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Virgin Widows

Virgin Widows

Gu Hua
Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt
General Editor Howard Goldblatt
Copyright Date: 1996
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wqzn8
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  • Book Info
    Virgin Widows
    Book Description:

    Virgin Widows is a poignant and disquieting novel that unfolds the stories of two women whose lives, despite being separated by nearly a century, reveal a disturbing similarity. First published in China in 1985, it appears now in English for the first time. Fiction from Modern China

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6548-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. 1
    (pp. 1-5)

    At the northern end of the Wuling Range, which cuts across south China, stands the mighty Celestial Peak, whose crags appear to soar up to its lofty summit. At its base lies a village of seventy or eighty households called Love Goose Shoals, which takes its name from the neighboring sandbanks. According to legend, it once nestled between Celestial Peak and Love Goose River, whose waters ran wide and deep, and whose banks were luxuriant with water plants. Neither blistering in the summer nor freezing in the winter, it was the perfect roosting place for wild geese, known locally as...

  3. 2
    (pp. 6-12)

    The source of Love Goose Shoal’s renown was the Cobblestone Transport Company, administered by the village committee under the auspices of the township people’s government. Everything in Love Goose Shoals revolved around it. In earlier times, the cobblestones found on the shoals had been used only to pave roads, put up walls, raise wells, construct dikes, fence off vegetable gardens, erect buildings, and throw up chicken coops and pigsties. But in recent years, as the prefectural and county governments pushed for large-scale construction to meet the demands of the Four Modernizations, Love Goose Shoals, a stretch of land about ten...

  4. 3
    (pp. 13-19)

    Along the shoals and beside the road, at the mouth of the village and next to the well, lush green trees were everywhere. In the shade lay a mottled world of cobblestones: roads, narrow and wide, paved with cobblestones; dikes and ridges laid with cobblestones; walls, big and small, piled high with cobblestones. The foundations and walls of houses, fortified by a mixture of cobblestones and mortar, were strong enough to withstand centuries of gusting winds, pelting rains, icy frosts, and heavy snows. Covered with a layer of tung oil, they were impervious to fire; even cannon shot left them...

  5. 4
    (pp. 20-27)

    Business was booming at the Love Goose Shoals Cobblestone Transport Company, and Night Fragrances tavern had all the customers it could handle. Prosperity for both went hand in hand.

    Everyone knew that truckers and their helpers, regular customers at the tavern, would sometimes spend as much as one yuan for a couple of ounces of strong liquor and a plate of oil-roasted peanuts, just so they could unwind by talking among themselves and basking in the feminine grace, charm, and youthful beauty of the proprietress. Naturally, some of the rowdier ones might have a bit too much to drink and...

  6. 5
    (pp. 28-33)

    The Xiao family, for which the termswealthyandaristocraticmight be inappropriate, nonetheless belonged to the upper crust of Love Goose Shoals society. A front gate allowed entrance into the high-walled compound, which boasted a garden of luxurious banana trees and lush green asparagus fern. The house itself had three doors: the first opened onto the vestibule, to the sides of which were the kitchen, the pantry, and the servants’ quarters; the second entrance led to the bedrooms of Fourth Master Xiao and Fourth Mistress, the study, and the reception room, which in turn opened onto the living quarters...

  7. 6
    (pp. 34-39)

    The township civil court placed a phone call to the chairman of the Love Goose Shoals village committee and manager of the Cobblestone Transport Company, Xiao Hanchu:

    “Is this Chairman Xiao? The company’s doing a land-office business, I hear. Hundreds of truckloads sent out every day. At this rate, you’ll become the richest man around.”

    “The company pays taxes and administrative fees. Don’t tell me a jealous citizen has filed a complaint against us?”

    “Ha ha. No, the complaint involves another matter. Is there a tavern called Night Fragrances in your village? Run by a woman called Big Sister Guihua?”...

  8. 7
    (pp. 40-46)

    Spring arrived, bringing warm weather and turning the grass and leaves in the inner chambers of the Xiao compound green. Once she had shed her padded jacket, Qingyu felt much lighter. Spring is such a heady season: dogs growl and yelp in the mud, crickets chirp in the corners of rooms, sparrows twitter in tree branches, cats screech from the roof tiles, wild animals howl on the mountain. Fifth Aunt said to Qingyu, “Red flowers are blooming, green grass is growing, and the mountain is filled with the mating calls of wild beasts.”

    Qingyu was sitting in the sunlit garden...

  9. 8
    (pp. 47-55)

    After Big Sister Guihua filed the divorce petition, Boss Wu stayed away from home altogether. For a manly trucker like him, being sued for divorce was the ultimate debasement. Some of his fellow truckers ribbed him mercilessly: “Say, Boss Wu, what kind of a husband winds up with a wife like that? Since there’s been a loosening up of policy, why not just leave your front door open?” “What the hell, let her take a lover, and keep your eyes closed . . . Ha ha . . .” “Boss Wu, a joke’s one thing, but you really must have...

  10. 9
    (pp. 56-63)

    News of the recent moonlight serenades by the audacious young man, which drifted in through Qingyu’s window, somehow reached the ears of Fourth Master Xiao and Fourth Mistress. Fourth Master personally led a retinue of servants to search the mountain. The stone wall around the rear courtyard was five yards high and topped by protective metal spikes, a formidable obstacle for young ne’er-do-wells. But there was a stand of tall, broad-limbed trees just beyond the wall, and anyone who felt like climbing one would have an unobstructed view of women entering and leaving their quarters at the rear of the...

  11. 10
    (pp. 64-70)

    Boss Wu’s apprentice, Che Ganzi, hadn’t shown his face for a long time. But bright and early one morning he drove his Eastwind truck up to the door of Night Fragrances tavern and shouted for Big Sister Guihua, waking her up.

    “Che Ganzi, you . . . Did you bring a message from your master?” she asked when she saw who it was. She was buttoning up her blouse, which, in her haste, she’d thrown on without first putting on any underclothes.

    Che Ganzi hung his head. He was pale as a ghost and crestfallen.

    “The master, the master ....

  12. 11
    (pp. 71-79)

    Little Leopard had spent two years in Qingyu’s bedroom, two years frolicking in the rear garden of the Xiao home. He had grown so big he came up to her waist; still chubby and round, he now had thick, powerful legs, a short snout and a long neck, sharp teeth and a powerful tail, and a shiny yellow coat. He looked exactly like a mighty leopard. Everyone said that in size, appearance, intelligence, strength, and courage he had no peers among the dogs of the Xiao and Wu clans in Love Goose Shoals, where the raising and training of dogs...

  13. 12
    (pp. 80-89)

    Night Fragrances tavern had been buried about halfway when an official from the township government, accompanied by Chairman Xiao Hanchu, arrived at the site. There they met the father-in-law of the chairwoman of the women’s league, Wu Benli, who was township party secretary. With a loud whistle, he ordered the members of the Wu clan to stop what they were doing and go home at once. Anyone caught staying on the hill would be charged with fomenting factional strife and severely punished. So the age-old custom of sealing a building with dirt was squelched at the halfway point. After thirty...

  14. 13
    (pp. 90-97)

    In Love Goose Shoals at the base of Celestial Peak, the riverbed of history runs dry, and life coagulates. The two late-life treasures of Fourth Master Xiao, six-year-old Winter Child and eight-year-old Autumn Child, had reached the age where they must begin their studies. Both children, born when Fourth Master was in his sixties, not only were the fruits of his vigorous loins but were like pearls in his palm. They were his hope for the future, so he engaged a learned tutor. School was to be set up in the rear courtyard, where the serious business of education would...

  15. 14
    (pp. 98-110)

    Like an enormous black cauldron suspended in the air, the heavens were split open by Thunder Lord and overturned by Mother Lightning. The Milky Way was transformed into watery daggers hurled earthward to drench the ground below.

    A great rain fell for three days and three nights, causing torrential floods in the mountains that sent muddy water cascading to the flatlands. Landslides obliterated the highway leading to the county seat, turning it into a rock-strewn sea of mud. Night had fallen, and Che Ganzi, who was driving in the rain, was too cold and hungry to spend the night in...

  16. 15
    (pp. 111-119)

    Third Sister-in-Law was off visiting her parents, which made Qingyu happy, for now she could sit in the shade of the banana tree in the rear garden alone. Was it daylight or nighttime? Was she in her room or outside? She was in someone’s arms, was being pressed down . . . She wanted to cry out “Help me!” but the words would not come. Something was pressed against her mouth — it was someone else’s mouth. Shutting her own mouth as tightly as she could, she squirmed with all her might and kicked with both feet. But her mouth finally...

  17. 16
    (pp. 120-126)

    Che Ganzi delivered four cases of expensive liquor to Night Fragrances tavern, one filled with real Maotai, plus a variety of cigarettes, including such brands as Hibiscus, Hunan, Golden Leaf, and Front Gate. Guihua beamed with satisfaction. She hadn’t smiled like that for a long time. With her head cocked and a coy pout on her lips, she gave Che Ganzi a look that could be interpreted as flirtatious. If there’s one thing that brings a man to his knees, it’s this sort of coquettishness. Even a teetotaler will order a drink so he can sit at the bar to...

  18. 17
    (pp. 127-134)

    Qingyu lay in bed staring blankly at the roof beam. She was thinking about a thick rope strung up on the eaves outside to hang clothes to dry. If I took it down, tied a slipknot in the end, tossed it over the roof beam, stood on a stool, and slipped the noose around my neck, then all I would have to do is kick the stool away to swing in the air . . . leave this world like Mother did. That had happened before Qingyu came to the Xiao home. She had seen it with her own eyes....

  19. 18
    (pp. 135-142)

    There was something new and unusual at Night Fragrances tavern; Che Ganzi had brought it from town. It was a rectangular black box, the front of which was crisscrossed with threads, some thick, some thin, all silvery and shiny. Two smaller boxes fit into the center of the upper half, each with a series of graduated lines over a row of numbers and letters in a foreign language. The top of the box was covered with a neat row of knobs, some round, some flat, all with carved markings and, once again, foreign lettering. Four openings in a straight line...

  20. 19
    (pp. 143-152)

    Every member of the Xiao and Wu clans of Love Goose Shoals at the base of Celestial Peak praised Little Leopard for his loyalty and dedication to duty, a fine dog of extraordinary courage. It was he who had foiled the adulterous intentions of the Confucian scholar and preserved the chastity of the virtuous Qingyu, thereby upholding the good name and integrity of the Xiao household and keeping its virtue intact. The universal righteousness, sacred purity, and solemnity of the fifteen white marble memorial arches on the Street of Chaste Women achieved even greater eminence. Little Leopard’s reputation, needless to...

  21. 20
    (pp. 153-162)

    The sun was just beginning to light up the sky in the sleepy village of Love Goose Shoals, which was enshrouded in a blanket of thick morning fog that covered the riverbanks, the streams, and the mountain valleys. Where had it come from? What had sent it billowing out like lotus petals and rising like gentle steam? Its surging power submerged the homes and cottages, the trees and saplings, the mountain slopes and stone walls. Celestial Peak stood majestically like a solitary island, a single column of rock in a vast sea of low-hanging clouds and mist. People began eroding,...

  22. Translator’s Postscript
    (pp. 163-166)

    Things just keep getting better and better.

    . . . Well, don't they?

    If you are a woman and you live in China, to answer this question you will need not only to look around you but to look back, to see not just how things are now but how they once were. China has traveled a long and torturous road since the collapse of the final imperial dynasty and the establishment of a modern republic early in this century. Yet for women the rewards won over decades of nation-building, war, revolution, and modernization seem far less remarkable than those...

  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 167-168)