Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Autumn in a Foreign Land

By Lu Yin

The weather has been getting nice and cool since we moved to the suburbs. Soybean leaves on the low hedges are beginning to turn brownish yellow. Clusters of white chrysanthemums are vying to break through the rank weeds while tiny yellow ones are shivering in the chilly wind. The autumn scene is most apt to bring about a lonesome and desolate mood, especially when we are in a foreign country. My heart was filled with melancholy when I recited in a low voice the following lines of an ancient Chinese poet:

When the west wind furls up the curtain,

I’m more frail than the yellow chrysanthemum.

One day, when the sky was a sea blue, the sunlight a light gold and the sweet scent of osmanthus flowers fitfully wafted over on the breeze, our study seemed all the more cheerless and quiet. Allured by the lovely sight outside the window, we could hardly concentrate on dull reading. At the suggestion of Bo, we decided to visit after lunch the nearby Kichijoji Temple to enjoy the autumn landscape. We started out after 3 pm by suburban train and it took us but a short while to get there. Arriving at our destination, we passed through a long passageway, crossed the railway track and then came in sight of a tall wooden memorial arch with a horizontal board bearing the inscription in Chinese characters “Inokashira Park”. We walked through the arch and found the road flanked by luxuriant shady trees. With a delightful feeling of serene seclusion, we stood in a daze in the shade of the trees, like one lost deep in a remote mountain or virgin forest. A ray of golden sunshine gently filtering through the tree branches conjured up in me the vision of a golden-haired fairy maiden treading barefoot on white clouds on her way through the place. In the western sky, rosy clouds were floating over the emerald green mountain ranges like flocks of black crows hovering over a forest. Unable to dispel my gloom, how I wished I could entrust a wild goose with the task of conveying my message to my home country! But, alas, it was nowhere to be found.

We lingered around under a canopy of lush greenery, forgetting to move on quickly. Then we noticed a middle-aged man in kimono and clogs clattering up to eye us closely. To steer clear of the prying eyes, we started to move ahead with quickened steps. Leaving the woods behind, we came to a cobbled slope, on either side of which stood a neat row of shoulder-high evergreens. The aroma of green grass carried over fitfully by the breeze made us instantly feel refreshed. At the lower end of the slope stood a Japanese-style teahouse, inside which there were several small tables and cushions as well as a counter on either side displaying a jumble of reddish tangerines, green apples and multi-coloured candies.

“Ah, this place looks so familiar to me,” I blurted out. Scene after scene of the bygone days, long tucked away in the depth of my memory, now reemerged all of a sudden. The nostalgic recollections made my heart thump with emotion, my eyes glaze over and my chest fill with sadness.

“O the old days!” I sighed softly by myself. “I can’t bear to look back.” Nevertheless, the following picture began to open out vividly in my mind’s eye …

One late spring, when cherry trees were in full bloom, a group of young Chinese girls, proud of their happy girlhood and hopeful about the future, merrily crossed the Sea of Japan together with their beloved teacher to visit the scenic spots of Japan in the year when they were about to graduate from school. They were so fascinated with the bright flowering trees that they forgot their weariness. They set out at daybreak from a hotel in Tokyo, visited Ueno Park to see the cherry blossoms and changed trams to go to Inokashira Park. Then they felt worn-out and needed a rest. When they came upon this quiet teahouse, they immediately decided to go in for a snack. They sat around a small table and ordered two potfuls of longjing tea and some extremely sweet Japanese pastries. They chatted and giggled loudly over the snack, like young orioles just fledged. They found novelty in everything before them and joy of life here and there. Young and light-hearted, they were indeed basking in the embrace of the god of happiness. How enviable their life was!

But all was gone forever with the passage of time! Who would have believed that I, now reminiscing longingly about the past, had been one of those happy girls? O fleeting time, heartless time! You had carried away love and lofty aspirations so that I could only stand choking with sobs under the seemingly familiar cherry trees. What could I do to relive the old days?

Oh, nine years had quickly passed since then. During the nine fleeting years, I had trekked on the rugged journey of life, climbed up steep cliffs, and made good my narrow escape from the valley of death. I had experienced the agony of a bleeding heart. I had been forced by destiny to drink up my own blood like I did red wine …

As the painful memories brought tears to my eyes, I urged myself to leave quickly this sentimentalizing place. So we started walking along a path overgrown with grass. Then suddenly we heard some noise like a fit of weeping and I seemed to see the god of autumn hiding behind the thick foliage spreading his gray wings. There was a rustle and tremor of branches in the trees. The autumn insects were chirping incessantly in the grass. I was suddenly seized with sadness and, being too afraid to move on, I sat down on a long wooden bench by the wayside. I stared blankly at the deep, dark wood and then, as the breeze parted the tree branches, caught sight of a blue lazy brook. Then a small rowboat appeared on the rippling water, and I saw two young girls pulling on the oars and humming songs. Thereupon, I choked with emotion and sighed involuntarily,

“Oh, my country, I can’t bear to look back!”

And meanwhile I called up memories of Beihai Park with young couples boating on the rippling water of its sunlit lake and whispering with affection while feasting their eyes on the spectacle of autumn. Since it is the season for enjoying the beauty of chrysanthemums and the delicious taste of full-grown crabs, Chang An Street must be busy with traffic and throngs of people happily dining and wining. None of them, of course, will think of us, who, now wandering about in a strange land, are experiencing feelings of deep sorrow in desolate autumn. Yet how strong is our affection for our motherland! And how eagerly we are longing for good news from home! Now, as the autumn wind is denuding the trees in Peiping of their leaves, we cannot but think of those poverty-stricken fellow countrymen who, living a life of constant exposure to the severity of the elements, are helplessly venting their woes to heaven. O my disaster-ridden motherland! The beauty of Beihai Park is unable to cover up your great misery! Feasting and revelry can bring no solace to the distressed!