From A Novel by Zhao Gang
Translated into English by Zhenzhen Lu
To Your Highness the Honorable President of France:
When it was snowing in Nanjing, Beiyi and I were heading towards Gulou. We lived some ten kilometers away, so we took bus #32 to Zhujiang Road, and though we were supposed to transfer to bus #16, Beiyi refused to get on another bus after we came off. He wagged his tail and leaned back slightly, motioning for me to accompany him and walk for a bit. Beiyi liked the street, especially the busy areas of the city lined with storefronts and bustling with people, and he would get excited every time we pass by. I decide to heed his suggestion since it was only two bus stops between Zhujiang Road and Gulou. Beiyi was exuberant. He barked twice, and letting himself go, ran ahead with his stodgy body, his four legs like four mechanical claws which rose and fell rhythmically, or rather like four lively fingers relishing the keyboard that was the street. It was a cloudy December day, the air pressure was low, and everywhere people were lumped under thick winter garb like the meat dumplings of Duanwu Festival, fumbled by a secret hand, dashing blindly all over the street, fat and plump. As we were just about to reach the hill leading up to Gulou, suddenly a snowflake fell from the sky, twirling down lightly like a soft waft of cotton before landing smack on the ground before me and melting into a water mark. Beiyi made a note of this phenomenon. He halted and, with his head to one side, searched the air above, and at that moment the snow came down in midair like herds of butterflies, fluttering and dancing across the sky. Beiyi barked at them, twice, fiercely, and then he began to enjoy himself, dashing up and down, as if to bite the snowflakes…. My dear President, it is snowing again in Nanjing. I’ve heard that Nanjing and Paris are of approximate latitude, so I’m guessing it must be snowing in Paris too. It is getting cold here; according to the traditional Chinese calendar, we’ve now entered the “Nines.” The “Nines” comprise a kind of temporal division and are thus no ordinary numerical concept. There is a folk saying which goes like this: the hands stay in the pocket during the first and second Nines, the ice hardens for walking in the third and fourth Nines, the fifth Ninth is so brutal in the middle, it freezes the ducks in the pond, the sixth Ninth comes and the fire must be kept for long, the seventh Ninth is so cold it kills the dog, the eighth Ninth is no time to take a wife, the ninth Ninth sees the sun shining at last. Thus the Nines lead to the coldest times of the year. Do take care, sir!
I am Yu Tian, born in Nanjing, China, standing 1.7 meters tall, age 34.9 years old as of the present---it will be my 35th birthday in seven days. But if counted the Chinese way, I am actually 36. Why? You may ask. Having been born in January 1965, I ought to have belonged to the year of the snake----all the folks born in 1965 ought to be snakes---but the fact is that my birthday landed before the Spring Festival of that year, and so I became a dragon. Do you know that the Chinese have horoscopes? Well, there are twelve in total: rat, ox, rabbit, tiger, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog, and pig. I believe you would recognize at least eleven of these animals, the dragon being the only exception. No need to feel embarrassed, now: the ignorance owes not to you, really, and not only you, but most of those Chinese who call themselves descendants of the dragon have never actually seen the said creature, having at most perhaps a glimpse of its shadows, even so in their imagination of course. Besides being a dragon, I am also ruled by Capricorn, according to Western astrology, and combining my horoscopes and astrological reports, I have learned, fortunately, that I am a discreet man, a wholesome man, a man who no longer succumbs to the lures of the lowly; the early years of my life run a slight course, but after mid-life the horizons begin to open, and I shall have a great career. According to the Plan, after age fifty my prospects point to eminent office, you know, such as that of Prime Minister, President, Chief General, Emperor, etc. etc., and in order to prove the greatness of my life to come, the books go so far as to list the names of those great statesmen who share my horoscopes, including Mao Zedong, Nixon, Deng Xiaoping and a great many other eminent politicians. Besides those aforementioned, my horoscopes have also seen an impressive contingent of artists and scientists and even astrologists and martyrs, such as Joan of Arc, Aretha Franklin, the oracle Nostradamus, Elvis Presley, and so forth. The celebrities have illumined my charts. Perhaps it is due to this that I am yet undecided about exactly what course my life is to take. Frankly, I have no interest in becoming prime minister: China has 1.2 billion people, and if I somehow carelessly slipped into his shoes, I certainly cannot guarantee that I will be able to feed every one of them. The masses worship the grains, so the proverb goes, and next to His Highness the Prime Minister, the People are but hungry infants. If one day you starve them, they will seize any chance they find to chase you down the stage, so naturally I’m not so eager about this difficult stuff. But I really am puzzled as to what other vocation would suit my potentials---being a rockstar? One commercial mess it is. My musical tastes have diverged too far from the current state of hype in China. It looks like astrology in this country is no propitious profession either, since following the recent government crackdown on Falungong certain activities have been condemned to superstition and banned. Astrology is not necessarily superstition, of course, but one is safer to avoid controversy in uncertain times……what do you say, Mr.President?
I think you are, to be honest, quite somebody, at least more somebody than myself. Not long ago I saw you on CCTV News Broadcast, you were chatting with some other high official, and I watched you gesture and bullshit for a good long time, your slick of French mellifluous like music. I am not mocking you, and I’m not being sycophantic just because you are President, I said I don’t care about no ***ing President, I only say this parce que tu parles couramment le français, and what I have now become, including all that I say, c’est à cause du français. You have no idea just how much French matters to me: to put it brusquely, it is like the “Imperial Army” to the poor pretty deflowered Chinese girls. Do you have any idea what is the Imperial Army? Let me tell you: the Imperial Army is a ***ing bastard, it has never been anything but a ***ing bastard, it is the Japanese devils, it is the ***ing Japs, the barbarians, the Japanese imperialism. Down with Japanese imperialism! Now repeat after me, yell it out loud, I’ll count one, two, three. One, two three, start. Once. Twice. Three times. Good, good, three times is enough. More and they’ll accuse you of bullying the Japs. You have to realize that in these three simple repetitions you have already befriended the six million residents of Nanjing. You may know just why without having me to explain: when the Japanese invaded China, the Imperial Army murdered three hundred thousand Nanjing-ese, three thousand lives, I tell you, if you stand them side by side, they’ll line up all the way from Nanjing to Paris, but back then they were finished off by one little Jap. It may as well be that they are dead, but they left posterity to wallow in shame. When I come across editors and writers from other regions in China, especially the fiction writers and editors from the north, they always make it the butt of the conversation after dinner, demanding maliciously: why are the Nanjing-ese so down-to-earth? Three hundred thousand lives and people couldn’t even give a fart before the gunholes and bayonets of the enemy, now if this were to happen in our cities…. Every time it gets to this point, I would blush in shame, yet I would always insist that the inquirers knew nothing, that when the Japs invaded China, the militiamen of every city fled desperately for their lives and the Japs took over China with almost no gore and fuss, and when they marched into the cities some folks even held up flags, crying, welcome! Welcome! Warmly welcome! And your papá and your mamá may well have stood among the cheering crowds, and so of course the Japanese didn’t kill you, seeing the wonderful obedience; and being pleased, they might even have rewarded you with two silver coins or something. But when the Japs entered Nanjing they met with the staunch resistance of our city residents and troops. The militiamen of Nanjing, with the aid of the municipal government, persevered for three days and three nights, until the ammunition was exhausted and the rations depleted and even ladies’ chamber pots were transformed into the weapons of the Chinese people, deflecting three Japanese assaults with barrels upon barrels of piss and shit, impounding the enemy in severe casualty and unspeakable odors, odors which remain undischarged to this day. At last the Japs got infuriated---they haven’t met with a similar degree of humiliation since they entered China’s doors. Thus they began to kill with fury and thus they effaced three hundred thousand off the city population. The fact that three hundred thousand people were killed in Nanjing speaks not to its shame but to its honor! Naturally it is my honor too. Speaking of which - I have an idea: I feel that for the sake of the great fearlessness of the people of Nanjing you ought to bestow upon us la Légion d’honneur. I’ve heard that the French government has bestowed the honor upon quite a few Chinese, among them the old writer Ba Jin, the translator Xu Jun and others, but I think from now on you ought to consider giving one to the people of Nanjing, if only as some kind of encouragement for their unwavering dignity in the face of authoritarianism. Now, now, I’ve strayed off course again, how did we ever get on to the little Japs? Ah yes, it had branched off from that part about French, let’s go back to talking about French. Should I mention that in China, people of my generation are really of the least relevance to French, unlike those old revolutionaries who all had some experience studying abroad, like Zhou Enlai, Chen Yi, Deng Xiaoping, etc., who went far in search for revolutionary truth, and for whom French was as inevitable as it was necessary. But I: what does French matter to me, who bums around in China to this day still? Indeed I had some ideas about French when I was young, this because of my foreign language classes at the time. But before I tell you about that I must confess something else. Let me first tell you about where I come from.
I must admit that everything to happen thereafter emanated from a freakish fornication. It was a brief encounter between my nineteen year old self and fate. Nineteen---an age which makes even the number itself young by comparison---I believe you have also come through it! Of course now that I am almost thirty-nine, it would appear insincere to linger too fondly upon this number. When I was nineteen I was a bum in Nanjing, with a few buddies like myself who gathered on the street and caused trouble and otherwise wooed the girls where we loitered. This was limited, of course, to words, for none of us had the courage to transform verbs into action. We were still green then, being nineteen, and we harbored an intimate fear toward the other sex, so that we thirsted for the warmth of their bosom and yet, because of our ignorance, could only express our longing in this awkward fashion. They were utterly unaware of the deeper message; they saw us as calamitous. Upon a single glance at us, their usual easy gait and gracious gazes were transformed into a dramatic flurry of fearful haste, as one would expect at the sight of cannibals. But really, even if they were perfectly willing to be devoured, we wouldn’t know where to start, because we were clueless. At that time our favorite song was “Chant of the Pests”, we are the pests, we are the pests…. We ran across the street chanting and chasing those desperately fleeing members of the other sex, gloating with shallow pleasure and satisfaction, secretly proud of our capacity for destruction. It was under this sort of mentality that I had welcomed my nineteenth birthday. Said year, the solar and lunar calendars overlapped, and time circled the earth once until it came back to the very date of my birthday (the solar and lunar calendars overlapped once every nineteen years). It was a gift that time accorded its children, for every nineteen year old would emerge thereafter from adolescence. That night, I went out with my buddies, generous to share with them my coming of age, and after dinner they presented me with a gift, a very special gift---an undercover whore. To secure this present they had mustered all the change they had in their pockets. The time was a little after twelve, and the rendezvous was to occur at the whore’s very house. I would finally be a man today! So my friends jested. The meaning implied was of course well understood. Now this whore lived on the second floor of a wooden house near Confucius Temple. It was a very old house and the floor cackled incessantly under her and I as we climbed up the stairs, and upon every squeak she stopped to gesture to me to be quiet. We went up like two thieves into her room, which was rather basic, with only a small bed and a table. That night, I shared a bed with the other sex for the first time in my life. She was twenty five or so, rather plain, but certainly she was a woman, unmistakable by the way in which her physical composition differed from the male corpus and the distinct odor which emanated from her body. I was anxious in sharing her bed, a flimsy thing which croaked and quaked like the old staircase upon my slightest movements. It didn’t help that the whore urged: what are you waiting for? Hurry up, will you? She seemed utterly impatient and eager to chase me out once the task was over, but she gave me neither help nor hint, and my adolescent’s pride kept me from asking for her help----the last thing I wanted was for her to think of me as some utterly clueless imbecile. The harder she insisted, the more anxious I became, tossing my member blindly and awkwardly in the hope of finding a suitable place within her body. But I failed miserably; I over-exerted myself and, before I managed to enter, I ejaculated. The semen, accompanied by an overwhelming, rushing sensation, squirted out briskly, spattering the whore all over like dripping snot. She was previously lying motionlessly like a wooden puppet and showed some signs of life after my involuntary ejaculation. Her body spasmed, and suddenly she clutched me with both hands, moaning and groaning. After the orgasmic fervor subsided she awakened from her brief trance, and the fingers which seized me slowly loosened their grip. I sat up with a start and stood, watching her in guilt---I was extremely sorry that I had befouled her body, le corps de la femme. She lied still on the bed and gazed at me coldly. As the semen slithered down her contours, I felt aroused again, but she remained motionless, as if that body spattered with semen wasn’t hers. After a while she took out a piece of tissue from the purse by her side and began to wipe off the semen. The tissues were used up quickly, but a good deal of semen remained. She raised her eyes and asked me: more tissues? Of course I had none, I mean I was so nervous I hardly knew where I was, but then I was sorry, for I had after all sprayed her with my juice. At my lack of response the woman wrinkled her forehead in dismay, which made me feel even worse, and so I took my T-shirt---a birthday present from home which I’d just gotten last week----and stepped up to help her to help her clean herself. She folded her arms under her head and lied flat for the purpose of my task. Her skin was soft and I touched her cautiously, afraid that with even a little more pressure I would rip her. In the middle of this she suddenly asked: what are you going to wear if your clothes get soiled? I replied that I had another shirt at home, no problem! She fell silent; a moment later she suddenly asked again: is this your first time? My hands trembled; I stood straight with a start and I was as embarrassed as a thief caught in public. My face burned, and my veins were rushed with an impulse to scream as loud as I possibly could into her ears and then dash away. Yet, to the surprise of even myself, I burst out crying. My nose tingled and then the tears came down. I felt pretty chicken but the tears didn’t care about my feelings and flowed out by itself. She was startled by my bawling, sat up with a start, and asked me what was wrong? What was going on?? I bawled uncontrollably, and perhaps afraid to awaken the neighbors or for some other reason, she caught me in her arms and held me tightly, as if holding one among her litter of sons. She pressed my face close to her breasts to stifle my bawl, and kept on murmuring, it’s okay, it’s okay! I wasn’t sure what she meant, whether it was okay that I soiled her body or whether she was consoling me over this failed sexual endeavor. We held each other, body rubbed against body, skin against skin, breath into breath. With her continual caresses I gradually stopped grieving, because I began to feel unusual again. She sensed this and, scrutinizing me eerily, gave a wicked smile and laid down with me in her arms. This time she did not hold back but guided me, and there was no longer the haste, for I was in no rush tonight. I parted her legs and licked her vagina, and with every lick she twitched, and a strange hum came out of her nose, and like this gradually her body powered itself to the extreme, until she was so exasperated that she clutched me and we rolled together on the ground. I followed her lead little by little; the moment I entered, she let out a long whelp, and after some movements she stuck me in the middle of joy. It was a kind of joy that until then I had never experienced, a certain tender satiation which permeated the soul. I grinded and grated, untrammeled, within her, and with every ram she moaned, her moan in turn speeding my gallop. I anticipated dropping dead on this putrid loaf of meat at the end of our battle from either ecstasy or exhaustion. We lingered in a shallow joy for a while and then fell deeply together into its abyss. It was she who had engined this intense pleasure. At the time I was meditating on the vast subject of death above a certain mass of putrid flesh, naturally a bit distracted, when the corpse under me suddenly began to shimmer and her two limp hands seized my vertebrae with a loud slap, the sharp nails pitched into my skin. I was spurred by the pain, spurting forward like a panicked stallion, and surmounted the orgasmic height in just a few strides. I felt an intense impulse to rush forward, to follow the tunnel wherever it led, sprinting in joy. The rotting flesh was still writhing under me, teasing and provoking, and so I took a deep breath and swooped right in, once, twice, and my body surged into the depths, first my head, then the upper body, and then in the middle of this my arms got in the way, so I folded my arms behind my back in order to continue, and the further I entered, the smoother and moister it became, until finally with one fell swoop my entire self sunk in. Only after the entire feat was over did I heave a long sigh, as if on the occasion of having made an extraordinary rite of passage.
I am not confident whether you are able to make out exactly what I described in the above paragraphs. I described a true event: when I had sex with the whore, my excessive devotion in the act of copulation led to the sinking of my entire body into her vagina, and with a final whoosh I was swallowed whole into the darkness. Which meant that, on the very first day of my nineteenth year, I had disappeared from my own life, vanished, with only a mysterious path before me (the vagina) which led to I knew not where. The tunnel had slick walls and I felt my way in the water with my hands on the walls. It was so dark I could not see my own fingers. Somehow it did not occur to the Department of Traffic to put a street lamp at this very crucial junction of life! ....
Near twilight I reached the end of the tunnel. The exit was above my head, covered rigidly by a sewer lid, which I lifted inch by inch with both of my hands before sticking my head out. God knows, it was in the middle of the street, and just as I poked out my head, a car whipped by, almost crushing my skull, so I shrunk back and waited until after it passed before carefully crawling out of the hole. Now I have climbed onto the street---from the vagina of a clandestine whore to the morning highway, I could hardy estimate how many kilometers I traveled. It was a chilly winter morning and not many vehicles drove through the street, and as the traffic light at the intersection upheld its sturdy light, I discovered, astonishingly, that I had become un enfant, sans vêtements, sans tout ce que j’ai acquis dans dix-neuf ans, including the ability to talk, to act, to ejaculate, and so forth. I bawled and bawled; not for any other reason, but for having lost all of my nineteen years.
And who would think that a freakish fornication was to exhaust nineteen years of a man’s life!
I lied on the street for a long time, unapparent to the passing drivers, who did not slow down their vehicles but rather bypassed me with a slight tap on the wheel. Only a small gray car stopped for a little while in front of me. The driver was a woman who looked about thirty. She stood next to me and looked around, searching out loud: whose? Whose child is this? Her calls were unanswered, and the lonely street became even more desolate with her calls. Finally she looked at me, not without pity, and went away on the car. And I thought she was going to take me away! I had already prepared myself to call her ‘mama’ once she was willing to hold me, but finally she left, and I could but keep on crying, bawling, bawling. After God knows how long, an ugly man in tattered clothes spotted me. He hopped off the sidewalk and climbed over the highway fence, and came to me in just a few steps. He did not pick me up instantly, but rubbed his hands together and murmured something to himself, and at that moment I realized he was dumb. Most lamentably, a dumb man had taken me to fancy. He bent over, picked me up, and took me home.