Written by Mian Mian (translated by Andrea Lingenfelter)
It’s late at night, and a group of masked people have gathered on a rooftop, where they’re making up a story. It’s very windy up there, and they’re clustered around a heater.
A GIRL：“It’s dark out, but a few shafts of light are filtering through wispy eyelashes. Spirits are passing throughShanghaiat night, pallid, empty, unchangeable. Mixed in with the sounds of water sloshing in bamboo baskets and twigs snapping is another sound—that of sweetly mischievous footsteps. The famous streets and boulevards ofShanghaicross through the foreign concessions, past joyless modern dancehalls, theaters, betting parlors, and cafes, past exhausted heroes and ordinary people trapped in their nightmares—all of them like neglected young concubines waiting in their harem for the emperor’s touch. The ghosts float up from every part of the river. There is a babble of voices like phoenixes crying, and light that seems to be shining off of white jade—from this dazzling spectacle women and men emerge. With smooth, creamy skin and faces like full moons, the women are delicate in their movements. The men’s bearing is proper and cultivated, they have a sort of gravitas, they’ve undergone a sort of baptism of arts and letters; but they don’t like being heroes. They crossWaipoBridge, falling into a V-formation at theBroadwayBuildingand ascending the stairs storey by storey, their footfalls soft, the sway of their hips showing that they are reserved but hopeful. They had unlucky fates—they never really believed in Fate. At last they are here, visible in the candlelight; but their expressions are utterly untrustworthy. They were always good at keeping their feelings hidden. Shanghai people—never giving much away, never trusting people.”
A GIRL : “These pretentious young people are all clothed in checkered silk, and the apartment that they’ve come to is also done up all in checks—big checks and little checks, like picture frames of every size. The largest checkerboard pattern is on a wall hanging with squares even larger than the windows. There are practically no other decorations in the apartment. Instead, a riot of checks covers every surface, without any semblance of order. The apartment, also square-shaped, is made up of a few square rooms. The colors are dark and muddy. This is a checkerboard world, and the gathering is all about checks and candles. Naturally, there’s still a gramophone and music, and a band might even show up to play. But to start with, Bach is playing on the stereo, because Shanghai in the winter is perfect for listening to Bach. Shanghai is a city of ghosts, and when it rains, a sort of floating energy fills the air—it’s politics that keeps the ghosts from roaming freely. Inside one of the tiniest checkerboard squares, a man and woman are trying to kiss. They are incredibly sensitive, incredibly resolute. In these years of wartime, they’ve begun to believe they can’t count on any of the strength that grows from anxiety.”
A MAN：“In bed, artists are the worst, but there’s a philosopher there. A philosopher has to be good in bed; otherwise, he is not a philosopher. The perfumer K is watching that square and lighting a Camel. Bao stands behind her, stroking her shoulder. Bao is the host of this party. Today is his birthday. His skin is smooth, with no visible veins. A smile of deep understanding begins to form on his face. Bao, with his single-fold eyelids, is the most famous social butterfly in all ofShanghai, but he doesn’t speak with even the slightest lisp. He’s pretty, and he smells pure .K says ,You always have these angels with dirty faces at your birthday party.” There are a couple of foreigners over there, and they always come to Bao’s birthday parties, too. They’re part of the first group of foreigners who came toShanghai. The warm light from the rows of candles flickers and floats. There’s a large square with men and women inside it. They have beautiful ears, and everyone’s expression is saying, “Look at how gorgeous I am!” They’re all quietly turning this way and that. It’s smart to have checkered silk in the wintertime, but their clothes are a bit strange—a funny blend of Chinese andWestern. .”
A Man：“Gil, a Jew, is talking in a whisper-soft voice. Bao appears behind Gil, and Gil turns around: “Happy Birthday!” Three men are standing there watching a richShanghaigirl. They look like three large birds. Two of them are black, and one is on top of the other. They bump each other and flutter back, bump each other again and fly up again. One of the birds seems to be getting agitated—the feathers on its neck are starting to stick out, standing completely on end, and when they stick out like that you can see that the feathers are half white and half black.”
Perhaps China’s most promising young write. Her life and work struck a chord with young Chinese people, especially those who were born in the 70s and 80s. She has become a cultural icon for a generation of Chinese youth who value the authenticity and honesty in her portrayal of the future of the new China. Her first novel Candy be published by 15 languages and be banned by Chinese government.