EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK: THE FOSSIL, PART
Prominent Chinese writer eloquently describes the oppression
of intellectuals in his country between 1950s and 1970s
in these twelve autobiographical novellas and short stories.
Many of the stories are so shocking and heart-wrenching
that one cannot but feel suffocated.
In "A Glass of Water," neighbors ignore a feverish old
woman's pleas for water because her son has been denounced
as counter-revolutionary. In "The Fossil," a wife does
not speak to her writer husband for three years, because
he is under suspicion. The title story portrays the absurdity
of the period in which flowers seemed so alien to the
oppressive political atmosphere that they evoked a sense
of terror in people's minds and hearts.
Flower Terror: Suffocating Stories of China
"Pu, one of China's most influential writers, writes
of his embittering experiences clearly and fluently, without
sentimentality or self-pity."
-- Publishers Weekly
"The stories in this work are well written."
-- Library Journal
"The twelve novellas and short stories reveal an articulate
power of narration?"
-- Midwest Book Review
Author: Pu Ning
|Acclaimed as "the Solzhenitsyn of China," Pu
Ning is one of the most controversial, influential
and admired writers in modern Chinese literature.
In a space of thirty years (1949 to 1979) during
which he was many times put into police custody,
labor camp and prison, Pu Ning secretly wrote
2.6 million words of fiction. He managed to smuggle
these manuscripts overseas in over 4,000 disguised
letters where they were published.
An extraordinary man experiencing extraordinary marriages,
Pu Ning was forced into a traumatic political divorce
during the Cultural Revolution, but new lives peacefully
in Taiwan with his current wife who is forty-one years
THE BOOK: THE FOSSIL, PART ONE
Night. Like an ebony dye, spreading out on a canvas
to form an enormous bear's paw. It was as if Walt Disney's
brush was at work.
The steamy darkness weighed heavily upon me and made
me pant as if out of breath. I had to lie down, to stretch
out and embrace sleep in my five-foot long, coir-rope
bed. My sleeping place was my refuge in an overly large
universe that revealed itself every evening.
It was summer. At this time every evening, I had to
recline at the side of a large fossil which emanated a
cold that permeated my body. The petrified object I refer
to is a woman. This woman is my--wife. When I wrote this
word, I felt compelled to first draw a long dash. But
I hesitated as my pen formed the line. Should I have written
it this way?
It was the two-year anniversary of her fossilization.
There was no special celebration. In fact, my own commemo-ration
was the result of beginning to view my wife in this way,
a realization that has battered my subconscious mind like
a violent surf. She had not spoken one word to me in the
past two years, not even a "Hmm" of acknowledgement. She
had achieved a level of silence more complete than what
existed at the bottom of the Dead Sea that brushed past
the shores of Palestine. A stillness more complete than
that portrayed in Arnold Bocklin's famous painting "Dead
Island." It was as if she wished to use this muteness
to smother me, to stop the irritating sound of my breathing.
Women who are both attractive and compulsively clean
are sometimes the most subtle of snares. You do not dare
to disturb their rigidly imposed order, like a fly fearing
to alight on a peony, or a mosquito recoiling before a
lotus. Those who aggressively maintain silent surroundings
are no different. You are unwilling to break the pristine
quiet for fear of fatally wounding them. My wife's silence,
however, was not pathological. It was an incredible act
that became real with the passage of time. The palpable
silence was what frightened me. This is when I began to
feel that she had become a fossil, like those of the Triassic
dinosaurs and their aquatic predecessors.
This fossil was quite different from the "Husband-Watching
Rock" in Hubei Province, which has passed into Chinese
folklore. The latter represents a hallowed object, a testament
to the endurance of love. The former, something utterly
This was no fiction. For two whole years, it seemed
like the family had been a captive audience at the openings
of innumerable exhibitions of petrified curiosities.
Faced with gallery upon gallery of sights at these exhibitions,
I was forced to develop a particular skill. Before long,
I was the most experienced of collectors. Not of antiques,
but of sufferings. To each of these was attached the image
of a particular fossil, the ghost of something that was
once alive. And I hid them deeply-deep enough so that
no one else would discover them.
That night, the exhibition of the human fossils was
celebra-ting its two-year anniversary.
I should have had some way of memorializing the event.
It just so happened that it was the seventh day of the
seventh month according to the Lunar Calendar-Chinese
Valentine's Day. The day when the constellations formed
the legendary magpie bridge, allowing the spinning maid
and the cowherd to spend their one precious night together.
This cowherd was lying next to his gelid spinning maid.
Her wintry aura was my only indulgence. Even in her deepest
sleep she continued to emanate a benumbing chill. It was
little wonder that I awoke frequently, awash in her vapors.
It was a torrid night. The autumn tiger (a spell of
hot weather after the beginning of autumn) had chased
back the cooler weather. Summer would not pass very easily.
The fossil's presence, however, created an atmosphere
which covered me in cold sweat. About an hour earlier,
that giant bear's paw had penetrated the room and pressed
down on me until I convulsed for lack of air. I could
stand it no longer! I reached over and turned the light
on. A dim light shone on her fine, pale face, and her
breasts which rose slowly with each breath. I glared at
her with increasing anger. The light disturbed her sleep
and I could see that she had awoken. Like so many times
before, however, she just lay there with her eyes shut.
My fury had passed the point of tolerance. I tore at the
porcelain buttons on her silken undershirt and exposed
the two large persimmons that lay beneath, and then pulled
off her panties. I quickly shed my own clothing and climbed
on to her body, like some kind of feral beast.
History was repeating itself. I cannot count the times
that we had reenacted this primeval mating dance. She
was always like an automaton, her only movements being
those that I created. Even if bedewed at the approach
of a climax, she would lie there like a stone, as still
as I was frenzied. She made only one voluntary movement:
no matter how wildly I kissed her, she would clamp her
teeth and lips tightly together, never allowing my tongue
to touch her own.
I was not yielding to sensual pleasures. It was just
a means of releasing the built-up pain, a means of revenge.
Every time I lay on her body I felt like a lecher, as
if I were raping a recently expired body.
I wanted revenge.
Maybe this vengeful episode was my pleasure. Maybe it
was my way of commemorating our time together. All my
actions to this point, however, appeared to be just fruitless
attempts at assailing the enemy's fortifications, like
Don Quixote attacking his windmills.
Her soft body and my virility. They did not complement
each other. We were both covered with sweat and she was
panting faintly. This was the first and only sound she
emitted for me. Only at this particular moment did she
reveal a glimpse of her humanity.
Damn it! The rock had finally emitted a sound!
All this time I had been waiting for a sound.
I continued my actions with renewed fervor. That night,
I was incensed.
My body was surging with adrenaline. I was like a stallion
bolting into an open field. I climaxed three times that
night. I wanted to commemorate that damn anniversary-that
damn rendezvous on the magpie bridge.
I had to retaliate.
I had ridden the crests of the waves and was soon washed
ashore. I finally collapsed on her and lay silently, as
silently as she. I, too, was fossilized. My heart felt
as if it had been consumed in a fire.
Suddenly, I burst out in tears.