Proofreaders: Kai, Lee, m@o, Marcia
“X Daily, lies and blasphemy! You cheat the people, heartless scoundrels! ‘Tis not the time for revenge! But when it comes, the people shall avenge!”
When Xu Ping pedalled past the People’s Square with his brother sitting at the back, people had already gathered in the tens of thousands, totally blocking traffic. A short-haired woman wearing a grey jacket and holding a red loudspeaker was standing in front of a white banner as tall as herself, inscribed with large characters in red ink, passionately shouting the chant towards the sea of heads before her.
Directly west of the square was the city hall and next to it was the office of the major local newspaper, X Daily. A towering liberation commemoration plaque stood in the centre of the square, and on any other day, there would be flowers surrounding it. However, on this day the square was packed with people.
Stuck in a bicycle jam, Xu Ping hopped off like the other bicyclists and grabbed his brother’s hand. “It’s crowded here. You must not let go of my hand.”
The woman with short hair descended the podium, replaced by a skinny, tall guy.
“Yesterday we left off at the topic of democracy. What is democracy? From what I see, the ‘demo’ means ‘the people’ and ‘cracy’ means ‘power.’ We, the people, need to take power!”
An overwhelming round of applause and cheering exploded among the crowd.
Xu Ping was stuck to the spot as though he couldn’t believe his eyes.
Xu Zheng abruptly grabbed his arm.
Xu Ping turned around to find even more people massing in the square, many of which came on bicycles with red flags sticking out from the back on which were written the words “University of X!”
Xu Zheng was holding onto his brother’s arm so tightly that his fingers sunk into the flesh.
“Don’t worry. We’re leaving now.”
Pushing the bicycle, Xu Ping tried his best to squeeze through.
“Excuse me! Trying to get through!”
He pushed the bicycle with one hand while holding his brother’s hand with the other.
There were many students wearing white headbands handing out leaflets. Written in black ink on their headband were two words: ‘HUNGER STRIKE.’
“Please support our cause!”
One of these students came into Xu Ping’s path and stuck a leaflet in his face.
“The country belongs to the people, and we are the people. My fellow student, please feel it in your heart to help us!”
Xu Ping took the leaflet and scanned it – HUNGER STRIKE: A STATEMENT.
He pushed the student back a little. “Out of the way, please. We are in a rush.”
He turned to look for his brother, and the boy appeared rather unsettled in the roaring crowd.
Xu Ping took his brother’s hand, interlocking all ten fingers. “No matter what happens, don’t let go!”
The two boys were half an hour late by the time they made it to the basketball court. Xu Ping locked the bicycle and saw a topless He Zhi running around after the ball. He found a stone bench under a shade tree for Xu Zheng to sit on.
He Zhi spotted Xu Ping and left the court after telling his teammates.
Xu Ping chuckled, “Sorry, Da-Zhi, we got stuck at People’s Square on the way.”
“I forgot to tell you.” He Zhi slapped his own thigh. “There’s been lots of students sittin’ in protest this week. All the roads are jammed.”
Xu Ping frowned without speaking.
He Zhi was a head taller than Xu Ping. He had an average face but was huge and stocky. His skin was dark with a bit of red tone as though he were burning coal.
He noticed Xu Zheng behind Xu Ping and leaned over to greet him. “Remember me, Xiao-Zheng? I’m Da-Zhi-gege. I used to go over to your house.”
It appeared as though Xu Zheng had not heard a thing.
Xu Ping kicked his friend. “What the hell are you saying, ‘Da-Zhi-gege?!’ ”
Da Zhi rubbed his buzzcut and started laughing.
“Your brother still doesn’t like to talk, huh. I thought it’d get better with time.”
Xu Ping stopped in the middle of stripping and replied lightly, “He always has been and always will be like this.”
He Zhi rubbed his nose, realizing he should not have said that.
Xu Ping took off his shirt leaving on the white tank top underneath. He slapped He Zhi on the back. “Okay. Let’s play ball.”
Compared to his friend, Xu Ping had much paler skin and was a lot thinner. His shoulder blades were painfully visible on his back. Though he was not very tall, his proportions were well-balanced. Muscles hugged his bones snugly making him look like a skinny bamboo shoot.
“You look a lot skinnier than last time.” With a frownHe Zhi asked, “Is the review takin’ a toll on you?”
Xu Ping took a ball from He Zhi and dribbled it a few times. “That’s the entrance exams for you. I’ve been pulling all-nighters lately, but it’ll be fine after the exams.” He passed the ball back to his friend and nodded, “So are we playing or not?”
The basketball court belonged to the City Iron and Steel Research Institute, and a number of youths from nearby came to play on Saturday afternoons. White paint marked the court on the cement. Lush willow trees planted along the road lined one side of the court, their branches and leaves swaying in the gentle breeze.
Xu Ping stretched his body, loosening his limbs and neck, and jumped in the spot. The wind in May was still chilly and made goose bumps rise all over his skin.
The golden sunlight was coming from behind the building to the west. Xu Ping squinted as he waved to his brother.
Bonk! The ball bounced off the backboard and spun on the hoop before falling to the ground.
Xu Ping wiped at the sweat on his head and rested his hands on his knees while panting for air.
One of the players on the other team signalled to He Zhi and hollered, “We still got plans. Let’s stop here.”
He Zhi nodded and went to fetch the ball that had rolled out of bounds.
He brought Xu Ping along to sit down on the stone bench at the side. He took a water bottle from his backpack and took a sip before handing it to Xu Ping.
Xu Ping had sweated so much that his face was a bit pale. He took the bottle and chugged several mouthfuls. Then he dumped the little bit left over his head and ran his fingers through his short hair.
“Thanks,” he said, handing the bottle back to his friend. “I always end up drinking your water.”
“Don’t mention it.” He Zhi chuckled. “I haven’t seen you in ages. You’ve been super busy since you entered senior high. Can’t even get you to come out for a game.”
Xu Ping crossed his arms and rested them on his thighs as he smiled looking up. “If it were anybody else, I wouldn’t, but if it’s you, I’d come out no matter what.”
He Zhi laughed cheerfully.
The two friends fell silent. Xu Ping turned to look at his brother who was sitting like an elementary student with his palms flat on his thighs and head bowed forward. Relieved, Xu Ping turned back around.
“You have to hand in the application form at the end of this month, don’t you? What schools are you aimin’ for?”
Xu Ping watched some young men running on the basketball court. “I haven’t decided yet.”
He Zhi considered for a moment before saying reassuringly, “I’m not worried about you, though. You got good grades, so you’ll get in any school you apply to. Back in junior high, you even got into the provincial senior high that was one of the hardest schools to get into. My mom nagged me for three whole days, askin’ me why I wasn’t more like you.”
Xu Ping turned to look at his childhood friend.
He Zhi broke off a section of a willow branch above his head and swung it around for fun.
“How much did you score on the city-wide mock exam?”
Xu Ping said a number.
“Goddamn!” He Zhi swore.
He lowered his head in shame. “You’d have no trouble with the rank one schools. If you do well on exam day, you could even go to Tsinghua or Peking University. It’ll be hard for us to meet after you go to Beijing.”
“Quit your bullshit,” Xu Ping retorted calmly.
He Zhi chuckled and let out a sigh facing the sky. “My dad was right. I’m just not meant for school. Honestly, I barely got half of what you got on the mock exam. University is probably out of my reach, but my brother-in-law’s a police officer for the city. Through his connection, I’ll go to police academy and become a police officer after I graduate.
“What’s so bad about becoming a police officer?” Xu Ping lectured. “It’s an honourable job, and a lot of people want to but can’t become one. Plus, you’re a big guy with some great moves. You’ve always liked to stick your nose into other people’s beeswax, and you can’t even stay seated in a chair. You were born to be a police officer. It’d be a loss on the police department’s part if you didn’t join, and the people would surely rise in protest, too!”
He Zhi burst out in laughter. He slapped Xu Ping’s shoulder, asking. “Since when were you such a good talker?”
Xu Ping flung his friend’s hand off. “I’m being serious. Nobody has time to cheer you up!”
He Zhi sighed. “Well, you’d find out sooner or later, so I thought the sooner I tell you, the sooner I could get it off my chest.”
Xu Ping shot his friend a look. “What, don’t tell me you have stress, too?”
He Zhi only smiled.
“Oh, right, guess who I saw the other day, Ping-zi?”
“Our classmate from elementary, your arch-nemesis, Lu Jia!”
Xu Ping barely blinked and replied with an unenthusiastic “Huh.”
“The guy’s an entire different person. I didn’t even recognize him at first, but his square face and thick eyebrows are still the same. He just looked so dangerous, not like someone our age, you know.”
This intrigued Xu Ping. “What is he doing now?”
“His dad was dragged out of office during the yanda a few years ago, and his mom divorced his dad, taking his little brother with her. His grades weren’t good enough for senior high, so after junior high, he started a construction company with a relative. Now they’re going around buying up farmer’s properties.”
Xu Ping raised an eyebrow.
“You don’t say, he seems to have it goin’ good for ‘im. A gold chain ‘round his neck, a cellular phone in his hand. My dad and brother-in-law invited the admin of the police academy for a meal at the most expensive restaurant in town, and that guy was sittin’ at the table beside us, speaking fuckin’ Cantonese. Can you believe that?”
Xu Ping started laughing, too.
“Lu Jia speaking Cantonese?”
“Believe it or not! I didn’t even recognize him. He came up to me first and even drank a round with everyone. That guy’s got some tolerance to be drinking baijiu like water. His face didn’t even turn pink. He even gave me a card, that little bastard. It was fancy as fuck, had damn perfume and gold embossed shit. Said he was vice manager of some real estate company.”
“I can’t remember, but he ain’t the big player. It’s his uncle or whoever. Heard my brother-in-law say his uncle won the city bid to build the intercity highway.”
Xu Ping nodded.
“Oh right, he asked about you, too. Says he wants to take you out for lunch some time and asked for your number.”
“What?” Xu Ping exclaimed. “Lu Jia wants to eat with me?!”
“Uh-huh, I was surprised, too. He hated you the most back then, had the most bones to pick with you, and he even bullied your brother. Now he’s acting like you two are best buds. What a load of horseshit!”
“And you gave him my number?”
“Hell, no! I told’im I forgot and left it at that. If you wanna take him up, I’ll get into contact with him.”
Xu Ping thought about it with his nose crinkled up before asking, “What do you reckon Lu Jia has to do with me?”
He Zhi replied with a frown, “Not sure. But I have to warn you. He isn’t the same Lu Jia we knew from elementary. You have to be careful ‘cause he isn’t one of us.”
Xu Ping flicked away the branch that fell on his head. “I know. I’ve known what kind of person he was since I was twelve.”
He took a glance at his brother again.
“I don’t want to see him. If he asks for me again, get him off my back for me.”
He Zhi nodded.
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Yanda, or "strike hard" are a series of campaigns by the Communist Party to combat high crime rates and general civil unrest. It has occurred four times so far: 1983, 1996, 2001, and 2010. The first swept through China beginning in July 1983. Lu Jia's father was probably caught in the last waves of the 1983 campaign that in reality extended for several years after 1983, though the majority of the action took place in 1983.
Information on "strike hard" (page 187)
Student protests, hunger strike
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ayszhang says: By the time you read this, I will be in Singapore! Still not too late to arrange a hang out with yours truly :3 Will be in town until the night of the 19th!
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.