Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Imperfect Paradise

Imperfect Paradise: Twenty-four Stories

Shen Congwen
Edited by Jeffrey Kinkley
Jeffrey Kinkley
Peter Li
William MacDonald
Caroline Mason
David Pollard
General Editor Howard Goldblatt
Copyright Date: 1995
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Imperfect Paradise
    Book Description:

    The most comprehensive and authoritative representation in English of the remarkable Shen Congwen canon, ranging from the polished stories that made him a serious contender for the Nobel literary prize in the 1980s to lesser known, extravagant experimental pieces. Fiction from Modern China

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6293-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)
    J. K.

    Shen Congwen (pronounced Shǔn Tsoong Wǔn; 1902–1988) is one of modern China’s foremost writers and, many would say, one of the finest Chinese prose stylists of all time. His earliest and most enthusiastic readers were urban young people of the 1920s and 1930s – the first generation of Chinese to see themselves as moderns and the generation soon engulfed in Communist revolution, Nationalist counterrevolution, and war with Japan. Shen Congwen chose other battlegrounds. One was the Chinese language, whose modern spoken forms he labored to enrich and reconfigure into a literary language subtle enough to bear all the pathos...


    • The New and the Old
      (pp. 13-28)

      During a year in the reign of the Guangxu Emperor, 1875–1908….

      Horses were being raced in this little county town, across parade grounds drenched by the sun in shimmering yellow. Meanwhile men in military garb, outfitted in all the colors of the rainbow, gathered before the Martial Demonstration Hall to rehearse the eighteen different disciplines of the martial arts. It fell to the circuit intendant in this season of Frost’s Descent¹ to inspect the drills as tradition required, set the ranks in order, announce promotions and demotions, and confer rewards and punishments. And so this army, of the Military...

    • The Husband
      (pp. 29-53)

      Seven days of spring rains have left the river swollen.

      Rising waters submerge the sandbanks where floating opium dens and brothel boats are used to mooring. They are close in to shore now, lashed to the support piers of houses hanging over the water on stilts, the “balconies with hanging feet.”

      A man sipping his tea at leisure in the Springtime All Over the World teahouse can lean out the riverside window and catch a wonderful vista on the farther shore, of a pagoda wrapped in “peach blossoms and misty rains.” Looking down, he can also learn how the women...

    • The Lovers
      (pp. 54-65)

      Huang had moved to the village in the hope that peace and quiet could heal his nervous depression. One evening at supper in the courtyard under a pomelo tree, already feeling helpless before a game hen set down in front of him by a hosteler who was a bittooconcerned with his nutrition – a bird so underdone that he could see its blood – he found himself suddenly interrupted by shouts from outside. “Come on, go take a look. Two of ‘em, caught in the act!” It sounded urgent, as if there’d been a catastrophe, something the whole...

    • Quiet
      (pp. 66-78)

      The spring day was very long. During the long daylight hours in this little town, old people sat in the sun enjoying the warmth or dozing. Young people with nothing to do were out on the porches or in the empty fields, flying kites. In the sky, the white sun moved along slowly; the clouds moved along slowly. Someone’s kite string broke. Everywhere people looked up, searching the sky. Children made a great racket, jumping up and down and waving their arms to see the ownerless kite fall into someone’s yard and catch on the end of a drying pole...


    • Meijin, Baozi, and the White Kid
      (pp. 81-96)

      Describe to one who has never known the taste of our pears from Pear Market village the sweetness of songs sung by girls of the White-faced Miao tribe, and you would be wasting your breath. Some people think the sound of sweeping oars beautiful. Others find beauty in the sound of the wind and the rain. Nor is there any dearth of simpletons who find it in a baby’s cries at night or the sound of reeds as they whisper their dreams into the breeze. All these are poetry. But the songs of the White-faced Miao girls are even more...

    • Ah Jin
      (pp. 97-105)

      The fifteenth of the month was market day in the village of Yellow Cow Stockade, and thebaojiahead from Yala Camp was there in a dog meat stall at the entrance. With a catty of richly marbled dog meat and a half catty of fiery corn liquor in his stomach, he was especially ardent and voluble today as he spoke his mind to a certain Ah Jin who was about to marry a young widow. This headman was as good at talking as he was at eating dog meat: he could keep it up all day without having his...

    • The Inn
      (pp. 106-116)

      Only one who is awake can find something significant in watching another sleep.

      They had come from far away, a distance of eighty or a hundred miles, and they were bone tired, sound asleep: snoring and open mouthed they lay, dead to the world on a hard, straw-covered kang.¹ They dreamed of nothing but fighting, thirsting, gambling, and burning off mountain brush. During the day they lived in the simple fashion that had become their habit: eating, drinking, hiking, cursing. They felt that these were enough, and, when their chance came to stretch out, they were asleep within moments of...


    • My Education
      (pp. 119-155)

      These are my recollections of life in a little town called Huaihua. I lived upstairs at the left of the theater courtyard in an ancestral temple. There were seven of us in the room altogether.

      You can tell soldiers have occupied this building before, from all the medicinal plasters hanging from the walls. The ordinary person just can’t understand why these plasters are so inseparable from the military life. It’s the same with a lot ofmyfriends in the ranks. They love putting a plaster on their back or on their leg, and then later they stick it on...

    • The Company Commander
      (pp. 156-171)

      In summertime the bugle call for lights up from the army barracks carried far enough for even the grazing horses to soon recognize it as the signal to return to the stockade, but with the coming of winter it was no more than companion to the howling of the wind and died dejectedly away into the woods that covered the surrounding hillsides.

      The bugle call was even more subdued when snow fell, so much so that it was inaudible to those living at a distance, and many children in country cottages were deprived of an interest in their lives.


    • Staff Adviser
      (pp. 172-186)

      The —ese Army stationed in eastern Sichuan boasted twenty thousand rifles and was a force some thirty thousand strong – counting all the officers and subs, foot soldiers, cooks, porters, and other flunkies,andthe assorted dependents, legal and otherwise. But, when it came time to close the register and sign for the provincial pay subsidy at the end of the month, there was only forty thousand yuan in it for them. To make up the rest of their support they had to rely on the duty from opium coming into the province and the county government’s taxes on households...

    • Black Night
      (pp. 187-198)

      Two men on a bamboo raft floated down the river with the current. They had managed to get past four sentry posts on the riverbank, but, only two miles from their destination, the raft came to a stop by the marshy, rush-covered bank. The men could hear gurgling water flowing beneath their raft and the rustling of rushes in the wind. It was dark.

      Luo Yi, the unit communications liaison, cursed his companion in a low hiss: “Damn you, Pingping, what happened? This is all a game to you. Do you want us to stop here and become sitting ducks...


    • Ox
      (pp. 201-221)

      It happened like this. The day before, the man they called Uncle Ox, who lived in the Mulberry Creek marsh, got angry with his plow ox over something very trivial while they were out in his buckwheat field. He actually struck it on the hind leg with a wooden mallet. Normally he treated this plow ox like his own son. Though he was used to swearing at it, a good deal of tenderness would be mixed in with the curses, as if he were swearing at his own child. But, once his temper was up, he lost all self-control and...

    • Sansan
      (pp. 222-256)

      Yang Family Mill was a few hundred yards outside town, down the road that followed the mountain spur. The “fort,” as the town was called, was situated by a mountain brook in a crook of the range. Flowing placidly past the foothills, the stream suddenly grew turbulent while making the turn at the spur, and this the settlers had turned to advantage long ago by building a stone mill over the racing waters. It had taken the name Yang Family Mill for as long as anyone could remember.

      Looking up at the fort from the mill, you saw the rooftops...

    • Life
      (pp. 257-265)

      In the Shisha Lakes district of Peking there was a landfill area at the southern end of the Qianhai where residents dumped cinders from their stoves. A band of people with time on their hands had gathered there in the sun to see what was going on, for the least bit of commotion was enough to collect a crowd.


      The sound was like the ripping of silk or a firecracker going off. A toy with wings of brightly colored paper spiraled into the air, lofted on a wire held by the vendor. All the different faces turned skyward to...

    • Guisheng
      (pp. 266-302)

      Guisheng¹ whetted his sickle by the brook, grinding away at the blade until it glistened. He ran his hand over the edge to test its sharpness, then made a few practice jabs into the water. The brook waters had been running brisk and utterly transparent since the coming of autumn. Myriad tiny shrimp clung with their legs to the water weeds, bobbing up and down in the shallows and occasionally curling up their little bodies to spring away, as if for joy. Guisheng felt joy just to see them. The weather was wonderful, the season just what refined city people...


    • The Vegetable Garden
      (pp. 305-319)

      The Yu¹ family was known for its leafy white cabbages. Their seeds were special; no one else in town could raise cabbages with such big hearts. For the Yus were a bannerman family of Manchus who had come here from Peking, bringing the seeds with them. And Peking, after all, was famous for its cabbages.

      Yu Huichen,² Old Master Yu, had come to this little town as an expectant officeholder before the Republican Revolution of 1911. He brought his family and the cabbage seeds with him at the time, most likely just for his own use. But, soon after his...

    • Big Ruan and Little Ruan
      (pp. 320-345)

      The school watchman, Lao Liu, quaffed his four ounces of liquor in the little watchman’s shed behind the school. Knowing from long experience that it must already be twelve o’clock, he picked up his watchman’s rattle and went tap-tap-tapping along the school wall, chuckling all the way to think of how the lads had given him this wine. Ten years before, a young fellow used to come running back to school every night from the warm covers of a young widow’s bed in a frame shop. As the youth climbed over the school wall, the watchman would raise his lantern...

    • Eight Steeds
      (pp. 346-378)

      “Is this your first time in Qingdao, sir, your first look here at the sea?”

      “If you want to go to the beach, sir, go across that meadow and through the grove. That’s the sea.”

      “If you want to look far out to sea, sir, look there, at the western end of the field. You go through that grove – those are Canadian aspens, and those are ginkgoes – follow the road lined with ginkgoes up the hill, and from the hill you can see the sea.”

      “Sir, they say that the sea at Qingdao is different from all other...


    • Winter Scenes in Kunming
      (pp. 381-389)

      The new residence was on the high grounds, in a place called North Gate Slope. There from the little balcony you could see the name plaque “Tower for Gazing toward the Capital” on the northern gate turret of the city wall. To while away the idle hours, armed comrades in the tower were gazing down at the many people and horses passing below. A big open field lay in front of the house, with a grove of many different trees in one corner. The eucalyptuses were tall and lean, their catkins blue-green limned with silver, rippling in the gentle breeze....

    • Amah Wang
      (pp. 390-400)

      Suddenly it was bustling in the kitchen. What could be the occasion? Just ask Amah Wang – her daughter was home for a visit! Only eighteen, with big, shiny eyes and her hair done up in a neat bun in back, she had a mouth as small as a cherry and a face that was round as could be. A gray-blue scarf covered her head; her apron was embroidered with a big red flower and decorated with red and green sequins. She was very shy. She blushed when she spoke, and in the company of strangers she just didn’t know...

    • Qiaoxiu and Dongsheng
      (pp. 401-428)

      The snow was melting. Everywhere in the ditches between the fields, drops of melted snow water formed into rivulets, as if aching to join some distant ocean, as if uniting in a joyous dash to the sea. More, even than the flowers and grasses of the dry ground, wild bird calls from bamboo thickets by mountain streams still canopied by snow revealed a hint of spring, like an invitation just for me. Particularly the turtle-doves that lodged in the bamboo garden outside my window, wearing embroidered necklets over their bodies swathed in gray – their songs were becoming more and...


    • The Housewife
      (pp. 431-448)

      Bibi was asleep on the fresh white sheets, a thin quilt covered in amber silk wrapped around her warm body. Her head with its long wavy hair lay buried in the big white pillow, but when she turned over, she revealed a petite face bearing red impressions from the pillow. She appeared to be sleeping peacefully. Her closed eyes formed a slightly curved line; her eyebrows were long and black, and little dimples at the corners of her mouth betrayed a smile.

      Finished with sweeping the outside court, the maid tiptoed to the inner window and let down the curtain....

    • Suicide
      (pp. 449-462)

      Professor Liu Xishun was considered fortunate by his colleagues. At about three o’clock in the afternoon, following his lecture “Love and a Sense of Surprise” for a psychology class at the university, he remembered a date he had made with his wife some time before and got into his personal automobile to be driven home. He arrived just as his wife was getting everything ready in the small parlor, including blue flowers she had put into a white porcelain vase. When the professor arrived, she hurried past the window and out of the parlor to greet him.

      “Come, come, look...

    • Gazing at Rainbows (The Shape of One Person’s Life in a Twenty-four Hour Period)
      (pp. 463-482)

      Eleven at night.

      One half hour ago I returned here from another place. I reached an old-fashioned memorial archway not far from home and paused an instant under it, stirred by the clear, glimmering moonlight. This place was a raucous farmers’ market during the day, but in the night it felt opened up and silently deserted. The vast empty space seemed to be broadening out my feelings, though the silence was changing those “feelings” – formless, shapeless, and compressed into a block of time – into something of substance. Suddenly there came a distinct fragrance of plum blossoms, and I...


  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 529-534)
  13. Contributors
    (pp. 535-536)
  14. Editor’s Note
    (pp. 537-538)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 539-541)