies and ravines – thick ones and thin ones, each one deep enough to seem bottomless. The hardships that Stone has suffered over the last few years were hidden deep within them.
He sighed. Blame it on the sun in this city being too strong and the water they raised the fish in being too fearsome. The sun and water had to leave their marks on people.
But Stone knew what he had to do. He just had to take his time doing it.
He went into hibernation mode for the next few days. He hid out in his rented room, relied on take-out for food and drink, and avoided any chance contact with the sun or the dirty water. At nine p.m. on the dot, he sat in the shower and scrubbed and scraped himself over and over again.
The better part of half a month had gone by, and Stone felt that he was indeed whiter. But the gullies and ravines still looked like tree roots growing on his hands and feet. He couldn’t get rid of them.
Stone decided that the trick to removing the scars was – sandpaper. But when he brushed the sandpaper back and forth over his hands, it didn't hurt at all, and he got a little desperate. He was afraid that if he touched his wife with such a hand, wouldn’t it be just like brushing her with sandpaper?
His wife was very white and tender, and she loved being clean.
They’d only married the previous year. On their wedding night, she soaked Stone in a big wooden barrel and rubbed him down with pieces of melon held between her fingers. She’d scrubbed until his birthmark was as pink as the day he was born before she finally went to bed and waited shyly.
On weekdays his wife was like a maintenance worker, setting herself against dirty things every day. She’d even used a toothpick to dig out the dirt hidden in the crevices of their wicker chairs bit by bit, then rubbed the chairs over and over again with a cloth dipped in soapy water. She had drawers full of facial cleansers, hand creams, and body lotions for cleaning herself up, and was single-minded about using them.
He hadn't seen his wife for more than a year. When he thought about her, he sanded his hands even harder.
More than half a month passed. The gullies on his hands had smoothed out a bit, and the "fish scales" on his body became lighter, but it was going too slow. Then he had an inspiration. He’d soak his whole body first, then sand it down. That would definitely be faster.
His rented room didn’t have a bathtub, so he gritted his teeth and booked a few nights in a hotel room that had one.
Don't think he didn’t care about the money, but he had it to spend.
How could a fish vendor not have money these days? His money belt was bulging from lively fish jumping around in enough water to keep them happy (and the water was worth as much as the fish). He hadn’t gone home last year during New Year’s and had made a fortune staying in the city. But he really hadn’t ever stayed in a big hotel, especially one that had bathtubs. All he knew how to do in the city was make money.
When he checked in, the girl at the front desk asked, "One person?"
"Yes," he said.
After he finished checking in, a girl who showed him the way to his room also asked, "One person?"
When he answered he suddenly and for no reason felt proud. Yes, one person; such a luxurious room and he was staying there by himself!
Stone felt a little like an aristocrat after spending a few nights soaking in the high-end hotel. He looked much whiter and his birthmark had even become ruddier, the soft pink color of a new-born piglet. He rolled up his pack and happily headed home to his wife.
She didn’t come to greet him at the entrance to the village, nor was she waiting at the door of their home. She was too busy working in the fields. When she saw he was home, she made a beeline for the kitchen to kill a chicken and clean a fish. This was not what Stone had had in mind. He’d thought she’d pounce on him like a bird of prey when he arrived, and he’d take her hand and whisper sweet nothings in her ear.
But now, bored stiff, all he could do was wander around the house on his own.
The house was tidy enough, but the gaps in the wicker chairs were filled with dust.
There were no creamy face lotions or hand ointments in the drawer, only scissors and needles.
When his wife finished the laundry and washing the dishes, Stone grabbed her hand like he was afraid he’d miss the opportunity. He was shocked. "Why are your hands like sandpaper?"
She sneered. "The fieldwork doesn’t need to be done? Your father doesn't need to be waited on? I’m not the only one doing all the housework?"
Stone felt guilty and hugged his wife tightly. She smelled the faint aroma of perfume on him, and he smelled the faint smell of fish on her. Both of them were startled. Suddenly she swung her arm and slapped him hard. "You definitely haven’t been selling fish in the city. Are you a gigolo?"
With that slap, his mouth flapped open and closed. It looked like a fish head that had just been chopped off.
Text at p. 161; Translated from 壹读 at
4. Implementation (落实)
Hu Lidong (胡礼东)
"It’s just these few things,” Mayor Jia said. “Go coordinate things to get them done." Then he picked up a red folder from his desk and continued reviewing it. But it looked like Secretary-General Liu had no intention of leaving, so the mayor asked, "Is there anything else?"
"Yes,” Secretary Liu answered. “Spring Festival is here. Don't our city leaders have to set an example by going to the contact point to show empathy with poor households? Look, Mr. Mayor...."
The mayor interrupted, "Line it up. Try to get down there in the next few days."
“OK.” Secretary Liu started to turn away.
"Oh, one more thing,” the Mayor added. “I’ve heard people complain about leaders nowadays going to villages to show empathy with poor households. Don’t the village cadres mostly arrange in advance for their relatives to be the recipients? This is a bad trend at the grassroots level and a serious corruption problem as well. It’s like the upper-level policies and procedures are good, but some of them get distorted as they’re implemented at each layer down the line. Do you understand what I mean?"
Secretary Liu was silent for a moment before responding, "I understand, I must do a good job of implementing things."
“Good,” said the mayor.
Secretary Liu made careful arrangements as soon as he returned to his office. He was still worried, though, so he phoned Director Hao of the Civil Affairs Bureau to tell him that Mayor Jia attached great importance to this year's expressing-empathy program. In addition to preparing sympathy gifts and empathy awards, he said, the Civil Affairs Bureau should also verify the situations of the people receiving those gifts and awards. He concluded by asking, “Do you understand what I mean?”
On the other end of the line, Director Hao was silent for a moment, then said seriously, “I understand.”
“Good,” Secretary Liu said. But he was still a little worried, so he personally called Commissioner Ding of North Mountain County to tell him about Mayor Jia's instructions and requirements for implementing the program. In conclusion, he asked, “Do you understand what I mean?”
Commissioner Ding was silent for a moment on the other end of the line, then said solemnly, “I understand.” Secretary Liu said, “Good.”
After Commissioner Ding got Secretary Liu’s call, he called his office’s Director Xin and the County Civil Affairs Bureau’s Director Xiao into his office right away. He told them about Mayor Jia’s instructions and Secretary Liu’s assignment, and asked them to go immediately to the town leaders and village cadres of Peach Flower Town and North Room Village, whom Mayor Jia would be contacting, to study the directives carefully and get a firm grip on their implementation. In particular, they must personally put feet on the ground at the contact point to verify and select poor households. He asked them, “Do you understand what I mean?” Director Xin and Director Xiao glanced at each other and said in unison that they understood. Commissioner Ding said, “Good. Get right on it.”
After they left, Commissioner Ding was still a little worried and made a personal call to Peach Flower Town’s Mayor Sun.
"Is this Young Sun?"
"Yes, it is. How are you, Commissioner Ding!" Mayor Sun was a bit overwhelmed and apprehensive at receiving an unexpected call from the commissioner. It must be something serious.
"Listen well, Young Sun!" He repeated what he had told Directors Xin and Xiao.
He ended by asking, "Do you understand what I mean?"
“I do! I do!” Mayor Sun said alertly and deferentially.
The commissioner was a bit suspicious that Mayor Sun was so spirited “You understand? What is it you understand?" he asked sternly.
The other end of the line was momentarily silent. Then Mayor Sun said, as though he were picking his way through a minefield, "Commissioner Ding meant that the recipients of the empathy program must not be the relatives of the village cadres. But they can be ... for example, the County Commissioner’s...."
Commissioner Ding interrupted Mayor Sun right away. "What? What do you mean? Is that… is that a joke?"
Mayor Sun instantly changed his tune. "Yes! Yes! Just kidding! I was kidding!"
Commissioner Ding was silent a moment before saying, " Heh, heh, you son of a gun. But you’ve made me think of something. I've been so busy I wasn’t thinking straight. The problem you mentioned is really worth looking into. I’ll have to give it some thought, think it through."
"Exactly!” Mayor Sun replied. “Mayor Jia’s and Secretary-General Liu’s directives are to ensure that village cadres don’t mess things up, but they didn't say that our leaders’ relatives are ... for example ... it’s ... the city...."
"Yes, that's nonsense!” Mayor Sun agreed. “But not necessarily! I mean, a smart farmer doesn’t let his fertilizer run off onto his neighbors' fields!"
"Alright already! When Director Xin and Director Xiao get there, study the problem thoroughly with them. Put more effort into thinking about it. Do the work in depth and meticulously, and fully implement the city leaders’ instructions!"
“Got it” Mayor Sun said resolutely. "When I’m on the job, you don’t need to worry!"
Mayor Jia, accompanied by Secretary-General Liu, went to the contact point to show empathy with poor households. They traveled unostentatiously with just a small escort and were followed by reporters from the media. Waiting for them at the contact point were County Commissioner Ding, Director Xin, Mayor Sun, Director Hao of the Civil Affairs Bureau, Director Xiao of the County Civil Affairs Bureau, Director Ling of the Township Civil Affairs Office and the North Room Village cadres.
The photo-op went well. Mayor Jia inspected the food, housing and clothing of the poor households, and showed concern questioning young and old, farmers and herders. Laughingly, he half-joked with the village cadres: "None of them are your relatives, right?" The cadre denied it firmly, "No! Absolutely not!" and Mayor Jia said, "That's good! Good!"
Then Mayor Jia distributed rice, noodles, peanut oil and empathy awards to the poor. The TV station recorded video and a newspaper reporter took photos. Mayor Jia made a show of being satisfied, but he showed empathy for only three or four households before running out of time. Many meetings and activities were scheduled for the end of the year, so the mayor hurried back to the city.
That evening, news of Mayor Jia’s in-depth visit to the grassroots to express empathy was broadcast on TV. He happened to be home watching while having dinner with his wife. All of a sudden his wife pointed at the TV with her chopsticks and said: "Hey! Hey! That poor household you showed concern for is a distant relative of my mother’s family!"
The mayor was taken aback. " Really? Are you seeing things?"
"What are you saying? I don’t recognize my own relatives? He came here to our house last year near the Spring Festival to borrow some money to get married and build a new house!"
The mayor stopped chewing and his teeth started clattering.
Text at p. 164; Translated from 读览天下 at
5. Meddlesome (多事)
Ma Wei (马卫)
There haven’t been any houses in Chicken Cluck Stockade for a long time.
Legend has it that the university moved inland during the Anti-Japanese War. Hundreds of people lived at the new location and Compliment Humanity Law School was set up there. The houses in Chicken Cluck disappeared after Liberation. The well gradually dried up, too, until now it only gives off a trickle the size of a chopstick.
There were no houses at that location. Until, that is, the day when I, a guy who likes to climb mountains, discovered that a shed had appeared there. It was made of synthetic leather and was as eye-catching as the sheds from which our production team used to watch for autumn when I was a boy.
Was someone living there in the shed?
I’m a curious sort, so I climbed up to the village and found that the shed was pretty good-sized, much larger than the ones we’d used to watch for autumn.
Behind it was a small piece of cultivated land planted with Indian lettuce, small onions, luffa, pumpkins, cucumbers and sunflowers, as well as dozens of stalks of slick green corn.
There was no door, just a dark curtain stained with oil.
I shouted a few times before hearing a buzzing sound in reply. Eventually an old man popped out. His hair, eyebrows and beard were white and his face was covered with wrinkles. He was only a little hard of hearing, otherwise it would’ve taken a lot longer for him to respond.
I was about to ask him something when another oldster popped out behind him, a short, chubby, old woman. From all appearances, she was in her seventies, too.
It looked like the old man hadn't seen a stranger for a long time and was lonely. He asked me to sit down and listen to what he had to say.
“I have a house, young man, but I can't live in it.
At this time, the old woman took out two real estate deeds.
“This one’s the house I got during the housing reform. It’s in a remote location, but it was welfare housing and cost only a little more than ten thousand yuan.”
I opened the deed. The name written on it was Original Spring Zhu.
He’d been an employee of the Clearfield Cement Factory. I knew that was a state-owned enterprise on the banks of Grass Creek. It’d been closed down when they moved people out to build the Three Gorges Dam.
I opened the other deed. It was a condo in Black Dragon Pond Community Number Three, a bit over eighty square meters, which had been built by a commercial developer.
“Since you’ve got a condo, old fellow, why’d you come here to live?”
“Jeez, to start with, there’s a skeleton in my family’s closet.
“I have two sons and one daughter. My eldest son took over my job, but then the company closed and they paid him off based on seniority. He’s got no education and can only work as a laborer, so he doesn’t have a very good life. He’s been living in the welfare house, the one allocated to us when they closed the factory. I hold the deed.”
He continued, “As the saying goes, ‘It’s not easy being a parent in this world.’”
“Tell me about your other place.”
“It was built by a private developer. I spent my life savings on it. After my wife passed, I looked continuously for someone to spend the rest of my life with, but my youngest son and his wife were dead set against it. They used to have their own place, but they wanted to move back in with me so they could keep an eye on me.”
“They understood that the elderly need company, didn’t they? And it would lighten their burden, too.”
“They didn’t understand shit. They were afraid they wouldn’t get their hands on that place if I found a woman. They wouldn’t inherit it.”
I understood, and my emotions took a nosedive. It’s because of such situations that reality doesn’t always turn out the way it’s supposed to.
I wrote down the name of the old man’s youngest son: Splendid Cleverness Zhu.
When I saw him, he was drinking at a street vendor’s stall in a night market. He was wearing shorts without a shirt and was eating hot and spicy soup.
After the introductions, he stared at me and said, “It’s none of your fucking business where my dad lives!”
“It is none of my business, but you’ll lose face when it gets out that your father is presently living in a shed he put up on the mountain.”
“Me? He’s the one that’ll lose face. Who’d still be looking for a woman at his age? Dirty old prick!” He took another gulp of booze.
“An old man being forced out of his house by his son. That kind of thing is impermissible both morally and legally.
“Aren’t you afraid he’ll turn you in?” I asked.
His face turned red. “Turn me in? It’ll be me turning him in. He’s cohabiting illegally!”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I knew deep down that this guy was an out-and-out hothead and an unseasoned yokel.
I wrote it up as local news and published it the metropolitan newspaper. I included a photo of the shed.
I really wanted to help the elderly couple. Aside from anything else, the elderly also have the freedom to fall in love, and still more right to live in their own houses. These are the most basic human rights and are enshrined in the Constitution.
I went back to Chicken Cluck Stockade and, sure enough, the shed was gone. When I got back down the mountain, a farmer living nearby said that some men had come and torn down the shed a few days before.
Had the old man moved back into his old place? I exalted in my righteousness (a quality that a journalist must have). I decided to go and see for myself. I would certainly fight for seniors’ housing rights.
When I arrived at Black Dragon Pond but before I entered the community, I saw that a canopy had been erected on the levee. A funeral was in progress.
The funeral dirge attacked my ears.
It wouldn’t have been right for me to go into the ceremony, but I didn’t want to leave, either. I raised my eyes and looked at the sign on the funerary canopy: it said, “May Old Man Original Spring Zhu Live for All Eternity”! His portrait looked down on me, half smiling, half crying.
How could he be gone? I’d seen him just a week before.
An old man pulled lightly on my sleeve and stopped me from asking any questions.
And there certainly were questions to ask.
I was left to puzzle it out later. When his youngest son came with a group of men to tear down his shed, the old man had had to end things with his woman. The night after he’d been brought back to his condo, he hanged himself.
I got drunk that night. I hated myself. If it hadn't been for me being meddlesome, if I hadn’t reported on the shed, the old man might still be alive.
I really had been meddlesome! However, faced with an elderly couple living in the shed on the mountain, how could I have kept still?
Text at p. 166; Translated from 中国奉节网 at
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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.
Chinese Stories in English
1. The Magician
2. Veteran of the War against Japan
3. A Fish out of Water