Selected Modern Chinese Essays: My Everlasting Dream and Pursuit

◎ Xiao Hong

In 1911, I was born into a petty landlord family in a remote county town in Heilongjiang Province—a town situated virtually at the northeastern tip of China. We had snow there for as long as one third of a year.

Father, driven by avarice, often became very unfeeling. He would treat his servants, his own children and even my grandpa alike with meanness and indifference, not to say with ruthlessness.

Once, due to a dispute over house rent, he took away by force a tenant’s horse-drawn cart and drove it home. The tenant’s family came to see grandpa and, dropping to their knees, tearfully related their troubles. Grandpa unharnessed the two chestnut horses and returned them to the tenant.

That touched off a night-long quarrel between father and grandpa. “The two horses mean nothing to us, but everything to the poor,” argued grandpa. Father, however, refused to listen. Mother died when I was nine. From then on father went from bad to worse. Even a mere cup accidentally broken by someone would send him into such a violent rage that we all shivered with fear. Later, whenever I happened to walk past him, he would even have his eyes directed sideways, which made me feel like being pricked all over on thorns. When he looked askance at me, superciliousness gushed from his eyes down the bridge of his nose and then off the corners of his mouth.

Often of a snowy evening, we children would hang about grandpa by a heating stove, listening to him reading poems aloud and meanwhile watching his busy ruddy lips.

Whenever father had given me a beating, I would seek solace in grandpa’s room where I would stay gazing out of the window from dusk till late into the night while snowflakes were flying like cotton and the lid of the kettle over the heating stove rattling like a musical instrument playing an accompaniment.

Grandpa would place his wrinkled hands on my shoulder and then on my head, saying,

“Grow up quick, poor child! You’ll be all right after you’ve grown up.”

I fled from home at twenty. And so far I still live the life of a vagrant.

True, I’ve “grown up”, but I’m not yet “all right”.

Nevertheless, from grandpa I’ve learned that apart from coldness and hatred, there is also warmth and love in life.

Hence my everlasting dream and pursuit of this “warmth” and “love”.