To Summon a Wandering Soul

Such expressions as yinhunbusan, yinhun futi, zhaohun
Sun Jingxuan’s Spectre Prowls the Land
The Science Fiction novel
Shades of Mao

This is the third essay by Professor Xu Zhangrun translated and published by China Heritage. The first was in the style of a 諫書 or Petition; the second like a 檄文, a Denunciation. This their work, elegiac in tone, is like a 祭文 Memorial to the Dead 祭文. It brings to mind Summons to the Soul.

Han Yu Eulogy to My Nephew: http://www.lcwangpress.com/essays/nephew.htm

Professor Xu’s lament brings to mind ‘The Great Summons’ 大招, one of the poems in the Songs of the South 楚辭 attributed to Qu Yuan (屈原, fourth century BCE). Although that ancient summons is addressed to the soul of a dead ruler, and it encourages the spirit to return to the luxuries of the human world, Xu Zhangrun’s Summons conjures a long-dead spectre, speaks of his worldly suffering and offers only heartrending memories and sorrows to mark a life of torment.

Allow me to quote a few stanzas from ‘The Great Summons’, as translated by David Hawkes:

O soul, do not flee!
O soul, come back! Do not go far away!

魂魄歸來!無遠遙只。

O soul, go not to the east!
In the east is the great sea, where the swelling waters billow endlessly,
And water-dragons swim side by side, swiftly darting above and below.
It is clammy with rain and fog, that glister white and heavy.
O soul, go not to the east, to the desolate Gulf of Brightness!

魂乎歸來!
無東無西,無南無北只。
東有大海,溺水浟浟只。
螭龍並流,上下悠悠只。
霧雨淫淫,白皓膠只。
魂乎無東!湯谷寂寥只。

O soul, to not to the south!
In the south are a hundred leagues of flaming fire and coiling cobras;
The mountains rise sheer and steep; tigers and leopards slink;
The cow-fish is there, and the spit-sand, and the rearing python.
O soul, go not to the south! There are monsters there that will harm you.

魂乎無南!
南有炎火千里,蝮蛇蜒只。
山林險隘,虎豹蜿只。
鰅鳙短狐,王虺騫只。
魂乎無南!蜮傷躬只。

O soul, go not to the west!
In the west are the Moving Sands stretching endlessly on and on,
And beasts with heads like swine, slanting eyes and shaggy hair,
Long claws and serrated teeth, and wild, made laughter.
O soul, go not to the west! In the west are many dangers.

魂乎無西!
西方流沙,漭洋洋只。
豕首縱目,被發鬤只。
長爪踞牙,誒笑狂只。
魂乎無西!多害傷只。

O soul, go not to the north!
In the north are the Frozen Mountain, and the Torch Dragon, glaring red;
And the Dai river that cannot be crossed, whose depths are unfathomable;
And the sky is white and glittering, and all is congealed with cold.
O soul, go not to the north! There is no bourne there to your journeying.

魂乎無北!
北有寒山,趠龍赩只。
代水不可涉,深不可測只。
天白顥顥,寒凝凝只。
魂乎無往!盈北極只。

The difference is that, in Xu Zhangrun’s lament, it is the world of Maoism and the Cultural Revolution that, in all directions allowed no safe haven or respite. Only in death was there escape, yet even now the ghost remains unquiet.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
26 November 2018


The Teacher
私塾先生

Xu Zhangrun 許章潤

translated by Geremie R. Barmé

 

It was after a deluge, a flood that left in its wake nothing but ruination, a vast world submerged. As rebuilding took place in the days following the disaster, years of ceaseless work, our parents moved us into a new home. It was three simple rooms in what was nothing more than a thatched hut, a humble rustic dwelling not far from our original house, subject to the changing seasons where we sweltered in the summer and passed the winters in the cold. But the seven of us had this as our home, a place near a river where we weathered the seasons, the river waters rising high and decreasing with the coming of spring or the advent of autumn.

We lived and laboured there, lives as insignificant as those of insects. But it was home, a place in the embrace of heaven and earth that was ours, one where finally we could feel secure. There was an east-west path running outside our door, and our house was a the spot between the small township and the countryside that lay beyond. People travelled back and forth along that path in the morning and afternoon, but hardly a soul would venture out in the pitch dark of night. Vehicles would occasionally pass by making a great racket on the road on the other side of the river. In what was a pre-modern world, unlike today, their clouds of exhaust would feel as they were nurturing our isolated country spot.

Early morning, then at midday and then again in the evening we could hear the loudspeakers blaring from the local government compound not far away. They were broadcasting the important directives of the Great Leader sequestered far away in the distant north. The sound was tumultuous, the emotional tenor frenzied. Invisible, beyond reach, and although formless, the evidence of its impact was everywhere. Nothing escaped its touch, as though directed by one who was all knowing and all seeing. And that’s why it was so terrifying. Clamorous yet deathly silent, mysterious yet unabashedly present. It was a constant physical reminder of the Presence in our out-of-the-way part of the world, one that had just barely survived devastation.

一場大水過後,滿目瘡痍,天地蒼茫。災後重建,披星戴月,歷經春秋,父母帶著我們終於搬進新家。草屋三間,篳門圭竇,距老宅十丈,夏熱冬冷。一家七口,臨河而居,伴夏雷冬雪,看春漲秋落。勞生息死,形如螻蟻。但既然是家,天地懷中一個窩,便頓覺安全而溫暖。門前小徑,交通東西,是小鎮盡頭與鄉野的通貫之處。早晚總有行人,天黑則難覓身影。河對面偶有車輛經過,轟轟隆隆,在這個前現代的時空,倒予鄉民煙火滋養的感覺。每日早中晚,不遠處區政府的高音喇叭定時鳴響,播放遙遠北方偉大領袖的偉大號召,音調盛大,情緒高昂。看不見,摸不著,雖遁形卻有跡,無遠而弗屆,彷彿全知全能,因而才令人恐懼。它們喧闐而闃寂,神秘卻張揚,向劫後餘生的這一方水土提示著時代的行蹤。

That was back in the early 1970s. The lives of people in our part of rural China were wracked by hunger and terror; although, regardless of this, we lived with something resembling a sense of hope. Restricted by our modest needs eeking out a life of mindful penury, the days and months passed quickly even if anxiety was a constant companion.

這是1970年代初期,飢饉與恐懼籠罩著鄉民身心,卻又彷彿有所期待。「日食半升,夜眠七尺」,歲月遂在忐忑中流走。

An old man would frequently pass by our place. He was tall and slightly haunched, his face shaded in the summer by a ragtag cap, his clothes tied at the waist in the winter by a belt of knotted grass. In my minds eye I always see him wearing straw sandals on his feet with the legs of his pants rolled up over his knees. He’d always cast a glance in our front door as he hurried by, although sometimes he would stop for a drink of water, gulping it down just outside our house. Though, I do remember, sometimes he took his time and drank slowly, chatting from a position on our doorstep. The talk would be harmless gossip, and his tone indifferent — neither mournful or excited. If it was cold water drawn from the well and in our big water container he’d slurp it down, it is was boiled water from the thermos he’d sip it slowly. We could never afford any tealeaves. I can only ever remember us having tea during the Chinese New Year festivities. One time though we had this small chunk of rock sugar that was mixed into the well water. Everyone thought it tasted marvellous. My mother was always particularly courteous towards this old man, greeting him and seeing him off with great politeness.

時常有位老人打門前經過。身板高大,微駝背。夏季破帽遮顏,冬季腰間系根草繩。印象中總是穿雙草鞋,褲腳卷到膝蓋以上。有時邊走邊朝門裡張望,匆匆而過。有時停下要口水喝,站在門前一飲而盡。偶或慢慢輟飲,坐在門檻上聊幾句家常,齊東野語,無悲無歡。快飲的是水缸里舀的井水,慢啜的則為暖壺里的開水。家裡沒茶葉,似乎只有過年時才喝上茶,有次找到一小塊冰糖攪拌於井水,都說好喝。母親對老人持之以禮,總是恭迎恭送。

All those years later I still never knew who the old fellow was, and it never occurred to me to ask. I do remember him sitting there on the threshold of our house staring at the scars on his knees. I left home in my youth and was always preoccupied with making my way in the world, chasing after mundane success, and gradually we all became like rootless tufts of grass buffeted by the times. I became a stranger to my old home, and long ago I forgot all about that old man. Right up until about six years ago, not long before my father passed away. I was at his bedside chatting with him and somehow we got to talking about that fellow. Only then was I finally able to piece the story together.

許多年里,我並不知此公何人,也不曾起過打探的念頭。只記得他坐在門檻上時,曾經好奇地盯著他膝蓋上的疤痕斑斑。少年離鄉,匆匆於生計,追逐浮華,大家都成了無根浮萍。我陌生於鄉里,也早把這個人忘卻。直到六年前家父過世前不久,病床前陪他說話,講到老家往事,這才將前因後果拼連起來。

The ‘Old Man’ wasn’t that old at all. At the time, he wasn’t even sixty. It turns out that he had been a teacher in our local town, a tutor in a small privately run academy. Not long after the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution he was locked up in a makeshift jail under the Dictatorship of the Masses. Eventually, he was packed off to the countryside, his town residence permit transferred as well, so he could forcibly be ‘Re-educated by the Poor and Lower Middle Peasants’. In those days, there was a strict division between the cities and the countryside. The villages were absolutely impoverished, just as Mao had once said: Poor and Blank. Forced to labour in the fields during all seasons, night and day without cease, the villages after having handed over their share of public grains were left being unable to feed themselves properly. Too poor to afford adequate clothing by spring each year they had gone through everything they had stored through the winter and, gathering in groups they would set out to the cities to beg. The authorities did everything to block, hinder and harass them. That was simply the state of affairs.

老者不老,那時節大約尚不到花甲。原是小鎮教師,父母私塾的先生。文革後不久,始押於「群專」土牢,後下放務農,戶口遷鄉,「接受貧下中農再教育」。當其時,厲行城鄉二元壁壘,鄉村如洗,真正一窮二白。一年四季勞作,沒日沒夜,交出公糧後,而居然食不果腹,衣不蔽體,春荒結隊乞討,卻為公權圍追堵截,是家常便飯。

After finishing senior high school my eldest sister was sent off as a rusticated youth to the countryside, leading with a simple backpack. That day, my mother hid herself in the kitchen and wailed. This was an added source of anguish. That’s how that old teacher had been exiled to the wilds to fend for himself and survive as best he could. Political control ended at the water margin, outside the bounds of Greek city states there were no gods to rely on, merely beasts to which one may fall prey. The polities [of England and the United States] on opposite shores of the Atlantic inherited much from this ancient tradition, although time allowed for a measure of renewal and diversion so that the political refugee might have some hope of survival. However, in the Slavic realm ruled over by Communist totalitarianism there was no escape. Be it in the city or the country, the new and the old were combined in a devastating new form that not only gave full scope to the pitiless evils of the past but added to them new humiliations. Truly, the Net of Heaven was cast wide, and none could slip through it. That pitiful teacher, living in the midst of this had no choice but to try and survive in the wilderness, yet never able to exact the net of dictatorship.

大姐高中畢業後作為知青下鄉,背包出門走遠,母親便躲進灶間,放聲大哭,淒苦為平日所無,緣由在此。如此這般,先生等於被逐出化外,任由生死,而生死不得。政治止於水邊,城邦之外非神即獸,此為古典希臘意象,一脈綿延於大西洋兩岸,輾轉翻新,指東打西,異己者尚有一線活口之望。源出自斯拉夫蠻族的共產極權,無孔不入,卻又郭野分處,從而粘連新舊偏鋒一齊發作,既縱容舊惡,復加處新辱,真正是天羅地網。可憐那教書先生,身處其間,只好荒野求生,卻又難逃專政網羅。

During the early Cultural Revolution, before that flood struck, the mass movement allowed people to get away with anything they wanted: all their grievances and hates could find complete expression. Parading the people who had been denounced as ‘Cow Spirits and Snake Demons’ down the village street was like a joyful celebration. I remember being woken one morning by the banging of cymbals and chanting of slogans. I looked out the window only to see what looked like a ghostly spectre but in human form — face darkened by soot, a pointed dunce’s cap, a heavy rope tied around his shoulders that wound around his arms drawing them behind his back where his arms were tightly bound, head bowed and bent at the waist hesitantly making his way forward. The impossibly thin and tall dunce’s cap waved tremulously on his head. His ‘guards’ were waving staffs and clubs threateningly, occasionally striking out at the hapless ghoul stumbling before them and then pulling up his head roughly before pressing it down with all their might. The clubs had a special name: ‘The Cudgel Use to Fight with Civility, Defend with Arms’. As thick as a man’s wrist these clubs were about 1.5 metres in length, painted white and blood red at both ends. As they were ferociously twirled the red tips made it look like a ring of fire, the motion creating waves of wind. If they were taken to a victim heads would crack open, bones splinter and ribs break.

洪水前「運動」勢酣,有名無名的仇恨盡情釋放。「牛鬼蛇神」批鬥遊街是小鎮的熱鬧節日。記得一天清早,睡夢中為鑼鼓和口號驚醒,窗前定睛,但見一干人形鬼怪,臉頰塗墨,頭頂尖頭高帽,五花大綁,彎腰低首,逶迤走過。那帽子總有三尺多高,搖搖晃晃。後邊押送人員,揮舞棍棒,不時敲打鬼怪,將重又直腰抬起的頭顱猛地往下摁壓。棍棒有名,專稱「文攻武衛棒」,粗若腕口,長約一米有半,兩頭塗紅,中間染白。揮舞之際,狀如火輪,颼颼帶風;用力掄擊,顱腦花開,肋骨聲裂。

On another occasion, it was also first thing in the morning, there was a whole pack of spirit-demons tied up with coarse ropes press-ganged into a line. I don’t know why their mouths were stuffed with hay, but they had heavy wooden boards hung around their necks on which their names were written. They too had tall hats on their heads, but they were crawling along on their knees. Their names were written in black but crossed out with red lines. The hay in their mouths really stank and I learned that it had been taken from the toilets: it was the stuff the farmers used to wipe their asses, so it was half rotted and covered in excrement. There were a few people leading the procession carrying bamboo baskets from which they seemed to be scattering lime. This time it was different from the silent shaming of the usual processions. It was a show being put on for the crowd and the Monsters were all wailing pitifully. It was heart-rending and incredibly loud. It’s only when I got a bit closer that I see that there was ground glass in the lime. Where the line of Monsters had been there was a line of bloody smudges on the ground. The lime would get into the wounds on their knees and it must have been agony. The local townsfolk jostled to see the procession with outstretched necks. There were all kinds of reactions: mocking laughter and goading, as well as silent and thoughtful observers, and a few who covered their faces and shed tears. I was only eight at the time, maybe nine, little better than a vile beast myself. This is something i witnessed for myself but although it was scared, and I felt discomfort of witnessing such torture, it didn’t touch my heart of really make me feel any terror in sympathy.

又一日,也是一大早,一群鬼怪,麻繩捆綁連接成串。他們口銜稻草,胸掛寫有本人姓名的厚重木牌,頭頂高帽,跪伏匍行。姓名用黑色書寫,再用紅色打叉。口中稻草臭不可聞,原是鄉民擦屁股後扔進茅坑,早已漚爛,此刻撈起塞進鬼怪們的口中。隊前兩三人,臂輓竹筐,彷彿邊走邊撒石灰。與往昔遊街鬼怪們一律悄無聲息不同,此番示眾,個個鬼哭狼嚎,撕心裂肺,聲震天宇。走近一看,原來石灰里摻雜著玻璃碎渣,膝蓋過處,血跡斑斑。石灰滲入創口,頓如火燒。圍觀鄉民伸頸縮脖,有嬉笑耍鬧者,有靜觀默察者,有不忍掩面淚溢者。我時年八歲,抑或九歲,等於畜生,親歷目睹,只覺肉疼驚悚,未覺心痛惶恐。

The first of these gruesome processions and public humiliations was aimed at the Five Bad Elements — landlords, rich peasants, counter-counter-revolutionaries, bad elements and Rightists — the second was about the primary and high school teachers who had been ‘overthrown’ during the uprising of the early Cultural Revolution. My parent’s old teacher was forced to take part in all of these humiliations. Unable to bare the constant indignities he tried killing himself by bashing his head against a wall but ended up with a cracked and bleeding skull. That particular day, after the procession in which he’d been one of the people forced to walk on his knees over the broken glass and lime as he was washing his knees in the river I saw him picking bits of glass out of the wounds. His knees became infected and didn’t heal but fortunately the Chinese herbalist doctor in the village was able to brew him some medicine that helped him gradually recover.

這兩場遊街示眾的,例為「地富反壞右」,外加「被打倒的」中小學教師。私塾先生場場不落,不堪凌辱,撞牆自盡而未遂,只落得頭破血流。那天劫後河邊清洗,自己將碎渣取出,不料感染化膿,旬月不治,幸虧鄉村郎中草藥煎敷,這才慢慢痊癒。

Not all that long ago, there was an expression, you know the one: ‘The old society turned people into ghosts; the new society has transformed ghosts into people’. But God of Thunder, Mother of Earth: call out to the Clear Heavens above, appeal to the Vast Earth below: I ask you to ask those ghosts and ghouls whose knees are scarred by those wounds: is that really true, or is it a lie?

曾幾何時,有一句話,是這樣說的,「舊社會把人變成鬼,新社會把鬼變成人」。可雷公地母啊,你去問問天,你去問問地,你去問問這些膝蓋疤痕累累的鬼怪們,是耶?非耶?

From the ancient Indian liturgical text, the Rigveda:

你的魂靈向水,向草木
遠遠走去了的時候,
我們召喚你的魂兮歸來
居住下去,生活下去

你的魂靈向太陽,向朝霞
遠遠走去了的時候,
我們召喚你的魂兮歸來
居住下去,生活下去

Even this lament cannot recall the soul of a man who died due to cruel injustice.

The old teacher had a son and a daughter: the girl died from hunger during the ‘Great Leap Forward’, so she was already long departed before his final humiliations; as for his only son, the boy took flight without a word to his parent and he was never been heard from or seen again. Because of their father’s class status neither child ever married; their lives were cut short before they’d even had a chance to start living.

His wife couldn’t bear it and she killed herself by throwing herself down a well, leaving him alone to face the vile evils of the world. He passed the last years of his tortured and destitute life in dire poverty.

這印度古詩的詠嘆,喚不回屈死的魂靈。老人一雙兒女,一死一逃。死者是女兒,「大躍進」時餓死,墓木早拱;逃者是獨子,一走渺無音訊,終不復還。他們因受父輩牽連,未曾婚配,生命尚未開始,便已告別人世。老伴不忍,跳井了卻,留下他孤身應對這個邪惡人世,晚年在貧苦中走完蒼涼人生。

Tears blind me as I write these words, and a bitter cry wells in my throat: …

Tell me, all of you, tell me now: how many teachers were there like that? Who suffered such torments, who faded without a sound, who disappeared without a trace? Who will ever bring them justice? Who?

走筆至此,淚已沾襟,不禁長嘯:三山五嶽啊,雷公地母啊,地藏王大仙啊,觀世音娘娘啊,諸位佛祖老爺啊,你們說,你們說,多少私塾先生,生受傷痛,老來無聲,逝去無痕,誰還他們一個公道!?誰還他們一個公道!?

The world is but like a grain of sand; the leaves fall silently. It’s dusk now, and it’s as though i can hear those wandering souls crying out in the wilderness. I chill runs through me.

世界如沙,落葉無聲,又是黃昏,彷彿四野哭聲,但見漫天冤魂,一陣寒顫。

Early evening, 18 November 2018
Revised in the Studio That Isn’t, Tsinghua University

2018年11月18日,傍晚時分,修訂於清華無齋

I contemplated the darkness of the human spirit when I saw that a big-character poster appeared on the streets of Beijing proclaiming that ‘the Cultural Revolution was a beacon of human civilisation’. The evils of extreme leftism can only be prevented by education and so in a mood of desperation I wrote out these words to mourn the souls of those who died in injustice.

My votive offering to the departed spirit of those so grievously wronged.

觀北京街頭又現文革大字報,竟然聲稱「文革是人類文明的燈塔」,不禁感慨人性幽暗。極左勢力邪惡,唯賴啓蒙防範,遂奮筆疾書,草就此文,以祭奠那些屈死的在天魂靈。

Professor Xu’s Explanation

意指古希臘城邦政治區分敵我,將敵人或者罪犯驅逐出城邦,便生死由他自己了。後來的英美政治也有這種特性。它們好歹在國內政治中給對手一個博奕的規則與逃走的機會。到共產極權源自蘇俄,將古代法家的刻薄與現代共產極權的殘暴,結合起來,既不講規則,又將敵人驅逐與沒有政治但卻嚴加控制的鄉村,用新舊兩種酷法打擊教書先生們也!

此处“郭野”用的是古代關於城郭郊野的區分,意指當時共產極權不分城市還是鄉村,均嚴密控制,但卻故意利用鄉村的封閉與落後來對付讀書人。