Three translated short stories from Yuan Zi, a pioneer of "Beijing drifter scar literature"
If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life.
— Eric Fromm, The Art of Loving
As soon as we wake from dreams
Countless eyes fall on our lives
Invisible thorns hide in our flesh
Carried by breath through the years
Like cancer patients in the hospital
Whose gowns inscribe a range of motion
The entrance lies over the IV line
The exit is a tripping hazard
And one falls
But night is finally descending
Night is finally showing its clear, cool face
Because night is for lovers
Night is for those who stand as one
Who fall as one—
Why Are There No Penguins at the South Pole?
Ilift my head and glance at the two red hats hanging on the headboard. Another Christmas, and still no snow. A cold wind blows tirelessly at the window, like the whooshing of a frisbee thrown from above. All of this is enough to banish any desire to go outside.
Recently, I’ve been dreaming about a frisbee-throwing man. He has a full beard and stands on top of a snowy mountain, throwing frisbees. There’s a person sitting on each frisbee. After throwing me outward, he seems struck by some thought and slides down to the valley floor, where he stoops down and helps me up from where I’m sitting paralyzed. Then he lifts me onto his back and returns to the top of the mountain. Resting against his generous shoulder, I feel comfortable and cozy. I feel like everything can begin anew.
I decide to go out, since staying home would only make me feel more out of sorts. As usual, the streets are crammed with people. A gaggle of youths, probably students, stand smoking by the curb. Their eyes are full of wistful care, as if they each had a special someone in their hearts. A pair of lovers in red Santa hats ask me to take their picture, but I refuse. The red hats produce a kind of visceral disgust in me. I feel their suspicious gaze drilling into my back. I speed up, and at the street corner I crash headlong into a penguin. Just as I wonder if I’m dreaming, I see behind the toy penguin a young boy, remote control in hand. He trips and falls. I help him up, brushing away the bits of snow that have stuck to him.
“Thanks, uncle.” His cheeks are rosy, and his eyes are like clear ice. If he appeared in my dreams, would the frisbee man have the heart to throw him into that wretched valley?
“Why are there no penguins at the North Pole?”
“I imagine it’s because penguins don’t like polar bears.”
“If we bring some penguins from the South Pole to the North Pole, do you think they would survive?”
“Well, polar bears are so fierce, so they would be pretty scared, wouldn’t they?”
I can force myself not to think of his face, his soft smile, his warmth; but that conversation keeps replaying unexpectedly in my ears. Back then, no matter how childish my questions were, he answered them earnestly. But gradually, it all changed.
“Why are there no penguins at the North Pole?” Now that we had lived together for three years, I purposely tested the question out again.
“You’d know if you looked online.”
“If we bring some penguins from the South Pole to the North Pole, do you think they would survive?”
“Come on, can’t you be more mature? What’s the point of asking all these questions?”
Alright, I’ll be more mature. I won’t ever ask such foolish questions again. Every day when I got home from work, I cooked, did the laundry, and cleaned the house. But despite all this, he didn’t love me one bit more.
That day I forgot to bring my keys, so I went to his workplace to get them. Through his office window, I saw a charming young man. I followed his gaze as it followed the other man. Then his eyes swept over me, and he stared blankly for several seconds before lowering his eyes and flicking them back to mine. In the split second that he started rising from his seat to walk over, realization dawned upon me.
I had seen this man’s picture in his phone before. That inexplicable overtime, those muffled bathroom phone calls, the refrain of “I’m too tired today”—it all dispersed like fog before the intensity of his gaze, which only outlined what it tried to conceal.
Playing dumb, I took the keys from him and left.
“Why didn’t you call me before you came?”
“Your phone was off.” I even looked back at him and smiled as I replied.
Like every naive lover, I believed that once we were together, we would always be together. I never imagined such a vulgar cliché happening to me, and with such ease.
“You promised me three things. Do you still remember?”
“Then tell me, what are those three things?”
“I’m too tired today. I’m blanking right now.”
Crestfallen, I started crying. I cried so loudly I even woke up the old man next door. I heard a saucer breaking in the other room. Was that his way of protest? I didn’t know. I only knew that no matter how he tried to console me, I couldn’t stop crying.
He went out first thing the next morning, leaving a brief note. He said that he only remembered two things: The first was promising to live with me, and the other was going to the South Pole to ski and see the penguins. “We can’t go to the South Pole for the time being, so how about we go skiing this weekend for Christmas? Haven’t you always wanted to go skiing?”
His words were so natural, as if nothing had happened at all.
“I’ll deal with it, I’ll find a way.”
He was on the phone in the bathroom again. I heard him repeat those words over and over. It looked like my plan was taking effect. I had gone through his phone and found the other man’s phone number, calling him daily at 2 in the morning and chuckling darkly a few times. I put his phone number and photo on every major social media channel and adult site, and printed several hundreds of personal ads about him and posted them along streets near their company.
“Who were you calling? Took you long enough.”
“There was an issue with one of our projects.”
He knew how to keep his composure—let’s see how long he could keep me in the dark.
Then the day arrived.
Wearing red Santa hats, we stood on a mountaintop deep in artificial snow. Just as we were getting ready to ski down, he blurted out, “You go ahead! I’m not ready yet, I’m still a bit scared.” I didn’t think much of it, mouthing the cues the instructor had just emphasized: skis shoulder-width, torso leaning forward, ski poles hanging naturally, balance the force from each leg. But then, with an almost divine sense of premonition, I swiveled my head back around to look at him, and saw him holding a stiff arm in mid-air.
“I just wanted…”
In that split second, that feeling of realization descended once more. “I’ll find a way to deal with it.” So this was the plan he had come up with: manufacturing an accident! He must have spent a long time thinking through the details. Maybe it was that minx’s idea? Taking a congested route on purpose so that the ski resort would be almost closed by the time we got there—this was to make sure there wouldn’t be too many people here, right?
“I just wanted…” A surge of hot fury engulfed my heart. Not waiting to hear the second half of his sentence, I seized the moment and gave a vicious yank to his outstretched arm. He slid forward, quickly losing his balance and dropping his ski poles. I watched him roll toward the fence like a snowball. He crashed into a post, and from a distance, I saw a small patch of red start to grow around him.
I started to scream. Then I saw the instructor with his full beard, holding several frisbee-like dishes. I don’t know why, but in that moment all I could think about was what they could possibly be used for. I even think I might have asked him that out loud.
“I just wanted…” I haven’t stopped thinking about what the other half of his unfinished sentence might have been.
“I just wanted to give you a scare.”
“I just wanted to give you a little push. It looked like you were also having a hard time of it.”
“I just wanted to brush some snow out of your hair.”
No, it couldn’t have been any of those things. Otherwise, how could the events leading up to that moment be explained? Rest assured, afterward I asked many of our friends about his relationship with that man, and all of them flatly denied it. But it is all clear to me; they were only trying to spare me another blow. The other man left the company after he died—that said it all.
The wind is picking up, dispersing any last shreds of holiday cheer from the streetscape. People have turned up their collars, pulling their heads into their necks like penguins. When I get home, I look up why there are no penguins at the North Pole. The internet tells me that there in fact used to be penguins there, but that humans had carelessly hunted them to extinction. There is absolutely no poetry to this answer, but it was just as he told me: Where are you expecting to find so much poetry in the world?
But I must keep going. The third thing that he couldn’t remember, out of the three things he promised me before we got married, was precisely the one he had no way of fulfilling: “We must stay together for the rest of our lives.” As he was sliding wretchedly down the slope after I yanked him, I tried to grab him, but I only caught hold of his hat. Our hats at least can be together for a lifetime, right? I lift my head and glance at the two red hats hanging on the headboard.
Your Grandpa Betrayed My Grandpa
When I was little and my father lost patience with me, he would say, “If I’d acted the way you’re doing now, your grandpa would’ve beaten me into the ground.” Even though my father had already beaten me into the ground many times, he still believed that, compared with my grandfather, he was the pinnacle of kindness.
My father said my grandfather was called Wang Jiwen. When he was young, he was peerlessly strong. Once, when he was ploughing for his landlord, the water buffalo wouldn’t listen to his commands, so in a fit of anger he held it down in the paddy until it suffocated. The landlord tried to chase him down and kill him, so he joined the revolutionary army. He became a division commander and died far from home.
Back then, a wooden board stood in one corner of our family altar. On it were six characters written with a calligraphy brush, which read, “Honor and glory to the families of revolutionary martyrs.” When my father finished telling my grandfather’s life story, he would take out a cloth and wipe the dust from the board, his face full of devotion.
Even though my father always outlined my grandfather’s life in just a few sentences, I never grew tired of hearing about him. I was most interested in how my grandfather ultimately died. I would pester my father, asking:
“How did grandpa die?”
“He was carrying two wounded soldiers during the Long March. He would set one down, and then go back for the other one, so it was like doing the Long March twice. In the end, he just dropped dead from exhaustion.”
What bothered me was that my father gave a different answer each time:
“How did grandpa die?”
“He killed a hundred Japanese devils in one go. Then another snuck up on him from behind and stabbed him to death with a bayonet.”
“How did grandpa die?”
“He was cornered by the Japanese devils and jumped off a cliff.”
As I learned more and more about history, I figured out he was simply blathering nonsense. For instance, he sometimes replied:
“Your grandpa ran under the enemy’s bunker with an explosive pack, but there was no place to put it down. In desperation, he ignited the fuse and raised it above his head.”
“Who are you kidding? That was Dong Cunrui.”
“You grandpa went and blocked a machine gun slit…”
“That was Huang Jiguang.”
“Your grandpa caught fire…”
At last, there came the day when my father told me the truth.
That day, I was once again pestering my father with questions when we bumped into Lao Qin from next door. He strolled right past us, laughing and shaking his head. My father and Lao Qin had never been on good terms. They often quarreled. The previous day, they’d had a fight over the ownership of a hen. Both sides were yelling: “Don’t hold me, I’m gonna kill him!” In reality, others did try to stop them at first, but after they’d been at it for too long, everybody got tired and went home. Thus, the two of them were left yelling in vain: “Don’t hold me, I’m going to kill him!” In the end, they yelled themselves hoarse and went home to sleep.
“Didn’t you always want to know how your grandfather died?” Watching Lao Qin’s retreating figure, my father was suddenly serious. “Your grandfather was actually sent to his death by Lao Qin’s father, Lao Lao Qin. The Japanese devils came to our village in pursuit of the Eighth Route Army, and your grandfather hid in a cave on the back side of the mountain. A turncoat translator-official found Lao Lao Qin sowing seed in the field and asked where Wang Jiwen went. Lao Lao Qin just flicked his eyes toward the back of the mountain. That was how the devils pulled your grandfather from the cave and shot him dead.”
That sounded very credible to me. I decided to ignore Lao Qin from then on. But Lao Qin’s daughter, Xiao Hong, was harder to handle.
Xiao Hong was my classmate. She often copied my homework, and said that as long as I let her keep copying, she would marry me when we grew up. Even though Xiao Hong was a tomboy and often ran around with the boys, I had the vague sense that she was rather attractive, and perhaps could consider marrying her. But after I learned the truth, Xiao Hong became my class enemy. I decided I would never let her copy my homework again.
“Come on, just let me copy it. I’ll give you a marble,” she pleaded.
“I’ll give you 1.5 marbles, and next time I copy I’ll give you another 1.5, so you can have three in all.”
“And why not?”
“Because your grandpa betrayed my grandpa.”
“That’s bullshit! My grandpa was Qin Jiwei, a general in the People’s Liberation Army. How could he have betrayed your grandpa?”
“No, you’re bullshitting! Your grandfather is a traitor who sold out our country!”
Done with listening, Xiao Hong grabbed the exercise book and swung it at my head. I gave chase in order to hit her back.
Xiao Hong sprinted past the edge of the village and onto the narrow paths through the fields. Following the contours of the hill paddies, she jumped up and down between terraces. She was an early bloomer and stronger than me. I followed behind her, but though I did my best, I couldn’t catch up. When I stopped to catch my breath, she would also stop to catch her breath; when I broke into a sprint, she also broke into a sprint.
Chasing and resting this way, we ran several li to the neighboring village. The light was rapidly fading. Exhausted and dismayed, I let out a wild howl—aughhh! I don’t know if it was my sudden abandon that shook her, but she stumbled and fell to the ground. I closed the distance with a large stride and swung a leg over her, pinning her down. I snatched up a hard lump of clay from the field and lifted it overhead. Xiao Hong hurriedly raised her hands to protect her head.
“Are you going to say it or not? If you don’t, I’ll smash you to death!”
“Say that your grandpa betrayed my grandpa!”
“Your grandpa betrayed my grandpa!”
“No, I want you to say, my grandpa betrayed your grandpa.”
“But I’m saying your grandpa betrayed my grandpa.”
“Stop messing with me! If you don’t say it I’m really gonna smash your face in!”
“Alright alright! My grandpa betrayed your grandpa.”
I tossed aside the clump of mud and stood up, ready to start walking back. Who knew that Xiao Hong would pick up the clod and hurl it at the back of my head? It connected, and blood came trickling down my neck. Clutching my head and crying, I ran home.
My father didn’t approve of my valiant defense of my grandfather’s honor. Quite the opposite: The next day at dawn, when I was barely awake, he cornered me and barked, “Kneel down!”
“I said, kneel down!” Fixing me with a glare, he said, “If your grandfather were still alive, he would’ve long since beaten your head bloody.”
“But my head is already bleeding.”
“A little girl smashed your skull, and you still have the face to say that?”
When he saw that I wasn’t going to kneel, he rushed over and swept my legs out from under me with a single kick.
I didn’t give in, struggling back to my feet. Once again, he swept my legs out from under me.
“For what? How did Wang Jiwen produce a useless coward like you?” I spat through clenched teeth.
My father exploded in fury. He grabbed a nearby stool and swung it toward my head, shrugging off my mother’s attempts to stop him. So I ended up with another wound on my gauze-wrapped head. My mother couldn’t restrain her anger and got into a huge argument with my father.
“How dare he use Wang Jiwen’s name!” My father shouted.
“So what if he did?” My mother retorted.
Finally my mother took the board that said “Honor and glory to the family of revolutionary martyrs” and tossed it into the cooking fire.
My father actually started crying. I had never seen him cry. As he cried, he started taking off his shoe to thrash my mother, but a neighbor intervened to stop him. “Don’t hold me, I’m gonna kill her!” His voice was hoarse and raspy.
After that, I never bothered my father with questions about my grandfather again. And my father more or less stopped bringing him up. Xiao Hong still copied my homework, but she never mentioned marriage again. Just like that, more than a decade flashed by.
Not so long ago, I had dinner with a group of friends. One of them introduced himself as Wang Jiwen. At first, the name only sounded familiar, but when I got back to my apartment, I recalled that my grandfather was also called Wang Jiwen. I suddenly realized that I could look online to see if such a person existed. Baidu asked me, “Did you mean to search 王吉文?” When I opened that Baidu page, I found to my astonishment that this commander of the East China Field Army’s Third Column, Eighth Division, was born in our village! I rushed to call my father.
“Was grandfather really Wang Jiwen?” My hands were trembling in excitement.
“You’ve only just found out?” My father snapped.
“But grandfather’s headstone says 王吉闻, wouldn’t it be 文, as in ‘literature,’ instead?”
“That’s because back when I was putting up the headstone, I thought there weren’t enough strokes in 文 and it wouldn’t look good, so I changed it.”
“If that’s how it is, why didn’t you change it to 璺, as in the phrase ‘getting to the bottom of things?’”
“That’s enough! Stop showing off the fact that you’ve read a few books. Why are you asking all of a sudden?”
“No reason, just curious.”
“You’re almost 30, can’t you take things seriously for a change?”
“It said online that Wang Jiwen died in Jinan during the War of Liberation. How could he be buried in our village?”
“I don’t know, from my earliest recollection your grandmother would take us to sweep that grave each year during the Tomb-Sweeping Festival. There wasn’t a headstone back then, just a mound. Aiya, this stuff is older than the hills, why the hell are you still asking? Have you gotten a raise yet?”
I was disheartened by my father’s indifference. It’s a pity that my grandmother died of illness when I was 3, or I could’ve asked her. After I hung up, I felt a great sense of loss, as if the grandfather I had barely managed to revive had died again before my eyes.
Just then I saw Xiao Hong’s profile picture light up on QQ. I sent her a message: Your grandpa betrayed my grandpa. I wanted to see if she still remembered the events of our childhood.
“What are you going on about?”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” I rushed to explain. “It’s the title of a short story, I just sent it to the wrong person.”
“Ha, still writing those stories? Maybe you’ll win the Nobel Prize in Literature one of these days,” Xiao Hong teased. “You sure are busy now; you didn’t even show up when I asked you to my wedding. How are you doing in Beijing? What’s your salary now?”
Watering the Flowers
Their electric kettle was broken. It just so happened that his girlfriend’s company had issued a 300 yuan gift card for a supermarket, so they decided to buy a new kettle together that weekend.
The supermarket was only about seven stops away by bus, but they needed to change buses midway. After entering the store, his girlfriend was, as usual, taken in by various deals. She quickly accumulated a pile of discount goods that they might never use.
“That’s enough. If we keep shopping we might go over 300 yuan,” he cautioned.
“It should be okay, yeah?” His girlfriend’s eyes lingered on the shelves.
Sure enough, at the check-out the register displayed a total of over 500 yuan.
“Oh no, how did we go over by so much? Give me a moment, let me take a few things out,” said his girlfriend, trying to pick items to discard. She looked like an impoverished mother being forced to choose which child to give up for adoption.
He glanced at the other customers waiting in line, pulled out his wallet, and said with half-amused annoyance, “Ah well, no need to take things out. Let’s just buy it all.” As he finished speaking, he was struck with the realization that this very scene had played out several times before.
When they got back, he plugged in the kettle and was dismayed to find the indicator light didn’t work. He left it on for a good while, but still nothing happened.
“I told you not to get the one that’s already been opened! I knew there’d be something wrong with it!”
“But the sales attendant said this was the last one of the model you wanted. What did you want me to do?”
“How could it be the last one in the whole supermarket? She was lazy and didn’t want to check in the back, and now you’re blaming me?”
It couldn’t be helped, so they put on the coats they had just shed and headed back to the supermarket.
On the way over, they waited for half an hour in the bitter wind before a bus finally showed up.
“Let’s call a taxi,” he said.
“It’s only three stops, it would be a waste,” she said.
This conversation repeated itself six times during that half hour.
When they arrived at the supermarket again, the elderly security guard stopped them at the entrance.
“Have you paid?” The old man pointed to the kettle in their hands.
“We bought a kettle here earlier today, but after we got home we discovered that it didn’t work, so we’re here to exchange it.”
“Ah, I see. Just one moment.” The old man pulled out his radio and said, “Wang Wenge Wang Wenge, is Wang Wenge there? Wang Wenge Wang Wenge…”
The old man repeated the name seven or eight times. It seemed that Wang Wenge had vanished into thin air, like the Cultural Revolution he’d been named after.
“He’s gone off to eat. You only need to call once.” A woman with a commanding tone spoke from the other end of the radio. “Don’t you get tired, repeating yourself so many times? What do you want him for?”
“Oh, I wanted to see if he could look at a kettle. A couple of customers are saying they bought a kettle that doesn’t work,” the old man said, fumbling with the talk button.
“Finish what you’re saying before you let go of the button, I couldn’t hear what you said at the end. I’ve told you this so many times.” The woman seemed a bit aggravated.
“Let’s just ask the saleswoman who sold it to us,” his girlfriend told the old man.
“Our rules say a technician needs to look at it first…well, alright, I’ll take you there,” the old man led them to the home appliances department.
“What’s going on?” asked a saleswoman.
“We bought an electric kettle here this afternoon, but when we got home we found that it doesn’t light up when it’s plugged in,” he repeated.
“Didn’t I tell you to pick another one? You were just too stubborn,” his girlfriend said.
“Why didn’t you get Wang Wenge to take a look at it first?” The woman asked the old man, brushing aside the girlfriend’s reproach.
“He’s eating right now.”
The woman took the proffered kettle with a look of deep weariness, squinting after the old man’s retreating figure. She walked over to an outlet in the corner and plugged the kettle in. The indicator light blinked a few times and then, remarkably, stayed on.
“What do you mean it doesn’t light up? Looks just fine to me,” the attendant huffed, pulling the plug.
“It must be a problem with the cord, maybe a poor contact—it was even flickering just now,” the girlfriend hastened to say.
“No, just now the plug wasn’t plugged in properly. If you don’t believe me, just look.” She plugged it back into the outlet and, sure enough, the indicator light came on without flickering.
“Then why doesn’t it work at home? There’s no way we’d come all this way if there was no problem, right?” his girlfriend demanded.
“That’s right, help us exchange it for another, will you?” he chimed in.
“If there’s no issue, how could I exchange it?” The woman started to get heated.
A few beats passed, and the air thickened with a nervous tension.
“Then fill it with water and heat it up so we can see,” his girlfriend said, compromising.
“Alright, if you really must.”
Before long, she reappeared carrying the kettle full of water.
There was no problem whatsoever. The water soon began bubbling. Before long, steam was rising from the spout, fogging up his lenses. He moved a step over, and saw the corner of the attendant’s mouth twitching upward in the faintest wisp of a smile, as if declaring her victory. But his girlfriend’s face was looking nastier and nastier. She stared fixedly at the kettle and didn’t say a word.
The water reached a rolling boil. This sound, so familiar in the kitchen, suddenly pulled him into a famished state.
“The water is already boiling,” the woman said haughtily.
“We came such a long way, of course we had a problem. Come on, help us exchange it.” His girlfriend spoke with forced calmness.
“If there was a problem of course I would exchange it, but the thing is that there is no problem.” The woman didn’t yield.
“Forget it, maybe there’s an issue with our outlet,” he said to his girlfriend.
“I think so too,” the woman echoed.
His girlfriend’s eyes widened. Furious, she spun around and stalked off. Holding the kettle in one hand and the packaging in the other, he hurried after her.
They didn’t talk much on the way home, both tired after the whole ordeal. She leaned on his shoulder and fell asleep. He stayed awake only for another stop. They missed their stop, and had to make another transfer.
“Let’s call a taxi,” he said as they got off the bus.
“Let’s call a taxi,” he said as they walked over to the bus stop across the road.
“Let’s call a taxi,” he said after they had waited five minutes.
“No! We’ve already wasted so much time, and now you want to waste money as well?”
“Why didn’t you say that earlier? If you’d just said so, I could’ve repeated myself two times less.” He tried to lighten the mood, but his girlfriend ignored him. After they got on the bus, she leaned her head against the window, and wouldn’t turn to look at him no matter how much he tugged at her.
As soon as they got home, he threw himself onto the bed, and his girlfriend filled the kettle with water.
“It’s still not lighting up!” He thought he detected a note of vengeful glee in her voice.
“What, no way!” He got up and switched the kettle to another outlet, but it still didn’t light up. “Forget it, let’s go back and get it exchanged another day.”
“Another day would mean next week. Do you not want to drink water this week?”
“I’m really too tired to go today…”
“Being tired is the only thing you’re good at! As if this all weren’t your fault to begin with. If you were a bit tougher, she would’ve exchanged it for us.”
“She wouldn’t have done it no matter how tough we were—there’s no arguing with a menopausal woman.”
“I don’t care. You go exchange it right now!”
“I don’t want to go.”
“Are you going or not?”
“I’m not!” He put some force behind the words this time.
That force was too much for his girlfriend’s frayed nerves. She slumped onto the bed and started sobbing.
“Alright, alright, I’ll go!” He picked up the kettle, shoved it into its box, and headed back out. He got all the way to the bus stop before realizing that he hadn’t emptied the kettle—no wonder it was so heavy.
He walked over to a flowerbed by the road. He opened the box, pulled out the kettle, and started pouring the water out.
“Uncle, what are you doing?” a little girl’s curious voice piped up from beside him.
“I’m watering the flowers,” he smiled as he replied.
He turned and started carefully pouring the water from the kettle, as if he was actually watering the flowers. In that moment, he desperately wished that he could stand there pouring out the water until the flowers bloomed.
– Translated by J. Y. GAN, Illustration design and painting by Cai Tao, Xi Dahe
Author’s Note: I never make up any of my stories. What I write about are all things I experienced either in reality or in dreams. I believe in James Joyce’s judgment: “Imagination is memory.” I believe the longer I live, the better I will write, and I can sense the progress I’ve already made over the last few years. This is a precious reward for a creator. I look forward to what I will be writing when I’m 70. But regrettably, the domestic literary environment is getting worse, and my readership is decreasing. I don’t know if I will be able to hold on and write for another 35 years.
Author: Yuan Zi 远子
Yuan Zi is the penname of Wang Jisheng (王基胜). Born in 1987 in rural Hubei province, Yuan Zi majored in philosophy at Soochow University before taking on various odd jobs in Beijing after graduation including handing out fliers, busking on the street, and working in a bookstore. He later became an editor for Douban Read, an online literary publishing platform. Having discovered his own passion for writing, Yuan Zi quickly gained a following in the Douban literary circle with short stories based on his experiences of living and working in the city, dubbed “scar literature of Beijing drifters” by his fans. He has since published three anthologies. The poem “The Night Is for Lovers” and the three stories here come from Yuan Zi’s 2016 anthology of the same name. Yuan Zi left Beijing in 2019, and is now a full-time writer based in Chongqing.