COLD NIGHTS A novel by Pa Chin. Translated by Nathan K. Mai and Liu Ts’un-yan

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  ON THE eve of Pa Chin’s birth, the goddess of childbearing appeared to his mother in a dream. The goddess informed her that she had been chosen to give birth to a child that had been intended for her sister-in-law, because the gods were afraid that the sister-in-law might not take good care of the infant.1 On the next day, November 25,1904, Pa Chin, whose real name is Li Fei-kan, was born into a traditional upper-class family in Chengtu, Szechwan Province, in western China. Pa Chin’s grandfather and great-grandfather had both been magistrates, and a few years after his birth, his father assumed a magistrate’s position. The huge family, including Pa Chin’s parents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, and nephews as well as a large number of servants, lived in a traditional family compound under the rule of his grandfather. Of the first few years of Pa Chin’s life little is known.

In the second half of 1907, Pa Chin’s immediate family moved to Kuang-yüan in northern Szechwan, where his father served as the local magistrate. Together with his parents, two elder sisters, and two elder brothers he lived in the yamen, an official walled compound. Life was pleasant for Pa Chin. Every day a mild-mannered tutor taught the basic classics to him and the other children in a special room. While classes were being held, an elderly gray-haired servant waited on the pupils. After class every afternoon, Pa Chin played in the courtyards with his elder brother and a 13-year-old bondservant. The courtyards were overgrown with tall grass and mulberry trees and filled with chickens. The children picked mulberries, gave names to the chickens, and played games.

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