Regret for the
Past by Lu Hsun
I want, if I can, to describe my remorse and grief for
Tzuchun's sake as well as for my own. This shabby room, rucked away
in a forgotten corner of the hostel, is so quiet and empty. Time
really flies. A whole year has passed since I fell in love with
Tzu-chun, and, thanks to her, escaped from this dead quiet and
emptiness. On my return, as ill luck would have it, this was the only
room vacant. The broken window with the half dead locusr tree and old
wistaria outside and square table inside are the same as before. The
same too are the mouldering wall and wooden bed beside it. At night I
lie in bed alone just as I did before I started living with Tzu-chun.
The past year has been blotted out as if it had never been—as if I
had never moved out of this shabby room so hopefully to set up a small
home in Chichao Street.
Nor is that all. A year ago this silence and emptiness were
different—there was often an expectancy about them. I was expecting
Tzu-chun's arrival. As I waited long and impatiently, the tapping of
high heels on the brick pavement would galvanize me into life. Then I
would see her pale round face dimpling in a smile, her thin white
arms, striped cotton blouse and black skirt. She would bring in a new
leaf from the half withered locust tree outside the window for me to
look at, or clusters of the mauve flowers that hung from the old
wistaria tree, the trunk of which looked as if made of iron.
Now there is only the old silence and emptiness. Tzu-chun will not
come again—never, never again.
In Tzu-chun's absence, I saw nothing in this shabby room. Out of
sheer boredom I would pick up a book—science or literature, it was
all the same to me—and read on and on, till I realized I had turned
a dozen pages without taking in a word I had read. Only my ears were
so sensitive, I seemed able to hear all the footsteps outside the
gate, those of Tzu-chun among the rest. Her steps often sounded as if
they were drawing nearer and nearer—only to grow fainter again, until
they were lost in the tramping of other feet. I hated the servant's
son who wore cloth-soled shoes which sounded quite different from
Tzu-chun's. I hated the pansy next door who used face cream, who often
wore new leather shoes, and whose steps sounded all too like
Had her rickshaw been upset? Had she been knocked over by a tram? .
I would be on the point of putting on my hat to go and see her,
then remember her uncle had cursed me to my face.
Suddenly I would hear her coming nearer step by step, and by the
time I was out to meet her she would already have passed the wistaria
trellis, her face dimpling in a smile. Probably she wasn't badly
treated after all in her uncle's home. I would calm down and, after we
had gazed at each other in silence for a moment, the shabby room would
be filled with the sound of my voice as I held forth on the tyranny of
the home, the need to break with tradition, the equality of men and
women, Ibsen, Tagore and Shelley. . . . She would nod her head,
smiling, her eyes filled with a childlike look of wonder. On the wall
was nailed a copperplate bust of Shelley, cut out from a magazine. It
was one of the best likenesses of him, but when I pointed it out to
her she only gave it a hasty glance, then hung her head as if
embarrassed. In matters like this, Tzuchun probably hadn't yet freed
herself entirely from old ideas. It occurred to me later it might be
better to substitute a picture of Shelley being drowned at sea, or a
portrait of Ibsen. But I never got round to it. Now even this picture
"I'm my own mistress. None of them has any right to interfere with
She came out with this statement clearly, firmly and gravely, after
a thoughtful silence—we had been talking about her uncle who was here
and her father who was at home. We had then known each other for half
a year. I had already told her all my views, all that had happened to
me, and what my failings were. I had hidden very little, and she
understood me completely. These few words of hers stirred me to the
bottom of my heart, and rang in my ears for many days after. I was
unspeakably happy to know that Chinese women were not as hopeless as
the pessimists made out, and that we should see them in the not too
distant future in all their glory.
Each time I saw her out, I always kept several paces behind her.
The old man's face with its whiskers like fishy tentacles was always
pressed hard against the dirty windowpane, so that even the tip of his
nose was flattened. When we reached the outer courtyard, against the
bright glass window there was that little fellow's face, plastered
with face cream. But walking out proudly, without looking right or
left, Tzu-chun did not see them. And I walked proudly back.
"I'm my own mistress. None of them has any right to interfere with
me." Her mind was completely made up on this point. She was by far the
more thoroughgoing and resolute of the two of us. What did she care
about the half pot of face cream or the flattened nose tip?
I can't remember clearly now how I expressed my true, passionate
love for her. Nor only now—even just after it happened, my
impression was very blurred. When I thought back at night, I could
only remember snatches of what I had said; while during the month or
two after we started living together, even these fragments vanished
like a dream without a trace. I only remember how for about a
fortnight beforehand I had reflected very carefully what attitude to
adopt, prepared what to say, and decided what to do if I were refused.
But when the time came it was all no use. In my nervousness, I
unconsciously did what I had seen in the movies. The memory of this
makes me thoroughly ashamed, yet this is the one thing I remember
clearly. Even today it is like a solitary lamp in a dark room,
lighting me up. I clasped her hand with tears in my eyes, and went
down on one knee. . . .
I did not even see clearly how Tzu-chun reacted at the time. All I
know was that she accepted me. However, I seem to remember her face
first turned pale then gradually flushed red—redder than I have ever
seen it before or since. Sadness and joy flashed from her childlike
eyes, mingled with apprehension, although she struggled to avoid my
gaze, looking, in her confusion, as if she would like to fly out of
the window. Then I knew she consented, although I didn't know what she
said, or whether she said anything at all.
She, however, remembered everything. She could recite all that I
said non-stop, as if she had learned it by heart. She described all
my actions in detail, to the life, like a film unfolding itself
before my eyes, which included, naturally, that shallow scene from
the movies which I was anxious to forget. At night, when all was
still, it was our time for review. I was often questioned and
examined, or ordered to retell all that had been said on that
occasion; but she often had to fill up gaps and correct my mistakes,
as if I were a Grade D student.
Gradually these reviews became few and far between. But whenever I
saw her gazing raptly into space with a tender look and dimpling, I
knew she was going over that old lesson again, and would be afraid she
was seeing my ridiculous act from the movies. I knew, though, that she
did see it, and that she insisted on seeing it.
But she didn't find it ridiculous. Though I thought it laughable,
even contemptible, she didn't find it so at all. And I knew this was
because she loved me so truly and passionately.
Late spring last year was our happiest and busiest time. I was
calmer then, although one part of my mind became as active as my
body. This was when we started going out together. We went several
times to the park, but more often to look for lodgings. On the road I
was conscious of searching looks, sarcastic smiles or lewd and
contemptuous glances which tended, if I was not careful, to make me
shiver. Every instant I had to summon all my pride and defiance to my
support. She was quite fearless, however, and completely impervious to
all this. She proceeded slowly, as calmly as if there were nobody in
To find lodgings was no easy matter. In most cases we were refused
on some pretext, while some places we turned down as unsuitable. In
the beginning we were very particular—and yet not too particular
either, because most of these lodgings were not places where we could
live. Later on, all we asked was to be tolerated. We looked at over
twenty places before we found one we could make do—two rooms facing
north in a small house on Chichao Street. The owner of the house was a
petty official, but an intelligent man, who only occupied the central
and side rooms. His household consisted simply of a wife, a baby a few
months old, and a maid from the country. As long as the child didn't
cry, it would be very quiet.
Our furniture, simple as it was, had already taken the greater part
of the money I had raised: and Tzu-chun had sold her only gold ring
and ear-rings too. I tried to stop her, but she insisted, so I didn't
press the point. I knew, if she hadn't a share in our home, she would
She had already quarrelled with her uncle—in fact he was so angry
that he had disowned her. I had also broken with several friends who
thought they were giving me good advice but were actually either
afraid for me, or jealous. Still, this meant we were very quiet.
Although it was nearly dark when I left the office, and the rickshaw
man went so slowly, the time finally came when we were together again.
First we would look at each other in silence, then relax and talk
intimately, and finally fall silent again, bowing our heads without
thinking of anything in particular. Gradually I was able to read her
soberly like a book, body and soul. In a mere three weeks I learned
much more about her, and broke down barriers which I had not known
existed, but then discovered had been real barriers.
As the days passed, Tzu-chun became more lively. However, she
didn't like flowers. I bought two pots of flowers at the fair, but
after four days without water they died neglected in a corner. I
hadn't the time to see to everything. She had a liking for animals,
though, which she may have picked up from the official's wife; and in
less than a month our household was greatly increased. Four chicks of
ours started picking their way across the courtyard with the
landlady's dozen. But the two mistresses could tell them apart, each
able to spot her own. Then there was a spotted dog, bought at the
fair. I believe he had a name to begin with, but Tzu-chun gave him a
new one—Ahsui. I called him Ahsui too, though I didn't like the name.
It is true that love must be constantly renewed, must grow and
create. When I spoke of this to Tzu-chun, she nodded understandingly.
Ah, what peaceful, happy evenings those were!
Tranquillity and happiness must be consolidated, so that they may
last for ever. When we were in the hostel, we had occasional
differences of opinion or misunderstandings; but after we moved into
Chichao Street even these slight differences vanished. We just sat
opposite each other in the lamplight, reminiscing, savouring again the
joy of the new harmony which had followed our disputes.
Tzu-chun grew plumper and her cheeks became rosier; the only pity
was she was too busy. Her house-keeping left her no time even to chat,
much less to read or go out for walks. We often said we would have to
get a maid.
Another thing that upset me when I got back in the evening, was to
see her try to hide a look of unhappiness or—and this depressed me
even more—force a smile on to her face. Luckily I discovered this was
due to her secret feud with the petty official's wife, and the bone of
contention was the chicks. But why wouldn't she tell me? People ought
to have a home of their own. This was no place to live in.
I had my routine too. Six days of the week I went from home to the
office and from the office home. In the office I sat at my desk
endlessly copying official documents and letters. At home I kept her
company or helped her light the stove, cook rice or steam bread. This
was when I learned to cook.
Still, I ate much better than when I was in the hostel. Although
cooking was not Tzu-chun's strongest point, she threw herself into it
heart and soul. Her ceaseless anxieties on this score made me anxious
too, and in this way we shared the sweet and the bitter together. She
kept at it so hard all day, perspiration made her short hair stick to
her head, and her hands grew rough.
And then she had to feed Ahsui and the chicks . . . nobody else
could do this.
I told her, I would rather nor eat than see her work herself to the
bone like this. She just gazed at me without a word, rather wistfully;
and I couldn't very well say any more. Still she went on working as
hard as ever.
Finally the blow I had been expecting fell. The evening before the
Double Tenth Festival, I was sitting idle while she washed the dishes,
when we heard a knock on the door. When I went to open it, I found the
messenger from our office who handed me a mimeographed slip of paper.
I guessed what it was, and when I took it to the lamp, sure enough, it
By order of the commissioner, Shih Chuan-sheng is discharged.
I had foreseen this while we were still in the hostel. That Face
Cream was one of the gambling friends of the commissioner's son. He
was bound to spread rumours and try to make trouble. I was only
surprised this hadn't happened sooner. In fact this was really no
blow, because I had already decided I could work as a clerk somewhere
else or teach, or, although it was a little more difficult, do some
translation work. I knew the editor of Freedom's Friend, and
had corresponded with him a couple of months previously. All the same,
my heart was thumping. What distressed me most was that even Tzu-chun,
fearless as she was, had turned pale. Recently she seemed to have
"What does it matter?" she said. "We'll make a new start, won't we?
She didn't finish, and her voice sounded flat. The lamplight seemed
unusually dim. Men are really laughable creatures, so easily upset by
trifles. First we gazed at each other in silence, then started
discussing what to do. Finally we decided to live as economically as
possible on the money we had, to advertise in the paper for a post as
clerk or teacher, and to write at the same time to the editor of
Freedom's Friend, explaining my present situation and asking him
to accept a translation to help me out of this difficulty.
"As good said as done! Let's make a fresh start."
I went straight to the table and pushed aside the bottle of
vegetable oil and dish of vinegar, while Tzu-chun brought over the
dim lamp. First I drew up the advertisement; then I made a selection
of books to translate. I hadn't looked at my books since we moved
house, and each volume was thick with dust. Finally I wrote the letter.
I hesitated for a long time over the wording of the letter, and
when I stopped writing to think, and glanced at her in the dusky
lamplight, she was looking very wistful again. I had never imagined a
trifle like this could cause such a striking change in someone so firm
and fearless as Tzu-chun. She really had grown much weaker lately—it
wasn't something that had just started that evening. This made me feel
more put out. I had a sudden vision of a peaceful life—the quiet of
my shabby room in the hostel flashed before my eyes, and I was just
going to take a good look at it when I found myself back in the dusky
After a long time the letter was finished. It was very lengthy, and
I was so tired after writing it, I realized I must have grown weaker
myself lately too. We decided to send in the advertisement and post
the letter the next day. Then with one accord we straightened up,
silently, as if conscious of each other's fortitude and strength, and
able to see new hope growing from this fresh beginning.
Actually, this blow from outside infused a new spirit into us. In
the office I had lived like a wild bird in a cage, given just enough
canary-seed by its captor to keep alive, but not to grow fat. As time
passed it would lose the use of its wings, so that if ever it were let
out of the cage it could no longer fly. Now, at any rate, I had got
out of the cage, and must soar anew in the wide sky before it was too
late, while I could still flap my wings.
Of course we could not expect results from a small advertisement
right away. However, translating is not so simple either. You read
something and think you understand it, but when you come to translate
it difficulties crop up everywhere, and it's very slow going. Still, I
determined to do my best. In less than a fortnight, the edge of a
fairly new dictionary was black with my finger-prints, which showed
how seriously I took my work. The editor of Freedom's Friend
had said that his magazine would never ignore a good manuscript.
Unfortunately, there was no room where I could be undisturbed, and
Tzu-chun was not as quiet or considerate as she had been. Our room was
so cluttered up with dishes and bowls and filled with smoke, it was
impossible to work steadily there. Of course I had only myself to
blame for this—it was my fault for not being able to afford a study.
On top of this there was Ahsui and the chicks. The chicks had grown
into hens now, and were more of a bone of contention than ever between
the two families.
Then there was the never-ending business of eating every day. All
Tzu-chun's efforts seemed to be devoted to our meals. One ate to earn,
and earned to eat; while Ahsui and the hens had to be fed too.
Apparently she had forgotten all she had ever learned, and did not
realize that she was interrupting my train of thought when she called
me to meals. And although as I sat down I sometimes showed a little
displeasure, she paid no attention at all, but just went on munching
away quite unconcerned.
It took her five weeks to learn that my work could not be
restricted by regular eating hours. When she did realize it she was
probably annoyed, but she said nothing. After that my work did go
forward faster, and soon I had translated 50,000 words. I had only to
polish the manuscript, and it could be sent in with two already
completed shorter pieces to Freedom's Friend. Those meals were
still a headache though. It didn't matter if the dishes were cold, but
there weren't enough of them. My appetite was much smaller than
before, now that I was sitting at home all day using my brain, but
even so there wasn't always even enough rice. It had been given to
Ahsui, sometimes along with the mutton which recently, I myself had
rarely a chance to eat. She said Ahsui was so thin, it was really
pathetic, and it made the landlady sneer at us. She couldn't stand
being laughed at.
So there were only the hens to eat my left-overs. It was a long
time before I realized this. I was very conscious, however, that my
"place in the universe," as Huxley describes it, was only somewhere
between the dog and the hens.
Later on, after much argument and insistence, the hens started
appearing on our table, and we and Ahsui were able to enjoy them for
over ten days. They were very thin, though, because for a long time
they had only been fed a few grains of kaoliang a day. After
that life became much more peaceful. Only Tzu-chun was very
dispirited, and seemed so sad and bored without them, she grew rather
sulky. How easily people change!
However, Ahsui too would have to be given up. We had stopped hoping
for a letter from anywhere, and for a long time Tzu-chun had had no
food left to make the dog beg or stand on his hind legs. Besides,
winter was coming on very fast, and we didn't know what to do about a
stove. His appetite had long been a heavy liability, of which we were
all too conscious. So even the dog had to go.
If we had tied a tag on him and taken him to the market to sell, we
might have made a few coppers. But neither of us could bring ourselves
to do this.
Finally I muffled his head in a cloth and took him outside the West
Gate where I let him loose. When he ran after me, I pushed him into a
pit that wasn't too deep.
When I got home, I found it more peaceful; but I was quite taken
aback by Tzu-chun's tragic expression. I had never seen her so
woebegone. Of course, it was because of Ahsui, but why take it so to
heart? I didn't tell her about pushing him into the pit.
That night, something icy crept into her expression too.
"Really!" I couldn't help saying. "What's got into you today,
"What?" She didn't even look at me.
"You look so. . . ."
"It's nothing—nothing at all."
Eventually I realized she must consider me callous. Actually, when
I was on my own I had got along very well, although I was too proud to
mix much with family acquaintances. But since my move I had become
estranged from all my old friends. Still, if I could only get away
from all this, there were plenty of ways open to me. Now I had to put
up with all these hardships mainly because of her—getting rid of
Ahsui was a case in point. But Tzu-chun seemed too obtuse now even to
When I took an opportunity to hint this to her, she nodded as if
she understood. But judging by her behaviour later, she either didn't
take it in or else didn't believe me.
The cold weather and her cold looks made it impossible for me to be
comfortable at home. But where could I go? I could get away from her
icy looks in the street and parks, but the cold wind outside whistled
through me. Finally I found a haven in the public library.
Admission was free, and there were two stoves in the reading room.
Although the fire was very low, the mere sight of the stoves made me
warm. There were no books worth reading: the old ones were out of
date, and there were practically no new ones.
But I didn't go there to read. There were usually a few other
people there, sometimes as many as a dozen, all thinly clad like me.
We kept up a pretence of reading, in order to keep out of the cold.
This suited me down to the ground. You were liable to meet people you
knew on the road who would glance at you contemptuously, but here
there was no trouble of that kind, because my acquaintances were all
gathered round other stoves or warming themselves at the stoves in
their own homes.
Although there were no books for me to read there, I found quiet in
which to think. As I sat there alone thinking over the past, I felt
that during the last half year for love—blind love—I had neglected
all the important things in life. First and foremost, livelihood. A
man must make a living before there can be any place for love. There
must be a way out for those who struggle, and I hadn't yet forgotten
how to flap my wings, though I was much weaker than before. . . .
The room and readers gradually faded. I saw fishermen in the angry
sea, soldiers in the trenches, dignitaries in their ears, speculators
at the stock exchange, heroes in mountain forests, teachers on their
platforms, night prowlers, thieves in the dark. . . . Tzu-chun was far
away. She had lost all her courage in her resentment over Ahsui and
absorption in her cooking. The strange thing was that she didn't look
particularly thin. . . .
It grew colder. The few lumps of slow-burning hard coal in the
stove had at last burned out, and it was closing time. I had to go
back to Chichao Street, to expose myself to that icy look. Of late I
had sometimes been met with warmth, but this only upset me more. I
remember one evening, the childlike look I had not seen for so long
flashed from Tzu-chun's eyes as she reminded me with a smile of
something that had happened at the hostel. But there was a constant
look of fear in her eyes too. The fact that I had treated her more
coldly recently than she had me worried her. Sometimes I forced myself
to talk and laugh to comfort her. But the emptiness of my laughter and
speech, and the way it immediately re-echoed in my ears like a hateful
sneer, was more than I could bear.
Tzu-chun might have felt it too, for after this she lost her wooden
calm and, though she tried her best to hide it, often showed anxiety.
She treated me, however, much more tenderly.
I wanted to speak to her plainly, but hadn't the courage. Whenever
I made up my mind to speak, the sight of those childlike eyes
compelled me, for the time being, to smile. But my smile turned
straightway into a sneer at myself, and made me lose my cold composure.
After that she revived the old questions and started new tests,
forcing me to give all sorts of hypocritical answers to show my
affection for her. Hypocrisy became branded on my heart, so filling
it with falseness it was hard to breathe. I often felt, in my
depression, that really great courage was needed to tell the truth;
for a man who lacked courage and reconciled himself to hypocrisy
would never find a new path. What's more, he just could not exist.
Then Tzu-chun started looking resentful. This happened for the
first time one morning, one bitterly cold morning, or so I imagined.
I smiled secretly to myself, cold with indignation. All the ideas and
intelligent, fearless phrases she had learned were empty after all.
Yet she did not know this. She had given up reading long ago, and did
not realize the first thing in life is to make a living, that to do
this people must advance hand in hand, or go forward singly. All she
could do was cling to someone else's clothing, making it difficult
even for a fighter to struggle, and bringing ruin on both.
I felt that our only hope lay in parting. She ought to make a clean
break. Suddenly I thought of her death, but immediately was ashamed
and reproached myself. Happily it was morning, and there was plenty of
time for me to tell her the truth. Whether or not we could make a
fresh start depended on this.
I deliberately brought up the past. I spoke of literature, then of
foreign authors and their works, of Ibsen's A Doll's House and
The Lady from the Sea. I praised Nora for being strong-minded, . .
. All this had been said the previous year in the shabby room in the
hostel, but now it rang hollow. As the words left my mouth I could not
free myself from the suspicion that there was an unseen urchin behind
me maliciously parroting all I said.
She listened, nodding in agreement, then was silent. I finished
what I had to say abruptly, and my voice died away in the emptiness.
"Yes," she said after another silence, "but ... Chuansheng, I feel
you've changed a lot lately. Is it true? Tell me!"
This was a blow, but I took a grip on myself, and explained my
views and proposals: to make a fresh start and turn over a new leaf,
to avoid being ruined together.
To clinch the matter, I said firmly:
". . . Besides, you need have no more scruples but go boldly ahead.
You asked me to tell the truth. Yes, we shouldn't be hypocritical.
Well, to tell the truth—it's because I don't love you any more!
Actually, this makes it better for you, because it'll be easier for
you to work without any regret. . . ."
I was expecting a scene, but all that followed was silence. Her
face turned ashy pale, like a corpse; but in a moment her colour came
back, and that childlike look darted from her eyes. She looked all
round, like a hungry child searching for its kind mother, but only
looked into space. Fearfully she avoided my eyes.
The sight was more than I could stand. Fortunately it was still
early. I braved the cold wind to hurry to the library.
There I saw Freedom's Friend, with all my short articles in
it. This took me by surprise, and seemed to bring me new life. "There
are plenty of ways open to me," I thought. "But things can't go on
I started calling on old friends with whom I had had nothing to do
for a long time, but didn't go more than once or twice. Naturally,
their rooms were warm, but I felt chilled to the marrow there. In the
evenings I huddled in a room colder than ice.
An icy needle pierced my heart, making me suffer continually from
numb wretchedness. "There are plenty of ways open to me," I thought.
"I haven't forgotten how to flap my wings." Suddenly I thought of her
death, but immediately was ashamed and reproached myself.
In the library I often saw like a flash a new path ahead of me. I
imagined she had faced up bravely to the facts and boldly left this
icy home. Lefr it, what was more, without any malice towards me. Then
I felt light as a cloud floating in the void, with the blue sky above
and high mountains and great oceans below, big buildings and
skyscrapers, battlefields, motorcars, thoroughfares, rich men's
houses, bright, bustling markets, and the dark night. . . .
What's more, I really felt this new life was just round the corner.
Somehow we managed to live through the bitter Peking winter. But we
were like dragonflies that had fallen into the hands of mischievous
imps, been tied with threads, played with and tormented at will.
Although we had come through alive, we were prostrate, and the end was
only a matter of time.
Three letters were sent to the editor of Freedom's Friend
before he replied. The envelope contained two book tokens, one for
twenty cents, one for thirty cents. But I had spent nine cents on
postage to press for payment, and gone hungry for a whole day, all for
However, I felt that at last I had got what I expected.
Winter was giving place to spring, and the wind was not quite so
icy now. I spent more time wandering outside, and generally did not
reach home till dusk. One dark evening, I came home listlessly as
usual and, as usual, grew so depressed at the sight of our gate that
I slowed down. Eventually, however, I reached my room. It was dark
inside, and as I groped for the matches to strike a light, the place
seemed extraordinarily quiet and empty.
I was standing there in bewilderment, when the official's wife
called to me through the window.
"Tzu-chun's father came today," she said simply, "and took her
This was not what I had expected. I felt as if hit on the back of
the head, and stood speechless.
"She went?" I finally managed to ask.
"Did—did she say anything?"
"No. Just asked me to tell you when you came back that she had
I couldn't believe it; yet the room was so extraordinarily quiet
and empty. I looked everywhere for Tzu-chun, but all I could see was
the old, discoloured furniture which appeared very scattered, to show
that it was incapable of hiding anyone or anything. It occurred to me
she might have left a letter or at least jotted down a few words, but
no. Only salt, dried paprika, flour and half a cabbage had been placed
together, with a few dozen coppers at the side. These were all our
worldly goods, and now she had carefully left all this to me, bidding
me without words to use this to eke our my existence a little longer.
Feeling my surroundings pressing in on me, I hurried out to the
middle of the courtyard, where all around was dark. Bright lamplight
showed on the window paper of the central rooms, where they were
teasing the baby to make her laugh. My heart grew calmer, and I began
to glimpse a way out of this heavy oppression: high mountains and
great marshlands, thoroughfares, brightly lit feasts, trenches,
pitch-black night, the thrust of a sharp knife, noiseless footsteps. .
I relaxed, thought about travelling expenses, and sighed.
I conjured up a picture of my future as I lay with closed eyes, but
before the night was half over it had vanished. In the gloom I
suddenly seemed to see a pile of groceries, then Tzu-chun's ashen
face appeared to gaze at me beseechingly with childlike eyes. But as
soon as I took a grip on myself, there was nothing there.
However, my heart still felt heavy. Why couldn't I have waited a
few days instead of blurting out the truth like that to her? Now she
knew all that was left to her was the passionate sternness of her
father—who was as heartless as a creditor with his children—and the
icy cold looks of bystanders. Apart from this there was only
emptiness. How terrible to bear the heavy burden of emptiness,
treading out one's life amid sternness and cold looks! And at the end
not even a tombstone to your grave!
I shouldn't have told Tzu-chun the truth. Since we had loved each
other, I should have gone on lying to her. If truth is a treasure, it
shouldn't have proved such a heavy burden of emptiness to Tzu-chun. Of
course, lies are empty too, but at least they wouldn't have proved so
crushing a burden in the end.
I thought if I told Tzu-chun the truth, she could go forward boldly
without scruples, just as when we started living together. But I was
wrong. She was fearless then because of her love.
I hadn't the courage to shoulder the heavy burden of hypocrisy, so
I thrust the burden of the truth on to her. Because she had loved me,
she had to bear this heavy burden, amid sternness and cold glances to
the end of her days.
I had thought of her death. . . . I realized I was a weakling. I
deserved to be cast out by the strong, no matter whether they were
truthful or hypocritical. Yet she, from first to last, had hoped that
I could live longer. . . .
I wanted to leave Chichao Street; it was too empty and lonely here.
I thought, if once I could get away, it would be as if Tzu-chun were
still at my side. Or at least as if she were still in town, and might
drop in on me any time, as she had when I lived in the hostel.
However, all my letters went unanswered, as did my applications to
friends to find me a post. There was nothing for it but to go to see a
family acquaintance I hadn't visited for a long time. This was an old
classmate of my uncle's, a highly respected senior licentiate, who had
lived in Peking for many years and had a wide circle of acquaintances.
The gatekeeper stared at me scornfully—no doubt because my clothes
were shabby—and only with difficulty was I admitted. My uncle's
friend still remembered me, but treated me very coldly. He knew all
"Obviously, you can't stay here," he said coldly, after I asked him
to recommend me to a job somewhere else. "But where will you go? It's
extremely difficult. That—er—that friend of yours, Tzu-chun, I
suppose you know, is dead."
I was dumbfounded.
"Are you sure?" I finally blurted out.
He gave an artificial laugh. "Of course I am. My servant Wang Sheng
comes from the same village as her family."
"But—how did she die?"
"Who knows? At any rate, she's dead."
I have forgotten how I took my leave and went home. I knew he
wouldn't lie. Tzu-chun would never be with me again, as she had last
year. Although she wanted to bear the burden of emptiness amid
sternness and cold glances till the end of her days, it had been too
much for her. Fate had decided that she should die knowing the truth I
had told her—die unloved!
Obviously, I could not stay there. But where could I go?
All around was a great void, quiet as death. I seemed to see the
darkness before the eyes of every single person who had died unloved,
and to hear all the bitter and despairing cries of their struggle.
I was waiting for something new, something nameless and unexpected.
But day after day passed in the same deadly quiet.
I went out now much less than before, sitting or lying in this
great void, allowing this deathly quiet to eat away my soul.
Sometimes the silence itself seemed afraid, seemed to recoil. At such
times there would flash up nameless, unexpected, new hope.
One overcast morning, when the sun was unable to struggle out from
behind the clouds and the very air was tired, the patter of tiny feet
and a snuffling sound made me open my eyes. A glance round the room
revealed nothing, but when I looked down I saw a small creature
pattering around—thin, covered with dust, more dead than alive. . . .
When I looked harder, my heart missed a beat. I jumped up.
It was Ahsui. He had come back.
I left Chichao Street not just because of the cold glances of my
landlord and the maid, but largely on account of Ahsui. But where
could I go? I realized, naturally, there were many ways open to me,
and sometimes seemed to see them stretching before me. I didn't know,
though, how to take the first step.
After much deliberation, I decided the hostel was the only place
where I could put up. Here is the same shabby room as before, the
same wooden bed, half dead locust tree and wistaria. But what gave me
love and life, hope and happiness before has vanished. There is
nothing but emptiness, the empty existence I exchanged for the truth.
There are many ways open to me, and I must take one of them because
I am still living. I don't know, though, how to take the first step.
Sometimes the road seems like a great, grey serpent, writhing and
darting at me. I wait and wait and watch it approach, but it always
disappears suddenly in the darkness.
The early spring nights are as long as ever. I sit idly for a long
time and recall a funeral procession I saw on the street this morning.
There were paper figures and paper horses in front, and behind crying
that sounded like a lilt. I see how clever they are—this is so simple.
Then Tzu-chun's funeral springs to my mind. She bore the heavy
burden of emptiness alone, advancing down the long grey road, only to
be swallowed up amid sternness and cold glances.
I wish we really had ghosts and there really were a hell. Then, no
matter how the wind of hell roared, I would go to find Tzu-chun, tell
her of my remorse and grief, and beg her forgiveness. Otherwise, the
poisonous flames of hell would surround me, and fiercely devour my
remorse and grief.
In the whirlwind and flames I would put my arms round Tzu-chun, and
ask her pardon, or try to make her happy. . . .
However, this is emptier than the new life. Now there is only the
early spring night which is still as long as ever. Since I am living,
I must make a fresh start. The first step is just to describe my
remorse and grief, for Tzu-chun's sake as well as for my own.
All I can do is to cry. It sounds like a lilt as I mourn for
Tzu-chun, burying her in oblivion.
I want to forget. For my own sake I don't want to remember the
oblivion I gave Tzu-chun for her burial.
I must make a fresh start in life. I must hide the truth deep in my
wounded heart, and advance silently, taking oblivion and falsehood as
my guide. . . .
October 21, 1925