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  • The Land of Peach Blossoms
  • Xue Can
    Translated by Karen Gernant (bio) and Zeping Chen (bio)

The Land of Peach Blossoms survives in an ancient legend passed down in the village. People in the village often debate certain details, splitting hairs over this and that version. It could be said that Grandpa Jisi was the only knowledgeable authority on the legend. Grandpa Jisi—ninety years old—had shrunk to just over a meter in height, but he still had a snow-white beard more than a foot long. When he would go into the threshing field with his bamboo lounge chair, sit down, and light his long pipe, children would crowd up all around him. The naughty ones among them would pull his beard as he began his broken narrative about life in the Land of Peach Blossoms. To them, it didn't seem the least bit interesting, and was even a little boring. The place sounded like no more than a small village where men farmed, women wove, and everyone got along peacefully. No turmoil. No war. And that was about it. What interested the children was the miraculous swing. According to the legend, the swing was suspended from the top branch of a huge pine tree that grew at the summit of Mount Zhao. It was no longer clear who had climbed up that huge tree to hang the swing, but he must have been a skilled craftsman. The rope for the swing was twisted from the finest hemp. Nowadays, you can no longer see that kind of hemp. Dazzling white, it passed through strong iron rings in the tree and down to a seat made of beautiful wood. When someone was swinging on the mountaintop, it made a whizzing sound, and mountains and earth vibrated. People in the foothills couldn't bear hearing it. Workmen hurled their tools to the ground, fell down, and covered their ears. People indoors rushed to shut the windows. Everyone said the sound was unbearable.

The last ones to use that swing were two mischievous children. Someone saw them swinging in the air for a long time, and then they were gone. And then people discovered that the swing's rope had broken—cut by a sharp knife. Mount Zhao was a huge mountain, straddling several counties. It wasn't at all unusual for people to go missing there, yet one thing related about this event was very strange. People said that the rope hadn't been severed by the two children, but by the "will of heaven." Since it was the will of heaven, they should have been able to find the two boys' bodies in the area. For two days, all the people of the Land of Peach Blossoms [End Page 130] turned out to search, but it was to no avail. And so people who supported this viewpoint went on stubbornly saying, It's impossible to ignore the miracle: the children soared into the sky. It happened in a split second. But what kind of miracle was it? Did they grow wings and soar, or were they carried off by some large roc? Because everyone else ridiculed them, these people refused to go on stating their conclusions.

"Go to the mountain and look around carefully, and you'll still be able to find the place where the swing was," Grandpa Jisi said, his eyes half-closed.

One lad stood far away from the crowd of children surrounding Grand-pa Jisi. Fifteen years old, small, thin, and somber, he lived in a temple next to the village and supported himself by doing odd jobs. Every day at dusk, when Grandpa Jisi sat in the threshing field and told stories of the Land of Peach Blossoms, the boy showed up. When the children exclaimed, "Ah! Ah!" over Grandpa Jisi's stories a disdainful sneer hung from the corners of the boy's mouth and his eyes shone like those of a night owl.

"For food, they eat what they grow—sweet potatoes, corn, soybeans, and even rice. Pigs, goats, chickens, and ducks run everywhere. And there is also a school built on top of a large cliff. Looking down from...