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  • The Woman ZouA Novella
  • Zhang Yihe (bio)
    Translated by Karen Gernant (bio) and Chen Zeping (bio)

[End Page 1]

Part One


Early one morning, Zhang Yuhe scooped leftover rice into a two-handled aluminum pot. Then she added water, chopped vegetables, and salt, covered the pot, and let it cook for ten minutes until it turned into the "vegetable rice" that southerners like so much. The greens should have been fried before being mixed with rice, but she no longer cared. After being on the lowest rung of society for so long, she had grown accustomed to humble food cooked in a slapdash way. She added a piece of fermented bean curd from a jar—and this was her breakfast. She downed it hurriedly, gargled, then ran a wooden comb through her hair. She didn't bother to look in a mirror. She knew that even if she spent more time on her looks, she would still be a mess. She picked up her faux leather bag, locked the door, and walked out of the employees' residence where she lived.

The leaves of the wutong trees lining the road rustled in the wind. She had been away for ten years. Looking around, she felt that the only things that hadn't changed in this provincial city were the old wutong trees.

In the fall of 1978, Zhang Yuhe strode out of prison. Many people had expected this, because the worst part of her counterrevolutionary crime was her scathing verbal attack on Comrade Jiang Qing. In October 1976, the Gang of Four—which included Jiang Qing—had fallen from power, and Zhang Yuhe's chance to get out of prison had come. A year later, S province's court cleared her of any crimes and released her. And so she had returned to the provincial capital. At the meeting, the public security officer announced her rehabilitation, as well as that of other former prisoners. She was the last to speak at the event. Everyone had thought she would cry hot tears and fall all over herself with gratitude to the Party. But her speech consisted of only two sentences: "I'm lucky enough to walk again in the sunlight. I'm just thinking of so many others who died in a place without sunlight." The face of the public security officer darkened at once.

The personnel chief in charge of implementing the Culture Bureau's policy toward Zhang Yuhe sought her out. She said to him, "I have two requests. The first is I don't want to return to the opera troupe, because that's where I was arrested ten years ago. The second is I want to live in the employees' residence. A single room is just fine. I want to live there because it has a mess hall, and I don't want to cook for myself."

He thought it over and said, "I'll do my best." [End Page 3]

Zhang Yuhe said calmly, "If you don't give me a place to live, I'll move into your home."

"You wouldn't dare."

"Just try me. Don't forget—I'm an ex-convict!"

The head of the Culture Bureau, Wu Bai, was the nephew of a nationally known woman writer. He also liked writing, and his essays about scenery design for the theater and his anecdotes about literary celebrities often appeared in the local newspapers. Because he knew that Zhang Yuhe was also a writer, as well as having worked for the opera troupe, he tried to console her. "Why don't you take six months' vacation—take trips to the places you'd like to visit! By the time you come back, the issues of your employment and housing will be mostly settled."

"Okay, I'll do that."

And so Zhang Yuhe traveled to Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Hangzhou. When she returned, she found that Wu Bai had done as he promised. She was given a job in the theater information office in the Culture Bureau, which was basically a sinecure. All day long at the office she did nothing but drink tea, read newspapers, and chat. When a new performance was...


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