Selected Modern Chinese Essays: The Hunter and Bird Painting

◎ Ai Qing

A man wanted to learn hunting and offered to apprentice himself to a hunter, to whom he said, “One’s got to have a speciality. Of all the different trades, I like hunting best. I hope I can go inside a woods with a shotgun and shoot down any bird I want to.”

The hunter checked on the quality of the would-be hunter’s shotgun and saw it was all right. He also found the man to be quite determined to learn hunting. So he told him the different characteristics of various birds as well as how to aim and shoot. He also advised him to practise shooting on various kinds of birds.

Thereupon, the man believed that the hunter’s words had already made a good hunter of himself. So he went inside a woods, shotgun in hand. However, to his great dismay, wherever he went, all the birds just flew away even before he raised his shotgun.

So he went to call on the hunter again, saying, “Birds are clever. They discover me before I see them. They’re gone before I raise my shotgun.”

“Do you mean you want to shoot at only birds that can’t fly?”asked the hunter.

“Honestly, ”the man replied, “how nice it would be if birds couldn’t fly when I go hunting!”

“Go home and look for a piece of cardboard, ”said the hunter.”Hang it up on a tree after you paint a bird on it. Then shoot at this bird, and you’ll make it.”

The man, after arriving home, did what the hunter had told him to do. But, alas, he fired several times without hitting the painted bird. He had no choice but to go and see the hunter again, saying, “I’ve done everything the way you suggested, but without success.”The hunter asked him why and the man replied, “Maybe I’ve painted the bird too small, or fired from a place not close enough.”

The hunter went on after pondering for a moment, “I’ve been deeply touched by your strong will. Now you go home and hang up on the tree a larger sheet of cardboard for you to shoot at. You’ll make it this time, I’m sure.”

The man asked apprehensively, “Shoot from the same distance?”

“It’s up to you to decide.”

“There’ll also be a bird painted on the cardboard?”

“No.”

The man asked with a forced smile, “You mean I’m to target the cardboard only?”

The hunter explained in good earnest, “What I mean is this:Keep firing at the cardboard as many times as you like. Then paint a bird wherever there is a hole. As a result, there will be as many birds as your holes. That’s the way for you to be absolutely certain about your success.”