Selected Modern Chinese Essays: My Instant Response

By Xie Bingying

I began to write fiction in my second year at the Women’s Normal School when I had just reached the age of 15. One day, together with two classmates of the primary-school days, I went to dinner at a fellow provincial’s home. The host had just bought a 13-year-old slave girl. Short and slight in build, she looked thin and sickly with a tear-stained face. But her bright big ebony eyes were just lovely. The hostess, who was a division commander’s wife, ordered the girl to show us her gait so that we could judge whether each and every of her postures befitted her position as maid in an official mansion. As my former classmates were focusing their eyes on the poor girl, I burned with fury at the gross injustice. I detested the hostess for her inhuman act of treating the girl like an animal. I was too angry to eat and left on some excuse. Back at the school, I immediately wrote a story entitled My Instant Response under the pseudonym of “Xian Shi”, which I mailed to Mr. Li Baoyi, editor of the Da Gong Daily. Three days later, on entering the reading room, I was extremely thrilled to find my story published in the paper.

“Did you see today’s paper?”

I asked one of the two former classmates.

“No, I didn’t. You must have had something published, I guess?” She grimaced at me.

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t presume.”

I walked away quickly.

Frankly, I had mixed feelings. Much as I hoped that my schoolmates would know me as the author of the story, I could not help feeling very uncomfortable about it.

“Damn it! How come you’ve written a story of Madame Tang asking us to take a look at her slave girl? The lady might feel hurt, you know?”

Yong Sheng said reproachfully.

“I don’t care a damn about her! If she’s free to buy a slave girl, why shouldn’t I have my freedom of speech? I’ll see no more of the woman, that’s all.”

Yong Sheng was afterwards to be a concubine of the division commander in question while the whereabouts of the poor little slave girl were to remain unknown.

Strangely enough, the publication of the first article mentioned above seemed to greatly redouble my courage to keep on writing. It came about once that I was deeply grieved in biology class to see my fellow students cheerfully absorbed in dissecting a little pigeon. Tears trickled down my cheeks. One of the students said tauntingly,

“She’s crying — a real soft-hearted writer, eh!”

Unable to put up with her sarcasm, I went hurriedly to the classroom, where I wrote The Death of a Little Pigeon, an article of a little over 1,000 words, to condemn the cruelty and inhumanity of science. Though unpublished, it was just as well-written as My Instant Response. I had then learned from my own experience that only with true and sincere feelings could one write something worth reading.