Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Wild Grass

◎ Xia Yan

There is a story which goes like this:

Someone asked, “What has the greatest strength on earth?” The answers varied. Some said, “The elephant.” Some said, “The lion.” Some said jokingly, “The fierce-browed guardian gods to Buddha.” But nobody of course could tell how strong the guardian gods were.

All the answers turned out to be wide of the mark. The mightiest thing on earth is the seed of a plant. The great strength which a seed is capable of is simply matchless. Here goes another story:

The bones forming a human skull are so tightly and perfectly fit together that all physiologists or anatomists, hard as they try, fail to take them apart without damaging them. It so happened that, at the suggestion of someone, some seeds of a plant were placed inside a human skull awaiting dissection before heat and moisture were applied to cause them to grow. Once they started to grow, they let loose a terrific force to separate all the skull bones, leaving each of them intact. This would have been impossible with any mechanical power under the sun. See, how powerful the seeds of a plant can be!

This story may be somewhat too unusual for you to understand. Well, have you ever seen the growth of a bamboo shoot? Or the growth of tender grass from under a heap of rubble or rocks? Seeking sunlight and survival, the young plant will labour tenaciously through twists and turns to bring itself to the surface of the ground no matter how heavy the rocks overhead may be or how narrow the opening between them. While striking its roots deep into the soil, the young plant pushes its new shoots aboveground. The irresistible strength it can muster is such as to overturn any rock in its way. See, how powerful a seed can be!

Though nobody describes the little grass as a “husky”, yet its herculean strength is unrivalled. It is the force of life invisible to the naked eye. It will display itself so long as there is life. The rock is utterly helpless before this force — a force that will forever remain militant, a force that is resilient and can take temporary setbacks calmly, a force that is tenacity itself and will never give up until the goal is reached.

When a seed falls under debris instead of on fertile soil, it never sighs in despair because to meet with obstruction means to temper itself.