Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese writers (2) The Last Chieftain

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The Last Tusi tells a story of a Tujia village in the Three Gorges wracked by war. Wu Niang, a mute girl gifted with exceptional intelligence, accidentally encounters Li An, an outsider arrested and punished by the Tujia. The chief of the Tujia people, Qin Yao, promises to marry Wu Niang to Li An. However, the night before Wu Niang becomes his bride, she makes a decision that will change their lives forever.

About Author

Ye Mei, a female writer of Tujia ethnic nationality, is currently a member of the presidium of China Writers’ Association. To date, she has published novels, novellas, and prose that, amongst many others, include The Melancholy Dragon Boat River, The  Moth in May,My Xilankapu , River Threading through Lameng. Her critical studies include “Studies on Ye Mei”. Many of her works have been awarded literary prizes and been reprinted and translated into other languages. One can discern in her novels an inspiring perspective in her expressions of racial culture and her criticisms and reflections on modernity. Rather than a plaintive or an overly critical voice that deplores, in an exaggerated manner, the ruptures between ethnic culture and modern civilization,she has approached her themes from the standpoint of transcendence, with the utmost demonstration of the beauty of her ethnic and regional cultures, which constitutes a significant reflection on the modern Chinese literary tradition.

Sample Pages Preview
Zhaonü did not cry when she was born, her body, slapped red by the midwife in order to make her cry and breathe, obstinately curled. She did not cry until the cock inside the house, a house which lay nestled within the cliff’s face, began gallantly and resoundingly to crow, as the blood - red sun from the tip of the cliff reached out, a lofty omnipresent splendor.

Dragon Boat Village’s shaman, Qin Lao’er, closed his eyes, summoning the Seventh Goddess from the heavens. It entered his wizened walnut - hard body, filling it with litheness and grace. He closed his eyes, his hoarse voice like the early morning kingfisher’s call as he walked lightly forward. Hearing an infant’s wail, the head of the Tian family, Venerable Madam, eagerly asked, “Can you see? Can you see my granddaughter’s flower tree?”

The Seventh Goddess, eyes flickering, turned toward the red clouds surrounding the mountain where spirits gathered. She saw the spring come and the winter pass over the land where the countless flowers blossom with the destinies of countless people, some exuberant and flourishing, others wilted and fading. The Seventh God desschecked the Tian family’s new granddaughter’s destiny tree. The tree was covered in delicate, crystalline white flowers. A ray of red luminosity suddenly appeared before her eyes: a fragile pink flower, dazzlingly close. Involuntarily, she gasped: “Another one?”

At that time the baby girl’s mother, half - dead, stood above a large wooden basin, her body so weak is required the support of a man. An intermittent moan of pain vaguely coming from her throat, her bare belly rumbling up and down, showing clear signs of something inside, kicking —the sound of another life. The midwife, dripping with sweat, fetched a wooden club they used to beat clothes washed in the river, and used all her strength to press the baby from the mother’s belly by rolling the club across her
stomach. Yingnü, unable to tolerate being stifled any longer within that vast dark body of water, stretched and kicked and came rushing out, plunging into the wooden basin filled with watery blood, her mother letting out a cry before falling still.

The Seventh Goddess moved lightly and left Qin’s body. Qin fell to the ground, spittle trailing from his mouth as he slept.

The setting sun awakened him. In a hoarse voice he asked Madam, “What did the Seventh Goddess say your granddaughter’s horoscope will be?” Madam stood before the ancestral shrine in the house’s main room, carrying Zhaonü in one arm and Yingnü in the other, her face grave. She shook her head and did not speak.

The girls’ father fought through the rain and buried the woman who gave birth on the mountain, planting two trees before the mound where she lay. The following spring they bloomed: one plum, one peach.
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Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese writers (2) The Last Chieftain