Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Rain in My Old Home

By Tang Tao

Spring in the south is known to be rainy. During this season, it never rains there but it remains wet for seven or eight days on end. Dwellers in Shanghai, who usually do not feel the need for rain, will be bored with having to confine themselves in their close quarters when outside it is gloomy with rain. While in the open, seeing no mountains, nor lakes, nor rain-drenched soft green leaves, you’ll find nothing comparable to a fine day. Sometimes, worse still, a rich man’s car flashing past may splash you all over with mud.

I remember when I first came to Shanghai to attend school six or seven years ago, I used to be so very busy with my homework that I often had to sit up late into the night. As it happened to be a rainy year, I was often disturbed by the pitter-patter of rain beating down against the window and roof. Indeed, I dislike rain with no less intensity than the elderly gentleman Qi Ming, who sits about moaning about the wet weather all day in his study, over the doorway of which hangs a horizontal board bearing an inscription in his own hand, “Distressing-Rain Study”.

But that’s something which can be experienced in Shanghai only. I’ll never forget the days when I enjoyed the spring rain in my native place as a small child. I would go upstairs to take a distant look. The faraway mountains were veiled in a misty rain. The villages were now visible, now invisible. The wet open country was fresh and serene. And the rainy evening was even more lovely. One spring, together with two companions, I rowed a small boat to a townlet ten li away to see a village opera. At midnight, after the performance was over, we got caught in a rain on the way home. The boat made its way slowly and our faces were hardly distinguishable by the dim light of the lantern. Rustles were heard as the boat rubbed its body against the newly grown green grass by the river bank. The rain beating on the awning gave off a pleasant sound, as if with musical rhythm and cadence. My companions began to sing, to the accompaniment of the drip-drop, the local folk song In a Boat by a Bridge on a Rainy Night. It was truly fascinating.

In recent years, living, as I do, in a big city remote from my old home, I invariably feel homesick listening to the harsh, monotonous drip, drip, drip of the rain. O even the sound of rain has changed, to say nothing of the affairs of human life!