The Cat That Eats Copper
When Yang Xin’s mom was pregnant it was
during the Family Planning Crash-Down Campaign, and she was given
an abortion shot.
Yang Xin had a big life, as they said, and
survived. Only she looked curled up and thin and famished and
didn’t cry. Her grandma
couldn’t stand it and took Xin home to raise her
herself. Two years later, Xin was
healthy and robust.
Xin grew older and started school, where she
fought with boys and never gave in. One day
she and a fat boy were fighting over
a beanbag. The fat boy, of greater
strength and weight, pressed his body
heavily on her. Xin got a hold of his hair and was
grasping it tightly for twenty minutes. The fat boy
gave up, and Xin got the beanbag.
Later she entered a key high school and was
especially good at math. When it was time to
choose a college, she wrote in the application form
only Beijing universities. She said,
I’m going to Beijing and that’s it.
She graduated from college and got into a company where
she was the sales champion every month. Next year a new
director came who was jealous and made difficulties
for her. Xin went to her boss and said,
Me or her, you choose one.
The boss looked embarrassed. Xin threw
her badge on the table and said,
She subleased her apartment, packed, and moved
to Shanghai, where she joined a Series B start-up and was hired
as a senior manager. Her new boss relied on her and asked
her opinion on everything. In July, she suddenly
resigned. Everyone was shocked. They asked her and found
that she was going to Columbia University in the fall.
I’m going to New York and that’s it. I’m going to
the best school and that’s it.
I didn’t have the money. I can go now. Finally.
The Carp That Never Cries
When Qin Shan was a little girl, she
trained at the sports school every week. She won
the third prize in the girl’s 3000m race of
her province. And she started, at the age of five, to
play the violin. She was
a member of the Star and Grass Youth Orchestra,
with whom she went on tours in the Czech Republic and Hungary.
Her mother, Liu Yanping, worked for
the Provincial Office of Commerce. In August,
Qin Shan won the Second Prize in a writing competition
held by Juveniles. Liu’s colleague said,
Your daughter is great. Liu said,
She’s no good.
After the mid-term, Qin Shan said she had to
take extra classes after school. And she
hung out with her friends till
4:30. Liu rushed to the school gate with
two slaps on her daughter’s face.
Qin Shan went to Normal University High School, and
ranked top three in her class. Later she got into
Fudan University. It was National Day Holiday and
they went on a trip. Zhang Hong, her roommate’s
high school classmate, talked a lot. When they
got back, he started texting her every day, and
she agreed. Two months later, she got
pregnant. Her childhood friend
lent her the money for the surgery. She lay in her
dorm for a week, exhausted.
They broke up. And Qin Shan had been
depressed for over a year, often waking up and
crying during the night.
Upon graduation, she tried to take the exam for
the Wudaokou Graduate School of Finance. She
was three points away from
admission. Then she got into one of the Big Fours as
an auditor. Two years later, she changed to
consulting. She started training for a marathon last year and
joined the Night Running Club, running
ceaselessly every day. Late that July there was
a typhoon, and the team leader said
in the group chat, Today’s training is
canceled. Qin Shan finished it alone, completely
Muddy Rocks on Which Pines Stand
Liu Yingdi was the first one in her county to go to
a 211 university , they said. In college her professor
asked her to read a passage in English, and when she did, everyone laughed. She wasn’t annoyed.
Every evening she would take a radio downstairs
to listen to BBC News, and repeat
each sentence aloud. And that’s how
she picked up the habit. Whenever
the professors spoke any English, she would
repeat it. Her classmates stared at her, and she
ignored them. In her Maoist Theory Class, everyone
was sitting in the back seats. Yingdi would come early, sit
in the front row, and nod and nod
as the Maoist Theory professor lectured.
When she graduated she passed
the Civil Servants Exam and got into
the Provincial Office of Foreign Affairs. In August, she
accompanied foreign guests to visit
a beach park, where she dived into the water
in her underwear. This
infuriated her Leader, who claimed it to be
a “serious political offence.”
Yingdi changed her job in October and joined
Glory-Success Insurance. After three seasons she
ranked second in sales and was awarded
a trip to Thailand during Chinese New Year. Later, she joined
Wechat MLM skincare brand Chi-Chi-An, and soon made herself
a Diamond-Level General Agent. At the Annual Conference, she
gave a speech on stage as a sales superstar. When she
finished, a bunch of girls came for pictures. She was
busy eating her lobster and said,
Wait a minute, wait a minute.
Roy Gu is Professor of English in the School of English Studies at Shanghai International Studies University. He has published short stories and poems, and translated several books, including Haizi’s Poems, Love by Toni Morrison, and short stories by Abdulrazak Gurnah, Chinua Achebe, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. He is also a singer-songwriter and has released folk music albums.