Silver City

Li Rui; Translated by Howard Goldblatt

Metropolitan Books

Silver City
CHAPTER ONE
1
Not until later did it occur to anyone that October 24, 1951 (the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month in the lunar calendar), happened to fall on Frost's Descent.
On that morning, Division Commander Three Ox Wang, valiant head of the Silver City Military Control Commission, displayed all the fervor and elation of a conquering hero as he raised his arm in a historic gesture, then swept it through the autumn drizzle, proclaiming in a thick Shandong accent:
"Drag the counterrevolutionaries to the execution ground and carry out the sentence!"
The hundred thousand citizens of the upper Yangtze city of Silver City were so stunned by the command -- or else by the jarring strangeness of his dialect--that all two hundred thousand eyes turned to stare at Commander Three Ox Wang's fervent, elated face. The ensuing cold and gloomy silence was shattered only by the fateful commands of Liu Guangdi, the even more fervent leader of the execution detail. A hundred and eight counterrevolutionaries,white placards of the condemned around their necks, were shoved and dragged up to a whitewashed stone wall at the base of the mountain directly across from the cordoned-off parade ground by swaggering Liberation Army soldiers with bandoliers across their chests. Moss covered the wall, and the hundred and eight white placards lent the soft green growth a somber, even ghostly air.
Commander Three Ox Wang had personally chosen the number 108; the original list of counterrevolutionaries was far longer than that, but being from Shandong he'd always been partial to the famous hundred and eight heroes of Mount Liang and so settled on that figure at the assembly convened to suppress the counterrevolutionaries.
Liu Guangdi, who had checked the list of the condemned, knew that thirty-two of the hundred and eight were members of the Li clan, including virtually all the adult males from the three branches of Nine Ideals Hall. On the eve of the execution, he had submitted a request to the Military Control Commission to fire the first shot, so as to become the personal executioner of his own uncle, Li Naijing, the clan patriarch. Duty triumphed over family loyalty when a single crisp retort sent a bullet shrieking mercilessly out of the muzzle of Liu Guangdi's American-made carbine into the head of Li Naijing, whose shattered skull smashed into the mossy wall like so many shards of ceramic tile, spraying the area with bright red blood and the gray muck of brain. A hundred and seven times more, in rapid succession, identical splashes of red-gray muck stained the stone wall, until it had the mottled look of a forest in autumn under a settling frost ... . To the right of the wall flowed Silver Creek, a swath of inky-green serenity that bisected the city before slipping beneath the mountain and twisting out of sight. Three enormous characters in the calligraphic style of the celebrated poet Su Dongpo proclaimed: Fish Listening Pond. The crack of rifle fire raised nervous white ripples on the placid, inky-green surface of Fish Listening Pond.
A shower later that night cleansed the wall of its sticky gray and red stains, washing away, too, the last blood-curdling shrieks of a hundred and eight bullets. Centuries of domination and expansion in Silver City by the Li clan had finally come to an end. Overnight, the many memorial arches to the civic virtues of the clan that dotted the lanes and byways were stripped of their splendor and majesty; now passersby saw only gouged-out stone mouths, terrified and ugly. Many years later a night-lit basketball court was erected on the execution ground. The thud of bouncing balls and the sight of writhing bodies scrambling for the ball inevitably reminded the remaining Li clan womenfolk of the crack of carbines and the hundred and eight sprawled corpses; they thought back to October 24, 1951, the twenty-fourth day of the ninth lunar month, which happened to fall on Frost's Descent.
 
 
The only adult male of the Li clan who did not face the firing squad that day was Li Naizhi, a fraternal cousin of the first man to die, Li Naijing. Years earlier, Naizhi had served as party secretary of Silver City's Communist underground and later rose to the position of provincial party secretary. At the time of the execution, he was sitting atop a Stalin 55 tractor, a Russian-style beaked cap perched above his intact forehead as he led the first graduating class of New China's tractor trainees in churning the rich soil of the Beijing suburb of Tandang. The engine roar was nearly deafening. Giant blades plowed the dormant soil, watched by rows of rapturous bronzed faces warmed by the autumn sun. Two news film crews and several journalists busily focused their cameras on this "swords to ploughshares" event, creating scenes that would become the defining images of New China's historic national project and find their way into documentaries of every description.
As the graduates were memorialized in these busy scenes of historic moment, Li Naizhi's first son, the sixty-ninth maledescendant of the Li clan, was born on a wood-slat bed in the dilapidated clinic of the Tandang experimental farm. Li Jingsheng's birth transpired without a hitch, was so uneventful that the doctor and nurse in attendance might as well have been elsewhere. His mother, Bai Oiuyun, had already delivered three daughters. As a little girl playing on a swing in Silver City's renowned White Garden, with its jadelike purity, dressed in a virginal cotton dress like a Western girl, pushed by her father until she soared above the lush banana trees, she never dreamed she would someday marry a member of the party underground, never dreamed she would deliver such vital progeny, never dreamed that a womb could, under such circumstances, be so free of pain, could do its work so well, could overcome all obstacles, could complete its reproductive mission with the gentleness of flowing water. How different from the splattering of thirty-two brains and the grand historic gesture by Commander Three Ox Wang ...
Even before the boy came into the world, his father had chosen a name, one that broke with the generational prescription for naming. Feudal legacies had been swept away by the victorious revolution and the establishment of the nation's capital in Beijing. Male or female, the child would proudly bear the name Jingsheng -- Child of the Capital. And just as Li Jingsheng came naked and wailing into the world, two high-pitched publicaddress speakers mounted atop a water tower blared forth a stirring musical tribute to the first graduates of New China's tractor-driving course, heralding the spirit of the age and the ecstasy of victory. The lyrics celebrated the joy of peasants, who shared in the rewards of land reform as the wealth of landlords fell into their hands:
Three yellow oxen. Hooray! A single horse, This old driver can't stop laughing, Hurrah, ha ha, see me laugh.In years past, this wagon here Could never belong to a poor man like me, But now, hurrah, Big-wheel wagon, turn, turn, Big-wheel wagon, turn, turn, Turn, turn, turn, hooray! That's the way, Turn right into my yard!
A jubilant song that filled the void between heaven and earth.
Years later, Li Jingsheng came across some yellowed photographs of his father sitting atop a Stalin 55 tractor, a Russian-style beaked cap perched on his head, his face flushed with victory. Li Jingsheng was troubled by something he couldn't quite name. He sensed that his father was not grand enough, that he somehow failed to rise to the historic import of the moment; though he did not know it, Li Jingsheng was really yearning for the sort of historic gesture displayed by Division Commander Three Ox Wang as he raised his arm and then swept it through the autumn drizzle. When Li Jingsheng finally understood his feelings of disappointment, he realized that the gesture -- a hand raised to the future -- had already been claimed: it belonged to every statue of Chairman Mao, large or small, concrete or stone, in every public square, large or small, in every town and city in the nation. It had become the exclusive property of the Great Teacher, the Great Leader, the Supreme Commander, the Great Helmsman.
 
 
When Commander Three Ox Wang, filled with the heady elation of victory, raised his hand in that historic gesture in the dark, drizzly, cold autumn sky, when the brains of thirty-two adult male members of the Li clan stained a section of the stone wall, when Li Naizhi drove his Stalin 55 tractor into the fertilefields and Li Jingsheng came wailing into the world, a solitary, ashen-faced woman in one of the deserted homes of the Li clan sat shivering atop a stack of rush mats. At the moment when gunshots sounded near Fish Listening Pond and shattered skulls flew through the air, Li Naizhi's sister Li Zihen abruptly stopped shivering; her legs fell open inelegantly and she tumbled backward in a dead faint in the empty room. Her string of sandalwood prayer beads snapped as she fell, scattering her fears and despair on the floor.
Only one member of the Li clan put on white funeral garb and cried herself hoarse: it was Li Ziyun, Li Naizhi's other sister, but she was many miles away. Her grief was intended not for her clan but for her husband, General Yang Chuxiong, who had followed Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan two years earlier, in 1949, only to die there still a young man. She cried for her piteous fate as widow, something no funeral, no matter how solemn, could alter, and for the harsh reality that she was destined to die as a guest in a foreign land, something no ceremony, no matter how dignified, could change.
2
In point of fact, the demise of the Li clan can be traced further back, to December 1927, when peasants in the five counties surrounding Silver City rose in rebellion.
In point of fact, that insurrection was doomed to fail before it began. Armed only with shouts of victory, five glorious red flags, and stirring revolutionary songs, the peasant forces were decimated by machine-gun fire.
In point of fact, the greatest significance of the failed insurrection was that it spurred Li Naizhi to turn his back on themagnificent arches of the Li clan and cast his lot with the revolution. Indeed, had it not been for Zhao Boru, Silver City's high school principal, who dressed in long Chinese gowns and wore pince-nez high on his nose, or for the peasant called Mongrel Chen and his hideous end, had it not been for all this, much of what has thus far been narrated would have turned out quite differently.
 
 
When the order from Communist Party Central to mount an insurrection reached Silver City, the party underground organization in all five counties could boast only fifty-seven members. Bereft of even the most basic experience, they had no idea how to mobilize the peasants and commit them body and soul to an insurrection. Yet those fifty-seven individuals went ahead and set up a command post. Their primary objective was to seize Silver City. Invoking the Communist-led insurrection months earlier in the mid-Yangtze cities of Wuhan, they took as their battle cry: "On to Wuhan, establish a Soviet!" First they fashioned five red battle flags, then they taught their peasant troops stirring revolutionary songs. Half a century later, when Li Jingsheng and his fellow students, who had organized themselves into a Red Guard unit during the Cultural Revolution, marched in Tiananmen Square, they sang one of those songs with such fervor that their voices grew hoarse and the blood ran hot in their youthful veins:
Workers, peasants, and soldiers -- unite, Stride forward, all hearts as one! Workers, peasants, and soldiers -- unite, Stride forward, kill the enemy! We are brave, we struggle, we are united, we forge ahead, Storm the camp of imperialist reactionaries, Final victory belongs to the workers, peasants, and soldiers!
But in the year 1927, victory was not theirs. Fifty-seven members of the underground, determined to follow the orders of Party Central and with the recent harvest uprisings as their models, made it a matter of honor to expose their youthful chests to a storm of bullets from enemy machine guns.
Under the command of Mongrel Chen, the Gao Mountain Farm red detachment of peasants led the insurrection, relieving the local forces of their weapons and lopping off the head of the wealthy landowner Gao Binghui. Then they slaughtered all the male members of Gao's family and parceled out his grain and his possessions. Finally they attached Gao's head to a bamboo pole with a hemp cord and paraded it around the area. Raucous crowds gathered everywhere they went: mountains swayed, the earth shook. Mongrel Chen stuck a captured Mauser into the waistband beneath his open shirt; he wore a red band around his head and wielded a gleaming sword with a red tassel. From the front of the column he shouted slogans: Down with local tyrants! Down with warlords! And as excitement mounted, he brandished his sword in the theatrical pose of the famous dark-faced Ming rebel:
I am Zhang Xianzhong returned! I slaughter the greedy Landlords!
True to his word, Mongrel Chen cut a wide swath with that sword, to which the heads hanging from hemp cords bore gory witness as they were paraded, like New Year's lanterns, up and down the streets and lanes of each hamlet he visited. Peasants who had known only hunger and cold for generations greeted the insurrection as if it were a holiday festival, thus shaming the fifty-seven Communists for underestimating the will of the masses. Some even called for a party meeting to criticize the capitulationist tendencies of certain individuals. But then an unexpected problem arose: the heroic Mongrel Chen took killing andpillaging to the next logical step. One day, after slaughtering the male members of a landlord family, he herded the females into the women's quarters, where he forced them to paint their eyebrows and lips, apply powder and fragrance, and strip naked. Grinning broadly, he "sampled" each fair-skinned hostage, virgin or not, after which he rewarded his troops by letting them share the fruits of conquest. News of this development rocked headquarters, where no one had anticipated that the resolute revolutionary Mongrel Chen could commit such a reactionary act. The leaders immediately censured him: Rogue activities fly in the face of the spirit of Bolshevism and Soviet principles, they said. Any reoccurrence will be dealt with severely. Mongrel Chen, who by then had grown arrogant, took this as a personal affront:
"What more do you want of me? Isn't killing people enough for you? Do I have to worry about Bolsheviks and Soviets too?"
One day, having sampled the wife and other womenfolk of a tyrannical old landlord, he continued on with the kitchen help and bondmaids, the kin of poor peasants and tenant farmers. This was the last straw. Unwilling to tolerate the lawless behavior of treating friends and foes alike, rebel headquarters sent an emissary with instructions to remove Mongrel Chen from command of the red detachment and, as a warning to others, place him under arrest. But before the emissary reached his destination, he was cut down by enemy machine-gun fire. The red detachment went on to fight harder, more courageously, and with greater determination than any other peasant force; only after the last man fell was Mongrel Chen, himself wounded, taken prisoner.
The rebels failed because they were vastly outnumbered and carelessly deployed. Silver City was protected only by the garrison of Commander Yang Chuxiong, who calmly watched rebellion sweep the countryside; not until panic-stricken salt merchants and rich gentry approached him with offers of payand provisions did he offhandedly order five companies of soldiers to lay siege to the rebel counties. He gave a single command: "Set up machine guns and keep firing until you see the turtle scum turn tail and run!" It worked. Machine-gun fire had barely begun raking the fields when the peasants broke rank and fled. All that remained on the damp ground of the recently harvested fields were many corpses, many spears and sabers, many oversized baskets the peasants had brought to carry away the grain and other riches due them, and many gorgeous yet sorrowful white egrets circling overhead startled by the sound of gunfire.
The December 1927 Silver City insurrection took the lives of thirty-eight hundred peasants. None of the fifty-seven members of the Communist Party survived: their severed heads hung above the entrances to the five county towns for a full year, until the hair had fallen out, the flesh had rotted away, and they had become fifty-seven naked human skulls. In their quest for vengeance and, more important, in their desire to forever discourage future rebels, the victors brought two of their prisoners, the supreme rebel commander, Zhao Boru, and Mongrel Chen--whose exploits had become legendary--together with ten captured red detachment soldiers, back to Silver City, where they set up an execution platform at the base of the mountain directly across from the old parade ground. The city seemed to shake with excitement and apprehension, as the citizens clamored to see how the notorious Mongrel Chen would go to his death. Despised by his captors, he was first to face the executioner. He was tied naked to a rack, and the executioner was ordered to slice off his sizable genitals with a razor-sharp ceremonial knife. To members of the landed gentry from the five counties, that loathsome piece of anatomy, which had sampled the wives and womenfolk of so many of their peers, was the cause of far more hatred than any of the awkward, alien concepts such as "Soviet" or "Bolshevik." With a single sharp, cold stab, Mongrel Chen lost his manhoodamid gushing blood, and when he saw the now-useless chunk of flesh tossed to the ground, he cursed wildly:
"I am the man! I was never happier than when I stuffed that up the wives and sisters of you turtle spawn! In twenty years I'll be back, stronger than ever, and ready to kill and fuck again ... I am the Bolshevik, I am the Soviet! I am the rebel ... Zhang Xianzhong will return and the slaughter will start anew ..."
This final burst of invective was raspy and crackling, bearing little resemblance to human speech. The executioner turned back to Mongrel Chen and cut out his tongue, silencing him once and for all, though he squirmed and struggled on the rack, glowering through the wide circles of his eyes and savagely spitting out mouthfuls of hot, red blood. Everyone knew he was still cursing; the squirming and struggling and the garbled noises continued until suddenly the executioner produced a steaming human heart in his hand. The bystanders gasped in amazement. Those who had come to kill as well as those who had come to witness the killing were profoundly shaken by Mongrel Chen's earth-shattering rage.
Li Naizhi, a high school student in 1927, gaped first at the corpse of Mongrel Chen, his shouts and curses now stilled, then at Zhao Boru, the principal, next to emerge on the platform. Dressed as always in a long gown, pince-nez perched high on his nose, Zhao Boru moved in the calm, unhurried fashion that was his trademark, displaying his customary air of uncomplicated elegance. Yet when he raised his manacled hands to brush the hair from his eyes, he revealed the sallow face of a defeated man. Turning toward the mutilated figure of Mongrel Chen, stripped of heart, tongue, and genitals, he bowed deeply, then raised his hands and announced to the crowd that had come to see how he would meet his death: "They cannot kill off all the laboring masses, nor can they exterminate the Communists!" Clenching his fists and rattling the manacles, he shouted: "Mark my word, red flags will fly over the world of the future!"
Li Naizhi knew these words. As a member of Silver City's high school study club, he had often heard Zhao Boru echo this famous line by Li Dazhao, cofounder of the Communist Party, but never dreamed that one day the poetic ideal would step out of the textbook and classroom and into the terrifying, bloody scene now before him.
Three executioners mounted the platform. Two held the principal by his arms and forced his head down over a large, slimy wooden stump as the third man raised an ax high above him, then brought it down with a thud, severing the head that had been filled with so much knowledge and so many ideals, so many ideas and so much truth, so much poetry and so much passion. With the casual indifference of farmers slaughtering their sheep, they obliterated all that unhurried calmness, all that uncomplicated elegance, drowning Li Naizhi's ideals in a sea of blood. When his mentor's gore-covered head thudded to the ground, Li Naizhi fainted dead away.
After killing Mongrel Chen and Zhao Boru, the executioners dragged up the ten peasant soldiers of the red detachment and tied them to stakes buried in the ground. Fastened behind them with wire were buckets of kerosene, into which burning torches were tossed. Amid soul-shredding shrieks of agony, ten human beings were transformed into that many screeching bonfires. The crowd watched this hellish scene, absolutely terrified. Two days later, the ten charred corpses still twitched on their stakes.
As time passed, the insurrection would fade from memory, as would the name Mongrel Chen. In the quiet of evening, as oxen pulled plows through the wavy rice paddies, spectral egrets would greet the winds and accompany the rains, landing softly on this spot of land, which had once been blanketed with bodies of dead rebels but was now among the most fertile fields anywhere.
No one emerged more victorious from the December 1927 insurrection at Silver City than Yang Chuxiong. Soon after crushing the peasants' red detachments, he fell heir to the richesof a thousand salt mines in and around Silver City. Now in possession of immense wealth, he expanded his forces from a regiment to a division, and from there to a full army. Many years later, when Chiang Kai-shek controlled nearly all of China and had converted the troops of feudal lords into nationalist forces, Yang Chuxiong was a natural choice to become one of his senior generals.
3
In the second year in the reign of the Manchu Xuantong emperor, the year of the dog or 1910 by the unfamiliar Western reckoning, a bawling baby boy came into the world in the home of Li Sangong--"Elder Three Li"--on Silver City's Archway Street. His arrival drew a sigh of relief from everyone in the family. All the other members of the Nine Ideals Hall branch of the Li clan had plenty of sons and grandsons, all but Li Sangong, whose wife had presented him with three daughters in a row, the eldest of whom had died the year before. Now the lines that creased his brow were from the joy of having a son, an heir, the answer to his prayers. Clan forefathers had devised a couplet--Cao Shi Wei Ren Dao, Xue Nai Shen Zhi Bao, roughly translated as "Benevolence is a worldly measure, knowledge is a priceless treasure"--each word in succession to be used in the names of males for ten generations. Li Sangong named his son, a member of the seventh generation, Naizhi. Among his fraternal cousins, Naizhi was ninth in the pecking order, so everyone called him Ninth Brother. After the eight elder male cousins of his generation had passed away, Brother Nine would become Elder Nine, patriarch of the Li clan, so long as the prescribed order was followed and all traditional conventions were observed.No one could have predicted that tradition would soon be swept away. Only one year after Li Naizhi's birth, a republican revolution would put an end to the monarchy that had existed uninterrupted since the emperor Qin Shi Huang first sat on the throne 2,131 years before.
As fate would have it, Li Sangong's wife died unexpectedly a month after the birth of her son. A scant year later, illness claimed Li Sangong as well. As he lay dying, having squandered his riches, he was comforted by the knowledge that he had produced an heir to carry on the line. Yet he left little of value to his son: three salt mines whose production had fallen off dramatically, ten acres of paddy land, and the family home. In his final moments, Li Sangong entrusted his soon-to-be-orphaned offspring to Li Naijing, who, as a member of the same clan and generation as Sangong's three children, would assume the role of father. That way, even after his departure for the Yellow Springs--the next world--his heart would live on, and he could gaze up to watch his son, Naizhi, grow to manhood. So Li Sangong passed on, leaving three grieving children to face life with neither father nor mother to care for them, and an uncertain nation, soon to be bereft of an emperor to lead it.
The three salt mines quickly dried up, the ten acres of paddy land were sold off piece by piece, and the family home was mortgaged. By the time Li Naizhi was a student at Silver City's high school, even though he walked down Archway Street on his way home every day, skirted the five-hundred-year-old locust tree, with its cloudlike canopy of branches, and passed beneath Silver City's two most imposing stone-carved arches before crossing the threshold of his home, he sensed that the triumphal expressions on the stone lions bracketing the doorway were beginning to fade.
 
 
In December 1927 the severed head of the Communist Zhao Boru hung from the city gate above Silver City citizens, whowere busy, as in years past, with preparations for the Spring Festival, the celebration of the lunar New Year in late January. Overeager children tossed firecrackers into the sluggish final moments of the old year. Since the high school had been the heart and soul of the rebellion, its board of directors met after Zhao Boru was killed and decided to dismiss the teachers and shut the doors. Faced with that void and the terror that had created it, Li Naizhi lost heart. Lacking an outlet for his torment and indignation, he sat down at his desk and wrote a eulogy for his mentor--In memory of my teacher, the late Zhao Boru--placing the scroll with its dark lettering behind a pair of white candles mottled by wax drippings and a symbolic joss stick. Beneath that lay several books his teacher had given him: Lu Xun's Cemetery and Outcry, Liu Bannong's Flourishing Whips, Li Dazhao's On the Victory of Bolshevism, plus two treasured issues of Chen Duxiu's New Youth magazine that Zhao had saved from his college days at Beijing University ... . The wholesale slaughter at Silver City in December 1927 gave rise to sorrow and fury in a young man who did not yet understand the dialectic of grief and strength and how to turn one into the other.
 
 
After the heads of Zhao Boru and Mongrel Chen had hung above the entrance to Silver City for a month, the citizenry displayed New Year's lanterns, as custom dictated: throughout the city, blood-red eyes peered through the cold night air. New Year's couplets above the stone lions at the Li home on Archway Street repeated the traditional message:
HONESTY AND TOLERANCE ARE A FAMILY'S LEGACY ETIQUETTE AND PROTOCOL LAST FOR GENERATIONS.
On New Year's Eve, the patriarch, Li Naijing, led the entire clan to the ancestral hall, where every member, male and female,young and old, kowtowed before the ancestral tablets to pay respects to deceased elders. But the thoughts of Li Naizhi, as he knelt in the darkness, were on the most difficult decision of his life: once New Year's was past, would he accompany his sister, Li Ziyun, who was home for the holidays, to the provincial capital to attend school, thus relinquishing his family responsibilities as heir? If he went, how would he tell his older sister, Zihen? And after he left, how would she get by?
Li Zihen, the eldest daughter of Li Sangong, was twenty-four that New Year's season, an age well past the time when a girl should leave home and well beyond the limits of her cousin Li Naijing's tolerance. Having decided to look after her sister, Ziyun, and her brother, Naizhi, and to fight to keep the family together, she had rejected five marriage proposals, becoming the talk of Silver City, the little old maid who never strayed far from home. Years of standing in for her parents had turned her into a fierce creature who inserted herself between her brood and the prying eyes and cold looks of the outside world and protected it from the growing dissatisfaction of Li Naijing, now the clan patriarch. When she realized that her brother was seriously considering abandoning his education in order to stay home, as was expected of the eldest male, she did something that astonished the men of the Li clan and earned her the veneration of the women of Silver City.
On the sixth day of the new year, Li Naizhi was awakened by the sobs of his sisters. The minute he entered Zihen's room he saw the bean-sized burns all over her face. Two smoldering sticks of incense lay discarded on a nearby octagonal table, and the sickening odor of scorched flesh hung in the air. A white ceramic Guanyin bodhisattva holding a jade washing bowl stood on the table atop a piece of white silk on which the word Buddha had been written in blood. Zihen's bloodied finger was wrapped in a piece of cloth. Her sister, Ziyun, shouted tearfully:
"Little Brother, look at our sister ..."
Orphaned nearly at birth, Li Naizhi had never laid eyes on his father or mother; as a small child, whenever he looked up, it was his elder sister's face he saw. That face -- happy, angry, sad, joyful--was everything to him. But now, except for a mass of blisters and tears, there was nothing to see. The sound of sobbing brought the rest of the clan, men and women, young and old, running. When they saw the burns on Zihen's face and the bloody Buddha, they could not at first take in what had happened. They could not imagine that this woman would subject herself to such self-imposed cruelty, would render herself unmarriageable so as to assume responsibility for her own family. They could not imagine that this woman, who had never spent a single day in school, would sacrifice herself to give her brother and sister a chance to better themselves through formal schooling. All this she had done for the sake of her family, yet not one of the family's memorial arches commemorated the will and determination of this single unlettered woman.
Half a century later, guides in fashionable coifs and attire retold with gusto the legend of Silver City and the Li clan for the Chinese and foreign tourists who had traveled far to get there. The tourists scooped up the stories as if they were precious gems and flawless jade, but there was not one word for Li Zihen.
Copyright © 1990 by Li Rui Translation copyright © 1997 by Howard Goldblatt All rights reserved.