Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Peanuts

◎ Xu Dishan

Behind our house there lay half a mou of vacant land. Mother said, “It’s a pity to let it lie waste. Since you all like to eat peanuts so very much, why not plant some here?” That exhilarated us children and our servant girls as well, and soon we started buying seeds, ploughing the land and watering the plants. We gathered in a good harvest just after a couple of months!

Mother said, “How about giving a party this evening to celebrate the harvest and inviting your Daddy to have a taste of our newly-harvested peanuts?” We all agreed. Mother made quite a few varieties of goodies out of the peanuts, and told us that the party would be held in the thatched pavilion on the peanut plot.

It looked like rain that evening, yet, to our great joy, father came nevertheless. “Do you like peanuts?” asked father.

“Yes, we do!” we vied in giving the answer.

“Which of you could name the good things in peanuts?”

“Peanuts taste good,” said my elder sister.

“Peanuts produce edible oil,” said my elder brother.

“Peanuts are so cheap,” said I, “that anyone can afford to eat them. Peanuts are everyone’s favourite. That’s why we call peanuts good.”

“It’s true that peanuts have many uses,” said father, “but they’re most beloved in one respect. Unlike nice-looking apples, peaches, and pomegranates, which hang their fruit on branches and win people’s admiration with their brilliant colours, tiny little peanuts bury themselves in the earth and remain underground until they’re ripe. When you come upon a peanut plant lying curled up on the ground, you can never immediately tell whether or not it bears any nuts until you touch them.”

“That’s true,” we said in unison. Mother also nodded. “So you must take after peanuts,” father continued, “because they’re useful though not great and nice-looking.”

“Then you mean one should be useful rather than great and nice-looking,” I said.

“That’s what I expect of you,” father concluded.

We kept chatting until the party broke up late at night. Today, though nothing is left of the goodies made of peanuts, father’s words remain engraved in my mind.