- Twenty Remarks on China
i. Hankow, Europe
Stillness. A British ensign reflected in a puddle; —oops: smashed by the wheel of a cart.
ii. Hankow, China
Walking along a gravel road glowing like a ruby in the setting sun, littered with shredded lottery tickets, Mahjong tiles clattering away, I see appearing under the visor of my helmet the spirit of Hankow summers—
A basket, toting warmth and sunshine plums.
iii. Yellow Crane Tower
Red brick buildings. Kantō Tower (teahouse), and the Tower of Pure Revealed Truth (photography studio). Little else for the eyes besides these two. But also the reddish brown Yangtze River, casting waves of glitter across the glazed tiles; the Dàbié Mountains across the way, on whose summit stand two to three trees; and—below—the small, white walled shrine to Emperor Yu.
“Where’s Parrot Island?”
“Down there, on the left. But don’t even bother with that dump, it’s just lumber storage these days.” [End Page 55]
iv. Lute Platform
On the rim of the moonlit lake, a petite geisha at the railings with her bangs undone; raising a pink fan aloft she broods on clouded waters, the black and glistening clouded waters beyond the thinning reeds, sacred lotuses parked on the shore.
v. Dòngtíng Lake
Although Dòngtíng Lake is called a lake it isn’t always filled with water. The name means “Grotto Court,” and outside of summer it transforms into a gigantic mud basin that has but a thread of water running through it.
Illustration: piercing the surface from beneath, rising three feet above, a decrepit black pine and its naked branches.
A town that executes people in the streets; a town infected with malaria and typhus; a town of sundry water sounds; a town where sun warmth clings to night concrete; a town whose chicken populace is a menace, crying my name without rest, “Mr. Akutagawa! Mr. Akutagawa!”
Chángshā. I visited the First Tiānxīn Girls’ Normal School and the elementary school it operates. A young teacher with an uncannily cutting scowl showed us around campus. Because of the boycott against Japanese imports, the classrooms had no pencils or erasers or much of anything like our schools back home; the students, all dourly anti-Japanese, sat at shabby desks furnished with ink-stones and brushes from another era, slugging through their algebra and geometry lessons. When I asked if I could see the dormitories, the young teacher’s scowl deepened, and he said, through my boy-interpreter, “I must refuse, it’s a delicate situation at the moment. The other night, five or six soldiers forced their way into the dorms and raped some of the students.” [End Page 56]
viii. Peking–Hankow Railway
I’m lying in my sleeping car on the train, the door is locked but I feel unsafe. I get up, push my suitcase against the door and lie back down and stare at it. A suitcase, to keep a squad of fiery rebels at bay. I wonder, if the rebels were to sack the train, would I still have to leave a tip?
Two pigtails dangling from the grand willow on Main Street, clusters of bluebottle flies gilding the braids like glass beads. Where did the heads of the criminals go? Did they rot and fall, get eaten by the dogs?
At the Islamic inn, through the lattice windows fitted with old swastikas, glimpses of a lemon sky occluded with clouds of barley dust—
A child, asleep, in a stupendous cloud of barley.
xi. Lungmoon, Kwangtung
Grace of the T’ang women and men worshipping their Buddha statue on the shiny black wall.
xii. Yellow River
Accomplishments while crossing the Yellow River: two cups of tea, six jujubes, three Chénmèn cigarettes, two and a half pages of Carlyle’s The French Revolution: A History, and eleven dead...