Selected Modern Chinese Essays: More Memories of Xiao Shan

◎ Ba Jin

Last night I met Xiao Shan[1] again in a dream. She held me by the hand and asked, “What’s up, dear?You’re a wreck. ”“I’m all right, ”I answered consolingly. Then she wept. And I woke up with grief in my heart.

The lamplight was dim in my hospital ward. Every night, my son or son-in-law, who had been allowed to stay in the ward to look after me, would have my bedside lamp on until I fell asleep. The quiet of the night was disturbed probably by a noisy cement mixer at a nearby construction site. Besides, I heard the singing noise of cicadas. But how could there be cicadas in the depth of winter?Ah, it turned out to be the tingle in my own ears!

It was then my son’s turn to look after me. He was sleeping quietly on a camp-bed close to a wall. Then, after a long while, he turned over in bed.

I lay awake, recalling Xiao Shan’s weeping sound. Then the ringing in my ears became even louder…I managed to call her quietly by her original name, “Yun Zhen!”Then, when I shut my eyes, the hospital ward suddenly changed.

I was at home, in my bedroom downstairs. She was on another bed beside me, whispering her advice to me, “If you have any grievance, don’t keep it from me. In no case should you swallow it alone. ”…

I stood beside her bed in a ward at Zhongshan Hospital. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I can’t find it in my heart to leave you. Without me, who is to look after you?”…

In the Zhongshan Hospital mortuary, I bent down to repeatedly pat with my hand a white cloth bag assuming the human shape. I uttered silent words tearfully, “Yun Zhen, I’m here, I’m here…”

I buried my face in a bed sheet. How I felt like uttering a couple of loud yells to give vent to my agony!I was just suffocating. “Where on earth can I ever find her again?”I kept asking myself. Then I was back in my Huadong Hospital, my ears tingling as usual.

It’s twelve years since she left me. Ah, twelve long years with its countless days and nights!Every time when I approach my gate on returning home, I will see her in my mind’s eye greeting me with a smiling face and a gentle voice. But, when I step into the courtyard, I will see nothing but some flowerless green trees of various heights. Whenever I stand looking about on the steps leading to the room, the sight of her saying goodbye to our home for the last time will invariably appear vividly before my eyes:Neatly dressed, she looked somewhat impatient and melancholy and meanwhile also seemed to feel quite hopeful about things to come. When she was at the gate, she turned her head to give a look around…It seems like the car carrying her away has just left and the gate has just shut. No, she didn’t leave by the two big green iron leaves of the gate. And the doorbell at that time wasn’t so musical either. Twelve years ago, there wasn’t a little girl entering the gate with a satchel on her back. why shouldn’t Xiao Shan’s face reappear at the gate?Why shouldn’t she be here to see our lovely granddaughter Little Duan Duan?

I seem to be standing all the time on the doorstep waiting for the arriving car and someone to come back. I’ve been waiting for twelve long years!I can’t hear even in a dream her ringing laughter. I only remember how my children came home holding the cinerary casket in their hands. It was at first placed on top of a chest of drawers by my bedside in the downstairs bedroom. Later, at the end of the Cultural Revolution, when her upstairs bedroom, which had been sealed for ten years, was finally opened, I moved upstairs together with the cinerary casket, thus having her keep me company again during the long, long nights. So far I’ve been unable to rid myself of the endless dreams, in which I always see the same tearful eyes and the same worried look and knitted forehead, and hear the same words of advice uttered with the deepest concern for me. As though I’d been keeping untold grievances from her, or I’d fallen into a quagmire without being able to extricate myself, or I’d been again knocked down onto the ground and that with a foot put on me into the bargain[2]…Every night, every night, I hear her calling me in a low voice from the bedside casket and sobbing away.

Why do I still have dreams like this?Why am I still in spiritual chains of all descriptions?…It’s no use lamenting. I should put an end to all dreams. I should pull myself up, even for the last time. The cinerary casket is in my home. I still cherish her beloved look in my heart. She’ll be with me, as ever. Having been labelled as“monster”or“demon”[3] for ten years, I nevertheless don’t feel isolated at all. I’m still courageous enough to march forward towards my final objective—the grave. After I die, I’ll have all my personal effects donated to the State. My ashes, mixed with hers, shall be sprinkled over the garden to fertilize trees and flowers.

…The alarm clock went off. I opened my wearied eyes wide. The alarm clock on the small bedside cabinet had been brought by myself from my home to the hospital ward. I was to get up at 6:30 according to the winter daily schedule. My son helped me put on my clothes and get out of bed, not knowing what dreams I had had on the previous night and how many times I had waked up from my dreams.

[1] The pen name of the author’s late wife, also a writer, who died during the Cultural Revolution(1966–1976)in China.

[2] Referring figuratively to the political persecution and maltreatment suffered by the author himself in the Cultural Revolution.

[3] “Monster or Demon”, referring to wicked people of all descriptions, was a political label used by radicals during the Cultural Revolution to discredit those coming under persecution.