Archive for May 23rd, 2012

For some time, Ah Q was not seen in Weichuang village until he suddenly appeared again one autumn night in his favorite wine shop again. This time, he looked prosperous in a set of new attire and a big purse loaded with silver and copper. It seems Ah Q worked as a servant for an officer in the town. He began to brag to the villagers how life was more sophisticated in town compared to that in the village. Ah Q even described in detail how decapitation were carried out in town and this had the villagers in complete awe. They too, wanted to see it firsthand.

Ah Q also brought some silk materials and skirts from town to sell to the women in the village. The rich ladies all made a dash for these fashionable items but in the end when they demanded more, Ah Q had no choice but to spill the beans – he was actually a thief and those were stolen items!

One night after a few cups of wine, Ah Q began to hallucinate that he had joined the revolution although he has no idea what it was all about. He thought joining the revolution would enable him to do things he likes – like taking revenge on those villagers who had bullied him in the past, to loot the two rich families of their gold and furniture as well as to impress some women to marry him. The more he thought about this, the more convinced he became and before long, he fell into a deep sleep.

The next afternoon he learned that some revolutionaries from town had come to the village the previous night and the sons of the two rich families had joined them, hoping to get some powers or positions. They did not invite Ah Q who had overslept that morning. Of course he was angry for being left out of the fun but again he comforted himself by saying, “Maybe they still don’t know that I had joined the revolution!” Yes, he had joined the revolution, but only in his imagination!

Despite the revolution, nothing changed except more people have their pigtail tied up. Thinking this practice is good enough to be considered a revolutionary; Ah Q did the same too. He began to feel important with his pigtail tied up but too bad, nobody took any notice of his transformation. Worst of all, even the beggars had their pigtail tied up and this made Ah Q very mad because he thought they were below him and with this, they are now on par with him!

When the scholar son of the Zhien family got a medal from the revolutionaries, Ah Q realized that to simply say he is a revolutionary and has his pigtail tied up is not good enough. It won’t get him far. He really needs to join them in order to be considered one of them. He wanted to be in action.

One day, Ah Q went to the Zhien’s house with the intention to join the revolution but was chased out of the house. Feeling very dejected, he went to his favorite wine shop for a few cups until late at night. On his way back to the temple, he heard a commotion along the street and quickly went to hide near a corner. From where he was standing, he saw some revolutionaries robbing the Zhao family of their gold and furniture. Ah Q instantly recognized they were men from the Zhien’s house. Slowly it dawned on him that the Zhiens went to rob the Zhaos.

After the robbery of the Zhaos, the villagers were pleased because there was one less rich and powerful family to fear. Ah Q was pleased too for the same reason. However, four nights later, a group of soldiers and police with rifles came to the village. They stormed the temple and dragged Ah Q out. They brought him back to town.

Once there, Ah Q was brought to a court and later thrown into a small and dark prison which he shared with a few other criminals. For three days in a row, he was dragged to the court and made to confess to the robbery of the Zhaos. Ah Q was denied the chance to explain and in the end, he just remained quiet. When asked to sign his death warrant, he just drew a circle on it. Ignorant of what was written on the paper, he was more concerned with the circle – he wanted it to be a perfect circle because he was afraid people might laugh at him for not being able to draw well.

Even at the doorstep of death, ignorant Ah Q thought that everybody have to go through these procedures at some time of their lives –being dragged in and out of court and prison and being asked to draw circles on papers which he could not read.

After a brief debate between the judge and an officer, the judge decided to proceed with the execution. His reason was, “Punish one to frighten one hundred!” With this, a white vest with black characters was put on Ah Q and his hands were bound behind his back. He was dragged out of the court and put on a wooden cart along with a few criminals. They were paraded around town to a large crowd of curious onlookers.

Although a bit frightened at first, Ah Q thought that everybody has to go through an execution some time in their lives. He began to think of a song to sing but tried as he did, he could not decide on which one. In the end, all that he could manage to say was, “In another 20 years, I shall be another stout young fellow.” It was a phase often used by criminals before their executions, to show their scorns of death.

“Good, good,” the spectators roared back at him. By now he was already standing at the execution ground. Seconds later, hails of bullets blasted through the air and Ah Q’s lifeless body slumped onto the ground. The crowd dispersed. All the villagers agreed that Ah Q must be the culprit. Once a thief, always a thief, they reasoned.

Nobody feel sorry for him; on the other hand they were disappointed that he died from hails of bullets and not from a blade on his neck. They were eager to see how a decapitation was carried out. They also felt cheated for not hearing Ah Q sing some songs before he die. They felt they came to town for nothing!

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Have you heard of the name Lu Xun? He was a famous 20th century Chinese writer, majoring in short stories and essays. His works were and remained highly influential and popular even to this day. He was so famous that an asteroid and a crater on Mercury were named after him! 

Lu Xun (left) started out as a medical student in Japan in 1904. One day, his Japanese medical lecturer screened a slide showing the public decapitation of an alleged Chinese spy taken during the Russian – Japanese War (1904-1905). Lu Xun was appalled at the complete apathy of the Chinese onlookers. They were callous and numb. Those gathered around the victim had come to enjoy the gory spectacle very much.

Disgusted, Lu Xun left medical college and began to write about the outdated traditions and backward mentalities of his people, hoping his writings will wake them up. Among his most popular works was ‘The True Story of Ah Q’ which was written in satirical style to mock a village bumpkin and the rest of the villagers.

Here, I have summarized the story into two parts. It makes an enjoyable reading because we could easily relate to some of the characters in this story.

This story took place in 1911 in a village called Weichuang in China. The protagonist was Ah Q (right). The author painted him as a typical and conservative Chinaman of his time.

There were two rich men living in the same village as Ah Q – Mr. Zhao and Mr. Zhien. The former’s son had just passed the county examination. The good news was announced with beatings of gongs in the village as was the normal practice.

Ah Q, drunk at that time, pranced around with excitement even though this achievement has got nothing to do with him. In his intoxication, he declared that he shared the same surname with the successful scholar, hoping some of the glory will rub on him. Sure enough, the villagers stood in awe of Ah Q. But alas, this instant glory did not last long for him.

The next day, a bailiff dragged Ah Q to Mr. Zhao’s house. There, he got a good verbal bashing from the old man. For not being able to give a satisfactory explanation to someone who was wealthy and powerful, Ah Q got slapped hard on his left cheek by Mr. Zhao before being shown the door.

Once outside, he got another round of scolding from the bailiff himself. After that, he even had to thank the officer profusely and paid him two hundred cash before being let off. When the villagers learnt what had happened, they said what a great fool Ah Q was and all the admiration they had for him just evaporated into thin air.

The villagers only appreciated his manual service and treated him as a laughing-stock; nothing more. They don’t care about his background. Ah Q has no family and used to sleep in a dark room in the village’s temple. He has no education, no regular job or fixed income. He does odd jobs like cutting wheat or grinding rice for anyone that needs such services. When there is a task to be done, the villagers will suddenly remember him and once that task had been done, they will quickly forget all about him.

Despite this, Ah Q was an arrogant man and looked down on all the other villagers, especially those poorer or weaker than him. Even in front of people who are well-off, he would say things like, “I used to be much better off than you! Who do you think you are anyway?” When he heard about the successful sons from those two rich families, he would comfort himself by saying under his breath, “My sons may be much greater!”

Ah Q has some ugly ringworm scars on his scalp. When he became angry, these scars will turn reddish in color and this made him uneasy. To avoid facing this reality, he barred anyone from mentioning certain words such as ringworm, bright, light, lamp or candle in front of him. But the villagers enjoyed working him up into a bundle of fury by deliberately uttering such words in front of him. Quarrels and fights would ensue without fail for Ah Q was not one to control his temper beautifully.

In these fights, the villagers loved to pull his pigtail roughly or bang his head against the wall several times. After giving him a few punches, they would whisper into his ears, “A man beating a beast!” before walking away triumphantly. But Ah Q refused to be humiliated. He would quickly slap himself and say, “It is as if I was beaten by my own son!”

Deluding himself that he was beaten by his own blood and flesh instead of others made him feels better. In good spirits, he then took to the wine shop, downed a few cups before going back to the temple to have a good sleep and by morning, all were put behind him as Ah Q has a good ability to forget unpleasant things.

One day after a fight with a beggar over whose body has the most lice; Ah Q was in a foul mood because he has less. While walking away, he encountered the son of Mr. Zhien who was also a successful scholar. Ah Q was annoyed that this young scholar had disposed away his pigtail. Disgusted, he picked up a fight with the younger man but got whacked by the latter instead.

Dashing off to seek relief at his favorite wine shop, he saw a young nun on his way and thought she must be the source of his misfortune that day. Conveniently, he put the entire blame on her and tormented her cruelly by rubbing her shaved head. “If a monk can paw you, why can’t I?” he said, pinching her very hard on her cheeks.

Hurt and humiliated, the young nun fought back and cursed him by saying, “Ah Q, may you die sonless!” Ah Q laughed very hard for he felt his bad luck had been avenged. What made him even more pleased was that the spectators inside the wine shop cheered him on and this made him very pleased with himself for his feat was admired. He felt elated, as if floating on air.

Once back in his room at the temple, Ah Q could not sleep that night. He kept thinking how soft and smooth the young nun’s face was. Although he used to look at all women suspiciously and contemptuously and regarded them as social pests, Ah Q was attracted to the young nun and was even bewitched by her soft and smooth face. That night he suddenly thought it was time for him, at age thirty, to take a wife who could later bore him a son.

Henceforth, Ah Q began to watch out for any woman who would take a fancy on him but unfortunately, there was none. Some even distant themselves when they saw him. This only makes Ah Q even more desperate for a woman’s companionship.

One night when he was taking a rest after grinding rice for Mr. Zhao, he saw Amah Wu. She was Mr. Zhao’s servant and she too, was resting after washing some dishes. When she tried to strike up a conversation with him, he thought she was trying to seduce him. Grabbing her, he exclaimed excitedly, “Sleep with me!” When she recovered from her shock, she screamed loudly and ran away. Before he could do anything, Ah Q was beaten by Mr. Zhao’s son with a bamboo pole.

He managed to escape but found himself in trouble. Ah Q had to atone for his sin by presenting some red candles and incense sticks to the Zhao family. He could no longer set foot into the Zhao’s house again or demand his wages from them. He must pay for the service of a Taoist priest to exorcise evil spirits in the rich man’s house. Lastly, if any misfortune befalls the servant, he will be held accountable.

After this incident, more women avoided him. They rather stayed indoors when they saw him on the streets. His favorite wine shop refused to give him credit anymore. The temple’s care taker asked him to leave at once. To add salt to his injury, nobody give him odd jobs; they preferred to give them to some beggars instead. To contain his throbbing hunger, Ah Q stole some turnips from the convent of the young nun who has a soft and smooth face and was chased by a very fierce dog.

To be continued……..

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