By Ding Xilin
Tr. John Weinstein and Carsey Yee
This short one-act play evolved from a short story by my friend Shuhua, which can be found in Contemporary Review (no. 5). When I read the story, I felt that her concept was novel and the plot would be well suited to adaptation as a one-act play. At that time, two other friends of mine who had also read this story expressed their agreement and persistently urged me to write a short play. Thus the completion of this script is the result of an inspirational short story and the encouragement of two friends. Today I want to express my gratitude to them, but also to make it clear to my readers that, if you have any praise for the script’s meaning or its plot, then you should commend the author of that short story. But if you are dissatisfied with any part of the play— be it the diction or the portrayal of the characters— then you have only to blame those two friends of mine, because they were the ones who made me write this!
Cast of Characters
[Very late on a winter’s night, in a resplendent living room. A drunken GUEST is sleeping on a long sofa. A man nearing 30 sits at a table paring fruit. Besides a small plate of fruit, a teapot, and teacups, the table also has a small modern stove for boiling water, beneath which a flame is burning. The room is extremely quiet, except for the gentle gurgling from the teapot.]
[After the curtain rises, about half a minute passes before a young woman enters the room carrying a canister of tea leaves in one hand and a blanket in the other. After coming in, she places the blanket down on a chair near the man. She then walks over to the table with the canister of tea leaves.]
WIFE: I’ve brought the blanket. Cover him up with it.
HUSBAND: [Busy eating fruit and also wants to give her a hard time] You cover him up. You do it so much better than I do. [After speaking, he looks at her askance.]
WIFE: [Glares back at him and puts down the teapot that she has picked up.] You think I wouldn’t dare? It’s nothing unusual. You just watch me! [Picks up the blanket and gently lays it down over the body of the GUEST.]
HUSBAND: The water’s boiling.
[The WIFE comes back to the table, flushes out the empty teapot with boiling water and empties the rinse water into the spittoon.]
HUSBAND: Hey, Zhiqing, wake up. — Get up and have some tea. It’ll help you sleep better.
WIFE: Look, I told you not to wake him. Let him a sleep for a while. [Puts tea leaves into the teapot, steeps the tea, extinguishes the stove flame, and covers the teapot with a tea cozy.]
HUSBAND: [After eating several mouthfuls of fruit] Listen to me. If you won’t let me wake him up, what if he sleeps through the whole night? Do you really expect me to sit here with him until tomorrow morning?
WIFE: You’ve been eating so much, how could you possibly fall asleep now? — Even if you did fall asleep, you wouldn’t sleep comfortably.
HUSBAND: But that’s so unfair! You let him sleep all comfy and cozy over there, yet you expect me to sit here suffering, waiting for him to wake up.
WIFE: Well, he’s drunk and you’re not. — You all ganged up on him. He downed a drink with each one of you….
HUSBAND: [Correcting her] We were toasting the two of you.
WIFE: What do you mean ‘toasting the two of us’? All I had was half a glass of wine. And I can still feel the palpitations from that even now. [Sits down on the sofa]
HUSBAND: So you didn’t drink along with him. You just helped him out by speaking on his behalf.
WIFE: I shouldn’t have done that, is that what you’re getting at?
HUSBAND: [Finishes eating the fruit, wipes off his hands, and joins her on the sofa.] You should, you should. Just let me rest a little while. Surely, you’ll allow me that, won’t you? [Leans against her bosom]
WIFE: You call this fair?
HUSBAND: What now?
WIFE: He gets to sleep on a chair, while you get to rest against a woman’s bosom.
HUSBAND: This is extremely equitable. He’s so drunk, who knows when he might throw up? We wouldn’t want him vomiting and soiling your clothes, so of course he can’t sleep against your bosom. Me— I’m not drunk at all.
WIFE: Whoa, the smell of all that booze on your breath! Move over there. [She pushes him away and hands him the cushion from behind her back. He accepts this token of affection from her, and hands her a cushion from another chair.] Thank you, but I’m quite comfortable without it.
HUSBAND: [Puts down both pillows and takes out a tobacco pipe from his pocket.] Am I allowed to smoke?
HUSBAND: [Sighs] Ah. Everything else is fine, but this is the fly in the ointment.
WIFE: Oh, there are plenty of flies in this ointment. The room is uncomfortable, the food is unappetizing, your wife is unattractive…
HUSBAND: Don’t be so pleased with yourself!
WIFE: Who me?
HUSBAND: Yes you.
WIFE: What do you mean I’m pleased with myself?
HUSBAND: Do you really think that people brag only when they are pleased with themselves? The fact is, people only talk big when they lack self-confidence. It’s when they seem modest that they are the most conceited.
WIFE: I’m not the least bit conceited. I’m well aware that I’m not very good at anything. If only you would help me, then I’d do better.
HUSBAND: [Sluggishly] Oh, Yimin…
HUSBAND: I often think that for someone like me to enjoy such good fortune, I can only thank God in heaven, and I wouldn’t dare presume to have any further desires. But there is one thing that I’m going to stipulate in my will for when I die.
WIFE: What is that?
HUSBAND: I’m going to have them construct a big crate for me, fill it with cigarettes, and place it in my coffin. [At the end of this speech, they both burst out laughing. He seizes the opportunity and again leans up against her body.] Oh, my dearest, this life of ours is a heavenly paradise, it’s a celestial palace. Yet we live as human beings. Every person born into this world should experience this kind of paradise on earth—at the very least for a day—an hour—a split second! [Takes hold of her hand] Don’t you agree?
WIFE: Yintang, I think all the happiness in the world is false except for love. Only love can bring true happiness.
HUSBAND: Aha! This is the topic that makes you most pleased with yourself. — Oops, I’m sorry for interrupting. Please continue… [Sits up straight]
WIFE: I think that only when a person has experienced love can it be said that he has truly lived in the world. Without the experience of love, it can only be said that he merely existed in the world.
HUSBAND: How do you differentiate between “living” in the world and “existing” in the world?
WIFE: When a person experiences love, he feels like he belongs to humanity and the world belongs to him; he wishes happiness on everyone and he can feel everyone’s pain— only this can be called living in the world. When a person has no love, he feels like a mere onlooker in life— he is he and the world is the world. He eats to avoid starvation, he wears clothes so that he won’t freeze to death, and he sleeps to avoid death from exhaustion. All his actions are motivated by a fear of death. So he can be best described as merely existing in the world.
HUSBAND: According to your definition, out of China’s 400 million people, at least 399,999,000 of them are just existing in the world and not living in it.
WIFE: So that’s why I think that the most pitiful person in the world is the one who is loveless and has never known the experience of love.
HUSBAND: The person who is loveless is not necessarily the most pitiful. Neither is the one who has never known love. The most pitiful person is the one who knows about love but cannot attain it. Or the person who falls in love with someone whom society won’t permit him to love.
WIFE: You’re talking about— [Turns her head towards the GUEST and casts a glance at him.] Zhiqing, aren’t you?
HUSBAND: Yes, that’s right.
WIFE: [Becomes silent for a moment] Yintang, why doesn’t anyone love him?
HUSBAND: Because he’s married.
WIFE: Yes, I know he’s married, but what does that amount to? He’s never even lived with his wife.
HUSBAND: Well, that doesn’t matter. The women of China just want to get married; they don’t care if there’s love or not. That makes sense when you consider that marriage is a social institution— a social institution designed for that overwhelming majority of people who just exist in the world. It’s not designed for the small minority of people who want to live in the world.
WIFE: If that’s the case, then the institution of marriage should be smashed to pieces.
HUSBAND: Oh no, you mustn’t advocate that. In the past, people mistakenly believed that getting married was an act of love. That has proven quite insufferable. Nowadays, many people believe in not getting married for the sake of love. That’s even more unbearable.
WIFE: So in Zhiqing’s case, are you saying that we should just let him spend the rest of his life alone?
HUSBAND: So you want him to get married? That’s easy enough to arrange. All you need to do is give him a bit of poison and instruct him to poison his current wife today. I’m sure there’ll be someone willing to marry him tomorrow. If you find poisoning too inhumane, then you can arrange to have her driven out, or say that she is barren, or that’s she’s insane. The methods are different, but the objective is the same. These are the customs established by the ordinary people who exist in the world.
WIFE: Yintang, I really do pity him so.
HUSBAND: Don’t bother pitying him. He may not have attained love, but he isn’t just existing either. He’s still living in the world. You look at him and you see a calm, composed exterior. He seems cold and indifferent. You may think that he has lost all hope. But deep inside him there is a fire burning. We may not be able to see the flame, but we can often see fiery sparks shooting out.
WIFE: [Shifts her thinking] You know, when I first met him, I found him a little frightening.
HUSBAND: And now?
WIFE: Now I’m used to him. What’s there to be afraid of?
HUSBAND: That’s true. I think that a lot of women must find him scary when they first meet him. But in actuality, nobody treats women more gently than he does.
WIFE: I figured that out about him quite early on.
HUSBAND: [A thought occurs to him just then] You know, I think he comes quite close to your mental image of the ideal man.
WIFE: Oh really? What’s he like, this ideal man of mine?
HUSBAND: Someone with a resolute will and strong emotions. He is single-minded in love and does not love lightly. Once he falls in love with someone, his love will remain steadfast forever. And if that woman were to prove unworthy of his love, that would be his own loss and he may as well jump into the sea and end it all.
WIFE: So what is your idea of the ideal man?
HUSBAND: My idea of the ideal man? Someone exactly like me, of course!
WIFE: Hmph! [Feels around for her handkerchief]
HUSBAND: Otherwise, how could I ever be this happy?
WIFE: Have you seen my handkerchief?
HUSBAND: Maybe it’s over there, where you were just sitting…
WIFE: [Sees her handkerchief and gets up to fetch it.] Do you want any tea?
HUSBAND: No thanks. I’m not thirsty.
WIFE: [Picks up her handkerchief from another chair. A different thought comes into her head. She leans against the table and thinks for a moment.] Yintang, didn’t you say that you were going to buy me a gift at New Year’s?
HUSBAND: Yes. What would you like me to give you?
WIFE: Right now I’m thinking that I don’t want you to give me anything.
HUSBAND: Why not? You don’t want a gift from me?
WIFE: In lieu of a gift, I would like to make a request instead. I don’t know if you’ll be able to grant me my wish.
HUSBAND: I’ll grant you any wish— any wish within my power.
WIFE: It’s certainly within your power. In fact, it’s quite a simple request.
HUSBAND: [Stands up] What is it?
WIFE: I’ll only tell you if you promise to grant me my wish.
HUSBAND: I promise.
HUSBAND: Yes, really.
WIFE: Zhiqing is sleeping over there. Allow me to give him a kiss.
WIFE: Let me give him a kiss.
HUSBAND: [Laughing playfully] No way! [Sits back down on the chair]
WIFE: Why not?
HUSBAND: That— that’s just not proper.
WIFE: And why it is not proper? Is it because once a woman is married, she loses the freedom to express her own will? She can’t ever express her admiration for another man?
HUSBAND: The freedom to express your own will? Naturally, you have that. But your admiration— why does it have to be expressed like that?
WIFE: [Sits back down on the chair] What’s the big deal? Could it be that you’re jealous? I find that hard to believe.
HUSBAND: Oh no, it’s not that. I just don’t happen to approve of your method of expressing your admiration. I’m not jealous. Chinese men are simply not capable of jealousy.
WIFE: So only Chinese women are prone to jealousy?
HUSBAND: Chinese women? They’re the same as foreign women!
WIFE: Not all women are like that. I, for one, have never been the jealous type. In my opinion, there is nothing more loathsome than a jealous woman.
HUSBAND: You shouldn’t make jealousy sound so intolerable. It has a flavor of its own. A woman who is never jealous is like a man who never drinks— bland and uninteresting. But if you drink too much, you’ll throw up and make a mess. And it’s just as tasteless to be so consumed with jealousy that you can’t contain yourself.
WIFE: I believe that a person who is truly loved becomes incapable of jealousy.
HUSBAND: Let me get this straight. You believe that the truly loved are incapable of jealousy. And the truly unloved have nothing to be jealous about either. So that leaves only those in between— the truly half loved— who are most prone to jealousy. Is that what you’re saying?
WIFE: Oh, you know what I mean. What I’m saying is that it’s true love only when the two people have complete confidence in each other. It’s impossible for jealousy to arise where there is absolute trust.
HUSBAND: I’ve always believed that you have absolute trust in me. So if I wanted to kiss another woman right now, would you allow it?
WIFE: Yes. — But you must get my prior consent and do it in my presence.
HUSBAND: Oh! In your presence? Who could I find to kiss in your presence? What would be the point of that?
WIFE: What I’m asking of you now is precisely that— your permission for me to kiss another man in your presence.
HUSBAND: Yes, and that is just as pointless, so I do not approve.
WIFE: [Nothing more to say] Too late, you’ve already agreed.
HUSBAND: [Sees that she really means business] Do you really want to kiss him? If you really want to do it, then I’ll give you my permission right away.
WIFE: I have your permission?
HUSBAND: [With sincerity] I permit you.
WIFE: Well, here I go! [Stands up]
HUSBAND: [Extremely calm and composed] Go ahead then.
WIFE: [Her resolve weakens.] Do you think he’ll notice?
HUSBAND: [Making fun of her] Do you want him to notice?
WIFE: [Calms herself] Oh, there’s no way he’ll know.
HUSBAND: [Making trouble] I’ve got a suggestion. If you don’t want him to notice, kiss him softly. But if you want him to notice, then kiss him a little harder. [Gets up to leave] Now, if you’ll excuse me for a moment…
WIFE: [Surprised] No, you mustn’t go! Why do you want to leave the room?
HUSBAND: Just a moment ago, you said that you trusted me so you would allow me to kiss another woman in your presence. Well, I trust you even more, so now that you are about to kiss another man, I don’t even mind you doing it in my absence. [Intending to leave]
WIFE: That won’t do. I won’t permit it! [She grabs hold of him and stops him from leaving.]
HUSBAND: This is so bizarre! What do you want from me?
WIFE: [Pushes him down into a chair] Please don’t go. [She advances a few steps, then stops.] Yintang, I’m a little scared.
HUSBAND: Don’t be afraid. Drum up some courage. [She still doesn’t go.] Go on!
WIFE: [Drumming up her courage, she resolutely advances toward the GUEST sleeping on the sofa. She goes a few steps, and then turns back again.] We’ll go together, you and me both.
HUSBAND: Oh, you’re so hopeless.
[WIFE walks a few more steps, and then stands beside the sofa, hesitating.]
HUSBAND: [Sneaking towards the doorway] I grant you absolute freedom. [Exits]
WIFE: [Frightened again] Yintang! Yintang, come back! [The GUEST awakens with a start]
GUEST: Huh? [Sits up immediately]
HUSBAND: [Reenters the room. He sees the GUEST sitting up awake. Greatly disappointed, he addresses his WIFE.] You can’t blame me for this, it’s your own…
[WIFE gives him a nasty look.]
GUEST: [Sleepily stumbles over to the table] What time is it?
HUSBAND: What time is it? Couldn’t you have slept a bit longer?
GUEST: Why’s that?
HUSBAND: Why? Because…
HUSBAND: …because there’s someone…
WIFE: Yintang! Stop it!
HUSBAND: [One word at a time] … who… wants… to…
WIFE: [Frantic, rushes over and covers his mouth] Don’t say another word!
HUSBAND: [Pulls away her hand] Someone who wants to… [His mouth is covered again.]
WIFE: Don’t say it! [Tightly covers his mouth and won’t let go] Promise you won’t say another word! Okay?
[HUSBAND lets his hands drop to his side and stops struggling.]
GUEST: [In a confused state, the GUEST has already poured three cups of tea. He has hardly noticed all the activity in the room. He takes a cup of tea in his hands and holds it to the face of the HUSBAND, whose mouth continues to be covered shut by the WIFE.] Tea, anyone?
John B. Weinstein is an Assistant Professor of Chinese Language and Asian Studies at Simon?s Rock College of Bard. His articles and reviews appear in Asian Theatre Journal, Theatre Journal, Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews, China Information, and United Daily News (Taiwan). In addition to the 2002 production at Simon?s Rock, he has also directed productions of Ding Xilin?s plays, in both Chinese and English translation, at Harvard University.
Carsey Yee is a Ph.D. candidate in modern Chinese history at Harvard University, with research interests in the global Chinese diaspora and Chinese legal history. He has taught as a visiting faculty member in the history departments at Williams College and Beloit College, and currently makes his home in Toronto, Canada. He has collaborated with John B.Weinstein on numerous theatrical productions and translation projects.