Future World By Wang Xiaobo – translation from Chinese
I translated Part 1 a long time ago as a young translator and was asked to make it available again.
Part 1 – Mother’s Younger Brother
My mother’s younger brother lived at the end of the twentieth century. We all know one thing now: history in China is limited to thirty years – we cannot know anything prior to thirty years ago. My uncle is more than thirty years older than me. So I don’t know a lot about him – or more correctly – I should not know. But he left behind large piles of notes and photographs and I can also remember what he looked like.
He was a large man with a swarthy complexion. When he was young he had a full head of hair; he grew bald when old. We know that in the old days they used to burn coal – it made the whole sky a foul black pestilence.
We also know that most people rode bicycles to work. They are now a sort of exercise machine, but in those days they freed people from walking and were vastly different in style from those of today. A triangular steel-tubed frame sat between two wheels, then a tube rose vertically above the frame. A small number of bicycles passed down to us today have a seat on top of the tube, others have nothing on top at all.
This has archaeologists utterly baffled. Some say the seats of the latter bicycles have been lost while others suggest an even more profound explanation – that some people at the time were trusted, enjoyed a reasonably good lifestyle and owned the bicycles with seats. Other people, untrusted, had to torture themselves without a moment’s respite and only then earned the right to stay alive. Hence bicycles without seats were actually a tool for self-inflicted torture and cruelty on their anuses and perineums.
My childhood recollections lead me to believe that the later explanation is rather far fetched. I still remember how people rode bicycles but don’t wish to enter into debate with the authorities – the authorities trust me now and I don’t want to bring censure upon myself.
My uncle was a writer, but none of his pieces were published during his lifetime. This is incontrovertible proof he was not trusted. It’s only now that his works can be published and, what’s more, lie piled in bookshops completely unnoticed. As everyone knows, those days are vastly different to today. Society has done an enormous about turn, moving towards the light. Regardless of how it’s put, as his nephew, I should be very glad of this. But I’m afraid the booksellers will have a different opinion.
Naturally, the brilliance of my uncle’s writing should be left to the classical literature experts to judge. I only know that paper books are old-fashioned. We now have electronic books which must have multimedia illustrations. So if the booksellers really want my uncle to see the light of day again they must simply invest a little more capital to produce my uncle’s books a little more fashionably. They are asking me now to write a biography of my distinguished uncle which must include details of the type of seatless bicycle he rode, and also textual proof of his haemorrhoids, and even his prostate cancer. But according to the material I’ve carefully examined, although my uncle suffered various illnesses including arthritis and heart disease, the prostate is not in the vicinity of the anus, and his health problems didn’t result from a brutal bicycle. He died in an elevator accident, squashed in an instant, an enviable way to die and clearly better than dying from prostate cancer.
This puts me in a very awkward position. I myself am a student of history and history is one of the liberal arts; and I understand the “guiding principle” of the liberal arts, that is to say, all forms of written material ought to lead to a conclusion which benefits us all. My uncle is already dead. To let him die from haemorrhoids or prostate cancer would be a benefit to us. So let him die this way. What could possibly be wrong with that? But in this case I really don’t know who the old gentleman was who died in the elevator.
When he died I was already twenty years old and can remember it clearly. He was in the elevator waiting to go to the fourteenth floor, but went to the basement and then became a mangled corpse. Some people say the elevator was a factory reject, breaking down every day. They also say the building manager accepted kickbacks from the contractor. There is not enough “socialist guidance” to say he simply died because of individual greed and not because of a serious institutional flaw. Another cause of death must be given. I can solve this problem because I have refined my skills for quite a few years in a composition class in the Chinese Department with specialist research into how to write libelously.
In relation to the guiding principle of history it is necessary to add some supplementary words. This principle consists of two self-contradictory postulates. The first: all historiographical research and discussion must conclude that the present is better than the past; the second: all the above discussion must conclude that the present is worse than the past. The first principle applies to cultural, institutional and material life. The second applies to people. But saying this still leaves things unclear. Innumerable historian colleagues have come a cropper because they have not come to an understanding of this. I have a pithy saying when speaking about life: today is better than the past; when speaking about the common people the present is worse than the past. A conclusion derived in this way is always beneficial to us. But I don’t understand who “us” is.
My uncle’s situation was this: he was born in 1952, grew up during the cultural revolution and was sent down to the countryside to labour where he got heart disease. From a “guidance” point of view these events are far too remote and therefore unimportant. What is important is that afterwards his abilities went unrecognised and unsponsored, and his writings were never published. He was forty-something at the time and lived alone in the city of Beijing. I recall he had a bit of money which he had earned from a business trip to Eastern Europe, so he didn’t have to go out to work.
Every afternoon in the spring he would stroll in the park wearing a yellow corduroy jacket, white corduroy trousers and very long hair. I don’t know which park he went to. According to his diary notes it seems to be Badachu at Western Peak or a place like Fragrant Mountain because he says white-barked pines grew in the park and it had luxuriant vegetation. My uncle’s trousers were always sagging out around the knees because he didn’t hitch up his trousers. Another reason for this practice was that he suffered from heart disease. If he tightened his belt he couldn’t catch his breath. So he always looked very slovenly. If other people knew he was a great author they would not have been the least surprised. The problem was that other people just didn’t know.
While he walked like this along the tree-lined mountain boulevard he would fish out a cigarette from his pocket and dangle it between his lips. Once there was no one on the road except for a man in a blue dustcoat, sweeping. The latter’s gaze seemed fixed on the ground, but in fact was not. As everyone knows, there is a sign on the park gate saying: Level One Fire Prevention Zone on this Peak – Smoking Prohibited – Violators Fined X Yuan. The X was a variable which would periodically increase. An outstanding colleague of mine has researched this, showing it increases in geometric progression. An increase of this order, apart from demonstrating the importance of fire prevention last century, also leaves leeway for offenders to haggle. Seeing my uncle fish out a cigarette, our friend in the blue work clothes was secretly overjoyed because my uncle didn’t seem to be a person who could haggle and neither did he seem as if he would want a receipt for paying a fine. My uncle dangled the cigarette in his mouth then fished out a lighter. This caused the sweeper’s delight to reach fever pitch. But when he flicked it there was no flame and the lighter was returned to his pocket, and the cigarette to its packet. He walked on down the hill with the sweeper following. The latter thought his lighter was probably broken, and planned to go up and lend him a box of matches. After allowing him to light the cigarette he would nab him and fine him. But this would be a little suspicious and rash.
On the path down from the peak my uncle fished out cigarettes quite a few times but could never strike a light. Finally he walked out of the park and caught a public bus home. Our cleaner pounded his straw broom angrily at the park gate and cursed him as a neurotic. He didn’t hear. As far as I know, my uncle didn’t have any nervous condition and really wanted to smoke on the peak, but his lighter simply had no flint. Neither did it have propane. He had many lighters which were all the same. This was because he had heart disease and didn’t dare smoke. So he dangled the cigarette in his mouth and flicked the lighter uselessly as if he’d just had a cigarette. This had an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage was that he could smoke anywhere smoking was prohibited. The disadvantage was that having finished smoking, the cigarette would basically maintain its original form, hence it was very hard to say that anything had been consumed at all.
Every Sunday he had to buy a packet of cigarettes and it had to be Marlboro. Each time before he bought a new packet he gave me the old cigarettes. I had just started junior secondary and although I smoked I was not addicted, so I simply sold them. I still remember him today because of this good point. The fly in the ointment was that the old guy liked to chew on the filter tip. I had to use a lino knife to cut off the chewed part and shortened cigarette like this didn’t sell for a good price. He has been dead for many years and the source of these cigarettes has also been severed for many years. However I now have plenty of money and don’t need such cigarettes.
The above facts can also be restated as follows. I had an uncle, dressed as described above, who arrived at a certain date in 1999 at a public park on Western Peak. Colour was fading from the sky as the light in the park grew dim; visitors were few and far between. He walked up the mountain path. A mountain forest occupied the right side and was hence quite dark, while a valley was on the left side and hence comparatively bright. My uncle walked on the right side – using the slender lamppost bases to climb slowly hand over hand – the lampposts were made of iron tubing. He then took out a cigarette and put it in his mouth. He also took out a lighter and flicked it twice. Afterwards he had a good look around and turned on his heel to go down the peak. Behind him a person wearing a black leather jacket swept with a long-handled straw broom. As my uncle passed by him he sized him up and the person turned away, not letting himself be seen. But my uncle sniffed a musky scent. That kind of scent was an essential part of perfume of the last century. My uncle felt that he was not like a sweeper and as the day was fading quickened his pace. But he heard footsteps behind him. Of course it was the sweeper in the black leather jacket catching up. Under these circumstances it was no use walking faster, so he slowed his pace but didn’t turn around. As he reached the park gate he suddenly heard a natural deep contralto voice behind him call: Halt! So my uncle halted. The person wearing the black leather jacket emerged from the shadows and now it could be seen that she was a woman. Not only that, but her footsteps were sprightly and she was not old. She walked up to my uncle, saying: Come with me please. Just then my uncle caught sight of the main gate of the park from which lights could be seen emerging in the fast approaching darkness. He quickly gave up the idea of escaping and went with the woman.
This passage is from the biography I wrote for my uncle. It is a selection from Chapter 1 Part 1. In general it is neither a high-brow or low-brow piece and I’m unlikely to have committed any errors, in spite of some critics saying that from the beginning it displays errors of sentiment and bias. In all conscience I did indeed intend to write a middle of the road piece. Therefore I have not taken to heart what the critics have said. As everyone knows, critics must find bones in an egg, otherwise as soon as a bad work appeared we could simply fine them for not doing their work. The critics also say that “as everyone knows” appears too often in my work, provoking and inciting suspicion. As everyone knows is my mantra and cannot be changed. Apart from this, these fifteen letters can bring me 7.5 cents writer’s fee, so I don’t intend any change.
My uncle had heart disease and underwent operations. At the first operation he was still young and thus recovered very well. Then his heart developed problems again and he mulled over whether to have a second operation. But before he had even registered for the operation he was smashed flat by the elevator. This is only one way of telling it. Another telling is: because of the hospital’s negligence, the first heart operation was actually done on his stomach. So not only was his heart still as bad after the operation but he now had a stomach problem. Regardless of how it’s told, he still underwent an operation and still had a scar on his chest. Apart from the scar his body was perfect, with well developed muscles and very tall. Simply put, he could have easily competed for Mr Body Beautiful. Every single Sunday he came to our house for a meal. My physics teacher also came frequently to eat. She actually lived in the building in front of our house. At home I called her Auntie Yao. She had just turned thirty, was divorced and exceptionally good looking. After each time she used the toilet at our place I would scramble in to sit on the seat warmed by her, my heart bursting with frenetic joy. I don’t know why, but in the end she settled on my uncle, the damned consumptive – perhaps it was his chunky prick. When my uncle’s heart was fine he could rip a new pack of playing cards in half, neater than a knife. But at that time he couldn’t even rip a fart. Apart from that, his lips were deep purple. This shows that weak feeble venous blood flowed through his whole body. At the meal table he never uttered a word and finished eating very quickly. Then he said: take your time everyone, took the bowls into the kitchen, and went home. Auntie Yao held up her chopsticks and said: your younger brother is very interesting; she said this to my mother. I immediately added: he has heart disease, and my mother said: he’ll have an operation soon. Auntie Yao said: he doesn’t look at all like a sick person. I’d like to chat to him if possible. My mother said: he actually is a very interesting person, but just a little awkward with strangers. I said: he doesn’t work, he’s a hobo. Auntie Yao said: little rascal, butting in like that, you shouldn’t be jealous. My mother simply smiled and I just left the table. Afterwards I heard them whispering and my mother said: I’m afraid my brother is not well at the moment. Auntie Yao said: I’m not really very interested in that. My mother said: You should consider it. I then rushed over and said: Yes! You should really consider it. It’s best not to get involved with him. Then Auntie Yao said: Brat. You really are in love with me! I said: No kidding? My mother just said: Scram! Don’t be a blabbermouth around here. I got going. This is according to the former telling and is all that I personally saw, or else it is the telling from the account in my uncle’s diary. But this way of telling it is usually unreliable, hence there must needs be another way of telling it.
Another way of telling goes like this, Auntie Yao was actually the woman wearing the black jacket. But in this telling she is not called Auntie Yao. In the park she called out for my uncle to stop and took him to the police station. This was a grey brick flat-roofed house, with an external appearance much like a toilet block. Hence during the day when there were many tourists, often someone would rush inside undoing their trousers. But on this occasion there were no tourists, only a police officer on duty, yawning all the time to boot. After she greeted him she took my uncle inside, into the ash-yellow lamplight. Then she sat down at the other side of the table and asked: What were you doing in the park? My uncle said: taking a walk. She said: why do you take a lighter walking? My uncle said: the lighter has no flint. If it hasn’t got flint what are you doing with it? My uncle said: I’m trying to quit smoking. She said: show me the lighter. My uncle handed the lighter to her. It was a very ordinary plastic lighter, completely transparent and, what’s more, absolutely empty. Now it seemed there was no problem. The woman relaxed her tone and said: do you have your ID? My uncle handed it over. After looking at it she said: where do you work? My uncle said: I don’t go to work. I write at home. She said: membership card. My uncle said: what membership card? The woman said: the Writers’ Association membership card. My uncle said: I’m not a Writers’ Association member. She laughed: so what sort of person are you then? My uncle said: you can call me unemployed if you want. The woman said: unemployed? Then she stood up and left the room, closing the door. The door was made of steel plate. “Bang” then the rattle and clatter of locking it up. My uncle sighed, sizing up the room to see where he could last the night because it looked to him like they would lock him in. Just then a small window in the wall opened and stronger rays of light shone through it. The woman said: take off your clothes and pass them in through the window. My uncle took off his outer clothes and stuffed them through. She spoke again: take them all off, don’t cause trouble. My uncle had no choice but to take them all off and stood there completely naked in his shoes. She could then see a man’s sturdy body, chest, upper arms, and all the black hair growing between his legs. My uncle’s old fella dangled very big between his legs. The room was very cold and goosebumps rose suddenly all over his body. So he wrapped both hands in front of his chest, and squinted through the window. Then he waited for something to be spoken like this: turn around. Afterwards this: bend over. And finally: I’ll make a phone call to ask whether or not there’s someone fitting your description. Who can I phone? In all fairness, I think this telling is very strange. When all’s said and done, we’ve seen everything that happened and the person was there so what’s the problem?
According to the former telling, Auntie Yao didn’t need to take my uncle to the police station just to learn the look of his body because we had been swimming together. My uncle wore nylon swimmers but never went into the water. He just lay on the beach sunbaking. Actually he could swim, but as soon as the water came up to his chest he would suffocate. So the most he would do was paddle in the river. Auntie Yao wore a bright red swimsuit, incredibly shapely. The only blemish in her perfection was that she didn’t shave her armpit hair. When her armpits were revealed they were ugly. I thought her breasts were very close to rounded perfection and her belly very smooth. Unfortunately at that time I was as skinny as a little chicken, and didn’t have the goods to make a move on her. Anyway, she was totally in love with my uncle and sidling up to him, pulling off her sunglasses to carefully admire his large scar. As everyone knows, the scar was left after an acupuncture anaesthesia operation. Acupuncture anaesthesia is effective for some people, but for my uncle it was totally useless. On the operating table he trembled with pain. They were using electrical acupuncture and the acupuncturist increased the current until finally it was almost at high voltage. It burnt his skin to a crisp. Afterwards delicate scars like on a monk’s pate were left at the acupuncture points and the operating theatre was filled with the smoke of burning flesh. According to my mother, after undergoing the operation he was not too fond of talking. Auntie Yao said: my uncle was very cool, that is to say, very sexy. But I think the electricity sent him stupid. The thing he most liked to say was: Really? Simpletons are good at saying this. At that time Auntie Yao had almost decided to marry him but I had not given up my plans to drive a wedge between them. I waited until I was together with her and I said: my uncle is very hairy. What you can see is heaps, where you can’t see there’s even more. You’ve never seen more in your life. He’s not a person, he’s a complete carpet. Auntie Yao said: macho men and hunks should have hair. This wounded my pride. At the time I had no hair and moreover was proud of it. Who would have thought that she would have such a low opinion of hairless men. I just sighed and said: OK, if you like sleeping with a carpet that’s your problem. Having heard that she pinched me and said: Damned little brat! What do you mean sleeping? That’s really disgusting. This happened at the end of last century. In today’s language it was an extremely evil century. But no matter what the century there are always good-looking aunties like Auntie Yao, beautiful women who throw themselves impulsively into marriage. This is the nicest thing about the world. What’s unfortunate was that she wanted to marry my uncle, the rotten bastard.
Speaking of centuries, their connection with history springs to mind, and that’s my speciality. I have experienced a small part of history, that is, thirty years, occupying far less than one per cent of the sum total of written history. I know that this one per cent of written history is completely described. If there are still a few authentic pieces left, that’s because there is no choice in the matter. As for the remaining ninety-nine per cent, I would have difficulty determining its authenticity. As far as I know, no single person now living can make this judgement. That is to say, there is no room for optimism. At the moment I’m in the process of writing a biography for my uncle, and I’m a licensed historian. What conclusion should be drawn from this is entirely up to you. I have already written that my uncle was arrested and taken to a police station by a woman wearing a black jacket. I have decided to call this woman F. There are many authentic parts in the depiction of the police station because when I was young I went with a group of classmates to a public park for some fun and we were arrested for smoking on a hill. When we couldn’t pay the fine we were taken there where I fished out the shortened cigarettes given to me by my uncle and said in honeyed tones to each policeman: uncle please have a smoke. One policeman smoked one completely and then made a prediction about my future: “Even at this age you don’t apply yourself to study. Your sure to be a blackguard when you grow up.” I believe this prediction has now come true because I have already written five history books. If it is believed that this criterion is too low, I’m now writing the sixth. On that day we were held for eight hours. The policeman said he would phone the school or our parents to take charge of us, but the telephone numbers we gave him were all false. Some weren’t connected and of those that were, all of them were fee-charging public toilets. I had memorised the numbers of all the fee-charging public toilets in Haidian District, especially in case they were needed at a time like this. By the time we were released even the last bus had left so we flagged down a taxi. We ran off without paying the taxi fare and saved quite a lot of money because if each of the five of us were fined, each would pay fifty, that’s a half-baked idiot’s two-hundred and fifty, twenty-five times more than the taxi fare. But it is very difficult to say anything good about this sort of thriftiness. Now back to the subject, F searched through my uncle’s clothes and threw them back piece by piece through the window. Some landed on my uncle, some landed on the ground, but there was no ill intention in throwing them like this. She also said: your shirt needs a wash. My uncle put his clothes on, sat on a stool and tied his laces and as he did so F pushed open the door and came in. My uncle let go of his laces and sat bolt upright. Except for under the lampshade, the police station inside was very black. F put on a black jacket again.
Nabakov said: Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” was a story of two pure colours, black and white. Drab colours are a symbol of inhibition. The story of my uncle and F also starts from two pure colours, black and yellow. We know that white symbolises tragedy. What yellow symbolises I’m still not too sure. Naturally black is a terrifying colour, it is the same everywhere. My uncle sat in front of F and couldn’t help fishing out a cigarette and putting it in his mouth, then he put it away again. F said: it’s OK if you smoke; and as she spoke took a box of matches out of the drawer and tossed them to him. My uncle picked up the box, shook it near his ear then put it on his knee. F stared at him and said: “Eh?” My uncle hurriedly said: I’ve got heart disease. I can’t smoke. He tossed the matches back again and said thank you. F straightened up so that her face was revealed by the lamp. She had put on makeup, using purple lipstick and purple eye shadow, making her face look ashen, even a little withered. Perhaps under a bright light it would look a little better. But if a woman wears a black jacket nobody is going to notice whether she is good-looking or not. She said to my uncle: You have a scar on your chest. How did it happen? My uncle said: I’ve had an operation. She persisted: What operation? My uncle said: heart. She laughed a little and said: you can say a little more if you like. My uncle said: a few decades ago – no, two decades ago I had a heart operation. Acupuncture anaesthesia. She said: Really? I bet that was painful. My uncle said: Very painful. The conversation proceeded in this way. Perhaps you would say, this exceeds the measure of a normal conversation, but my uncle didn’t raise this objection. In the last century if a woman wearing a black jacket asked you something, you had best reply and not go looking for trouble. Afterwards she asked the very questions that my uncle didn’t want to talk about: what do you write, what are the issues, what is the content, etc. My uncle answered them all one after another. Then she said: I’d like to see your work. My uncle simply said: where will I bring the manuscripts? The woman smiled mischievously and said: I’ll come and look at them myself. Actually she was very young and looked beautiful when she was mischievous. But my uncle didn’t catch the woman’s mood, he was thinking whether or not there was anything at home he would be afraid of someone seeing, so he hung his head very low. F saw he didn’t reply and raised her voice: What? No welcome? My uncle raised his head, bringing his absolutely expressionless face completely into the light. His face looked absolutely like a Mongolian’s, wider across than vertical. It was a face drenched in cold sweat. It looked like some sort of grapefruit. He said his address had not changed and he would be waiting at home.
The nature of my uncle’s manuscripts is a very important question. One way of telling is that they are of black ink on paper with every letter written as clearly as a capital F. In the beginning he used simplified Chinese characters, later changing to complex characters and never leaving out a single stroke. If a character had a number of forms, of course he had to write the most complex one. For example, the character thunder can be written four ways, they’re all the same and each is read as thunder. Afterwards, when his works were published you had to use the 42 volume Kangxi dictionary published in the Qing Dynasty to look up the ancient characters. Then you could say: if an additional service fee wasn’t added the publishers wouldn’t have accepted the task. When I proofread his manuscripts I really want to kill him. If he had not been squashed flat by the elevator I’d be as good as my word for sure. But that’s only one way of telling it. Another telling is to say his manuscripts are of cream, alum, and starch written on paper, but this method of secret writing is too simple, too common. Toast on a flame, sprinkle with water and all is revealed. I know a method of secret writing that uses gold dissolved in aqua royale. But to write a novel like this would indeed be a terrible evil. Actually no matter what method of secret writing is used, it can always be discovered. The only secure method is to write nothing at all. We now know that he didn’t adopt this last method. Therefore I cannot go on deliberately muddying the waters, so let us just say he used ink to write on paper.
Criticism of “My Uncle” in the media has now reached fever pitch. Some people even say the work uses the past to satirise the present. This, as far as historians are concerned, is the most heinous crime. But this is still not enough to make me afraid. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. But I must reflect on it a little. Writing the biography on this occasion I’m afraid I got too involved. But the reason I got involved was really not my uncle – I have no affection for him. The real reason is Auntie Yao. At that time Auntie Yao was about to become my real aunt, but I loved her.
In the summer when we went down to the river to swim I was completely engrossed in looking into the gaps of her swim suit. Although the thing was really sealed tight, it wasn’t as if the crevices were impenetrable, particularly when she had just come out of the water – therefore I very seldom went into the water and consequently had several layers of skin burnt off by the sun until I was as black as a ghost. Auntie Yao didn’t tan black, she could only tan red. When her skin felt itchy she would jump into the water, then with water dripping off her would come back to continue sunbaking. This process brings to mind a recipe book instruction for roasting meat, roast until sizzling or blisters appear, then take out and baste with a layer of oil or syrup. She basted her skin repeatedly just like this until, when summer was just coming to an end, even the fronts of her legs were pretty yellow. I was not interested in all this. I only wanted to see her as she came out of the water with the straps loose on her swim suit and her pair of small breasts protruding from the top. If I could see them I would clap for joy. This caused her to hitch her swim suit onto her shoulder every time she came out of the water, after which it just slackened, not even showing the trace of her nipples and of course this made me sorry. When she walked over to me she would always pinch me and say: Little bugger, sooner or later I’m going to murder you. Then she would just go off with my uncle. My uncle never uttered a sound and sometimes she was bored and came over to sit with me for a while. But she always kept her guard and would not let me look down her cleavage. Moreover she said: you little bugger, how is it that you can make someone feel so ashamed? I said: Doesn’t my uncle make you feel ashamed? She said no. Firstly, my uncle was very proper. Secondly, she loved him. I said: what do you love in a zombie like him? Wouldn’t it be better to love me. She just said: I see you want to die you brat. If teacher Yao fell in love with a boy from junior high it really would be an enormous scandal. She was afraid of that sort of thing, so threatened me with death. Actually I knew that it couldn’t happen between us, but flirting like this really satisfied an urge.
My uncle was detained by F for a long time in the police station. The policeman on duty stretched lazily and came into the room to lie down, giving him a sidelong glance to size him up and saying: what’s this guy been up to? He thought my uncle was a flasher and so suggested: let’s get a few guys from the Joint Defence, rough him up then let him go and call it quits. F said: this gentleman is a writer. The policeman shrugged his shoulders and said: that’s none of our business. He added: I’m tired, I’m going to have a sleep. F said: fine. The policeman said: this guy is pretty well built, best to cuff him. F said: how can you treat a person like that? The policeman simply said: well I won’t be able to go to sleep. If something happens I can’t be responsible for it. So F took out a set of handcuffs from the drawer and smiling said to my uncle: you don’t object? My uncle just stretched out his hands. The policeman took the cuffs then said: and we need to take off his shoelaces and his belt. My uncle immediately took off his shoelaces and belt and put them on the ground. So the policeman put on the cuffs, picked up the belt and laces and walked out saying: be careful you don’t get into big trouble. F said: shut the door on your way out. Now only the two of them were left in the room.
I should say a little now about events which happened after I grew up. Starting from the yearning of the abortive love affair (Auntie Yao had studied physics) I went and sat the examination for the Beijing University Physics Department and was considered the most talented student since the founding of Beijing University because by only my second year I had proposed five or six systems to replace the Theory of General Relativity. Of course, whether to allow a talented student to qualify will always be an issue for debate. By the time I graduated, as an undergraduate I couldn’t continue to dilly dally with physicists, so sat the history examination at Beijing Teachers’ University to become a research student. As everyone knows, time and space are the objects of research and the constructs of theoretical physics, hence for students of physics to change professions and take up history is quite normal. I was ranked first in the examination, or as my brother and sister teachers would have it, dropped right into the shit hole of history (shitstory), and was later awarded my PhD for my thesis “Emperor Shi Huangdi of the Qin Dynasty was a Hermaphrodite.” At the same time I also received my historian’s licence, a credit card, and the keys to a new car. Apart from the historian’s licence, the other things were given by a publishing company because all licensed historians were best-selling authors. At this time Auntie Yao was widowed and phoned me every weekend inviting me to come over saying: I have made something nice to eat. I always went, but not to eat (I was loosing weight), and not to reminisce about my uncle, but rather to give her some ideas. The first idea was: your bra is too lose, you should get your breasts enlarged. The second idea was to tell her to get a facelift. Each idea made her cry bitterly, but it was good for her. In the end she finally married a wealthy Hong Kong businessman and now she’s bringing an inheritance suit against her step-daughter and step-son. Whether she wins or loses, she will be a wealthy old woman. The nub of this story is this: after studying physics you can only become a teacher, the worst assignment in the world; it’s much better to be a businessman’s wife. Being a novelist is also dreadful because people always suspect you of harbouring unfathomable intentions; being a historian is much better. Another profession is that of futurist and it does not need me to say you can imagine that it is also a good profession. As for journalists, it depends how you operate. It’s an awful profession if you go out news gathering. Sitting at home editing is a good profession. Using the last method is best for enabling writing optimistic good news.
My uncle and F were in the police station and the silence of the night reigned supreme. My uncle didn’t have his belt and his hands were cuffed together. So his clothes sagged like a leather ball whose air had escaped or like a half empty cloth sack. F leaned back, her legs propped up on the desk and her face hidden in the gloom, and said: don’t worry. The park is closed now and if we let you go you couldn’t go anywhere. Wait till tomorrow, eh? My uncle nodded his head, using his hands bound together to fish out a cigarette from his pocket and put it in his mouth. He said thoughtfully: I think I’d like a smoke. F said: please go ahead. My uncle said: I haven’t got a light. F kicked over the matches on the table with her toe, saying: help yourself. My uncle got out a cigarette, held it in his hands but crushed it. When F saw this she thought: I forgot he hasn’t got his belt; then got up and went over with the matches and from his pocket took out the cigarettes. She lit one up herself and put it in my uncle’s mouth saying: there’s no need to get in a temper. My uncle replied: OK. Then she picked up the packet and said: I’d like to smoke one too. Is there one you haven’t chewed? My uncle cupped his cigarette in both hands and shook his head, like a black bear performing a circus trick. F saw him and laughed then stretched out her hand and tugged his hair saying: you should get a haircut. Then she took out my uncle’s worst-chewed cigarette to smoke. This showed that asking my uncle whether or not there was a cigarette he had not chewed was purely for the sake of something to say.
I now realise why the woman is called F. F means female. By the same reasoning my uncle should be called M (male). F and M each represent a sexual orientation and the designation suits perfectly. F wore a pair of deer leather high heeled shoes and her body smelt of perfume; both were due to her sexual orientation. My uncle’s sitting on the stool like a circus bear doing tricks was also due to his sexual orientation. The police station surrounded them and the long deep night surrounded the police station. Everything I have written here is history.
I have said that everything I have written is history. History is a talisman. But in using any talisman limits are reached. I must be careful not to overuse it. When I was young I flirted with Auntie Yao (now it seems that calling it harassment would be more correct). It really satisfied an addictive urge because flirting with girls at school never did. They were experts at stupid remarks like “It’s important to listen very carefully in class” or “If we help each other we’ll all progress.” Hearing this would give anyone the creeps, dashing any hopes they had. I think that if a female pig in a pen saw other pigs and said “Let’s all behave well so that Mister Breeder will be happy”, the others would think she was far too correct and wouldn’t be interested. Apart from this, in the end we are still people, not pigs, although in this respect there is still need for improvement. Auntie Yao was much better than them. She floundered about swimming until she got tired then put on her sunglasses and lay down in the sun to sunbathe, making my uncle’s stomach a pillow. Seeing this I immediately wanted to lie down too and make a pillow of her stomach, squinting and examining her bosom. Later I got a very serious case of strabismus which even glasses couldn’t correct. We lay on the ground in an enormous letter Z. Occasionally stout old matrons in wrinkled swim suits passed by and shook their heads at us. Auntie Yao was very thin-skinned about this. She quickly raised herself on her elbows, snatched off her glasses and said: What’s the matter? The reply was: that doesn’t look nice. Then she’d simply say: What’s not nice about it? They are both males. Naturally that is what she thought. I reckoned if it was three lesbians lying there like that it would be all the more attractive – that is, if they were all as good looking as Auntie Yao.
Auntie Yao was actually very proper. Sometimes I used the tip of my finger to touch the place protruding from her swim suit and she would immediately say: if you want to stay alive don’t go stretching your claws out all over the place. The frosty tone of voice infuriated me and I would get up straight away and jump into the river, diving under the water where it was deadly cold. I would stay under for ages and gulp big mouthfuls of water, then scamper out of the water to lie on her legs, freezing her so she cried out pitifully: Hey! Control your nephew! At that “Hey” my uncle would scramble up with a cigarette wedged in the cracks of his teeth and drag me over to the water to throw me in. Sometimes he would throw me seven or eight metres. I didn’t have the slightest power to lift a hand in retaliation against the bastard. Thank heaven and earth he was squashed flat by the elevator, otherwise he would still be tossing me into the water.
My uncle smoked a cigarette in the police station emitting a vast white cloud in front of his face. The first smoke someone has after not smoking for a long time is always like that. He also felt a slight stifling in his chest. F reclined comfortably in her seat and said: I’m going to sleep. Call me in the morning. She didn’t utter another sound. My uncle finished the cigarette and stretched out his hand to look at his watch: it was three o’clock at night. He let out a big breath and gripped his head in his hands until the next morning when they would let him out. This is how it happened that night.
I’m a historian now and it is necessary to explain something else about the profession. We now have a History Law and among its provisions is a definition of history: “History is the simplest non-contradictory explanation of known historical materials.” I remember that this way of telling is used by the logical positivists, but this law didn’t explain this point. Generally speaking, thieves are also unwilling to explain from whom each object in their house was stolen. From the definition it can be seen that there can apparently be only one history and all historians should be unemployed. But the History Law goes on to stipulate: “Historical materials are: 1. Documents; 2. Archaeological discoveries; 3. Statements by Historians.” Anyone with a brain will discover that these three simple items are exquisite beyond compare. If you want to lead a happy life you only have to wrangle a historian’s license and everything will be fine. Now there is also a Novel Law and among its provisions is: “Novels must be pure fiction and must not coincide in any part with historical fact.” Whether or not you have a brain you will immediately discover that they put their dear little offspring into our hands. At the moment there are twenty novelists enrolled for the examination to become my postgraduate students, but I can only take one a year. This shows that if my uncle were still alive he would really be in the shit. Who knows, perhaps he would even be enrolled for the examination to become my postgraduate student.
Auntie Yao believes to this day that she made the right choice in marrying him. She said that is because my uncle is very sexy. I said: what’s sexy about him? She said: your uncle is an honest and kind man and its very pleasurable to make love to an honest and kind man. I asked: do you often make love? She said: not often. And after thinking a moment added: very rarely actually. Apart from this she couldn’t say very clearly what honest and kind was. This sort of thing showed her limited intellect. It was adequate enough for marrying a businessman or physicist but not if you thought about marrying a historian.
F also thought my uncle was sexy, but that sort of sexiness bore absolutely no relation to honesty and kindness. Sometimes she thought about my uncle’s well-developed chest muscles, his tight belly and the luminous large knife scar – the scar was like a tightly closed mouth – then she would want to see him again. Apart from this, she also missed my uncle’s completely expressionless face and his quietly drooping genitals. She felt that underlying this was an implied dignity. This sort of thinking was quite weird, but not completely divorced from reality. During work hours she had seen the faces of many men, some full of smiles, some swollen red with rage. Whether full of smiles or rage, none had dignity. She had also seen many male genitals, some hidden behind five spreadeagled fingers and also some rampantly erect, but neither of these two situations had dignity. When all is said and done she really liked my uncle’s neither haughty nor humble attitude. So she often went to the mountain path to wait for him, but my uncle didn’t go there again.
My uncle didn’t go again to the public park because he thought that holding up his trousers was really unenjoyable. But he waited constantly for F’s royal visit. He thought she would certainly come to find him. It was not possible for the incident to be over just like that. So he simply stayed at home waiting. They waited here they waited there, they waited the entire spring.
When summer was almost over Auntie Yao decided to get married to my uncle. The decision was made without a single word from him. Every morning she would come to our house to wait for him, but my uncle certainly didn’t come every day. Waiting until the morning was almost over, she felt she could wait no longer so simply went out shopping with me. Her high heeled shoes made her a head taller than me, but I didn’t mind, I would grow. In the end things didn’t turn out as I expected. I’m now a bit over 1.9 metres and also have a slight hunchback. Back then I wore a pair of plastic slippers, a singlet and running shorts, following behind Auntie Yao with incredibly grubby arms and legs. She chided me: little boys shouldn’t be like that. Girls at your age have known for a long time how to put on makeup. I said with great serenity: your sex all love vanity. Such a haughty tone made her jump in surprise. I remember she would often go into a lingerie shop and make me wait outside. After I’d cooled my heels in a fast food shop, she expressed a few of her constant misgivings: what do you think your uncle is doing at the moment? I said: probably sleeping. Hearing this Auntie Yao’s tender face clouded over and she said viciously: Bastard! How on earth can he dare to sleep on a day like this! This was an important lesson: to foment discord between them I’d have to seize every opportunity. Obviously my uncle could be sleeping, because on this day he felt very unwell and really had to be at home sleeping. So I also took the opportunity to say that before wanting to be a writer my uncle was a mathematician and men from these two professions made extremely unreliable husbands. After she heard this speech Auntie Yao muttered to herself for a long time, then tightened the belt on her one-piece dress, stuck out her bosom and said: no problems. I’ll certainly rescue him from his evil ways. Auntie Yao is an intellectual woman and women like her have a pathological interest in hopeless wretches, so there was no saving her.
At the beginning of summer when F came looking for my uncle she wore an opaque black spotted blouse and a black skirt with braces. She had used a black silk ribbon to make a bow tie and carried a small black leather handbag. These various black colours allowed my uncle to recognise her. My uncle lived on the fourteenth floor and the corridors were very black. He held the security door ajar but didn’t utter a word. When F said: can I come in? he finally opened the security door to let her come clump-clumping in – on that day she wore a pair of black high heeled leather shoes – and she headed towards the bright spot, making a beeline for my uncle’s bedroom and taking a seat on a chair. She hung her handbag on the chair and said: I’ve come to have a look at the novels you’ve written. My uncle glanced towards the table and said: they’re all here. The table overflowed with manuscript paper, some already browning, some yellowing, and some white. After he had come back from the park my uncle had dug out all his manuscripts and put them on the table. She picked up some. The place my uncle lived in was a one-bedroom flat. There are now no flats like it. The bedroom door opened out wide, straight onto the balcony. F headed outside with the drafts to have a look and said: your apartment isn’t bad. My uncle sat behind her on the bed and thought of saying “It belongs to my younger brother” (I also have an uncle doing business in eastern Europe) but didn’t. He thought: since she’s dropped in for an inspection she’d certainly know this already. Then she said: pour me a cup of tea, and my uncle went into the kitchen. F took advantage of the opportunity to search through his drawers, even prying open the locked ones. Finally she ferreted out a packet of condoms. When my uncle came back carrying the tea she smiled and held up the packet saying: What’s all this about? My uncle was stymied for a moment and thought of saying “It’s my brother’s” (which was the case), but he thought it would be a despicable act to inform on my younger uncle, so he said: the same as my smoking. The meaning of this utterance was that my uncle didn’t smoke but could have cigarettes in his pocket. But F couldn’t make the connection and her face went suddenly red. She threw the condoms back into the drawer, locked it and then tossed the key to my uncle saying: look after it, before she accepted the cup of tea. It was then my uncle’s turn to go completely red in the face: where did the key spring from? Obviously it was picked out from her huge range of keys as a small gift.
Our house was on the first floor, so it was just like other people’s houses with iron bars out the front surrounding a small plot forming a courtyard. The front of our building was full of plots like that. Some people said it was like a concentration camp, some said like a pig factory; lots of people said all sorts of things. But I was very happy with the courtyard which had an ailanthus tree. I put a desk and a white deck chair under it and often sat there lost in thought. At my side under a calico cloth were tiles left over from toilet renovations and the replaced squat toilet. A small tent sat beside the toilet. Sometimes I slept inside it until the middle of the night then fled into the house again covered in huge mosquito bites. This was a philosopher’s life. Some people have never lived the philosopher’s life at all, but this point is not worth raising. Some people live the philosopher’s life their whole lives and naturally this is also without prospects. I was thirteen that year and after the year had passed had no further interest in philosophy. Under the tree on that chair I came to a few conclusions and wrote them down on a scrap of paper using my own secret symbols. I still have that scrap of paper, but have completely forgotten the symbols. I can remember the meaning of some of them such as: people have certain natural resources in their lives, for example: their life-span, intellect, health, body, sex life; some people are just content to fritter them away, to trade them for novelty or enjoyment and so on. Auntie Yao was like that. And then there are some people who are prepared to make something of them, so they are stingy and don’t try to be likeable. Apart from people like this, there are also others, but I think the other types all belong to the category of morons. I really like those like Auntie Yao, and I’m also really fascinated by her body. Every time I think of it my prick stands up as straight as a little chicken. But I really can’t say whether this sort of fervour comes partly from a philosophical underpinning or partly from daydreaming about her body. One thing is certain and that is my love of philosophy is not the be all and end all. I think Confucius has also had a similar sort of experience. That’s why he said: those who are not of virtue are like lechers. “Not of virtue” obviously included himself. The old gentleman had certainly been infatuated with someone, so he doubted himself.
I’ve said that when I was thirteen I was crazy about Auntie Yao’s body. I even thought it would be good to be her. Then I would have a head of shiny short black hair, translucent skin, wear a one-piece dress and go around with heavy breasts sticking out in front. I thought the last would be a bit tiring, but very satisfying. Of course, if I was her I wouldn’t get married to my uncle. I thought very earnestly, if I was Auntie Yao who would I allow to enjoy my beautiful body. I thought about it a lot and decided that no one would suit, I’d just have to keep it pristine and remain an old virgin for a whole lifetime. In the summer of that year, mosquitoes biting my legs while I slept in the yard left many lumps. At night with the sky full of stars I felt a great freedom in the yard. I could think about anything I wanted. If any Chinese person enjoys freedom of thought, it has to be a thirteen year old; or like my uncle, cut down in his prime with a putrid stinking heart.
I’ve also said that I now have a talisman – I’m a historian and history is not something that everyone understands. With it I can write what I think, but it’s not omnipotent. If I were younger I would have a different talisman. As everyone knows, our country protects women and children. Some novelists use the names of their wives or daughters to write. But this has its limits, if you don’t write properly the whole family of three could end up on the inside. The best talisman is one like my uncle. About to die from a dicky heart, what is there to fear? But then again, the heart is a fearful organ. If it doesn’t beat in a rush you basically don’t know fear. I’ve never seen my uncle afraid of anything.
Reading my uncle’s novel F was wracked by mighty sneezes every few pages. This was because since my uncle finished the manuscripts they hadn’t been moved, and as the years went by more and more dust settled on top of them. I don’t like my uncle, but since I’m writing his biography I cannot help but write a little more. The guy had studied mathematics and people who study mathematics are basically weird. And he was crazy about the most arcane part of mathematics, the part that gave people the biggest headaches – metamathematics. This was weirdness on weirdness. When he was in America for a spell to study for a PhD he sat in the first row of the class, propping his worried woebegone face on a hand, deep in thought. And every week he simply had to print out a paper and deliver it to every single letter-box in the department. Of course everyone said he was a genius. But after a time he began to feel choked and short of breath and couldn’t carry on. The foreigners wanted him to have an operation but he thought if he was going to die it would be better to die at home. So he took leave and went home. He then moved into my younger uncle’s place and there wrote novels; of course it’s possible to say that he was waiting for a hospital bed so that he could have the operation, but the waiting became just a bit too long. He said himself, when my chest is prised apart it will be black and green and disgustingly smelly inside. But until the end nobody ever prised his chest open, so it was impossible to know what it was like inside. Last century when you wanted to have an operation you had to give money to the people in the hospital. It was called a bonus or perhaps a service fee or perhaps commission. Personally I think the last telling is really weird. Calling it a slaughter fee would be more appropriate. My uncle was in no hurry to lie on the operating table because the last time they had really not done a good job on him. So he didn’t give them a cent and stayed at home writing drafts of novels for my younger uncle.
Each time she sneezed while reading the novels F simply smiled. After a while she took off her shoes, wrapped her skirt around her buttocks and propped her feet on the table, revealing her black-silk-stockinged legs. Then she took out a bottle of nail polish from her handbag and put it on the edge of the table. She put my uncle’s manuscript on her lap and put her hand on top of the manuscript, painting her nails as she read. It was a morning in early summer. Although the weather was hot outside, it was quite cool in the room. When she finished painting her nails she opened her legs so my uncle’s manuscript nestled into her skirt and bending her head continued reading. Then she fished a packet of pistachios out of her handbag and still without raising her head passed it over to my uncle saying: help me open them. My uncle found some scissors cut open the pistachios and handed them to her. She put the packet under her nose and sniffed it then handed it to my uncle and said: Hm. My uncle didn’t understand and didn’t take the packet. A little while after the “hm” she put the packet away and began to eat them herself. While this happened my uncle sat on the bed and broke out in a cold sweat. If someone dressed in black sat in my office and opened every file in my computer one by one, I would be the same. That being the case, he discovered that the woman’s teeth were really fierce and could crunch anything to bits.
Now I think that in my uncle’s story, F was a woman wearing black. This point is very important. In the summer of that year an Austrian opera company came to Beijing to perform and many tickets weren’t sold. So the teachers in the Chinese Department got free tickets. Auntie Yao got three tickets and wanted to ask my mother to go. But my mother wouldn’t agree to take ill-gotten gains, so I went instead and sat between my uncle and Auntie Yao. That evening they performed the Magic Flute and it was the best performance I’d ever seen. My uncle’s hand pressed down on my shoulder the whole time and Auntie Yao’s hand pinched my neck in case I jumped up and joined in the singing. I was very excited right till the end of the show but my uncle was lost in thought. Auntie Yao said, I didn’t really understand that opera. What’s all this midnight and all this black lady’s maid? My uncle simply said: the age of Mozart and our own times are really not that much different you know. What he meant was that Mozart used sign language with everybody. I’m not Mozart so I don’t know if what he said is right or wrong. But in any case there were quite a few women wearing black in the opera, dancing and twirling. They looked the real thing. I know another story too. A company calling in its debts employed a gang member dressed up in a black suit as if he was going to a funeral. When he followed the debtors around it really wasn’t long before they decided to pay up. I reckon it’s a certainty that F got the idea for wearing black clothes from that story. But we are terrified of people like that not because we owe them money and not because they want to kill us, but because we don’t know what they intend to do and we can’t resist them. F was one of those people. She sat in my uncle’s chair reading his manuscripts and as she sat there reading on and on she held up the cup and said: give us another cup of tea. My uncle poured her another cup. When she’d finished the pistachios she began again to rummage in the packet of melon seeds and crack them between her teeth, still completely absorbed in my uncle’s manuscript. I have to say in all conscience that in the twentieth century my uncle’s novel was a great read. Unfortunately it’s the twenty-first century now.
Now that the critics have realised F was wearing black, they’ve all got a lot to say about it. One says she’s the incarnation of the author, or even more accurately that she’s my dark mind. This critic even made the pronouncement that I’ve got transsexual tendencies. But I haven’t got a clue if I’d go so far or be so desperate as to castrate myself. I reckon that to cut off my testicles would be a great joke, but if I really had those tendencies, I should know it. Another critic has realised that the uniforms of the Party bodyguards are black. This sort of wildly forced metaphor is really hard to take. Not a single one from amongst them all has thought of the Magic Flute. But I have to admit that it wasn’t an easy one to come up with.
In the twentieth century Auntie Yao’s body was really beautiful and by the twenty-first century still wasn’t too bad, although it had a few artificial parts such as a facelift and silicon breast implants which were so hard that if you weren’t careful and bumped your face against them you could hurt yourself. In future who knows how it will be – she could change into a one hundred percent manufactured item. Underneath the manufactured parts she was already old and whenever she got down to business she was all at sixes and sevens. What’s more, she didn’t have orgasms when she made love. After each time she’d bite her fingers in deep concentration and then say: you didn’t do it right. Just like every woman who has studied physics she had too many ideas and no one would like her once she was old. I took the biography to her to read. She read it shaking her head all the while and then wrote me a thirty page memo, saying at the top:
1. When have I ever worn black?
2. When have I ever been a sweeper at the Fragrant Mountain?
The last question was: Have you been using cocaine recently? I told her that F wasn’t her and she screamed in fright, “Really?” She fell into a deep reverie immediately. After thinking for a while she said: If that’s the case then the description of him (my uncle) at the end is not weird enough. Auntie Yao’s statement showed that this biography would be completely believable if only F wasn’t her. This was no small review because although F wasn’t Auntie Yao, my uncle was my uncle. Compared to some biographies, written so that no-one in them is themselves, this one was extremely genuine.
In 1999 my uncle lived in Beijing writing novels while he waiting for a bed for his operation. One day he went to a public park to relax and by chance met a woman F wearing black clothes. Afterwards F came to his little room and read his unpublished novels. He thought the woman was unfathomable and, what’s more, irresistible. By explaining this point, the rest all falls easily into place. F sat in the chair reading the novels and cracking seeds between her teeth, feeling very cool and chic. This can also be told in the following way: she felt very comfortable. Then she decided to make herself even more comfortable and trawled her right hand in the general direction of my uncle, completely without success. So she spat out the seed husk in her mouth and said: What are you doing over there? Sit a little closer. Then she took up cracking seeds again and, what’s more, continued to trawl her hand in the air until she eventually came across my uncle’s right ear. Then she stroked along the line of his chin until she came to the button of his collar which she undid, followed by another on his chest and slid her hand inside. She remembered my uncle’s chest had a scar, slippery smooth and bright, like a child’s lips. She wanted to stroke it for a little. But she felt her hand becoming damp and so releasing the leg of the chair, turned to look. She discovered my uncle was like an ice-cream which had been left in the sun in its paper wrapper, soggy and shapeless. So she simply smiled: Oh! You’re so hot. Take your shirt off, eh? Then she lowered her head again to read the novel. My uncle thought: I have no choice. So stood up and took off his shirt, placing it on the bed and breathing a heavy sigh. F continued to read for three or four lines then lifted her head to see my uncle standing naked to the waist in the doorway. I’ve already said that my uncle was a strapping fellow built like a tiger. Stripped to the waist he looked very good. F also discovered that perspiration had soaked from within my uncle’s trousers and said: Take off your trousers too, eh? My uncle took off his trousers and stood barefoot in the doorway. F lowered her head and continued reading the novel. And she continued to crack seeds between her teeth. The draught in the doorway dried the sweat off his body. He stood with his hands by his side, then feeling a little tired, locked his hands behind his head and exerted himself in a backward stretch. At this moment F suddenly felt an ache in her neck and lifted her head and looked at my uncle who quickly stood to attention. F continued to crack seeds but tilted her head with a little smile in her eyes. My uncle suddenly realised that his underpants were a bit tatty. As everyone knows, people of my uncle’s generation were hard up and thus extremely frugal. After a while she tilted the manuscript and tipped the husks onto the floor. Then she put on her high-heeled shoes and stood up. She put down the draft and picked up her handbag. She walked over to my uncle and said: Your underpants are ugly. My uncle just went red. Then she pointed to my uncle’s scar and said: May I? My uncle didn’t know what she meant so couldn’t say anything. So she bent her body forward and brushed my uncle’s scar ever so lightly with her lips, then said: I’ll be back again to read your novels. I’ve read quite a few pages already. Don’t lose my place. Then she walked clump-clumping away. After closing the door my uncle went into the bathroom for a quick wash. He then lay down to sleep and slept till the afternoon, without even eating lunch.
Auntie Yao says the pit of my uncle’s stomach is as cold as ice. If you put your ear to it you can hear a thump-thumping sound away off in the distance. She also really likes that scar of his. She kisses it and, what’s more, rubs it with her nose. I’ve seen this lots of times: Auntie Yao is half reclining on the long sofa at our house with her hair all messed up and her face flushed red. My uncle is sitting up as stiff and straight as a penguin beside her with his chest opened up three or four buttons and both hands on his knees. Auntie Yao says if the ardour went on for too long my uncle simply said with the grace of a very proper gentleman: I feel a slight tension in my chest. She thinks my uncle’s behaviour was like a rather fat, amiable girl who had seen some sweetmeats – very cute. But I think the association is not only far-fetched but also shows a tendency towards homosexuality.
I think Auntie Yao has many misconceptions about my uncle. For example, my uncle speaks slowly and mincingly in a placid tone. She says: when I hear your uncle speak I know he’s a good man. But in fact it’s not so. Everything my uncle says is structured according to mathematical logic with no mistakes and, moreover, no ambiguities. He doesn’t even have any um’s and ah’s. Cool people like me, hearing him speak get pissed off and despise him. Actually his extreme precision ought to really annoy women. But women like Auntie Yao basically don’t wait to discover his precision. They just latch themselves onto him.
Hearing me speak about my uncle now, Auntie Yao is now very displeased and would prefer me to talk about F. When I went to her place she made me go to the bedroom, then she sat on the bed facing me and started to prise into her feet – of course you shouldn’t take me literally. Actually she used all sorts of instruments to repair her toenails, but the energy of all her diggings and delvings seemed like prising into her feet. All the while she wore a short nightie. Although her legs and feet were very pretty, I really didn’t like looking. So I just said: you can go to the beauty parlour for a foot manicure. She replied: when I win my lawsuit. While she’s absorbed in her feet she asks: what’s F like? I say: see if you can guess. She lifts her head and looks me in the eye saying: you’re the one who’s written it. Does she use purple mascara and purple lipstick? I say: yes. She just lowers her head and continues seeing to her feet. Then she says: that girl is really very black. I say to myself: why haven’t I thought of it, quickly pulling out a notebook and noting it down. She goes on to say: the tied silk scarf really makes the neckline look good. What’s more, she isn’t afraid to reveal the whole of her leg which is certainly extremely slender. But she’s not so tall and therefore wears high heels. The bridge of her nose is high, her eyes large and she has a slight natural curl in her hair, looking somewhat Malaysian. Then she asks me: what is F really like. I say: if it weren’t for you telling me, I really wouldn’t have a clue. Afterwards she wants to see F’s photograph. So I look for one that looks the same in a magazine; it’s a Thai Airlines air hostess and I scan it into the computer, print it out with a laser printer and change it a bit so you can’t tell that it’s actually the air hostess. I don’t want to use this photo as an inset, not wanting to cop a lawsuit on image copyright. After she gets the photo, Auntie Yao examines it carefully for a long time and says: people would really like her. Would it be possible to meet her? I say: why would you want to do that? Do you want to get into something lesbian? Turn her down. Otherwise you’ll have to go to Thailand, and invite the mother of that air hostess to come, because if F looks like that air hostess of almost twenty years ago then she is now the mother of the air hostess. The situation can be explained this way: F was in Beijing in 1999 and then had to go to Thailand on duty where she married and gave birth to the air hostess. This is how I write history – with strict precision it may be said – and at the same time also giving the whole story an atmosphere of mystery. But writing like this is a hassle. So these particulars will all be omitted.
There is one event that Auntie Yao can bear witness to – and that is my uncle had a pager which was always going off like a noisy cricket. He said that business associates were calling him, but it wasn’t necessarily the case. Once at my house after it went off he returned the call and after the person on the other end of the line heard him speak a few words suddenly said: how come you’re a male? On another occasion after he returned the call you could hear F’s natural deep contralto: “Are you at home?” The voice was exactly the same as the late American pop star Carpenter. He said: I’m having a meal at my elder sister’s house. Do you want me to return straight away? F said, in that case there’s no need. I’ll come again to see you another day. After my uncle left our house to return, from the next day onwards he didn’t leave the house. This can perhaps explain why Auntie Yao waited in vain for him. In any case there is nothing in this which bothers me, except that Auntie Yao isn’t like that. In the markets each time we saw a man and a woman who were specially amorous with each other she would always say ferociously: I’m going to murder your uncle. But for a long time afterward my uncle was still alive. When I heard her say that I would hold my head high and offer her my arm. She would link her arm in mine and walk a few steps, laugh a little and say: OK OK, perhaps it’s better if I drag you along. Some people grow really tall by the first year of junior middle school, but not me. So I suffered badly for it. But by the second year of junior middle school I started to grow like crazy, but it was already too late. To cut a long story short, by summer of first year I was only 1.32m tall, nothing like a lady-killer. Each time she’d get me to wait outside the change room, I’d always wait a short while then eagerly lie flat on the floor and look in under the curtain. I’d see Auntie Yao standing on tiptoes on her two long smooth legs holding a skirt in her hand. When she saw me she’d say: brat, you’re not even afraid that someone will arrest you and take you away! But no one came to arrest me. That was the good thing about being 1.32m tall. It would be dangerous after 1.5m.
When my uncle met F at home the second time he asked her a question: are you at work now? She could have answered him: why would I come here to you in work time? If the answer had been like that it would certainly have been a good thing for my uncle’s heart. But she felt that answer was not romantic enough, so she replied: don’t ask questions about things you shouldn’t. My uncle immediately clamped his mouth tightly shut and thought: OK then, even if you pick up a knife to stab me I won’t ask. I personally believe that to deal with such a well-built fellow as him it would be best to use a handgun and get him from behind in the back of the head. This time in my uncle’s living room F wore the same clothes as last time. Only this time she brought a larger bag. She walked away from my uncle and he followed behind. She found the manuscript in the bedroom and had just sat down to read it when she suddenly heard someone blowing their horn downstairs. Taking the manuscript she went out onto the balcony and looking down shouted: hey! Then she shouted: have a look at the plates! Then just came back in. At that time when a person wanted to drive into a courtyard and saw another car blocking their way, they’d just blow the horn. After hearing F’s advice he lowered his head and looked at the plates on the car in front of him. When he saw it was a Public Security car he just jumped back into his car, reversed and drove off somewhere else. From another window my uncle also watched the scene. Then she sat down again in her original place and suddenly putting down the manuscript said: I almost forgot; and opening the leather bag took out a pile of plastic wrapped cotton things, and gave them to my uncle saying: I bought you some underwear. She said the word underwear in English. My uncle hadn’t spoken English for many years and although he didn’t reply immediately he accepted them very earnestly, put them on the bed and then sat down on the bed himself. F kept on reading the novel and cracking seeds. After a while she said: well? My uncle said: what? Oh, the underwear (in English). He picked up a packet to look at it and discovered that it was wrapped up like a piece of seaweed. They were yellow, green or blue, all were made in China – pure cotton underpants of special export quality made for the domestic market. A man’s pelvis wearing the underpants was printed on the plastic wrapping – it was a well-hung bulging type. Although they were all XL, they weren’t like a pair of socks that seem to contain too much fibre when you feel them between fingers and thumb. He said: thank you. F, not raising her head, spat out two seed husks and said: go and try them on. My uncle was non-plussed for a moment, then picked up a packet and took it into the bathroom where he took off his clothes, hung them on a coat hanger and then put on the underpants. He thought they fitted amazingly well. Then he came out and stood next to the door with his hands by his sides. This time F was sitting sideways on the chair reading the draft with her right hand resting on the back of the chair and using her left hand to hold seeds while she cracked them between her teeth. The seed husks were piling up quickly underneath her. My uncle didn’t eat seeds, in fact he didn’t eat snacks of any kind. So he was shocked to see the pile of seed husks and had a strong urge to get a broom and sweep them up. But he thought better of it: any action like that by a person who doesn’t eat snacks is very likely to be an affront to a person who does. So he just stood there without moving.
Auntie Yao carried a handbag on the way home which was chock-a-block full. I asked her: what have you been buying? She fished out a packet of cotton underclothes, a bra and some panties – all bright pink. She asked me: do you think your uncle will like this colour? I looked at the woman’s body on the paper label and went into a trance. In a moment I said: if you don’t put them on and give me a look how will I know. She tapped me on the forehead with her finger, then took them and wrapped them up. I saw then that inside the bulk plastic wrapping there were red, yellow and also green, clothes. When we got home she asked my mother: elder sister, what’s your bust measurement? This showed that she’d come across a bargain-basement sale and had bought too much and wanted to make a few sales. She still has this shortcoming – a bunch of centipedes couldn’t wear all the shoes piled in her entrance way.
Women leaving the house are like hunters heading into the mountains with guns over their shoulders, except that the quarry they seek is different. Take my maternal grandmother for example, whenever she goes out she must always take a plastic string bag. Not only that, but every time I go out she has to force money on me and says: if you see any shallots, buy a bunch. Naturally women these days are less interested in shallots, but their basic makeup is still the same as ever. When F saw some men’s underpants on the street which she thought were good, she simply bought a dozen – there’s nothing about this which is hard to understand. After she bought them she came to my uncle’s house and got my uncle to try them on, while she sat in a chair cracking seeds and reading a novel. There is one thing which must be explained, and that is my uncle did not have any idea what her intention was. He didn’t want to ask and didn’t care.
Whenever Auntie Yao and my uncle canoodled I was always tyring to find a way to eavesdrop. It wasn’t really hard to arrange because the back window of her place faced directly onto our courtyard and was only ten or so metres from my tent. There was an old speaker in our house and after it broke my mother let me fix it, but the more I fixed it the worse it looked until she didn’t want it back. Actually there was never a thing wrong with it and I had concocted the original fault. So when Auntie Yao wasn’t home I jemmied open her back window and got inside. I left a cordless microphone hidden in her sofa so that in my tent I could tune in on the FM band to listen to their conversation, plus I could record. Because my uncle was senior amongst the children in his generation of the family, Auntie Yao called him “eldest brother”. One day Auntie Yao heard the neighbour’s radio broadcasting their conversation. She said: eldest brother, what a disaster! Then she added: we weren’t saying anything! My uncle growled two words “Hello Hello” then said: “You wait here for me” I heard this and fled from the tent defeated. I grabbed the tape but the speaker was too heavy and difficult to carry. So I was discovered by my uncle and the microphone in the sofa was also discovered very quickly. Luckily they were pretty generous about it and did not tell my mother. When Auntie Yao saw me she just drew her finger across her neck, making me very embarrassed. The lesson from this event was: if you want to bug other people’s conversations, make sure your equipment is up to the task. Otherwise you’ll certainly get found out. I heard Auntie Yao getting my uncle to talk about his own situation. He simply said: all my life has been waiting. Auntie Yao said very excitedly: really? Waiting for who? My uncle was silent for a while then said: waiting for a research position in mathematics, waiting to publish a novel. Auntie Yao’s voice deliberately drawled: really? And then? My uncle said: I’m still waiting. Auntie Yao said: oh. Well you just go on waiting, eh? With that she stomped out. This event showed that my uncle was only concerned about himself and showed that women like to be waited for. After the bugging incident was discovered I told Auntie Yao: I’ll wait for you forever. When she heard this she said: Crap! What do you mean wait forever, how old are you?
At school the teacher told us, there are two styles of history writing. One is scientific, that is to say, whatever has happened you just describe it. The second is the party line, that is to say, whatever has happened you lean towards not describing it. Although these two styles are mutually contradictory we cannot bash our heads against a brick wall about it. These lessons were extremely important. If I write the incident about the microphone into my uncle’s biography I’ll be dead for sure. As everyone knows, there are eavesdropping bugs all around us. I wanted to know what Auntie Yao and my uncle said on their wedding night, while the relevant government departments want to know what we say. Writing like this, how can it not be a hint, an attack?
When F was at his house my uncle stood by the door not uttering a word. Then eventually she finished reading a section and raised her head to look at my uncle. After she looked him up and down carefully, a smile crept over her face. She inclined her head, cracked a seed and said: very handsome, aren’t you. My uncle said to himself: I really don’t know about handsome. Then she lowered her head again to read the novel. She read for a while then lifted her head to look my uncle in the eye as if she was an artist looking at her own painting. But my uncle really wasn’t her painting. He was the son of my maternal grandmother. After his birth he ate for forty years and thus grew to his present large size, but it is very hard to explain this point so that some people understand. She was simply absorbed in looking at my uncle’s broad chest, his deeply hollowed stomach, his hexagonal abdomen jutting out above the underpants, and the pile, brimming tightly bagged in the those underpants. She was very satisfied with the scene and languidly retrieved a glass from the table saying: go on, get us a glass of water. My uncle took the glass and went to get water, feeling like a heavy load had been lifted from him.
The way of telling which has it that F and Auntie Yao always believed my uncle was an author is not quite correct. While my uncle was alive he did not publish any writing. So at least while he was alive he wasn’t an author. After he died he achieved posthumous publication. But this point does not explain a problem: anyone can be published posthumously. This is the enormous difference with people who are alive. This reasoning is very easy to understand. Dying is the greatest talisman. I know a few publishers who rush every day to the jails persuading prisoners on death row to write stuff. Sometimes they also take a tape recorder and follow them to the execution ground, so they can hurriedly record the last section of the novel. Some friends have gone this way and not returned, and when their wives come to get them, they are already lying in the morgue with their heart, kidneys, eyes, liver and so on all plucked from them, leaving them as stiff as a board. Of course you can imagine that some people would be shot by mistake or the presiding judge momentarily have a spasm of good humour – though of course incidents like these occurred very rarely. There are many books written by dead people like this, hence they don’t sell very well. It’s true to say that my uncle actually became an author after my biography of him was serialised in the newspaper. Then the stagnating sales of his posthumous works turned around and his books were completely sold out. Auntie Yao as the inheritor of his estate certainly collected a lot of royalties. But she really wasn’t happy and often phoned me to whine and complain. The strongest complaint was: What was so good about F? Was she pretty? I said: you’ve seen the photograph haven’t you? She said: she looked pretty average to me. I’d give her one out of four, wouldn’t you? I made a few non-committal “hm’s” and hung up. F didn’t have to be pretty, but as luck would have it she was. My uncle didn’t need to be a good writer to be an author, but as luck would have it he was. Whatever people want to do or write, the most important thing is not to worry yourself about it afterwards. If only you keep this in mind, whatever you do or write will turn about well – it’s completely unnecessary to be good looking or to write well.
I still have the recording of my uncle and Auntie Yao talking on the microphone. Once I took it around to Auntie Yao’s and played it for her. She heard a little bit then said: the air-conditioner is too loud! Actually at the time there was basically no air-conditioning. After listening a little further she rushed over to turn off the recorder. My uncle’s leisurely drawl was still a leisurely drawl after his death. It made Auntie Yao tremble and it even made me break out in goose-bumps. On the tape Auntie Yao asked him why he didn’t carry on with his mathematics. He said: mathematics didn’t excite him. Then he slowly explained: once it made my heart suddenly pound to prove a theorem or to construct a system of axioms. Auntie Yao said: well, can writing novels make you excited? My uncle sighed and said: no it can’t. Then Auntie Yao said flirtatiously: I know something that can make you excited. It was at this point while we were listening to the tape recorder that Auntie Yao charged at it waving her fist. Not only did she bang the switch off but she broke it. However I remember my uncle then saying complacently: really – and there being nothing further said. It was always hard to make my uncle’s heart suddenly start pounding, but this would not prevent him in the least from feeling constricted across the chest, short of breath and breaking out in perspiration, making him want to go to the bathroom. These are all reactions to terror and terror isn’t fear. Terror’s basic origins aren’t in the heart, but are in every single cell of the body. Even dead people can be terrified – that is unless they are already dead as stiff as a board.
I should now talk about what happened while F was at my uncle’s place. He went to pour her a glass of water, put it on the table and then stood again in the doorway. F threw a smooth glance at him and said: what are you doing always standing in the door, why don’t you sit down? My uncle then sat on the bed, his hands resting on the edge. Then F’s right hand gestured for him to come over and he sat a little closer. F changed her posture: curled up her legs, stuck out her breasts and with her left hand holding the top of the manuscript, put her right hand on my uncle’s shoulder. Her eyes were still on the draft. If you saw a man like my uncle with such well developed muscles and so little fat you’d certainly suspect he’d taken steroids or something. I’d be willing to bet you that he hadn’t because things like that have a very bad effect on the heart. F thought my uncle’s shoulder was perfectly rounded and that today’s strong men were all like that because the muscle around their necks was so developed. She stroked along the line of his shoulder all the way to the back of his neck and discovered some ball shaped thing under her palm. She got a shock: how could an Adam’s apple grow here? Then she discovered that it was made of flesh and asked: how did this happen? My uncle also got a shock and answered: carrying a pole and baskets. I should add something about this: my uncle didn’t like to argue with other people. When he was a carrier during the Cultural Revolution no matter how much people told him to carry, he would carry it. Because people thought he was showing off they would make him carry more and more. In the end, once when he was carrying a load across a small bridge, the bridge snapped and all the people carrying poles fell into the ditch. Someone asked him: are you alright? Even beasts of burden can cry out. To cut a long story short, that’s the sort of unfortunate prick he is. But his skin is very smooth. Then F put her whole arm around his neck and my uncle could smell the stink of the seeds from her mouth. I’ve already said that my uncle never ate snacks and so he didn’t like that sort of smell.
Now I can say something about the meaning of my uncle’s waiting. It was the waiting which made his heart throb and his heart really was a very troublesome, very difficult organ. First it was smitten by rheumatism and then became the victim of morphine injections and so went very quickly into decrepitude. Modern progress is very fast. Nothing is impossible, doing mathematics and then history and afterwards developing to the point of novel writing. However, his heart deteriorated even faster. In 1999 he was almost a man without a heart and he even thought very sadly: it’s very possible that I will wait in vain for everything, and then just die. But on the surface you couldn’t see these shortcomings in my uncle’s massive build. His skin was smooth and he sat very quietly on the bed with his two hands on his lap. F raised her head to look at his face and seeing his calm expression just laughed and said: you’re a very interesting person. My uncle said: thank you. He was extremely polite. Then she discovered that my uncle’s neck was extremely muscular and carefully and minutely examined it. She really wanted to tie her scarf around my uncle. Who knows why not, but she didn’t do it.
Auntie Yao said my uncle really loved her. Before they got married he had kissed her and even fondled her. She told me, your uncle’s hands are big and soft. As she spoke she used both hands to lift up the hem of her skirt to make a pocket in order to show how what my uncle’s hands were like. However, I do not remember my uncle’s hands being so large. On one occasion my uncle was also a little excited, even to the point of a little humour. When our family was eating a meal at a long-famous western restaurant near the zoo, he said to the waiter: miss, may I trouble you to bring an axe. The steak is too tough. She got a knife and hacked the steak but couldn’t pierce it. So she said: I’ll get another one for you and took the steak away. We ate the salad and drank the soup and ate every bit of bread, but the steak still hadn’t come. In the end we gave up waiting and left the restaurant. Suddenly the two of them stopped and Auntie Yao said to my mother: elder sister, we’re getting married today. My mother said: I’ll be darned! Why didn’t you say so earlier. We should mark the occasion. I followed with: yes yes, you two will soon be settled. My uncle patted me on the head and after Auntie Yao and my mother exchanged a few more unfussed words they crammed together into a taxi with my uncle and left me. I suffered a lovelorn pain but there was nobody to comfort me. There was nobody interested in me and I wanted someone to be interested in me. I would just have to wait.
After F examined my uncle’s neck closely she simply said to him: sit here. My uncle moved over, sitting with his back to the wall. F stood up and kicked off her high-heeled shoes and sat down shoulder to shoulder with him. After cracking a few seeds she suddenly lay down horizontally and pillowed her head on his belly. If it was anyone else with a head of soft tousled hair nestled on their belly, they’d feel quite chuffed and even feel extremely good. But my uncle was a man who never dared even to tighten his belt because when there was pressure on his belly he felt a tightening on his chest. He didn’t dare say anything and could only use all the strength of his arm across his belly to support her weight. So the muscles on his chest and shoulders stood out in chunks. He looked like he was waiting for the judges in a body beautiful contest to award points. In fact he wasn’t. F rolled onto her back with her hands holding up some manuscript pages, then she rolled again onto her side and stood the pages on the bed. This way with her back to my uncle one hand held the manuscript while the other could still reach for the seeds. In this position she sighed with great satisfaction: How comfortable! I think that in all probability my uncle would not have agreed with this statement.
I like Calvino’s story The Non-Existent Knight. The Knight’s situation is this: he can do military drills, he can enter the lists, and he can lead soldiers into battle, but he doesn’t exist. If you open his visor, you will only see a black, hole. The part of the story which moves people is that the non-existent Knight can eat (although he has to cut the meat on his plate to mince and roll his bread into little balls) and he can make love with women (and when he does, his embraces of the noble ladies make them excited and ecstatic). But he cannot take off the armoured mask. If he does he becomes completely flaccid and disappears into thin air. So the women he makes love to don’t know who he is, whether he is male or female or even whether his love is of the homosexual or heterosexual kind. You have never seen F yawn but sometimes you can see her holding her mouth tightly shut, her chin relaxing and her nostrils flaring. It is then that she is yawning. You have also never seen her laughing but actually she is often laughing at you. However the laugh only happens inside her. It cannot be seen outside. While lying on my uncle’s stomach reading the novel she got him to stroke her stomach and he then discovered that she is always laughing (and of course he also discovered her abdomen was very flat). This is quite normal because my uncle’s style is black humour. [xx sent up to here to lyn tranter 21 Nov 2000] Because of the way she laughed she had to go to the bathroom as soon as she drank anything. She laughed and seemed not to be laughing, she yawned and seemed not to be yawning, and the non-existent knight ate and seemed not to be eating, made love and seemed not to be making love. My uncle never yawned, never laughed and never screamed and shouted. This was because activities like that increased the load on his heart. Which of the two was most non-existent I’m still unsure.
Auntie Yao said to me, that F, you just blindly edited her in, there’s no such person. I said: you’re right. She suddenly straightened her clothes and sat up properly saying: Are you telling the truth? I said: I’m making it up. She yelled: Bastard! The same as your uncle! This way of speaking was incorrect, my uncle and I are utterly different. Actually Auntie Yao and other women are the same, not caring a jot about issues of truth and falsity; so long as they can call you a bastard they’re satisfied. When we sat in her bedroom Auntie Yao wore red satin pyjamas with black hems around the collar and sleeves and tied with a black belt. She loosened the belt, revealing her large shapely breasts and said: come on, let’s see if you can do it right. After the business was done she said: it still wasn’t done right. Nowadays at her age she’s starting from scratch to study theoretical physics again and often rings me up in the middle of the night to ask a laughable childish question. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of anyone studying theoretical physics twice in a lifetime.
Now I should continue to speak of my uncle and F. He sat on the bed with his hand supporting F’s head and gradually felt his muscles begin to ache. It still wasn’t good for him to say anything, so he began to think back over some metamathematics. This is a branch of mathematics. It can also be said to be the basis of mathematics and its functions give people headaches. After I had decided to write my uncle’s biography I searched for several books on the subject, read them and then took several aspirins; direct experience such as this can demonstrate that my uncle began to study this field when he came to the end of his tether. When entering this field the first thing a person needs is a pencil and some paper. If you only use your brain for the symbols and trivial intricacies of the formulas it’s a real pain in the neck, but with pencil and paper to make notes the pain goes away. But in this situation he had no pencil or paper, so he used a fingernail on the skin of his thigh. Before he had drawn much at all F rolled over and said: what the hell are you scratching and scraping about? My uncle took no notice of her because he was thinking about mathematical problems. F rolled over and continued reading the novel then discovered he was scratching and scraping again. She just sat up and took a bite of my uncle’s throat an inch below his larynx. However, she didn’t bite off flesh, only leaving tooth marks. Then she backed off and watched his eyes pop and the purple mark on his chest fade, thinking it very fascinating. Then she pointed at my uncle’s right shoulder and said: I also want to take a bite there. My uncle didn’t say a word, only offered his right shoulder. She bit the spot then said: put your hand on my belly. My uncle put his hand there, discovered her whole abdomen was twitching and thought: oh, so that was very amusing. However, what was so amusing he could not for the life of him work out.
The way F thought about my uncle was like this: he had a great lump of a head, was mild and docile and had solid flesh and muscle (she had used her teeth to feel it) like an old water buffalo. Auntie Yao thought of him in much the same way, only thinking he was like a horse; this was because she hadn’t bitten my uncle. That evening the two of them came home in a taxi and lay down on the double bed where Auntie Yao extended her foot to my uncle’s belly. I’ve already said that my uncle’s belly couldn’t handle pressure, so he supported her foot in the hollow of his hand. Auntie Yao extended her other foot towards his belly and my uncle used his other hand to support it. When a person’s legs are tired, to prop them up is very comfortable. Auntie Yao felt very comfortable and promptly fell asleep. But my uncle didn’t sleep. A dim yellow electric bulb lit the room. I crouched outside looking through the window thinking the scene was incredibly weird. And I also thought my uncle must have had a heartfelt admiration for crabs, spiders, octopuses and that sort of animal and if he really had that many limbs, to spare a couple to support Auntie Yao’s feet would certainly have been very convenient. But if Auntie Yao awoke after a little nap to find her newly wed husband had turned into a large spider he would also certainly have been frightened by her piercing screams and shouts. I thought my own imaginings were very interesting and completely forgot my lovelorn pain.
Now I should say a little about myself. I’ve been unlucky in love about twenty times, but the pain is milder and milder each time. After the age of twenty I wasn’t unlucky in love again, so I think it’s like having a case of hives – if you haven’t had it a few times you have no immunity. While queueing in the grocery store Auntie Yao’s special revelation came from the girl selling pasties. After the realisation she made me go over with her to have a look. We bought several pasties and then headed for home together and she said: the moustache. The down on that girl’s upper lip was a bit thick. Before that I hadn’t thought it was a problem but as soon as I heard her say so I made a painful resolution and severed thousands of love ties, giving my unrequited love to a girl from a higher grade until she failed to pass the entrance exam for the selective high school. You should know that I have a very high regard for intelligence; I don’t like stupid people. This was the case with my first three lost loves. The last one was like this: one day I saw a girl approaching me on the sidewalk. She was beautiful and I just fell in love with her. As she passed me I smelt an awful smell and didn’t love her anymore. Auntie Yao said my affections were too indiscriminate, too unfocussed. I said it was all caused by her. As soon as she heard this she cried: Brat! Have some respect for your uncle’s wife! Now when I call her uncle’s wife she’s not happy about it. This shows that women of about thirty are willing to be called uncle’s wife, but when they reach forty-five it’s a different story.
They say that Alejo Carpentier wrote a novel according to the rhythm of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. But only Beethoven himself could pass judgement on whether he actually did. In any case, when he wrote the book Beethoven was already dead. All my uncle’s novels had models, one of which was “Lectures in Logic.” Page 78 of that book says:
1. True propositions are contained within the set of truth-values of all propositions.
2. Truth-values of false propositions are contained within the set of all propositions.
My uncle’s novel on page 78 also has a passage vindicating himself: in every generation good novels can be written; bad novels are also popular in every generation. In logician’s terms the above statements are known as the “paradox of inherent truth-values”. This passage has been expunged from current teaching materials and replaced by “……”. The reason is to propagate nihilism. In my uncle’s book the passage has also been replaced with an “x”. The reason is also to propagate nihilism. Sites of literary correspondence like this can be found everywhere in these two books. Hence the two books have many “……”s and “x”s. His best selling book is completely composed of “x”s and full stops. What the model for it was I of course cannot say. People are fascinated by it so that as soon as a copy comes into people’s hands they all fill in the words. The situation is a little like doing a crossword puzzle. When F read the novels there were no “x”s and this is the reason my uncle was in a cold sweat. However, F did not point out the inappropriate places perhaps because at the time she was already off duty. When it was almost dark F jumped up, straightened up her hair and left. My uncle continued sitting on the bed without moving a muscle until he heard the car starting up downstairs and then went to the window and looked down. The cars tail-lights and headlights were lit up as it drove down the darkening road. He hoisted himself up slowly and headed to the toilet to mop his face before coming back and taking a book from the bookshelf to read. Perhaps it was a book on mathematics, or even a novel. But my uncle is dead now so whatever he read is not important anymore. As he read he imagined that F had already reached the public park and on the dark forested road had again arrested a tall person with long hair. Perhaps the person also carried an empty lighter or a box of headless matches. Or perhaps they carried nothing at all and were engaged in a different irrational activity. After being arrested by her perhaps the person was utterly well behaved, but perhaps also was stubborn and unyeilding. So F used her natural deep contralto and said: routine inspection, please cooperate! In the last century the word “cooperate” was used far too excessively. Originally small groceries were called “cooperatives”. Then later the usage meant to organise various activities into cooperatives, which of course in the majority of situations meant allowing yourself to be seized without putting up a fight. Its latest evolution as a synonym for sweet, or “nice” as they say in English, was a product of the end of the century. F’s work was to check on everyone’s cooperation or otherwise. My uncle thought, perhaps she will discover a more cooperative person and never come again. But having thought this the felt slightly upset at the loss. But he needn’t have worried, there were very few people more cooperative than him – in other words very few people were sweeter, or “nicer” as they say in English, than him because he was a person without a heart.
Because I said that my uncle was a very cooperative person, a reader wrote a letter to the newspaper saying I had private motives for writing. He believed that my uncle was basically uncooperative because he had secretly written a “paradox of inherent truth-values” into the novels. I suspect the reader was a novelist and was jealous that my uncle could be published. However, I still wrote a rebuttal article explaining that my uncle wasn’t interested in that sort of thing and always wrote in secret at home. Moreover he would never dare write letters to the newspaper incurring the wrath of historians. After this rebuttal nobody wrote another letter. This type of occurrence is very annoying. As everyone knows, nowadays mathematical logic is currently under attack. The official method of referring to it is as a pseudoscience, exactly as in the relativism of the early part of last century in the Soviet Union. In the middle of last century it was the same in China with Malthus’ “Population Theory”. In another while perhaps it will be discovered that not having mathematical logic is not good, and it will be rehabilitated after its alleged crimes. Before that I really could not consider drawing on myself the crime of “Disseminating Mathematical Logic”.
During the era in which my uncle lived, street lights at night were very few and in the evening there were no lights in the majority of windows. He put on a light to read and attracted huge swarms of mosquitoes and moths belting and battering against the window screen. Then he turned out the light and the room was inky black. Only the window remained as an ashy duskiness and you could feel that the air was moving. Although he lived on the fourteenth floor my uncle really felt people were peeping in through the window and could rush in at any time. What he thought was this: If someone rushes in I’ll cooperate. If no one rushes in, fine. After thinking this he lay down and slept.
Auntie Yao said my uncle was also very cooperative on their wedding night. That evening as soon as she awoke and saw the room was pitch black she got up and turned on the light. With the brightness of the light she saw my uncle sitting at the head of the bed shaking his hands. She thought this very strange because she did not know that he had been using his hands all along to support her feet and thus cutting off the circulation and leaving both hands numb. Because it was a fluorescent light in her room and that type of light flickers fifty times a second, she saw that my uncle had many hands. It was very spooky. Then he stopped shaking them and the hands disappeared leaving only two behind. But she still thought my uncle was very strange. The way I see it, when some women first decide to make love to a certain man, they have this type of feeling towards him. Auntie Yao is one of those women. She said to my uncle: go and have a wash eh? He went into the bathroom and when he came out she didn’t look at him. She went into the bathroom, had a shower, put on her bright pink negligee and panties and came out. By that time my uncle had already turned out the main light, turned on the bed-head light, laid down on the bed and covered himself with the terry-toweling quilt. Auntie Yao came over, drew back the terry-toweling quilt and laid down side by side with my uncle. My uncle then said: let’s go to sleep eh. He made no further noise expect for the sound of gentle breathing and actually fell asleep. Auntie Yao remembered what my mother had said: “Perhaps my younger brother is not right.” She had at first forgotten this. But she still decided on a course of action. Once he was sleeping soundly she very quietly got up and turned on the table lamp. She undid her negligee herself, stripped back the terry-toweling quilt and straddled my uncle like a giant frog. She nestled her face against that icy cold place on my uncle’s chest, that is to say where his heart was, and then went to sleep. Auntie Yao has told quite a few people about this. Some people believe that “cooperation” ought to be different for men and women and that if a man behaves like this on his wedding night it cannot be called “cooperation”. At a moment like this a man’s cooperation should be to get up and take some action. In this respect I completely agree with Auntie Yao’s idea: cooperation is a supreme definitional domain and cannot be divided according to the moment or according to male or female. It is in the domain of “acceptance”; taking some action is not cooperation.
That night the weather was sweltering and my uncle found it very hard to take. His chest was constricted and his breathing was short. Hot sweat coursed down his neck. At midnight there was a shower of rain and it became delightfully cool. It was then that my uncle went to sleep. When he awoke, the scene outside the window was ashen duskiness of about four o’clock. Although it was summer it was very cold. In the shadowy darkness he saw F standing at the head of the bed. Her hair was damp and she was just heading towards the book shelf to hang up her skirt. Then she turned around and my uncle saw her fastening the front of her blouse revealing black silk panties. Black silk stockings were already piled on the chair. Then she stretched languidly – arms half extended and raised as if shouting slogans – and yawned crinkling her nose. My uncle knew that when F yawned, others shouldn’t see it; so he felt the situation wasn’t quite right. Then F pulled back the terry-toweling quilt covering my uncle and climbed into bed. She even shoved him with her shoulder and said: move over a bit. Naturally my uncle shrank away, in other words leaned his body away. F then turned her back to him and lay down. He thought, perhaps F is sleepwalking, or being overtired after work has taken the wrong road. The results of these two situations were the same, that is, F really didn’t know where she was and didn’t know who my uncle was. So my uncle couldn’t decide whether F was sleepwalking, hence not being able to decide to say something to her was not an offence. If you are a person prepared to be cooperative you will certainly agree that not being able to decide whether another person is sleepwalking is the biggest nightmare of your life. If you think the other person is asleep but they are awake, you’ve committed a fatal error because you shouldn’t slander a person by saying they are asleep. If you think someone is awake but they are asleep, that’s also a fatal error because you have the responsibility for waking them. My uncle was deadlocked there and didn’t dare move a muscle. Then F said in a drowsy voice: you smell sweaty. Go and have a wash, eh. My uncle got up very quietly and went to the bathroom to have a shower.
That morning my uncle had a cold shower. As the water had come through the pipes it had come from deeper in the system and so got colder and colder. Every pore of his body closed tightly. So his scrotum shrank tight and he clamped both arms around his ribs. He turned off the tap and looked out the window and saw it was endlessly grey outside. Then he came out of the bathroom and saw that F was spreadeagled on the bed, already sound asleep.
The greatest contribution of psychology in the twenty-first century is to prove that people can sleepwalk at any time in any place and can sleep and dream with their eyes open. Not only that, but the busier that eminent people are with their countless daily tasks, the easier it is for them to suffer this malady. This provides a very good tool to those charged with the writing of history. Many great historical events can be explained using this theory. When people are sleepwalking the more you say they are sleepwalking, the deeper they enter the dream state. Therefore you must wait in complete silence for them to awaken. However, sometimes it is not possible to tell people to wait because they cannot live forever xx.p96
The longer you live in this world the more you will discover that some people are always sleepwalking. Communications problems arising therefore are a very serious issue for people who have healthy hearts, let alone my uncle who is a sick man. He sat on the chair while F slept. The black bow tie on her blouse was open and drooped over her shoulder. It was as cold in the room as if it had been doused in water. A hazy astringent smell of fresh fruit hung in the room. At first complete silence surrounded him, then gradually the sound of bird calls came from the grove below. It was then that F awoke. She told my uncle to stand up and also told him to take off his underpants and come over and sit on the bed. My uncle’s thingy gradually straightened up like a smooth straight rod. F bent towards it, feeling an inexplicit ardor. Her fingers flicked it lightly and she discovered it quivered gently. F licked her lips and said: let’s party. Then she took off her top. At that moment there was something my uncle wanted to say, but he didn’t say anything.
My uncle’s biography was published in the Biographical Reporter which because of the above passage was suspended for three days and fined. To compensate subscribers for their loss the newspaper office decided to give a coke to each subscriber every day. The managing editor said, we have already been fined and the additional money for the coke can’t come from us. I could use a check or credit card to pay for the coke myself and borrowed a small truck and ran all over the city to find cheap coke. In the end I finally found the cheapest xxp97. What made me happiest was: it was a diet coke completely unsweetened but with a taste of licorice. No Chinese person like to drink this but this was precisely the type I gave Chinese people to drink. This situation demonstrates that I don’t like to cooperate xxp97 as everyone knows, we always receive our manuscript fees from the newspaper office and the situation has never arisen where we have to pay subsidies to the newspaper office. However, I cannot but cooperate because it was my manuscript which caused the them to cease publication and if I don’t cooperate nobody will commission my manuscripts in future. Under these circumstances I find it hard to take and get very annoyed, then I’m very uptight for the whole day. Because of this unusual experience I can understand how my uncle felt at the time. He sat stark naked on the bed with his back to F and all about him the air was freezing cold. F bent over and nestled her head on his thigh, her eyes fastened on his play tool which made him extremely embarrassed. And when his play tool was embarrassed it expanded and the veins throbbed and enlarged. No matter what is said, other people have not seen my embarrassment, although my uncle has been stared at by other people. Therefore his face flushed red, and it seemed with great gusto. Actually if F had not said “let’s party”, he would not have said “sorry” or something like “sorry for that” as they say in English. Until the end he didn’t know if that was cooperating or not, because viewed from the bottom section he was seething with anger, was stiff necked and refusing to be cowed. This is not an attitude of cooperation. Viewed from the top his face was completely ashamed and extremely shy and bashful. This was in fact extremely cooperative. All the while he was doing the act he felt ashamed and awkward and afterwards shrank into a ball on the bed like a dog that has just been beaten. Luckily F didn’t say anything to him afterwards. She had a cold shower, put on her clothes and left. In relation to this section of my uncle’s biography the Biographical Recorder pronounced: the literary talent of you sir (meaning me) is enormous which a small paper like ours cannot possibly have the good fortune to enjoy. In addition, we cannot put ourselves in the position of knowingly committing a crime. This is the issue as it is raised from the viewpoint of the newspaper office. Also the issue raised from our point of view is this: you sir are a famous biographer and also a member of the History Academy and could not commit the crime of this obscene sexual depiction – this is the work of a novelist, and one of a very lower order. However, my uncle did this obscene act so what course of action could I take.
These are all historical facts. The events which are not historical facts are like this: After my uncle and Auntie Yao were married he went back to the place where he originally lived, fished out an old typewriter and pitter-patted all day long typing. Auntie Yao asked me to come and see him but I would not agree to go. This was because in my mind’s eye Auntie Yao no longer held the same weight. Then she agreed to give me ten yuan so it was a different matter. To ride to my uncle’s, there and back, needed an hour. Earning an hourly wage of ten yuan at the age of thirteen was actually not bad at all. I thought that for ten yuan an hour I couldn’t just go and see him, I’d have to perform some extra service. So I asked Auntie Yao: shouldn’t I have a chat to him about something at the same time? She appeared to be coy and shy and said: why would you ask him anything? Why not just go home? I really wanted to remember to ask him something in particular but when I got there I forgot to.
To write my uncle’s biography I firstly did some preparatory work. I didn’t just pick up a pen and write. For example, I wrote a letter to his supervisor while he was studying overseas and asked about my uncle’s talent and intellect. The elderly gentleman was now seventy and wrote back saying: he remembered my uncle as a reticent oriental who was brilliant at first meeting but afterwards became very stupid. I wrote again to ask: when was my uncle brilliant and when was he stupid. He told me, when my uncle first came to the department as his research student he was brilliant. Afterwards he returned to China to recuperate from illness and then became stupid, often posting unintelligible papers (as they say in English) claiming he had proved some theorem or invented some system. Actually the theorems or systems had already been discovered by other people and the elderly gentleman asked, how could your uncle forget these? In the beginning he had posted my uncle photocopies and told him that these things were not new; afterwards he didn’t respond again to my uncle. Because my uncle’s discoveries ran counter to the tide of history, that is to say, in the beginning he discovered high level and complex theorems, then discovered simple and elemental theorems, and lastly discovered that mathematics basically didn’t exist, to get people to look at them was actually meaningless. Considering that the recipient of the letter was the nephew of the gentleman he was describing, he added a postscript to console me: in my opinion eventually all brilliant people turn into idiots. Take for example himself, originally he was brilliant but had no become “an odorless old fart”. This phrase in English is not offensive but when translated into Chinese becomes offensive. If it is said that for brilliant people to become old farts is a universal law and that this event always occurs in men after the age of forty, then taking my uncle as a specific example, it happened at around the time he married Auntie Yao. The event was also reflected in his novels. Before he married there were many x’s in his novels and after he married the x’s were fewer. Several months before he was squashed flat by an elevator, he wrote a novel and it is now printed without a single x in it. Of course this also depends on the person and what sort of occupation they do. Some people never prove the most simple mathematical theorems and some also write novels without a single x, and some occupations never produce brilliant people. Women’s bodies also have a similar change. From looking better without clothes there is a change to looking better when wearing something. This event always occurs in women after the age of thirty. Of course it also depends on the woman and the clothes. Some women are always better in clothes and some clothes when worn are always worse than not wearing anything at all. Originally I had planned to take this as the main topic in writing about my uncle and Auntie Yao, however, all the relevant parties, including higher authority leaders, the newsroom of the Biographical Reporter, and the publishing house of my uncle’s novels all would not allow writing of this kind. They said: according to my logic everybody had already turned into an old fart or was always an old fart, had already become good looking “covered up” or were always good looking covered up. Currently there are too many men over the age of forty and women over the age of thirty and we will not be offensive. Therefore I simply wrote clues about my uncle and F. Those who know how to write write but still don’t communicate xx99 . If this was known earlier then Auntie Yao should have been written. As my uncle’s widow she doesn’t care a bit that I turn him into an old fart. In relation to this she has a strange logic and according to this logic she says: doing it this way makes us even.
I’ve said that my uncle had heart disease from a very young age. The doctor said to him: you cannot climb stairs, you cannot gulp water, you cannot smoke or drink, you cannot …… there were many cannots. Among them of course was you cannot make love. However, the doctor also said: if you don’t want to live, you can do anything you like. The leaders said to me: if you don’t exceed the proper bounds you can write whatever you like. The sentence structures of these two sentences are similar but the meanings are opposite. The meanings of wanting to live and exceeding proper bounds are absolutely contradictory. Therefore as soon as my uncle decided he didn’t want to live could do anything at all he wanted. Likewise if we don’t exceed the bounds we cannot write anything. My uncle always wanted to live. So if he got home one day and saw the elevator had no power he would wait downstairs. If there was still no power by the time it was dark he would catch a taxi and come to our place and squeeze into a bed with me. My bed was quite spacious for sleeping a single person but there really wasn’t enough space for adding a burly lump of ninety kilograms. Because of this, on their wedding night he said to Auntie Yao, go to sleep eh. The next morning when he woke up he saw Auntie Yao sleeping on his chest. At that time she had a pure nature and beautifully shapely breasts. Other parts of her body ware also quite good looking. After my uncle saw her he immediately changed his mind and didn’t want to live. He rushed home at once to arrange his will and funeral and finish writing the novel he hadn’t finished writing. Then he gathered his thoughts and wrote up all his mathematical ideas into a thesis and quickly posted it off. He did these things in too much of a hurry. So his novel was not well written and his thesis had the flavor of an old fart about it. The fellow was completely self-absorbed and while he was doing these things either forgot or basically couldn’t think of giving Auntie Yao the time of day. Then he actually got me to go and tell Auntie Yao that he had finished and was returning. After I got there I completely forgot to tell Auntie Yao. So she now suspects that during this time my uncle was having sex with F, making love day in and day out without a break. F wore a lined polka-dot blouse, a black skirt and a black scarf around her neck, and her underclothes were black. Auntie Yao told me, she had never worn black underclothes because she thought they were too indecent. Actually I had not thought of this point. In a word, when my uncle returned again to Auntie Yao’s his head was already bald and his skin had changed to a deathly grey. He looked utterly like an old fart. He asked to make love to Auntie Yao and she agreed but it was a dry and sour and difficult feeling because “Your uncle’s bald pate was like a mirror resting on the middle of my stomach!”
I was at her house when Auntie Yao told me this. I said: you’re wrong. You said my uncle was a kind and virtuous man and it was a pleasure to make love to him. Why are you now changing and saying dry and sour? She just put her fist in her mouth and too a bite of it saying: did I say that? I told her the time, place and circumstances, leaving her no chance to deny it. This is a basic skill of us historians. However, time, place and circumstances can all be amended. She said: I don’t remember. Then added: even if I did, can’t I change my mind? I agreed enthusiastically with this last statement and said: don’t study physics, you should study history. I see that you have a talent for it. I’ll enroll you as a research student, eh. She was stupified for a moment and said: you really can talk, can’t you? With this it was my turn to be stupified. It showed that women have no sense of humor, or if so it’s very limited. Actually I had no intention of enrolling her as a research student because it was very likely that the authorities would not allow me to enroll research students this year – I had already exceeded the proper bounds.
I should now say something about how I exceeded the proper bounds. One morning I received a summons telling me to pay a visit to the publishing house. When I got there they punched a hole in my history license, wrote me a fine for 3000 yuan and told me to go and pay it. Because my license now had three holes I would be stopped writing for three months. And I would have to attend a two-week class. From now on I had to go to a basement room of the publishing house and situation together with a bunch of novelists, poets and artists. A girl wearing a black leather jacket sat in the chairperson’s seat holding a black cane in her hand and said: Everyone must speak. The people who have just arrived must speak first. What’s the matter with you? I replied very shyly: I’m obscene. Whack! She lashed her cane on the dossier and shouted: We’ve got all sorts of crimes here. And now obscenity! What do you do? I said: historian. She whacked her cane again; this time on the desk and said: an historian who commits obscenity! That’s a new one. Did you think we wouldn’t check on you? I lowered my voice and made a humble self-criticism. When it came time for lunch I went with her to eat and I took the chance to slip an emerald necklace I’d bought for her into her bag. She looked at me and laughed saying: twerp, don’t step out of line. You don’t remember me eh. Of course I remembered her. She was a genuine sadist. When she got going is was neither with a light hand nor a heavy hand. If it was any use begging other people it was no use begging her. However, my license already had three holes so I had no choice but to beg. I said: I’d like to sit the examination for a philosophy license. She said: if there’s something to talk about come to my house in the evening. The key is in the same place … … bring a bottle of Remy Martin. I mopped the sweat off my face and said: I’ll be there. So she got up, brandished her cane and said: I’ve got something else on this afternoon. If anyone gives you any trouble let me know eh.
I was certainly bullied a lot in the class but this didn’t mean I went and made a complaint to the superintendent (the woman wearing the black jacket who was also a Normal University History Department graduate and was therefore my sister teacher. In the afternoon when we divided into discussion groups I heard many damaging comments about myself. One novelist said very sarcastically: I really do believe that we have a patent on obscenity. And a poet said: this gentleman is the forerunner of obscene history. He will certainly go down in the annals of history. Then an artist said: how could my respected colleague write obscene history without letting on to us mere mortals? Let me do a few illustrations, I could really do the trick, nudge nudge. One or two comments like this weren’t anything to worry about but as I heard more of them my face broke out in a sweat. I couldn’t help myself saying by way of explanation: ladies and gentlemen, I wrote about my own family, my own flesh and blood, my mother’s younger brother. So although I committed the error of being obscene there is room for excusing me. This caused an uproar and some began shouting: we had no idea that historians could do this sort of thing! This sort of confrontation made me all the more determined to sit the exam for a philosophy license. As everyone knows, philosophers very rarely exceed the proper bounds, and if they do the propaganda department brings them into line so that they don’t fall so such a low level.
I took a bottle of Remy Martin to the house of that girl from the publishing company. She lived in a garden apartment block in the suburbs which had a cherry tree in the courtyard. Each time I went there she would always take me to look at the tree. It was a huge gnarled and twisted tree capable of hanging quite a few people at once. As I looked at it I felt a vague premonition. In the evening the garden was thick and dark and the old tree didn’t look at all ugly. After looking at the tree and coming back inside to the sitting room she made me join her in a game but then said: take it easy, we’re just friends. The first “take it easy” was when I was Admiral Potemkin, the ruthless official of the former Russia and she was Catherine the Great. So I had to genuflect to her, kiss her hand and present her with a cake saying it was the Sultan of Turkey’s head. She made me eat the whole thing and I was so stuffed I didn’t feel like eating for three days. In the next round she was Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty and I won’t say who I was lest I should disgrace the ancestors — let’s just say I presented a memorial to the Empress saying: Minister Yang presents erect and tall. She said: bring it out and let me have a look — can this be called erect and tall? This was very hard for me to take. In this round she was also a female Red Guard from the last century with two plaits bound against her head like ram’s horns, wearing a green army uniform and waving her arms about like a braggart in military dress while I wore a blue Mao suit and a tall paper mache hat. She shouted: if you intellectuals don’t get a good beating for three days your skin begins to itch. So I wept and fawned and replied: my thinking is not properly reformed — oops! Wrong, that’s what the young militants said. My thinking is not properly reformed, is it? She said: well first we’ll work on your body and afterwards touch your very soul. You can’t have any objection? I said: how could your servant dare. She said: baloney. What period is “your servant” from? And you call yourself a historian. I really didn’t know what to say (did Red Guards ask permission from their victims before they beat them up?), so simply said: even death can’t atone for my crime. Smash my dog’s head. So then she said: get out! Scrub the toilet! I went to clean the toilet and the bathroom. When I came back every bone in my body was aching and I was beaten black and blue. The funny thing was that she seemed to be even more tired than me. It wasn’t at all strange that she wanted to think of the bruises on my back as internal. Then she went over and laid down on the sofa saying: ah, it really hits the spot to play with a historian! The twentieth century really was a romantic one, don’t you think? Actually I couldn’t see anything romantic in it at all. If I was allowed to chose I’d rather be Potemkin. That is to say, I think the eighteenth century was even more romantic. However I didn’t want to argue with the great supervisor.
Afterwards I was a philosopher and this was how it came to be: I submitted a philosophy thesis, went through the viva, and received a philosophy doctorate. When you consider the Supervisor for Literature and History at the Licensing Office of the publishing house, that is, my sister teacher who’d given me the nod, the speed of it wasn’t too quick. But if no one had given me the nod, I would have been the greatest philosophy genius since Aristotle. Now I have two licenses. One is crimson with three holes punched through it. The other one is dark red and brand spanking new, without any holes, like a virgin. I feel just great when I take it out of my wallet to have a look at it. But I have to remember at such moments that I’m not Wu Zetian, I’m not Catherine the Great, and I’m not a Red Guard. Quintessentially I’m the same sort of man as my uncle. Although he didn’t get a license and I could, I only got mine so that I could get holes punched through it. In the words of the great supervisor, this is called despicable. I’m the same as my uncle, we have a little bit of genius and therefore are very despicable.
The Biographical Reporter has set a date for my completion of my uncle’s biography. In addition, whatever I want to write I can write and they don’t even check the manuscript. This story tells us: if an event is said to the fabrication of a novelist then there are serious problems, but if the same event is said to be historical fact, the problems are trifling, though there are still problems. If you say it’s a profound metaphor and a lofty piece of symbolism necessitating thoughtful analysis, then there is not the slightest problem. In the first situation you must answer why you have fabricated in this manner, with what motivation and what ulterior intentions. Then there is simply no room at all for excuses. In the second situation you can of course excuse yourself by saying that the event certainly occurred. But then people can blink at this saying: I don’t think this kind of thing should ever have happened! In the third situation it’s actually you who can blink at it saying: you want me to explain why I wrote this? If I explain to you, will you understand?
Undoubtedly this last scenario is most beneficial for authors, and this is why I did my utmost to get a philosophy license. The reason why publications pay such attention to these matters is that if authors run into any problems then the publications are suspended and fined. Therefore when the serialization of my uncle’s biography began it wasn’t called a biography but rather was called a philosophical novel. Reader’s reactions were not negative. Some letters to the editor and editorials said Diderot has written Rameau’s Nephew and now we have My Uncle which is actually much better. Then there were people who said whether it be a biography or a philosophical novel it is essential reading for our time. The annoying thing is that the old hands of the philosophy profession made trouble. For example, a famous feminist philosopher attacked me in an article saying: in effect My Uncle is a story describing the oppression of the individual in a patriarchal society and it is regrettable that the story has been twisted. The uncle should be a woman (in that case she wouldn’t be my uncle but would be my aunty) and F should be a man (in which case he’d be called M and not F). This is what’s called jabbering. Am I not supposed to know whether my uncle is a man or a woman? There is an open secret you probably know of: the great majority of feminist philosophers, whether they be called Poppy or Pollyanna, are all a bunch of transvestite men wearing high-collared Mao suits to camouflage their Adam’s apples, high heeled shoes as big as ocean liners under their skirts, bodies smothered in overpowering perfume and farts that rip like thunder. Public paying-toilets on the main streets all erect signs: No Entry for Philosophers. You can say my uncle was a mathematician or a novelist, but you can’t say he was a philosopher. Therefore it doesn’t matter whether the society that surrounded him was patriarchal or not, he was still a man. And of course you could also say that he was lucky to be a man full stop.
Speaking of my uncle being a man reminds me of my philosophy thesis. As everyone knows, I avoided the qualifying exam to get my philosophy doctorate, and this has aroused extreme hatred in people. The degree conferring committee was certainly going to give me a roasting so the type of thesis I did was extremely crucial. If I did a thesis on the philosophy of science they would cross-examine me on everything from astrophysics to advanced mathematics. If I made one tiny slip they would immediately criticise me: what sort of Tom, Dick or Harry comes like this to a doctoral examination? You don’t know what you’re talking about, instant expert. Push off smarty-pants. But I did a history of philosophy thesis and as a result they brought out the calligraphy of the Zhou Dynasty, the XiXia Dynasty and Mayan civilization to test my knowledge, waiting for me to make a mistake so they could tell me to fall on my sword. But I hung on unwilling to die and they simply said: we know you’ve got powerful connections who we dare not provoke. So piss off. We’ll give you a tick. From the above narrative it can be seen that philosophy in itself is not to be feared, but rather its related fields of study. Feminist philosophy is actually the best subject. If you are a man disguised in women’s clothing standing in front of the degree conferring committee, you’ll shine in the eyes of the women committee members. What’s more, except for Ms Flowerpot and Ms Pear Blossom, they really don’t ask any questions at all. This explains why there are currently such large numbers of feminist philosophers. My fellow sister teacher also urged me to do feminist philosophy. She said there would be lots of friends in the field. I’d rather live an existence of miserable disgrace than dress up as a woman. But despite having said this, to be a girl, whether real or fake, is undoubtedly a talisman. Another most useful talisman is to be born a lowly homo sapiens.
After my uncle got to know F he was often a guest at her place. Sometimes he was a Stinking Ninth Category, sometimes he was Potemkin, and sometimes he was a Jew. F was sometimes a Red Guard, sometimes Catherine the Great, and sometimes a Nazi. In my story he never turned into an old fart and she always had shiny jet black hair and a gloomy expression. This doesn’t match the history but I’m a philosopher now and have other skills. The gloomy expression is actually a symbol of creativity. Such is life. When I say that my uncle retained his creativity until he died, this also doesn’t match the facts. Actually in this regard life is extremely short. Some people live till thirty and some live till forty. And some people basically haven’t lived. We know that after the age of sixty Hemingway felt he had lost his creativity and used a hunting gun to blow his brains out. After the age of seventy Kawabata Yasunari discovered he had no creativity and gassed himself. In reality there was a long period of time between them losing their creativity and becoming aware of the fact. Actually the two of them had kicked the bucket a long time before.
I still have my creativity and in relation to this Auntie Yao has said: you’re a bit like your uncle, except much worse. However, my sister teacher who acts as supervisor has another manner of expressing it: when I first laid eyes on you I wanted to bash you! As everyone knows, it is rather distasteful to suffer a bashing. Why she would love to bash me in this way is a mystery. Her hair had a little natural curl in it, her skin was dark and she always loved to wear black underwear. She also had a summer wear crepe jacket. It was opaque with polka dots and a black silk ribbon sewed onto the collar. To tell the truth I was afraid there was something wrong with my license, and there was. I gave my sister teacher a phone call and she said: you’ve even managed to put a hole in your philosopher’s license. You really have got some talent haven’t you? Speak up. What sort of license do you want this time? I said: I don’t want any license this time. Can you get me a job in the publishing office? She muttered something and said: brother teacher, think about it carefully. If you work with us you can write whatever you like. But if anything goes wrong you get a hole in the head. I said: let them. I’ll go to your place this evening. Do you want me to bring a bottle of Remy Martin? This incident told me: so-called creativity is actually a greater talent than dying. If people make their life spans equal to their creativity, then they are actually calculating on a short life span. To make your life span equal to your ability to eat, shit and piss is a smart way of living a long life.
The difference between me and my uncle is that I have a slightly hunched back, sallow skin, and a chest with a ribcage and no muscles. This would not do so I joined a health club and went there to lift dumb-bells and work on the strength machines. After a day’s training my muscles were aching so I didn’t go again. I went to the beach in summer and sun-baked on the sand. But I didn’t have the patience to lie around on the sand for so long. So my skin is still as white as unmarked paper. The only thing which is like my uncle is the large gun. When my sister teacher saw it she covered her mouth and laughing said: brother teacher, you really are a scream, put it away. I’m not my uncle and my sister teacher is not F. I felt she was fond of me so was pretty relaxed, laughing and joking. She shouted at me again “Put it away.”So I didn’t do anything rash. So for this reason I didn’t become an official in the publishing office, and I didn’t become my sister teacher’s husband. The latter status would have made me a “dependent of the publishing office” and would have been an excellent talisman. I fool around with the philosopher’s license with the two holes in it which I still have. I can use it to finish writing my uncle’s story. As to the future, I’ll think of something.
My identity has been cancelled.