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The Past and the Punishments

The Past and the Punishments: Eight Stories

Yu Hua
Translated from the Chinese by Andrew F. Jones
General Editor Howard Goldblatt
Copyright Date: 1996
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  • Book Info
    The Past and the Punishments
    Book Description:

    To travel through these stories is to cross a landscape of stunning beauty and terrific cruelty, where expectations are subverted, where moral certainties are shattered, where gorgeously wrought surfaces beguile at the same time that acts of incredible brutality horrify. It is no wonder that Yu Hua’s stories caused a sensation when they first appeared in the 1980s. His work represents a sophisticated and often disturbing revolution in the Chinese literary tradition, reminiscent of the fiction of modernists like Kafka, Kawabata, Borges, and Robbe-Grillet, but drawing inspiration from several strains of traditional Chinese narrative as well. This is the first collection of short fiction by Yu Hua to appear in English. It takes us on a haunting and harrowing journey from classical China through the Cultural Revolution and into the new era of economic reform, exploding along the way our preconceived notions of what Chinese literature and culture are all about in the 1990s. Fiction from Modern China

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6389-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-2)
  3. On the Road at Eighteen
    (pp. 3-11)

    The asphalt road rolls up and down like it’s pasted on top of ocean waves. Walking down this little highway in the mountains, I’m like a boat. This year, I turned eighteen. The few brownish whiskers that have sprouted on my chin flutter in the breeze. They’ve only just taken up residence on my chin, so I really treasure them. I’ve spent the whole day walking down the road, and I’ve already seen lots of mountains and lots of clouds. Every one of the mountains and every one of the clouds made me think of people I know. I shouted...

  4. Classical Love
    (pp. 12-61)

    Willow walked down a yellow highway on his way to the civil service examination in the imperial capital. He wore a dark green cotton robe over coarsely woven pants, a faded cap, and a dark green silk belt strung around his waist. He looked like an emerald green tree walking down the yellow highway. It was the height of spring, and stands of peaches and willows flourished amid the mulberry and hemp fields as far as the eye could see. Thatched cottages, enclosed within bamboo fences, were strewn sparsely across the countryside. The sun hung high above, its innumerable rays...

  5. World Like Mist
    (pp. 62-113)

    The first tears of spring fell outside the window. 7 had been bedridden for several days. He had fallen ill on his son’s fifth birthday. At first, he had felt well enough to walk to the Chinese herbal doctor’s office, but later he had to lean on his wife’s arm in order to move about, and later still he was terminally confined to his bed. As 7’s wife watched her husband grow frailer each day, a face as white as a sheet of paper and five fingers as white as sticks of chalk began to appear in her mind’s eye....

  6. The Past and the Punishments
    (pp. 114-131)

    On a summer night in 1990 in his humid apartment, the stranger opened and read a telegram of unknown origins. Then he sank into deep reverie. The telegram consisted of just two words – “return quickly” – and indicated neither the name nor the address of the sender. The stranger, filing through the mists of several decades of memory, saw an intricate network of roads begin to unfold before him. And of this intricate network, only one road could bring the slightest of smiles to the stranger’s lips. Early the next morning, the lacquer-black shadow of the stranger began to...

  7. 1986
    (pp. 132-180)

    Many years ago, a mild and unassuming high school history teacher suddenly disappeared, leaving behind his young wife and a three-year-old daughter. From that time on, nothing more was heard of him. Over the course of several years, his wife gradually began to resign herself to her loss. On a hot, dry Sunday afternoon, she married another man. Her daughter also changed her last name to match that of the new husband, for the old name was inextricably tied up with the pain and difficulty of those years. A dozen years had gone by since that day. They lived a...

  8. Blood and Plum Blossoms
    (pp. 181-200)

    Fifteen years before, Ruan Jinwu, the greatest swordsman of his generation, had died at the hands of two warriors of the Black Way. That day, Ruan Jinwu’s five-year-old son, Ruan Haikuo, saw bloody leaves flutter across the sky.

    Ruan Jinwu’s wife had long since lost her former beauty. White hair grew from her head in weedy clumps. And just as surely as the fifteen hard years since her husband’s death had stolen her beauty, they had also effaced the memory of the dashing figure her husband had cut in the world of swordsmen in the days when he had wandered...

  9. The Death of a Landlord
    (pp. 201-252)

    Many years ago, a landlord clad in a black silk robe, with white hair and silvered whiskers, emerged from the courtyard of his brick house, palms clasped together behind his back, and began to stroll slowly through the fields of his own estate. When the peasants working in the fields saw him approach, they all respectfully set down their hoes and called out their greetings:

    “Old Master.”

    When he went into town, the townspeople called him “sir.” This distinguished gentleman would always walk earnestly out from his walled home as the sun set in the western sky, his long, white...

  10. Predestination
    (pp. 253-262)

    The sun was bright that day, and wind whistled outside the window. Spring had arrived. Liu Dongsheng sat by the eighteenth-floor window of a high-rise building, listening to the blind cries of children playing in the schoolyard below. The songs of this innocent flock of children bothered him. He saw the soft green treetops lining the banks of the city moat, saw a jumble of taxis and trucks jockey past them on the avenue. In the distance, the Ferris wheel in the amusement park revolved slowly and almost imperceptibly through the air.

    It was just then that an envelope, the...

  11. Translator’s Postscript
    (pp. 263-274)

    Yu Hua was born in 1960 and grew up in a small town near Shanghai. After working for five years as a dentist, he published his first piece of short fiction in 1984. In the ensuing years, he has produced a steady stream of shocking, innovative, and highly controversial short stories and novels that have earned him not only a place at the forefront of China’s avant-garde literary scene but also (in the words of one prominent mainland critic) a reputation as “perhaps the foremost literary provocateur of our time.”¹

    Yu Hua, of course, was not the only “provocateur” to...

  12. Editor’s Note
    (pp. 275-276)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-279)