Authors: Mo Yan
Also by Mo Yan
Big Breasts & Wide Hips
The Garlic Ballads
The Republic of Wine
Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh
Copyright © 2006, 2011 by Mo Yan
English-language translation copyright © 2008, 2011 by Howard Goldblatt
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First published in China as
by Zuojia chubanshe
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the work of the author’s imagination or are used fictitously.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.
The Buddha said:
Transmigration wearies owing to mundane desires
Few desires and inaction bring peace to the mind
A Note on Pronunciation
Most letters in the Chinese pinyin system are pronounced roughly as in English. The main exceptions are as follows:
|Book One: Donkey Miseries|
|Book Two: The Strength of an Ox|
|Book Three: Pig Frolics|
|Book Four: Dog Spirit|
|Book Five: An End and a Beginning|
My story begins on January 1, 1950. In the two years prior to that, I suffered cruel torture such as no man can imagine in the bowels of hell. Every time I was brought before the court, I proclaimed my innocence in solemn and moving, sad and miserable tones that penetrated every crevice of Lord Yama’s Audience Hall and rebounded in layered echoes. Not a word of repentance escaped my lips though I was tortured cruelly, for which I gained the reputation of an iron man. I know I earned the unspoken respect of many of Yama’s underworld attendants, but I also know that Lord Yama was sick and tired of me. So to force me to admit defeat, they subjected me to the most sinister form of torture hell had to offer: they flung me into a vat of boiling oil, in which I tumbled and turned and sizzled like a fried chicken for about an hour. Words cannot do justice to the agony I experienced until an attendant speared me with a trident and, holding me high, carried me up to the palace steps. He was joined by another attendant, one on either side, who screeched like vampire bats as scalding oil dripped from my body onto the Audience Hall steps, where it sputtered and produced puffs of yellow smoke. With care, they deposited me on a stone slab at the foot of the throne, and then bowed deeply. “Great Lord,” he announced, “he has been fried.” Having been fried to a crisp, I knew that even a light tap would turn me to charred slivers. Then, from high in the hall above me, somewhere in the brilliant candlelight in the hall above, I heard a mocking question from Lord Yama himself:
“Ximen Nao, whose name means West Gate Riot, is more rioting in your plans?”
I’ll not lie to you; at that moment I wavered as my crisp body lay sprawled in a puddle of oil that was still popping and crackling. I had no illusions: I had reached my pain threshold and could not imagine what torture these venal officials would next employ if I did not yield to them now. Yet if I did, would I not have suffered their earlier brutalities in vain? I struggled to raise my head, which could easily have snapped off, and looked into the candlelight, where I saw Lord Yama, underworld judges seated beside him, oleaginous smiles on their faces. Anger churned inside me. To hell with them! I thought appropriately; let them grind me to powder under a millstone or turn me to paste in a mortar if they must, but I’ll not back down.
“I am innocent!” I screamed.
Rancid drops of oil sprayed from my mouth with that scream: I am innocent! Me, Ximen Nao; in my thirty years in the land of mortals I loved manual labor and was a good and thrifty family man. I repaired bridges and repaved roads and was charitable to all. The idols in Northeast Gaomi Township temples were restored thanks to my generosity; the poor township people escaped starvation by eating my food. Every kernel of rice in my granary was wetted by the sweat of my brow, every coin in my family’s coffers coated with painstaking effort. I grew rich through hard work, I elevated my family by clear thinking and wise decisions. I truly believe I was never guilty of an unconscionable act. And yet — here my voice turned shrill — a compassionate individual like me, a person of integrity, a good and decent man, was trussed up like a criminal, marched off to a bridgehead, and shot! . . . Standing no more than half a foot from me, they fired an old musket filled with half a gourd full of powder and half a bowl full of grapeshot, turning one side of my head into a bloody mess as the explosion shattered the stillness and stained the floor of the bridge and the melon-sized white stones beneath it. . . . You’ll not get me to confess, I am innocent, and I ask to be sent back so I can ask those people to their face what I was guilty of.
I watched Lord Yama’s unctuous face undergo many contortions throughout my rapid-fire monologue and saw how the judges around him turned their heads to avert their eyes. They knew I was innocent, that I had been falsely accused, but for reasons I could not fathom, they feigned ignorance. So I shouted, repeating myself, the same thing over and over, until one of the judges leaned over and whispered something in Lord Yama’s ear. He banged his gavel to silence the hall.