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Griever: An American Monkey King in China

Copyright Date: 1987
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Griever de Hocus, accomopanied by his rooster, Matteo Ricci, plays havoc with the monolithic institutions of the People's Republic of China in Vizenor's inspired retelling of the classic Chinese Journey to the West. "Much of the American experience of the New Post-Cultural Revolution in China is related with devastating comic irony. The sights, sounds, and smells of the land are often unerringly captured by the author's lean, laconic prose." Los Angeles Times

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8338-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-8)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 9-10)
  3. PART 1 Xiazhi:: Summer Solstice

    • Bound Feet
      (pp. 13-18)

      Dear China

      Listen, your foot man is here at last under the silk trees in the land of bare bulbs and no cleavage. This is an enormous reservation with a fifty watter over the main street, but, as Marco Polo said, “I have not told the half of what I saw.”

      Last night at the train depot two exotic oldies with bound feet hobbled down the stairs in front of me, their elbows out wide for balance. I should have mimicked their miniature moves, by nature, but instead I carried their tattered bundles to the curb. No one, not even...

    • Holosexual Clown
      (pp. 19-26)

      Warrior clowns imagine the world and pinch their time from those narrow scratch lines dashed between national politics and traditional opera scenes.

      This clown, old but seldom stooped, bailed from a faded landscape, unlocks the campus gate at dawn, starts a charcoal fire in a small brazier, and then he totters over the line with two bright butterflies embroidered on the lapels of his blue opera coat.

      “Wu Chou, Wu Chou,” the children chant from their baskets and spacious sidecars, and some lean out to touch his lapels and the golden butterflies in a natal light. Even a tired peasant,...

    • Jade Rabbit
      (pp. 27-30)

      Griever watched the bats flutter in wide circles and then vanish at narrow seams beneath the eaves. He was perched at the window, alone in the concrete guest house at the crack of dawn.

      China opened in pale blue smoke.

      The shadows heaved on the lanes and wambled between the rows of low brick houses. A white cat pounced on broad leaves in the courtyard below the balcony of his apartment.

      Griever waited for the last bats to return and then he eased his rigid legs down from the window sill. He was short, not much taller than the students...

    • Peking Nightingale
      (pp. 31-33)

      Griever resolves his bother and concern in the world with three curious gestures: he leans back on his heels and taps the toes of his shoes together; he pinches and folds one ear; and he turns a finger in search of a wild strand of hair on his right temple. The third habit, he wrote to a former teacher, was his search for one “metahair, the hair that transforms impotencies, starved moments, even deadends.”

      China pressed and the man with the panda case demanded three gestures that first morning on the street. The trickster tapped his toes, pinched his ear,...

    • Matteo Ricci
      (pp. 34-47)

      Griever leaned back on a plane tree in a patch of shade and watched three chickens bleed to death on the other side of the market. He tried to warn the cockerel and two white hens but it was too late. In minutes the dead birds were boiled, plucked, paid, and carried naked from the market.

      Griever opened his holster, drew the scroll, and with three colored pens he resurrected the dead chickens. The cockerel strutted across the rough paper with hairless humans bound to his shanks. He turned the scroll, past the human with a blue star tattooed on...

    • Griever Meditation
      (pp. 48-51)

      The science teacher demonstrated how electrical shocks stimulated the leg muscles of a dead frog. The common green frogs, captured over the weekend near the creek and in a glass case, seemed to leap much higher dead than alive. The frogs were to be dissected once the teacher had desensitized the students with the scientific method. Some the fifth grade girls were sick, their noses wrinkled like permanent cultural scars. The sick girls were allowed to leave the room, the first level of elimination in the scientific colonization of nature.

      “Remember children,” said the teacher as she hiked her thumbs...

    • Free the Garlic
      (pp. 52-55)

      “My cock is Matteo Ricci from Cochin China” the trickster announced with a flourish from the counter, “and I am the king of the chickens.”

      “Who is Matteo Ricci?” asked Sugar Dee.

      “Ricci was a missionary, an Italian Jesuit,” the trickster lectured, “and, believe it or not, he was taken prisoner right here on the trail of the hare and hounds.”

      “When was that?”

      “Three-hundred eighty-four years and seven days ago, to be specific,” he answered and winked at the cock on the counter.

      “Mister trickster, come down here for a minute.” Sugar Dee leaned forward and pressed her thighs...

    • Mute Pigeon
      (pp. 56-62)

      Once a night, no matter where he rests, at hotels, guest houses, berths on a train, with friends or relatives, the trickster turns the mattress over and loosens the sheets before he sleeps. Griever learned this unusual practice from an old shaman who told grim stories about the dream thieves and the children who lose their dreams.

      “Turn the mattress,” she told the children on cold winter nights, “because lonesome white people with no shadows hound the tribes and capture our dreams.” Tricksters and mixedbloods, she said, “lose their dreams when they talk too much in bed, their stories are...

  4. PART 2 Dashu:: Great Heat

    • Panic Holes
      (pp. 65-71)

      Egas Zhang, the furtive director of foreign affairs at Zhou Enlai University, held a cigarette close to his cheek, a pose revised from western movies, when he entered the dining room at the guest house. He carried a small plastic case attached to his wrist with braided twine.

      “Hot time now,” said Egas.

      “Hot time, the weather,” one teacher answered with a smile but the other teachers were suspicious. Egas approached with his hand on his cheek; his lean fingers were stained brown between the knuckles. Small collars of blue smoke broke over his hard right ear when he stooped...

    • Stone Shaman
      (pp. 72-78)

      Shitou breaks stones with one hand late in the afternoon three times a week at the entrance to the free market in a close near the campus gate. Between the breaks he tells stories about bears and the old stone cultures that came down from the mountains and settled near the sea.

      “Shitou is a stone,” he declared each time he danced around the stones, his ritual preparation for the break.

      “Smiles break, blue water breaks, birds break in a storm, children break, minds and hearts break,” he chanted to the small crowd, “and this old hand breaks stones into...

    • Black Opal
      (pp. 79-87)

      Griever bucked to the head of the line at the main bus stop near the train station. He touched shoulders, thighs, enravished with moist bodies in the crush; such sensuous pleasures were denied in other public places.

      The trickster was urbane in the classroom; he paused at some social intersections and at the thresholds of past rulers, but he could bear insipid manners no more than a few weeks. The people who crushed each other on the run seldom touched with esteem when there was time. Machines, the trickster noted, were parked much closer than lovers were allowed to be...

    • Peach Emperor
      (pp. 88-106)

      Matteo Ricci thrust his head from the canvas shoulder pack and clucked at the teachers in line at the train station. When the trickster saw the woman with the scar and the blue rabbit, the woman he had pursued at the bus stop near the campus, he rushed the lines to the turnstiles.

      “Remember me?”

      “You are the foreign teacher,” she responded. Muscles on her neck tightened, and with each word the volume of her voice increased. She was carried with the crowd through the turnstile.

      “Call me Griever,” he cried and hied with the blue press to the train....

  5. PART 3 Bailu:: White Dew

    • Victoria Park
      (pp. 109-123)

      Tianjin is partitioned in memories of lost relatives, colonial concessions, shadow capitalism, and painted faces from classical operas. Memories waver at night, never in the heart.

      Griever considered the old street names on colonial maps, Marechal Foch, Saint Louis, Gaston Kahn, and then located the cathedral where the Lazarist Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul had opened an orphanage.

      John Hersey wrote that in their eagerness to win souls the sisters paid “a cash premium for each child brought in to them; and, what was worse, they were said to have paid to have sick and dying children carried to...

    • Opera Comique
      (pp. 124-131)

      Griever cleaved more observances than he inspired, but one practice continues to bear his name at the guest house. The Opera Comique de Hocus is held once or twice a week over dinner; the teachers read aloud their imagined and posted mail from lovers, celebrities, past presidents. The opera scenes with reels, cakewalks, crude tableaux, percussions, scored at each table, enlivens the cuisine and solemn winter months on campus.

      Griever opened a stained envelope and read aloud a letter from his second cousin; the words were printed on a curve. Mouse Proof Martin, he explained, lived down river near Bad...

    • Sweet Piccolos
      (pp. 132-137)

      The teachers learned from the cadres at the guest house to conceal their uncertainties with cultural catch phrases: the moon cakes are marvelous; street crimes are uncommon here; the architecture is splendid; no narcotics in hotel lobbies; indeed, but no one could explain why there were so many locks on doors and drawers, and how a civilized nation could execute thousands for minor crimes.

      The classrooms are locked at night, some doors even chained, others padlocked twice, three times, each with a separate key held by different cadres who must all be present to open the room. Some hotels lock...

    • Execution Caravan
      (pp. 138-158)

      Griever mounted a wooden camel and cocked a pose for a studio photograph, the last foreign teacher to complete his identification documents. He wigwagged his painted monkey face at the cautious children who moved underhand near the wild borders of the portrait landscapes. The studio, located on the second floor of a small department store near the restored concession cathedral, leaned to the nave, a crack from an earthquake. The desert bloomed on the aisle, and tropical animals roamed on the other border.

      “No face paint, no, no,” said the photographer through a studio translator. “Face paint, no no identification.”...

  6. PART 4 Quifen:: Autumn Equinox

    • Obo Island
      (pp. 161-177)

      Shuishang Water Park bears a horde of tourists, seven wild animals, three birds in a mesh, and dead water; tired pandas thumb the stone walls, tigers wheeze over the children at the posterns, sullen eagles hack the narrow bamboo beams with their wicked beaks, and keels dissolve on the dark blue shores.

      Griever rowed a rented plastic boat close to shore in the thick water. The oars screeched in the rusted locks; he drifted in silence under an arched wooden bridge. Overhead, tourists paused on the rail to chatter, hand over hand, and watch the cock high in the bow...

    • Duck Webs
      (pp. 178-191)

      Mikhail Markovich Borodin was once known as the Emperor of Canton. He was born a Russian, enlisted in the Jewish Social Democratic Bund, and founded a school for emigrant children in the slums of Chicago; then, dashed in radical journalism, he became a miscued courier in communism.

      Borodin carried out the policies of Joseph Stalin and was heaved to the side in a peasant revolution. Now, two generations later, Canton has become Guangzhou, a new free market ordeal, and the old peasant radicals are reborn as clever corporate capitalists. Where the missionaries strained to save the souls of heathens in...

    • Outdoor Movies
      (pp. 192-200)

      The cicadas roared once the rainbow came down over the brick road behind the campus dormitories. Later, the wind crouched at broken windows; colors wavered, voices were hollow, and the last mosquitoes whined near the pond. Seven narrow banners in red and blue hues descended from a high wire between two buildings. The plastic rainbow marked the entrance to the outdoor movie theater.

      The road narrowed to a turnstile under the rainbow. There a woman with a disabled child directed admission once a week to the free movies. The dark woman and her child lived in an abandoned automobile.


    • Forbidden Cities
      (pp. 201-211)

      Maxim’s de Paris was delivered in Beijing on the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

      Griever was there, dressed in his lemon raglan opera coat and pleated trousers to mock a precious moment in the wild histories of capitalism. He leaned back on a small tree, potted in concrete for the occasion, unholstered his scroll, and painted an ornate sedan chair raised on the fattened shoulders of missionaries, silhouettes with white masks on rough paper. The sedan was overturned in the second scene; peasants circled the chair and ate the missionaries.

      Matteo Ricci scratched the side...

    • Blue Bones
      (pp. 212-226)

      The Marxmass Carnival, a secular crotch where class wars and solemn communions contend, was ordained by Sister Eternal Flame, a mixedblood who renounced the cloister to establish a scapehouse for wounded women. She warned that the “costume mass must be held under a whole moon, a natural and wild endeavor.”

      Flame observed the prime carnival when she returned to the reservation and turned her considerable passions to celebrate with lost and lonesome women. Last year she conducted three carnivals because no one could agree on the same moon.

      Griever, who danced at the reservation carnivals, marked the observance on the...

    • Blue Chicken
      (pp. 227-230)

      Hua Lian, the last to arrive at the carnival, waited in the back of the prairie schooner with the stone man. She appeared on the terrace, dressed in a scarlet silk coat with faces of monkeys embroidered on the collar and sleeves; too late, the dance had ended; solemn teachers had returned to the guest house.

      Kangmei, Shitou, Sandie, Pigsie, Yaba Gezi, Li Wen, and the trickster crowded under the sailcloth in the back of the schooner. Hua Lian lighted a small blue lantern and told stories about the moon rabbit to honor the children and Hester Hua Dan.


    • Ultralight Escape
      (pp. 231-235)

      Dear China:

      The sunrise was sweet and blue, as blue as the meadows on the reservation, and the sun was a courteous child perched on the trees when we circled over Tai Shan Mountain.The ultralight engine is too loud but the mountain and the view over the Temple of Confucius is marvelous.

      People stop on narrow paths and wave, we must look like tourists on a bus in the air, and once we scared some peasants when we landed to ask for directions. The real joke is that people never ask directions over here, this is not a map place...

    (pp. 236-238)

    My wife Laura Hall and I were teachers for several months at Tianjin University. We visited Maxim’s de Beijing the day it opened on the thirty–fourth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. I was turned away that morning because I was not wearing a necktie; however, when I explained that I was there to examine the interior reproduction and not to eat, the dress code was overlooked for the moment. The waiters were nervous; the restaurant smelled of varnish.

    Li Rui–Huan, the Mayor of Tianjin, is quoted from his speech at the National Day...

    (pp. 239-240)