MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright July 2009)
After returning from the U.S., I went to work in an artificial intelligence research institute. Half the people there had come over from the humanities–Chinese literature, philosophy, and so forth. The other half were students of science, mathematics, physics, and such. With respect to their understanding of artificial intelligence, aside from knowing the abbreviation “AI,” they didn’t have a single thing in common. As soon as they saw each other, they’d start arguing, while I stood to the side without uttering a word. If they came to ask my opinion, I would just say, “Everything you say is reasonable; listening to you, I can learn things.” Now they’re discussing changing the name of the place: one bunch plans to change it to “Humankind Wisdom Research Institute,” while the other bunch plans to change it to “Research Institute of Advanced Intelligence.” Because their views are not in accord, no change has happened. Were they to come to seek my opinion, I would just say, “Both are fine, both are fine.” Truth to tell, I know only a little bit about “AI,” nothing about “Humankind Wisdom,” and even less about what “Advanced Intelligence” is. It seems to me that it ought to be something fantastic, and I long ago understood that fantastic things just don’t exist in this world. But that didn’t stop me from going to work every morning at an institute called Humankind Wisdom or Advanced Intelligence and sitting in their office without turning a hair. Perhaps this is the so-called “playing at being profoundly philosophical.” Still, whenever I realized that I was supposed to possess the faculty of wisdom or advanced intelligence, I felt annoyed. The only thing that would catch my interest was putting on work clothes to help move the reference room, which was endlessly moving from the first floor to the fifth floor, and then from the fifth floor to the first floor, each move taking two weeks. When the bustle was over, it would move again, so I never saw it open its doors. When it moved, I was active in taking the lead, streaming with sweat; though each move was pointless, I didn’t feel in the slightest that I had made a fool of myself.
When someone would suddenly reach a hand toward Wang Er, his right hand would (involuntarily) grab his opponent’s wrist. No matter how quickly the opponent dodged, there wasn’t one miss in a hundred tries. This is because when he was young Wang Er loved to grab his opponents’ wrists in scuffles, and he was in a lot of fights. Wang Er is not a child anymore, and there is no one to fight with him, but if someone suddenly grabs at him, he still can’t stand it, no matter who it is. He knows that if committed this sort of infraction in Saudi Arabia, eight or nine cases out of ten his hand would be cut off. So he tries his best to not do it. The most recent flare up was three years ago. At that time, Wang Er was studying in America. Since he was broke, he went to wash dishes in a restaurant. One day when a Thai waitress came over to gets some plates and she reached for a pile of unwashed dishes, his right hand flew out in one fell swoop and caught her wrist. Though less than one second had passed by the time Wang Er let her go, telling her those dishes weren’t done and to take others, all evening the Thai girl acted coquettishly toward Wang Er; after work, she wanted a ride home in his car. A lady whom Wang Er knows well told him that sort of quick grasp is basically invisible; it resembles an electric shock, making the heart go pitter-pat rapidly, half the body tingling. When Wang Er was a child, the kids he played with each had their own quirks–some liked to dig their fingernails into the necks of others, some liked to kick other people in the crotch. I don’t know if their quirks have gone away or not.
In the tofu factory, at the time when everyone thought that his affairs were screwed up, Wang Er lost confidence in himself, and it was Zhan Ba who always pumped him up, saying he could think of some way out. Later he made the specific suggestion that Wang Er look up X Haiying. Wang Er said he didn’t know any X Haiying. What he said wasn’t true, because a person by that name had come to the factory. Stranger still–that name sounded like a woman’s name, but no women had come to the bean curd grinding tower. It was only after Zhan Ba had reminded him that he recalled that one fall day a woman, wearing an old military uniform and a pair of rubber army shoes, had come up the tower and crawled in through the hole they called a door. In the winter, they used cotton towels to block up the door. There were several other holes called “windows” that were sealed up with plastic sheets. In the middle of the room was a large and very tall water tank in which they soaked the soybeans, a millstone for grinding the beans, electric motors, and so on–all the necessary things for making tofu. That day Wang Er was resting, standing against the wall, his hands in his armpits, his mind mulling things over. His eyes saw the person who came in, but his mind didn’t register her. As Zhan Ba said, Wang Er frequently had this problem: he would stare blankly, his expression wooden; and if he spoke, he would give an unrelated answer. For example, if he asked Wang Er: “The mixing pipes are knocking, will you go or should I?” Wang Er would only respond with hoots. When people spoke with Wang Er, his replies were riddles–and he didn’t want an answer to the riddle. The woman took a few turns around the room, then walked up next to Wang Er and reached out her hand to press an electric switch. Although Wang Er was in a daze, he was, fortunately, not asleep, and he gripped her hand firmly. If she had pressed that switch, it would have been a real mess. That spiral lifter would have started moving with a thump thump, the soy beans would have come sweeping down and fallen into the tank, at the bottom of which Zhan Ba would be rinsing out the sludge. That tank was narrow and deep; to get someone out of it was not easy. Actually, the reason Wang Er was standing there was precisely to watch the switch, and he should not have allowed this Haiying to get near it, because he was partially responsible should anything happen. But the guy just kept a straight face and said to her, “When entering the workplace don’t act irresponsibly,” and then let go of her. Zhan Ba heard something moving outside the tank and hollered, “Wang Er, what’s the matter? You shouldn’t be fooling around up there!” It was impossible for someone to be at ease when trusting his life to the hands of one such as Wang Er. As soon as she sensed there was trouble, the woman quickly snuck away. Wang Er could therefore be regarded as having met her once, but he could hardly be expected to remember what she looked like. He only recalled that her face was average, but her body was great. Afterward he had said to Zhan Ba, “There are people who take themselves to be XX leaders; wherever they go, they carelessly play with electric switches. That sort is called ‘belly drags mouth along, pretending to be XX.'” Of course these XX’s all referred to reproductive organs, one X being the female organ, two X’s being the male organ. Wang Er’s everyday language was like this. Zhan Ba said, “She is the one, a newly arrived technician, concurrently the secretary of the factory branch’s Communist Youth League.” He also said, “People who commit errors of the sort that Wang Er commits should get close to her right away so as to have a way out.” At that time Wang Er was 22, just the age when he should have been dealing with the Communist Youth League. If he had become a target of the Youth League’s helpful education, he could have avoided labor reform. The bottom line is, even if it could manage to send him off to labor reform, the factory would have to wait for the declaration from the Youth League testifying that its helpful education was of no avail. In this respect Zhan Ba could help Wang Er quite a bit, because he was a committee member in the Communist Youth League branch. Wang Er thought that this could be considered a way to save his life, and so he let Zhan Ba go in his place to ask around. At first, he didn’t have any hope, but there soon came a reply in the form of this Haiying crawling up to the tower top to tell Wang Er, “The organization has embraced you.” From that moment on, Wang Er was considered a “laggard youth,” and each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon he was supposed to report to her. He could go freely down to ground level, and she would guarantee his safety. She also said that at first the factory wanted to send Wang Er to a study workshop but that she firmly opposed the idea. She said she had confidence that she could remold him, which was a great relief to Wang Er. First, now there was at last a chance to survive. Second, after hitting Zhan Ba, he had always felt guilty, but now he knew that Zhan had deserved it. If he hadn’t sold out Wang Er, how could X Haiying have known that he pissed into an iron bucket in the tower because Old Lu was besieging him?
The first time I went to see X Haiying, she said to me, “From now on, you don’t need to piss into the iron bucket.” I immediately thought of Zhan Ba telling X Haiying the business of how I pissed and that no one had told me how she pissed. I felt duped. Actually, her merely knowing how I piss wasn’t enough to make me a dupe. But if she knew everything about me and I knew nothing about her, I would inevitably become a dupe. My problem lay in the fact that once I saw the possibility of becoming a dupe, I felt I had already been duped.
If I were allowed to draw X Haiying, I would draw her in the style of an Egyptian funerary wall painting–feet apart, hands apart, like a compass used in drawing. This is because she looks a lot like figures painted in ancient Egyptian tombs. People in ancient Egypt never painted people from a frontal view but always in profile; they would paint their whole bodies as if they were marching, striding with one foot and one hand on the same side at the same time. That appearance is commonly known as “left-left” and “right-right.” People in ancient Egypt very possibly walked that way, and the banks of the Nile were perhaps crowded with “left-left” and “right-right” people.
When I was small, I once ran out of my house and saw a purplish red sky and all sorts of strange sights. After a short while, they were gone–I don’t know if they had flown away into the sky or had sunk down into to the ground. Without them, though, I felt very sad. When I had grown up a little, like a monkey I liked to climb toward the heavens, and like a mouse I loved to dig holes. Whether I was motivated by a desire to retrieve those lost sights I cannot say for sure–perhaps a psychiatrist should come and analyze me. In the autumn, our family dug a vegetable cellar. I often took up an iron shovel and carried it to the back of the school’s nursery, where I would dig my own secret cellars. But later those secret cellars became places for the street urchins to take shits, and since I was a little morbidly preoccupied with cleanliness, I didn’t want to have anything to do with cellars in which others had shit. So I was always racking my brains about caves for hiding. The caves I dug weren’t very deep. Climbing toward the heaven was rather more convenient, because it is quite rare for people to take a shit in the sky. In this respect, I was a big hit, and all the kids on the campus admitted that Wang Er was unrivalled in climbing walls and trees. But whether ascending the heavens or entering the earth, I have been unable to recapture the wild joy I had experienced as a six-year-old.
When I was small, one corner of our campus had a small “blast furnace,” a brick cylinder probably seven or eight meters tall. I think it originally had several pieces of equipment attached to it, but they later disappeared. When I was eight or nine, a slogan was written on it: “This small blast furnace will certainly recover.” Presumably it was written by some college student to demonstrate his Don Quixote-like determination. The slogan gave me a little hope, and I felt that as long as I could get inside, I would discover a little something. Unfortunately, someone had used a tree stump to block up the furnace door. If I were able to move it aside, I could then squeeze inside, but sadly I didn’t have that much strength. Trying again and again, I felt like an ant attempting to shake a large tree. And to climb the seven or eight meter high furnace wall was also not within my power. I used all my strength but could only climb to a spot three or four meters high. Later, the more I climbed, the lower I reached because I wasn’t getting enough to eat–my physical strength did not increase in following years.
I felt that furnace wall was exceedingly high, as if I could never climb it. This brick cylinder was just a small home-made “blast furnace”–even though it only enclosed an area of a few square meters, I still felt that inside it there must be a miraculous world; if I could see into it, then I could solve all the riddles in my heart. Actually I didn’t lack the skill to climb it, just the strength. Oftentimes when I climbed it, I got within an arm’s reach of the mouth, but then I became exhausted and slipped back down. The bricks completely wore down the skin on my chest; the pain was so great I nearly went mad. In my opinion, all the pain in the world couldn’t compare to that pain. But still I wanted to climb to the top. One day, my older brother saw me fruitlessly exerting myself and asked what I wanted. I said I wanted to get inside to look around. First he laughed a long time, and then with his foot he pushed aside the tree stump in front of the furnace door, allowing me to go in. Inside there was a disorderly pile of bricks, on top of which was a pile of shit, which showed that not a few people had been there before me. Though I now had irrefutable evidence that there was nothing else inside this furnace, I still believed that if my brother hadn’t kicked away the obstructing tree stump and if I had climbed it by myself, the circumstances would have been somewhat different. So when I came out of the furnace, I begged him to return the tree stump to its original position. That’s how my furnace climbing adventure went.
When I was climbing the furnace, I was probably somewhere between 9 and 12 years old. After I turned 40, I discovered that no matter what I did I never approached it with that same determination to fight in the face of setbacks. Moreover, nothing I did later in life was as hopelessly foolish. There wasn’t any benefit to climbing that furnace–the only thing it brought me was deep-rooted, unforgettable pain–but I still wanted to climb it. Which probably demonstrates that the more idiotic a thing is, the more determination you bring to it, and that I like to make a fool of myself but don’t like others to make a fool of me.
Later, Wang Er frequently went to X Haiying’s office and sat on the chair in front of her desk. He felt like a firmly stuck fly. She asked Wang Er some questions; he sometimes responded nicely, while at other times his mind ran so wild that he forgot to reply at all. One reason he acted this way was that Wang Er was grinding his ass; I guess we are all familiar with the feeling of ass grinding–once that lower part of the body is grinding, the upper part will lose spirit and sanity. This is in accord with human nature. Another reason was that Wang Er suffered from hemorrhoids–his ass was in great pain. Diderot used to suffer from tympanitis, so he relieved his pain by thinking wild thoughts. Of course, that method was now very outdated, and the fashionable method was to recite Chairman Mao quotations. But as soon as Wang Er realized that the locus of his pain was in the vicinity of his asshole, he thought it would be blasphemy to relieve the pain by reciting Chairman Mao’s words. Besides, he basically didn’t believe in such treatments. When Wang Er daydreamed, he wasn’t trying to be aloof or harbor some form of psychological resistance; his daydreaming was just daydreaming. But it was very difficult for him to explain this point to X Haiying. Wang Er sat in her office afternoon after afternoon without uttering a word, only staring at her face. For his part–he could only vaguely hear her say that he’d better confess his past bad deeds and hear her threats to send him to “study workshops.” For her part–she found that Wang Er was totally unanimated, so she asked what was going on in his mind. The only responses she received were sounds from deep in his throat. To tell the truth, this is the biggest headache that warriors on the ideological front face–you’ve already worn out your lips, but your object hasn’t said a word, so how do you know if your words have been received or not? The best method would be to install a big screen color TV on top of each object’s head, and then insert electrodes into his cranial nerves, so that anything occurring in his mind would be pictured above. X Haiying’s skin was dark. When Wang Er was gaping at her face, his mental activity was this: if I were to draw such a face in a picture, how could I draw her so that people will not think she’s an African? If she could see this image on a screen above Wang Er’s head, however, she would certainly already have slapped him multiple times.
X Haiying’s office is a small room in the east wing; the floor is paved with worn square tiles. Sitting in that room, you can see square-shaped columns, as well as the corner and cornice of another room. This indicates that in its prior history, this room was not a room but a part of a corridor. In the tofu production factory there were not only remnants of corridors and parlors, but you could also find a rare gigantic Taihu Lake rock that was half buried in pieces of coal. Once a provincial hometown association, this compound was quite grand. Wang Er only knew that it had been a hometown association, but he didn’t know to which province this hometown association had belonged. The following are the provinces or regions that were candidates in his mind: Anhui–everyone knows that in the past Anhui was famous for producing among the wealthiest salt merchants; Shanxi–Shanxi folks operated lots of banks and pawn shops; or Songjiang prefecture, which had produced lots of Exemplars of the State, the top scholars in the Imperial Examinations; or perhaps even Yunnan province, since Yunnan produced crude opium and the opium money could have been used to build this hometown association compound (of course, this must have happened after the Opium War)… When X Haiying spouted out revolutionary ideology to Wang Er, all these messy fragments of thoughts passed through his mind. Later, as a college student, a graduate student, and more recently as a lecturer and an associate professor, he still had to sit obediently to receive “helpful education” of some sort. At such moments, messy, fragmentary thoughts still passed through his mind. If at such moments, there were a color TV on the top of his head to reveal those thoughts, then not only would X Haiying have been pissed off, but also quite a few notables, including the party secretary, the dean, the director.
Later, this X Haiying didn’t inundate Wang Er with revolutionary ideas any more. Instead, she changed her tone, saying: “For better or worse you have to confess something–or else how can I compose the ‘helpful education’ report for you?” Such words went directly to Wang Er’s heart, because they were very reasonable. During that era, whether promoting the advanced or helping the laggard, the key was to set up a model, which involves weaving a story. A case like Wang Er’s also needed a story of this kind: He was bad to the degree of “beating the mute and cursing the dumb and digging up the grave of the childless widow.” The story then needed to go like this: With the help of the Youth League, he has become good, transformed from a black crow into a white dove, from an asshole into a saint. Since Wang Er had beaten Zhan Ba, he had fallen into a real predicament. People were helping him–which means that he needed to help them invent a story about how bad he used to be. But he could come up with nothing. Pressed to say something, he confessed that when he was small he had once stolen carrots from a neighbor. This made X Haiying as ecstatic as if she had acquired some treasure. While she wrote the account down, she chanted out loud: “having-stolen-neighbor’s-things-in-childhood!” After writing it down, she pressed Wang Er for further confessions, but he resumed his silence.
Here’s another episode in my story. Of course X Haiying is a real person who has a real name, but I think it better to conceal it. She was as untrustworthy as all women. She had guaranteed my safety while I was on the ground, but Old Lu still wanted to bite me. When I complained about this to her, she replied: “It’s like the old saying, ‘When there will be rain, there will be rain,’ or ‘If your mother wants to marry someone else, your mother will marry someone else’–how can I intervene in such things?” She also said: “You should be more careful. If you find yourself cornered without an escape, you can run for the men’s toilet–Old Lu might not dare chase you into that territory.” (By the way, this is really a bad idea. The men’s toilet has only one entrance, and if I ran inside, I’d be stuck. In classical military strategy it’s called a “dead end.”) After saying this, she fell into her chair and burst into laughter, her feet kicking the drawers of her desk. She provided Old Lu with suggestions as well. She instructed her not to stare at a fixed sight before trying to grab me, to wait until she was close to me before pouncing. Under these instructions, Old Lu’s gaze flickered when she attacked, making defense very difficult. This indicates that X Haiying was not on my side at all. Because Old Lu often engaged in the sport of catching me, her physical condition improved, her speed increased, and she no longer suffered from asthma. In the end, she was able to catch me by the collar. Fortunately, I had taken the precaution of creating a collar out of white paper, so I was not distressed when it was torn away.
In later days, my wife said to me that my biggest fault was neither that I would suddenly stick out my hand to grab people nor my daydreaming, but being suspicious. I acknowledge her point. If I were not suspicious, I wouldn’t have suspected Zhan Ba–without any proof–of searching my pockets and I wouldn’t have thrashed him. But sometimes I feel I’m not suspicious enough. For instance, why didn’t I suspect that Zhan Ba’s rummaging through my pockets was done under X Haiying’s direction? This idea should have easily come to mind, because, although Zhan Ba has drooped shoulders and a sissy voice, “a man is a man,” as the foreigners say, and there was no reason for him to side with Old Lu. But X Haiying is different. Since she later became Zhan Ba’s wife, it’s very reasonable to speculate that–seven years before their marriage– X Haiying told him to search Wang Er’s pocket for evidence that he was the painter of pornography. Zhan Ba could sell me out to anyone, as long as it wasn’t Old Lu. But this boy also has a lovely side. He appeared to have qualms about having participated in that plot and, after I had spied out the conspiracy, he suffered blows from my trusty fists. My beating had its benefits for Zhan Ba, for afterwards he didn’t feel the guilt of betrayal. This was also good for X Haiying, because it could remind her not to plot wicked schemes anymore. For me, though, nothing good came of it. I had not suspected that this bitch would write in her diary: “This dude Wang Er is earnestly receiving my education now. This whole thing is damned funny!” I only knew that she told Old Lu: Wang Er could definitely not have drawn those drawings, and Zhan Ba can prove it. I was very grateful for her support. In fact–regarding this pornography affair–anyone with eyes could see that when I was stuck on the roof, those drawings kept on appearing in the men’s toilet. But Old Lu still wanted to catch me, mainly because she had nothing else to do.
I have already said that the collar pulled off by Old Lu was made of white paper. I just dodged a little, and the collar tore off like the tail of a house lizard escaping capture. I was so pleased with my accomplishment that I erupted into laughter. But Old Lu was really pissed off; white foam oozed form her mouth. But this was just one side of the matter. The other side was that when I chose a piece of copperplate paper to draw the collar, I was heartbroken and even shed tears. This is easy to understand–I wanted to become a painter so that I could hang my works in world famous galleries, not to draw collars. What’s the point of drawing a perfect collar? I’m saying these things to prove that I’m not a born ne’er-do-well only capable of using a false collar to outwit Old Lu in exchange for a moment of self-satisfied complacency. I was still anxious about what kind of future I would have. Likewise, Old Lu was not just a person who only wanted to tear me apart. Nobody has only one side to him.
The following account shows that Old Lu wasn’t only concerned with tearing me apart. Several days ago on a trolley, a graceful old lady called out my name. It was Old Lu. She told me that for a period of time her seething anger couldn’t be cooled down. She admitted that some of her behavior was not right and asked me not to take it to heart. I said to her that when I was in America I had read through the complete works of Sigmund Freud, so I now understood these things. I said: “Your problem at that time was that your sexual desire was repressed; if you had made love with your husband more often, your anger could have been dissipated.” Hearing this, the people on the trolley stared at us. She didn’t try to tear me apart, she only said: “You talk such nonsense!”
X Haiying played all sorts of tricks behind my back. But the factory’s plan to send me to a “study workshop” was no trick. At that time, there was indeed a study workshop, led by the police. Each street and each factory had to send their incorrigible youths. There are many tales regarding this study workshop. One of the tales said that, on a pitch-black windy night in a village not far from our factory, there was a dog that barked just a little while and then stopped. The dog’s owner went out to check, with one hand holding a stick and the other a flashlight. He saw several people dragging the dog by a rope tied around its neck. The dog’s owner roared: “Who the hell’s there?” The reply: “Study workshop” “What study workshop?” “The hooligan’s workshop!”
Hearing this, the dog’s owner turned and fled so hastily that he left behind his stick and flashlight. Another story had it that the only thing to be learned in the workshop was “tending the melon.” It’s like this. The cop on duty would command: Let’s tend this fellow! So all the people pounced on him and he was tended. If the command was to tend another fellow, then he would be tended in the same way. The method of “tending the melon” was to take off the pants of the one being tended and tuck his head into the seat of his pants. If you think that the people’s police should not behave so distastefully, the storyteller will say: The good cops are spared for patrol duties, and those in the study workshop are sloppy cops. I felt scared whenever I thought about this treatment. Suppose I were sent to the study workshop and my melon was tended? Certainly it would be making a mountain out of a molehill to commit suicide on the spot, but how could I let it go if my melon was tended? For me, the only way out was to not go to the study workshop, but it was X Haiying who had the say whether I would end up there or not.
With regard to my being suspicious, there are more things to say. X Haiying would use some strange expressions when talking with me. For example, she said: “There’s no opening cut into my belly!” Or: “Do you mean there is an opening cut into my belly?” Even this: “Please look carefully, is there an opening on my belly?” When she finished, she would laugh heartily and, whether she was sitting in front of her desk or not, kick her legs forward. Upon hearing such nonsensical expressions, I couldn’t help but be suspicious. But I never dared answer her–in my heart I hoped that she didn’t invoke that sort of suspicion. I didn’t dare believe that Zhan Ba told that lewd joke to her.
When I grew up, I felt endlessly puzzled about these things of my childhood. I could climb a wall tenaciously, I could churn out all sorts of odd inventions, but I was clueless about matters directly at hand, and was even almost sent to the place where they tend melons. At the end of the day, this shows I am either exceptionally intelligent or exceptionally stupid–truly an enigma that can’t be solved.
Concerning the “helpful education” I underwent, I must add a note of explanation: it was an age of revolution. Revolution means that some people are made into victims for no apparent reason. It’s like the Queen Mother of the West pouring stuff down from her night stool in the sky–it’s just pure bad luck that the stuff would hit someone’s head from out of the blue. Or like the opening of a lottery–hard to guess who will win the prize. We all endured our lots, whether we were victimized or not. The age of revolution was like that. For example, during the age of revolution, I didn’t dare give my seat on a bus to an old woman for fear she might once have been a landlord’s wife. Moreover, you couldn’t risk offending a three-year-old for fear he would inform on you. During the age of revolution my imaginative powers were unusually rich, and in my mind I often turned Old Lu’s head into a chamber pot and pissed into it. Of course, chatting on like this, I’ve strayed too far off topic. In addition to having the innate appearance of a bastard, there is still the crime of beating up Zhan Ba, so undergoing helpful education can’t be considered unfair after all. Although Old Lu was still accusing me of having drawn her picture (that was a double injustice–first, the drawing wasn’t mine, it was Corn Bun’s. And second, that picture wasn’t of her. All of us at the factory who looked at it said, “Old Lu now looks like this? Drop-dead gorgeous!” We reckoned that only that prickly hair was hers), there was X Haiying to save me. Sometimes I felt very grateful to X Haiying and said to her, “Thank you, branch secretary!” Of course I should have called her Communist Youth League branch secretary, but in order to butter her up I got rid of the Youth League words. She laughingly said, “Thank who? Leaving a defeated opponent with no way out is not a proletarian policy.”
Judges often spoke these words when sentencing a criminal to death and then suspending the execution for two years. Although I had heard these words before, I broke into a cold sweat, suspecting to the end that she was working with someone else. But I felt I had nothing to complain about: after all, she was a branch secretary of the Communist Youth League, and I was a slacker, and the distance between us, though not as great as that between a judge and a criminal, was still far. I’ve rambled on this much only because I want to explain one point: although the cause of the incident that year in the tofu factory was Corn Bun’s nude drawing–later a certain person added the prickly hair, and still later Old Lu incriminated me, and later yet I hit Zhan Ba–the final result was my falling into the hands of X Haiying. And her making fun of me was just of this sort.
When Old Lu chased me until I was out of breath or when X Haiying scared meout of my wits, I would hunt up Zhan Ba and pour out my heart to him. Because I liked Zhan Ba, Zhan Ba naturally had an obligation to listen to my chatter. After he had listened a while, he then talked with X Haiying for me to get her to help me think of a way of dealing with all this, or he would go look for his classmates in the company to get them to help me, Wang Er. As for Zhan Ba’s involvement with my affairs, he was sick and tired of it, but he had to deal with it. That was due to his knowing I liked him. X Haiying was irritated by my not saying things to her directly but counting on Zhan Ba’s passing them on to her. She also disliked how Zhan Ba missed the point, feeling he repeatedly talked and rambled on. But she also had to laugh gleefully as she listened, because she knew Zhan Ba liked her. X Haiying also liked me, so she frequently threatened me. But I didn’t know a thing, just that I was scared to death.
While undergoing helpful education in the tofu factory, I sat opposite X Haiying, grinding my ass. When the pain from my hemorrhoids was hard to bear, I thought up a good many strange inventions. At each new invention, I couldn’t help but smile. Seeing my bizarre grimaces, X Haiying said that she was really very anxious to hoist me up with thin wire and use lighted candles under the arches of my feet to get me to confess what I was laughing at. She always felt that when I laughed I was laughing at her. If I wanted to laugh at her, there were things I could laugh at her about. For example, she persisted in wearing that old military uniform of hers. Underneath that old uniform she wore a petite padded cotton jacket covered in yarn-woven cloth with a pair of large glossy areas on it. One could really compare it to the gloss of lacquered furniture. Something like this certainly deserves a laugh, but I didn’t laugh in front of her. She was a secretary of a branch of the Communist Youth League, I was a laggard–we weren’t people of the same race. People not of the same race are not capable of laughing together. When I laugh, I always laugh at myself. Even if she had hung me up and put lighted candles under my feet, all I could have done was scream, there was nothing to confess about. That’s because people keep on generating strange ideas that they can neither control nor explain.
In the time of hunger, I was unable to invent a method of preventing hunger, but no one else was either. Actually there were people who invented a type of alternative rice meal, using a method to make cooked rice (which is abbreviated as “double-steamed method”); although the amount of cooked food increased, eating it produced more urine. Running to the toilet is energy consuming, and in a time of famine, energy is very valuable, so this approach was no good. Actually, a good many double-steamed rice eaters suffered from edema, even to the point of hastening their deaths, but no one said double-steamed rice was no good, since it was a case of people swindling themselves. Today my little brother has grown up, he isn’t color blind, and he studies dramatic arts. He and his older brothers are alike in enjoying inventing. He recently told me he has invented a sort of performance art that allows people, no matter where they are on the planet, to enjoy the sight of the moon rising over the ocean. The method is to take a basin of fresh, clear water, and when the moon is rising, squat behind the basin. These two inventions are in fact the same type. Being a graduate from the mathematics department, I understand the world in this way: it can be a zero dimensional space or a space of infinite dimensions. If you can eat your fill, then you are in a one-dimensional space. If you can avoid hemorrhoids grinding your ass, you are in a two-dimensional space. If you can create and invent, then you can enter a three-dimensional space and then enter a space of infinite dimensions and thus change the course of events. The double-steamed method and my little brother’s performance art are inventions of zero-dimensional and one-dimensional space. These things are like a mule’s dick–can’t do the real job.
I also came up with several good inventions when I was sitting across from X Haiying grinding my ass. Unfortunately I didn’t have a notebook in my hand and couldn’t write them down; now I’ve forgotten them. Today the most serious among my inventions is this one: install an impeller above men’s urinals to use the force of the liquid to generate electricity. Whenever I think of a good one, I begin to smile. If at that moment she lifted her head and saw me, she would yell, “What are you laughing at? What are you laughing at? Tell me!”
Women differ in their opinions about smiling. Take my old lady for example. When I was a graduate student, she was the secretary of the university Youth League committee. During a large meeting, she sat on the rostrum off to one side. When she noticed, on the end of the third row, a man with a dark face and a curly beard who smiled mysteriously, her young woman’s heart beat faster. Taking up her seating chart and examining it, it turned out to be that Wang Er from the math department–the rest was easy to handle after his name was known. It was already 1984. We all sat in our assigned seats to listen to political lectures, and anyone whose seat was empty would lose semester credits. If I could find a popsicle seller, I would have him sit in my place and I would take his place selling popsicles. However, that day was cool and the popsicle seller didn’t come. So she not only could see me, but also she could find out who I was, and so our romance began.
My old lady’s looks are delicate and exquisite, very cute. She’s always chewing gum, and as soon as she opens her mouth there’s a big bubble. Whomever she meets, the first sentence out of her mouth is always, “Do you eat sweets?” And then she hands over a fistful of chewing gum. She told me that when other people smile the smile begins with the corners of the mouth, whereas when I smile the smile moves from left to right, very much like the revolving door of a grand hotel, a very weird sight. She said that it was on account of my smile that she married me. I very much doubt this, because when we two took up with each other she was always crying out “Oh! Oh!,” and it didn’t seem fake. So to say we two lovers were joined in our destiny by a smile is not very credible.
I know I have a problem with smiling for no reason, but I can’t see what sort of appearance I make when I start to smile like this. It’s like a person who can’t hear his own snoring or can’t see his own hemorrhoids. It wasn’t until that year we went to Europe on vacation and visited the Louvre that I saw it. We were on the second floor where we saw a big group of people. In the middle was a fat Frenchwoman, wearing out her throat by yelling “No flash! No flash!” It had no effect, and many point-and-shoot cameras were flashing chaotically. My old lady gave me her back pack, the small change in her pocket, and so on, lay down on the floor, and crawled into the crowd of legs. After a bit, she called out to me from the middle of the scrum, “Wang Er, come quick! This is you!” I risked my life to squeeze through to see the Mona Lisa. This chick’s smile is really hard to get; I don’t know how to describe it. In short, if someone on an Italian bus smiles at you like that, he is about to steal your purse. If during an English social occasion a person smiles at you like that, then your pants’ zipper hasn’t been closed. Even though a good many buttons were torn off during the squeezing in, I felt it was worth it, because this solved many previously unsolved riddles. When this sort of smile is on my face, at certain times it pleases people, at other times it offends them, but it especially causes people to feel that the smile was directed at them. To give an example, suppose you are an elementary school teacher, each month earning only 36 yuan, and you have to work extra shifts telling stories to your students about Uncle Lei Feng. At that time, one of the nestlings in your charge flashes this Mona Lisa sort of smile at you–what do you feel in your heart? So my old lady forced me to acknowledge that I am a pig–more about this below. Later on, I wrote a letter in my father’s name to the Board of Education discussing this, referring to Uncle Lei Feng’s spending his whole lifetime doing good deeds. If Lei Feng knew that because of him a 12 year-old child had changed into a pig, his soul in paradise certainly would be troubled. Because of this letter my teacher was criticized by the Board of Education. These events were incited by smiles.
Even now at times I still can’t refrain from smiling, and the result is I make a lot of enemies. If I start smiling at meetings for evaluating professional ranks, then I’m laughing at other people’s proficiency. If at a housing allotment meeting, then I’m laughing at people having no place to live and being forced to quarrel and fight with each other. In short, because of this sort of smile, in the eyes of others I’ve turned into a misanthrope who envies the haves and laughs at the have-nots. For this reason, I have thought up a new invention: implant platinum electrodes in my face. Whenever the biologic-electric gauge detects an emerging smile, then a strong electric pulse is emitted, shocking my mouth so it fills with saliva and leaves me rolling on the ground. If this invention materialized, the world would no longer have fellows whose smiles are disagreeable to others; there would just be a few more epileptics.
At elementary school, there was a period when, after the six regular classes were over, instead of going home we had two additional periods of extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities were far from active; we just sat there grinding our butts. Fortunately, youngsters’ blood moves vigorously, and they don’t easily get hemorrhoids. When I reached 5th grade I had a female teacher; she was both plump and tall, had breasts like watermelons, buns like pumpkins, eyes wide like two Guangdong oranges, and a voice like thunder. I disliked her a lot–which explains why later on I took a short and slight woman as my wife–and even more so because after school was over she made us attend these extracurricular activities instead of letting us go home. And so I didn’t listen to anything she said and indulged in flights of fancy. One time, she suddenly she told me to get up and fired at me a litany of complaints, saying she also wanted to go home early but the Board of Education made her do this political thought education stuff, that there was no way out, and on and on–this talk was too adult for me. Adult–this term–easily causes people to think of bare asses, but for me it meant politics, the polar opposite of human nature. Later this question came my way: “Uncle Lei Feng said, people don’t live in order to eat, they eat in order to live. What do you think?” I replied, “To live or not to live makes no difference, to eat is a must.” The teacher immediately declared, “In our class, we have someone who looks like any other person but has a pig’s view of life.” There were more than forty children in our class, and only I among them was declared to be a pig. This was the biggest blemish of my life, something I couldn’t tell to anyone else, but under X Haiying’s relentless pressure, I came clean. She promptly bent over her desk and wrote: “When attending elementary school, thinking was backward, was given teacher’s criticism.” Then she spoke to me again: “Confess one more thing and you can go home.” But I really couldn’t utter another word; I could only keep her company, grinding my ass until the sky turned dark. During helpful education time, I said to X Haiying: “Branch Secretary, I want to talk about my true thoughts.” She hurriedly put a smile on her face and said, “We welcome true thoughts.” I then said, “I want to know if grinding my ass has any purpose.” She stiffened her face and had me explain myself. I started to explain, first talking about the “useful or not” question. I gave an example like this: When I was young, a teacher asked me a question about Uncle Lei Feng, and I made a politically backward reply. In fact, I was capable of giving a politically progressive answer, but I knew I couldn’t do it. Supposing I replied “Of course people eat in order to live; could there be any other answer?” the teacher then might say, “Who do you think you are? You’re tardy to class nine times out of ten, you curse the teacher behind her back, you pull your girl classmates’ pigtails; now suddenly your ideological level is superior to Lei Feng’s? Give me a break! You’re acting like a dung beetle’s yawn–what caused you to open your honorable stink mouth?” Rather than suffer such a cursing in front of the class, it was better to simply admit to being a pig. I am always sober in calculating the pros and cons of my behavior. To tell the truth, I didn’t go bad in one or two days. When I reached this point in my explanation, X Haiying still didn’t understand. She said, “Your elementary school teacher’s work method was a little slapdash. But what is the connection between that and today’s matter?” As a matter of fact, what I had asked her was, “If I cooperate and confess here and now, is it any use at the end of the day? If there’s no avoiding the study workshop, I would rather go now, for the sooner I go, the sooner I get back, right?” In other words, my question was: is so-called helpful education a Catch 22 or not? I wasted a good many movements of my lips and tongue to explain things clearly to her. X Haiying’s face revealed a canny smile and she said, “Good! I get you! Is there anything else?”
The meaning of what I had said was simply this: In an age of revolution, I am prepared at any time to admit I am a pig in exchange for some peace and quiet. In fact, X Haiying didn’t understand at all the meaning of what I had said. Her reply was also unrelated to the subject at hand. At the time, I took her reply to mean, “Put your mind at ease,” so I began to discuss the second issue: ass grinding. This question goes like this: “My shoulders are wide, my ass narrow. When I sit on a hard wooden bench, the local pressure is great. I hadn’t worked in an office, so I lack an apprenticeship in this area. Besides, it is commonly known that nine out of ten men have hemorrhoids. Obviously, hemorrhoids attack me fiercely. First are the internal hemorrhoids, then the external hemorrhoids, and these can develop into thrombus hemorrhoids, which is not very easy to bear. If grinding my ass here is indeed a useful thing, then I want to ask for some days’ leave to have an operation. With the fear of “trouble back home” gone, I’ll be able to grind longer.” When X Haiying heard this she roared with laughter and said, “When one is sick, one naturally wants to get treatment. But if I were you, I would not take sick leave. To persist in working when one is ill is a meritorious deed; it will help you get through your trouble.” Listening to her discuss my meritorious deeds, I felt this was evidence that she really wanted to save me; so I stirred myself and determined to resist illness and to shed blood grinding my ass.
It was only after a good long while that X Haiying told me that when I brought up my hemorrhoids, my entire face was overtaken with a wan smile, and I was extremely adorable. But at that time I didn’t think that I was particularly adorable. Later on I managed to cast off the miserable status of laggard youth, but in the factory they still felt I was a hell-raising ghost, who shouldn’t be allowed to stay in the factory, so they sent me to dig air-raid shelters. After the digging, I joined a small people’s militia detachment comprised of a bunch of other bad apples whose job it was to arrest “wild mandarin ducks” copulating on the lawns in the public parks late at night. After finding them, we’d cough and then say, “Put on your clothes and follow us.” We then took them to the office and had them write self-criticisms. Their faces wore extremely pitiful smiles that were most amusing. But they themselves certainly didn’t feel it was amusing. In the fall of ’76, we caught a pair. The male was more than 40, wore a thin woolen overcoat, and his face looked like someone’s in the late stages of liver cancer. The girl was very attractive, wearing a blue cloth uniform, underneath which was a red wool sweater; her complexion was deathly pale. This pair didn’t smile bitterly and appeared not to be amused. We asked them, “What are you guys doing?” Reply: “Doing bad things.” Asked again: “How many times?” “Since the Chairman died–incessantly.”
After saying this, they shivered, as if getting an electric shock. It was a time of national mourning, and this pair’s behavior was an overblown expression of profound grief. We captors looked at each other, each person’s face wearing a bitter smile, then said to them: “Go home now, and don’t come out again.” From then on, I felt that what the higher authorities had us do was very meaningless. This episode shows that in an age of revolution there are always people playing tricks on other people and there are always people being tricked. Pale faces covered in a layer of cold sweat coated with a layer of wrinkly and wet wan smiles–these are tributes to the victors. When I talk about hemorrhoids, it’s the same thing; those wild mandarin ducks from the public park in their moments of confessions are the same thing. If not for those wan smiles, then the whole game would be nothing but naked savagery, and it wouldn’t be any fun at all.
I have now discussed cutting my arm when I was young, suffering from hunger, as well as about my helpful education, when my face revealed its wan smile. That sort of smile is exactly the same as the wan smile on the face of the wild mandarin ducks that were caught in the public park making love. Making love in a public park, nine times out of ten you won’t be caught. So this is also a kind of lottery. However big the difference between this prize and helpful education, they have one thing in common–the appearances of such smiles are equally lovable in the eyes of those who have not yet won the prize.
Concerning “lovable,” I have some comments to add. When I was working in the tower, I often poured out my innermost feelings to Zhan Ba: “Zhan Ba, you are truly lovable!” When he heard this he said: “Fuck your mother! You want to be a jerk again, don’t you?” Not long after, I started to sing an Albanian folk song with my own lyrics: “You lovable big Zhan Ba, when your eye is black and blue, you are even more beautiful.”
No matter what the song, if it comes from my mouth, it can only be described as “wailing.” Zhan Ba listened without turning a hair, then suddenly took up a wrench or a screwdriver and flung himself toward me. But don’t worry about me: if I were hit by him, I wouldn’t be called Wang Er and he wouldn’t be called Zhan Ba. There is one thing that can prove that Zhan Ba loved me. In ’78, I took the university entrance exam. When it was time to publish the list of successful candidates, Zhan Ba guarded the reception office every day. When he had my admission notice in his hand, he sped off to the tower to tell me: “Normal university mathematics department! Consider yourself out of here!!” Certainly not everyone is so lucky as to be born Zhan Ba, and to have a Wang Er to love him to death. So he also has won a big prize. It is like that with lovable things. Formerly I only knew Zhan Ba was lovable; it was only after X Haiying thought I was lovable that I knew how big a misfortune being lovable is.
When undergoing helpful education, I went to X Haiying’s place. She always lowered her head, grinning, and used a peculiar syntax to talk to me. For example, if I said, “Branch Secretary, I have come,” she would say, “Welcome to come. Sit.” If I said, “Branch Secretary, I wish to confess my true thoughts,” she would then say, “Welcome true thoughts. Talk.” No matter what I said, she would always first respond with “welcome.” If she was pulling my leg, you wouldn’t know it because she maintained her usual calm, her hand moving a ballpoint pen back and forth. If she was being serious, still her speech was all messed up. Only now do I realize that she was attentively appreciating my lovable points. When I think about this, I nearly go mad.
When I was there at X Haiying’s place undergoing helpful education, certain things occurred. In the winter of that year, the higher-ups issued directives to develop a Strengthen Public Order Movement, and the variety of rallies to pronounce judgments was unending. Of course, these were intended to “kill the chicken to scare the monkey,” and I was one of the monkeys, so I went to every meeting. At the municipal level pronounce judgment rally, several people were pulled out and executed. At the district level rally, several people were escorted away for reform through labor. Then at a company level rally, the entire study workshop student body was standing on the platform. When the rally was over, several among them were sent to be reeducated through physical labor. Finally there was our factory rally. X Haiying pledged to me that this was just a denouncement rally; the denouncement topic was my beating up Zhan Ba. There would be no other business, because it wasn’t a meeting to pronounce judgments. But I didn’t dare believe that. Furthermore, I thought that even if this wasn’t a rally to pronounce judgments, sooner or later it could turn into one. So I told her that I was by nature pessimistic and that I feared during the rally I might break into tears on the spot. She said if you can cry, then cry freely, that will show you have the willingness to repent and reform, and that will be of great benefit to you. So on the day of the meeting I stood in front and let my tears fall like rain. Several middle-aged female workers couldn’t take it; they cried along with me and wiped my tears dry with a big towel. The rest of the people glared at Zhan Ba. Just as the rally was breaking up, Zhan Ba charged toward me, saying I was a pretentious SOB, accusing me again of using a cunning trick to plot against him. He wanted to give me a beating, but he didn’t have the courage. Zhan Ba’s most lovable appearance was his holding his two fists as if to box, making as if to pounce, but not daring to really pounce. If there is a person like this by your side, you too can fall in love with him.
This is how denouncement rallies are. Old Lu was not at all satisfied, saying this rally failed to destroy the evil people’s arrogance. When I walked out of the meeting place, Old Lu suddenly charged toward me. This time there were people everywhere and there was no place for me to run; I was caught, and she held on to me at the waist. Reacting with a ready-made plan, I immediately shut down my breathing and fell down frontwards like a chopped-down tree. Turning me over, they saw my eyes tightly closed, my jaw clamped shut, and me not even breathing. According to eyewitnesses, not only was my face ashen, my cheekbones were suffused with the green pallor of a corpse. They hurriedly called the infirmary’s Small Qian to come to take my pulse; she couldn’t find it. Putting a stethoscope up to my heart, she couldn’t hear anything (I think she put it to the right side of my chest). When she pricked the middle of my upper lip with a needle, I don’t know if it was because the skin on my face was stretched so tight or her hand trembled–in any case she couldn’t pierce the skin. So I was lifted quickly onto a three-wheel cart and sent to the hospital. I was so stiff I resembled something just taken out from cold storage. Once out of the factory gate, I was fine and danced with joy. Old Lu was not pleased with my ruse, saying “Next time Wang Er has no breath, don’t send him to the hospital, send him straight to the crematorium.”
About that Strengthen Public Order Movement and my helpful education, I can concisely summarize them like this: they were an event in the age of revolution. Like a good many other events of that time, it resulted in part of the population being killed, another part being locked up, and a part being put under surveillance. I went to work each day as usual, but with a long face. These things are always clearly delineated. Those who were under surveillance could perhaps be locked up, and those who were locked could perhaps be executed. Any of these things could happen, so you should wait patiently. My fault was that I played dead before the others came to kill me.
After all this, X Haiying said to me, “You are almost done for. If you cause any more trouble, I won’t be able to save you; you’ll be sent to the study workshop for sure.” I felt this was no mere bluffing, and I experienced a feeling of real terror. I said, “You . . . .You . . . You must save me. The two of us and Zhan Ba, our relationship is not bad.” Before then, not only had I never stammered, I had always spoken fast like a Japanese person. My habitual stammer began at that instant and has not been cured to this day. I use two methods to overcome the stammer. One is to silently contemplate in my mind, before I open my mouth, the number of times I anticipate stammering. Although this method stops my stammering, it also causes me to breath heavily. The other method is to hit myself on my forehead before speaking, as if suddenly realizing something or as if swatting a mosquito. But this method has its drawbacks as well. For one, in winter there are no mosquitoes. Second, if at noon someone asks you if you’ve eaten or not and you have a “suddenly realization,” isn’t this like amnesia? Worst of all, I sometimes breath heavily, sometimes I have amnesia. The result is my current colleagues now neither complain about my breathing disorder or my amnesia. What they do complain about–well, you won’t believe it, but I’ll tell you anyway–is that my heart is hideous and unfathomable and that I’m always going to the leaders to slander good people behind their backs. But I never did anything of the sort. All these problems are the result of my being frightened by X Haiying.
And X Haiying was exceptionally pleased with herself about this. Whenever she saw someone she would say: “I frightened Wang Er so much that he breaths heavily!” When everyone heard this, they broke out in loud laughter. This sort of public humiliation only makes my stammering worse. Of course I can’t completely blame X Haiying for my stammer. The higher-ups’ “killing the chicken to scare the monkey” also had a big influence. I have noticed during the pronounce judgments rallies that those guys who were about to be led off to the execution ground each had a cangue around their necks and was roped up tightly with several men as escorts–even if they were able to turn a somersault, they couldn’t run away. And those who were being escorted to reform through labor, the head of each one was shaven and they wore worried frowns, grumbling about why their parents had given birth to them. This kind of thing, if it can be avoided, is best to avoid. So I begged for X Haiying’s help, weeping and showing the utmost sincerity. She told me that my biggest shortcoming was that I was not well behaved–nowadays, people who are not well behaved are either serving sentences in prison or are dead from a bullet to the head. I inquired in what way I could appear to be well behaved. She told me, the first thing on the list was to attend meetings. Or, to put it better, I should go to the meeting place and grind my ass.
X Haiying said to Zhan Ba, this kid Wang Er is really amusing, and he can both draw false collars and feign death. But I know nothing about these conversations. At that time, I no idea she talked about me in this way; if I had known, I certainly would have strangled her.
Everyone, no matter who you are, is familiar with ass grinding. It’s either one person pressing you down onto a chair to grind your ass alone or a big crowd of people grinding their asses together; the latter is called “holding a meeting,” In short, if you are forced to sit there against your will, it’s grinding ass. My turning into a pessimist has a lot to do with ass grinding. Later, you may notice, my ass no longer experienced grinding. But X Haiying asked me to attend meetings, so I had to go.
People in the age of revolution are always connected with certain types of meetings. For example, in the language of mathematics, the set of party members is the total of party meeting attendees, the set of Youth League members is the total of Youth League meeting attendees, and the set of workers is the total of work group meeting and factory meeting attendees. Before, I hardly attended any meetings, because then I wasn’t a party member nor a Youth League member, and my work group consisted of just Zhan Ba and me, so we couldn’t have a meeting. As for meetings of the entire factory, there were so many people attending, my absence wouldn’t be noticed, so I just slipped away. But I wasn’t the only one with this sort of attitude, and in the end the absences were noticed. For a period of time, Old Lu ordered the factory gates locked when big meetings were held, but I was very good at climbing walls. Later she would call roll at meetings, and wages of the absentees were docked. So I told Zhan Ba to give a shout when my name was called. I wasn’t the only one to adopt such measures, so when an entire factory meeting was held, those below the rostrum were only 70 or 80 in number, but the roll showed 300 people present; for every name called, there was at least one but up to seven or eight shouts–depending on that person’s popularity. Of course, Old Lu wasn’t a fool. Once at roll call time she pointed at Zhan Ba and yelled, “You! That big-eyed lanky one! You are Zhan Ba and also Wang Er and also Zhang San and Li Si; what’s your real name?” Zhan Ba opened his eyes wide and thought for a long while, then replied: “I too don’t know what to call myself!” This is what the meetings were like.
After I started to undergo helpful education, X Haiying told me to go to more meetings, not only the factory meetings but also the Youth League meetings, and to sit behind the League members to absorb some edification. If I were sent to the hooligan’s workshop, I still would have to attend meetings there, so what’s the big deal about attending a few meetings here in the factory. The only problem is that she told me I was not allowed to sit there and stare blankly, which was too much for me. So when I attended a meeting, I always made a big mug of tea, using no less than fifty grams of tea leaves, and brought along quite a few packs of inferior cigarettes. These cigarettes had numerous tobacco stems; if I didn’t use my finger to carefully rub them loose, then the cigarettes would burn properly. After lighting one, I couldn’t lower my head; if I did, all the contents of the cigarette would fall to the floor, leaving behind an empty paper tube. Holding a cigarette in my mouth this way gave me the appearance of sitting upright and looking straight ahead–this was the only reason I smoke, because at that time I had no craving for tobacco and didn’t inhale the smoke into my lungs at all. When it burned near my lips and the smoke got into my eyes, I took a fierce puff, and then launched the burning ember from the cigarette paper. In the beginning, I blew it toward places with no people, then practiced shooting flies, and gradually attained the perfect state of shooting one hundred times without missing a single one. Mastering this skill isn’t very difficult: wait patiently while the fly flies near, wait until it’s hovering in the air, take aim at the spot between its eyes, and open fire–that’s all. But in the eyes of laymen, it was a most magical art; when a fly is in mid-flight and suddenly is hit by a splash of fire and rolls down on the ground, the spectacle seems completely thrilling. Later, some League members sat next to me, supplied me with cigarettes, and asked me to teach them the skill of shooting flies. Soon the “poof” sound resounded ceaselessly in the meeting place, and burning cigarette embers danced in the air just like shooting stars in the dark night. In the end, some moron blew a cigarette butt into a padded door curtain, almost causing a fire. In the end, X Haiying no longer told me to attend the meetings, saying I was a chunk of rotten wood that couldn’t be sculpted into anything. My current view on this matter: a person wants to eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, have sex when of a certain age, and stare blankly when attending a meeting, because under such circumstances, he has no alternative. Eating, drinking, having sex, and staring blankly all belong in the category of natural rights. If a person makes an error, he can be punished by other methods, but it’s impossible to forbid his staring blankly. Otherwise there will be the danger of causing a fire.
If I were asked to draw a picture of ass grinding, I would draw a grand chair, the chair seat bright and clean like a mirror, with a person’s face painted on it like a reflected image. The more you rub a chair, the brighter it becomes, but asses aren’t that way. On my ass are two places as rough as sandpaper. After my wife discovered that, she went everywhere proclaiming, “Our Wang Er’s ass is like shark’s skin.” Actually, whose ass among men my age isn’t like that?
X Haiying didn’t have me attend meetings, but she was unwilling to let me go home; she told me to sit in her office. This was so that as other people ground their asses, I would grind mine for the same duration; I also appeared quite well behaved. In addition, she locked the door from the outside. According to her, locking the door had two advantages: one was to prevent Old Lu’s bursting in, the other was that when imprisoned like this I couldn’t be implicated if any new pictures appeared in the men’s restroom. I felt locking me in was for my own good, and so I had no objections. Inside that room, aside from a desk, a chair, and a bench, there was also a curtain, behind which was a bed. X Haiying’s home was very far away, so she usually slept here in the factory. A screen, fitted very tightly, had been nailed to the outside of the window. There was one time when I had to use the toilet–I used the rope she had tied up the curtain with, threw it over the roof beam, and climbed up it to escape through the skylight. That rope was nylon cord, both thin and tough. It badly bit into the palms of my hands. X Haiying knew I had escaped, but didn’t say anything; she just put a thin galvanized wire in place of the rope to hang the curtain. I never escaped again; I just sat on the bench, holding my head with both hands. From this sort of grinding around, I acquired hemorrhoids.
When I was locked up in X Haiying’s room, I always loved to look out the window. I saw other people going past the window, and saw the bare branches of the trees in the courtyard. In fact, there was nothing much worth looking at outside, and besides, I had just come in from the outside. But this business of being locked up made me anxious to get out, just like when your ass is being ground, you want to stand up and walk around. When compelled to do something, I invariably send to my brain an opposite signal. If these kinds of signal to the brain are too numerous, a person can become demented.