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The Remote Country of Women

The Remote Country of Women: A Novel

Bai Hua
Qingyun Wu
Thomas O. Beebee
General Editor, Howard Goldblatt
Copyright Date: 1994
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  • Book Info
    The Remote Country of Women
    Book Description:

    “A political prisoner’s story [interwoven] with the pastoral, tenderly erotic lyricism of a folk tale.” —Publisher’s Weekly “The Remote Country of Women is one of Bai Hua’s major works. For ordinary readers, it provides fresh and entertaining reading. For those who wish to learn about contemporary Chinese culture and history, it gives a tangible picture of the life of a unique Chinese national minority, and of how their culture is placed within the broader context of the mainstream Han culture.” —China Review International, Fall 1995 “A nearly Orwellian height of originality is achieved in Bai Hua’s exposure of the warping banality of totalitarianism. The Remote Country of Women is an ingenious and important book.” —Jeffrey C. Kinkley, St. John’s University

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6498-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. 1
    (pp. 1-10)

    She was going on thirteen. Oh, beautiful Sunamei! A crescent was waxing into a half-moon.

    “One, two, three, four….” A group of boys and girls, all dressed in long shirts that looked like oversized blouses or undersized gowns, squatted beneath a row of ritual pennants on the hilltop and counted the vehicles crawling one by one around the bend of the hill like beetles. There were four cars: one black, two blue, even a red one. In their wake were two buses and three huge trucks. In the trucks sat People’s Liberation Army soldiers, with guns in hand and bayonets...

  3. 2
    (pp. 11-26)

    I gaze at her window. In the past it was pasted over with black paper; now a cloth curtain with tiny blue flowers hangs there.

    So here I am again, in this place so familiar and full of affection. Oh, I can’t help leaning against a plane tree on the sidewalk. I’m too weak to stand, and wounds cover my body like the scales on a fish. Torture, hunger, toil, lack of sleep, insomnia – all these have disappeared since yesterday. I can hardly believe the past is really gone; perhaps it has merely been suspended. During the past few...

  4. 3
    (pp. 27-34)

    She was going on thirteen. Oh, beautiful Sunamei! Gathering beads of dew were about to flow in a stream.

    The majority of the Mosuo put up with the clampdown pretty well. Men stopped their night visits to women. In the dead of night, Sunamei stole out from heryimeito watch the work team members parading in the village. They looked dreary, telling yarns one after another. She also groped her way to thehuaguof the mature women to eavesdrop, but she couldn’t hear any male breathing. Still, she was told that pairs ofaxiaohad been caught in...

  5. 4
    (pp. 35-48)

    I gaze at her window. In the past it was pasted over with black paper; now a cloth curtain with tiny blue flowers hangs there.

    I had always been poor at physical education. I still remembered my participation in a race during my high school days. After a hundred-meter sprint to the finish, my heart was beating at twice the normal rate. A doctor’s son once told me that after strenuous exercise your pulse and blood pressure rise steeply. Why not try this trick? So, I used my intuition to choose a lucky day and secretly reconnoiter the enemy position....

  6. 5
    (pp. 49-65)

    Now she was thirteen years old. Oh, beautiful Sunamei! A sickle-shaped moon had waxed into a full boat.

    Five girls from the community were going to remove their linen gowns. On New Year’s Eve they gathered under a row of pine trees along the lake in a place appointed for the annual meeting for thirteen-year-old girls. Every year there were up to a dozen thirteen-year-olds. In the previous years, Sunamei had been allowed only to stand watching at a distance. The bonfire on the grassy land and its reflection on the lake were like two large blooming flowers. Young maidens...

  7. 6
    (pp. 66-81)

    I gaze at her window. In the past it was pasted over with black paper; now a cloth curtain with tiny blue flowers hangs there.

    Jane’s death caused me to abandon my long-planned strategy for attacking the stronghold of the clinic. During the night, Gui Renzhong often shone his flashlight on Jane’s portrait on the cover of the box containing her ashes and stroked it affectionately. Jane’s beauty was, indeed, beyond description. It reminded me of the full-blooming golden chrysanthemum in tropical sunlight, particularly when her face beamed with happy smiles. As Gui Renzhong kept Jane’s ash box beside his...

  8. 7
    (pp. 82-92)

    Sunamei’s firstaxiaowas slow in coming. Although she had been a skirt woman for half a year now, men seemed to ignore her existence. She was an obscure, tiny blossom; only the huge, colorful flowers dazzled men’s eyes. HeramijiZhima was a full-blooming, pollen-laden flower. Men could smell her fragrance from a distance. Her shining eyes could hook a man’s heart (those were Ami’s words). As soon as Zhima appeared in a crowd, she became the full moon in a starry sky. In contrast, Sunamei was a pale glowworm. She was too close to Zhima; the moon shone...

  9. 8
    (pp. 93-118)

    I gaze at her window. In the past it was pasted over with black paper; now a cloth curtain with tiny blue flowers hangs there.

    Damn my luck! Not until the bus had arrived at the terminal in town did they take the towel from my mouth, untie the ropes, and push me off the bus. To test my throat, I shouted with all my strength

    “Who are you! How dare you treat me like that? You – ”

    I could hear my voice was still loud and clear. Nothing wrong with my vocal cords. Yet everyone ignored me. Each...

  10. 9
    (pp. 119-126)

    “Sunamei! After worshiping Goddess Ganmu, your eyes become even brighter, like midnight stars.”

    “Sunamei! After worshiping Goddess Ganmu, you shoot up in a twinkling, like a sapling in May.”

    “Sunamei! After worshiping Goddess Ganmu, your waist sways like willow twigs in March.”

    “Sunamei! After worshiping Goddess Ganmu, you spread your fragrance far and wide, like a bud ready to bloom.”

    “Sunamei! After worshiping Goddess Ganmu, you bring back her smiles.”

    Sunamei was pleased. So many people admired her – women and men, peers and elders. Although Ami did not say anything, she looked her up and down with closed smiling...

  11. 10
    (pp. 127-147)

    I gaze at her window. In the past it was pasted over with black paper; now a cloth curtain with tiny blue flowers hangs there.

    One afternoon in May, I went to the farm to send my monthly report to the PLA rep. On my way back, I chanced on Gui Renzhong. Why hadn’t I noticed him the moment I got on the bus? Because he had changed beyond recognition. The former cowherd now had his formerly messy hair neatly parted in the middle and pasted thinly over his scalp, with an excess of pomade (too old-fashioned). He wore a...

  12. 11
    (pp. 148-153)

    Longbu of the Kazhima family was a rich caravan man. He had been to Dali in the south, Lhasa in the west, the ferry in the east, and Tibet in the north. He fell in love with Sunamei, for little Sunamei was far more bewitching than all the women he had been with before. Not only her tender cheeks and her eyes cool like stars in the sky but her entire disposition – whether revealed through a frown or a smile, a lifting hand, or a kicking toe – every part of her body, and every one of her movements...

  13. 12
    (pp. 154-185)

    I gaze at her window. In the past, it was pasted over with black paper; now a cloth curtain with tiny blue flowers hangs there.

    May and June should have been the peak of the blooming period. I still remember: azaleas bloomed and withered; roses bloomed and withered; tulips bloomed and withered; cherry blossoms bloomed and withered. But now China has no flowers to bloom anymore – and thus nothing more to wither, either, of course. Everything looks fantastically bare. All month I have been worried about old Gui. This month was his honeymoon with that dragon woman. How had...

  14. 13
    (pp. 186-193)

    Longbu was back on the road with the caravan. His posts got farther and farther away from home. Correspondingly, Sunamei’s waiting for his return became longer and longer, and her longing for him more and more desperate. An inexpressible feeling of emptiness seized her. During Longbu’s absences, Sunamei weeded the fields wearing the beads, bracelets, and earrings he had given her. The sun dancing on the shining ornaments gave her a sense of pride before people. However, she preferred relishing, in her moments of solitude, the sweet feelings Longbu had left her in those intimate nights. During the day, she...

  15. 14
    (pp. 194-217)

    I gaze at her window. In the past, it was pasted over with black paper; now a cloth curtain with tiny blue flowers hangs there.

    Again the time had come for me to take my medical report to the farm. As I shut my eyes and reminisced on the bus, the scenes and images flashing through my memory were all associated with Gui Renzhong. Nothing else could intrude, no matter how interesting or sensational: Old Gui following a herd of cows, each with eyes of grief and loyalty just like his. Old Gui looking up at the lofty statue of...

  16. 15
    (pp. 218-228)

    After becomingaxiao,Sunamei and Yingzhi, like a pair of bamboo shoots after a warm spring rain, pierced through their husks one morning, high above all the other bamboo around them. They swayed in the rosy morning sun; every leaf glistened with pearly dew. They suited each other so well that no other men dared to court Sunamei, and Ami Cai’er woke up more than once from her dreams with happy laughter.

    Yingzhi had grown up in the samesirias Sunamei. He was not rich. Unlike Longbu, who came each time on a giant horse carrying a large sack...

  17. 16
    (pp. 229-250)

    I gaze at her window. In the past, it was pasted over with black paper; now a cloth curtain with tiny blue flowers hangs there.

    We political criminals were now allowed to step out of our cells and participate in collective labor in a large courtyard encircled by high walls. Blockhouses with embrasures stood on the southeastern and northeastern corners. The guards thrust the barrels of their machine guns through those embrasures so that even prisoners with the poorest eyesight could see them. From beyond the wall we could hear sounds of the human world: cars honking, children crying, women...

  18. 17
    (pp. 251-262)

    At dawn, several large white clouds floated low over Xienami. Five or six wild ducks darted across the lake to the other bank. In the center of the lake, an old man and a little girl seated in a canoe gathered in the nets they had put into the water the night before. Although the sun was still on the other side of the mountain, a faint redness was already starting to appear and spread about in the dark blue of the lake, as though someone had squeezed a drop of red ink into a blue ink bottle.

    Two horses...

  19. 18
    (pp. 263-280)

    I gaze at her window. In the past it was pasted over with black paper; now a cloth curtain with tiny blue flowers hangs there.

    I felt lonely not participating in hard labor for three days. Actually, it took only three hours to write a report on my parents’ deaths, but I had to hold on to it for three days to show my serious attitude. After handing in the report, I rejoined the others who were breaking stones. It was an endless job, because “dig tunnels deep” was part of the long-term strategy of the party and the nation,...

  20. 19
    (pp. 281-288)

    Six months had passed since Sunamei joined the county singing and dancing troupe. When she was applying makeup before a mirror for a performance or winning thunderous applause from the audience, she forgot Xienami, forgot Ami, forgot Yingzhi, forgot the serpentine mountain path from which she had come as well as the memories associated with it, such as the collective dance beat, the laughter of the threshers and the witty remarks they threw each other during harvesting in the millet fields, the gently rolling stones cast on the roof by theaxiaoat midnight, stealthy steps, and hugging and touching...

  21. 20
    (pp. 289-301)

    I gaze at her window. In the past it was pasted over with black paper; now a cloth curtain with tiny blue flowers hangs there.

    The drizzling rain feels nice. Lifting my face, I try to receive as many drops as I can. The longer I stand here, the more I seem to gain strength. I try my legs. Good! I do not need the support of the tree any more.

    There are few cars and people on the street; it is pretty late. I lift the baggage at my feet. Actually, it is not baggage, being dirtier and more...

  22. 21
    (pp. 302-325)

    The interstate bus was crawling along the desolate mountain road. I rested my forehead on the back of the seat before me. The bus looked like a remodeled liberation truck of the fifties. A piston in its engine was already loose. Going uphill, its body trembled and the engine coughed like an old asthmatic. I was afraid it would break down at any moment. The seats were close together and my legs were doubled up miserably.

    This was supposed to be the last day of my journey: three days by train, with two transfers, plus four days by bus. If...

  23. 22
    (pp. 326-336)

    From then on, Sunamei and I wished the singing and dancing troupe could perform in the theater more often. Every two shows she could escape successfully once from the troupe. Her frequent absences at night caused a great sensation in the town. There were a lot of mysterious stories about her. The most popular one said Sunamei was a spirit and had the art of invisibility. The moment she sucked in a breath and vanished, her corporeal body stole into a home and into some man’s bed. Even without legs, this tale sped through town, making females so nervous that...

  24. 23
    (pp. 337-344)

    My request for leave was quickly approved by the Cultural Bureau of the county “on principle,” with the condition that I must wait until an acting manager was found. In the process of searching for the acting manager, leaders at various levels came to realize what a loss Ding Gu’s death had been to the county’s cultural affairs, how noble an intellectual from the big city like me was, and how decent my work attitude was. Meanwhile, they regretted giving their approval so quickly, because no one wanted the position of manager, and it was hard to find anyone who...

  25. 24
    (pp. 345-358)

    It was already dark when we arrived at the Youjiwa Village. As though several thousand years of human history had not passed, at the moment that night fell the whole village was shrouded by smoke and mist. All the people were inside; not even an idle dog wandered about. Stars began floating on the tops of distant mountains and rising into the sky. When we came to the small road inside the village, we at once saw light. A crowd of people holding torches rushed through the gate.

    Sunamei, who had already dismounted, said quietly, “Our family already knows we’ve...

  26. 25
    (pp. 359-370)

    When I opened my eyes in the morning, I saw that Sunamei was already awake; she seemed to have something on her mind. She turned to me and said, “I saw Yingzhi.”

    “Yingzhi?” Of course I knew who she was talking about. “Where? Did he come?”

    “You saw him, too.”

    “Me? No.”

    “Yesterday, on our way back from worshiping Jiumulu, we saw two men carrying water for the funeral, didn’t we?”

    “Do you mean the two wearing leather helmets and armor?”

    “Yes. The one carrying a pail on his back was Yingzhi.”

    “Why didn’t you greet each other?”

    “Anyone carrying...

  27. Glossary
    (pp. 371-372)
  28. About the Mosuo Communities
    (pp. 373-374)
  29. About the Author
    (pp. 375-375)
  30. About the Translators
    (pp. 376-376)