Translated by Li Qisheng and Li Ping, and published in Individuals, from Make-Do Publishing, 2015, edited by Mark Kitto
A View of the Hills
The Mayor read a letter. It had been written by a student named Yangyang in Class Two of the third grade at Green Primary School. The full text is as follows:
Dear Uncle Mayor,
How do you do?
I have two things to tell you. One is good and the other is bad.
First the good news. My parents bought a new house in the No. 23 building of the Future Community. We live on the 14th floor. The house is great and there are no leaks no matter how much it rains. When we stood at the front window, Dad pointed out the beautiful view of the Western Hills. You know, it is because we could see the hills that the whole family wanted to buy this house. The first time I saw the green hills I was filled with joy. I told my parents many times, if only Uncle Mayor could see the view of these hills like me! They told me the Mayor is very busy at his job and we should invite the Uncle Mayor, if he’s free, to join us on the balcony of our home to enjoy the Western Hills.
But I have to tell you the other thing now, the bad news. I haven’t seen the hills for more than two months. When we first moved to the new house I kept gazing at the hills. But I was not so lucky every day, since only when it’s clear and sunny do the hills appear. I keep a record in my math book. Every morning I stand on the balcony and look westward. If I see the hills, I put a tick in the notebook, if not then a cross. Six months have passed. There are only 12 ticks in my book and the rest are crosses. In the past two months I have not seen the hills at all, and the book is full of crosses. It is gray every day and Dad says it’s because of the air pollution. Uncle Mayor, can polluted air block the view of hills? I wish I could see the hills every day, but I cannot! Please help me see the hills, will you? The hills are really beautiful!
I am sorry to bother you with this, Uncle Mayor.
The Mayor was deeply moved by the letter. He picked up his pen and wrote in the margin: “What this child says is very important. His eyes need treatment. Ask the appropriate department to transfer this letter to the hospital concerned. Be sure to make every effort to restore this child’s eyesight!”
Lao Mo did not cough – at least not so often nor in quite the same way – before he became a professor. It was a peculiar cough, a professor’s cough perhaps?
Is there such a thing as a university lecturer who does not dream of a professorship?
Of course not.
In pursuit of this dream, who doesn’t stay up all night racking his brains, by day doesn’t screw up his guts and hold his tongue, swallow his hatred and hide his fear?
Not one of them.
Every year, once a year, the campaign for promotion plays havoc with the tortured souls of those competing to catch the sweet fruit that hangs so high in the Academia tree. Then the wind blows, or someone shakes it, and they watch the fruit drop into someone else’s hands.
How can they bear it?
The angry accuse the chosen ones of plagiarism. They dig up all manner of evidence. They claim research results were copied. The sad ones sigh: ‘How unfair is this world. The Gods are blind,’ while the hypocrites laugh long and hard and despise a professorship as worthless, yet deep down they hope the day will come when they too are despised.
After a lifetime of painstaking academic work, Lecturer Mo, his thinning hair having long since lost its colour, his dreams once haunted by that sweet title but long since abandoned by it, and his hands dry as dead twigs- he was not even holding them out and…
…They caught the fruit (though it was no longer fresh): a professorship!
Nobody called him Lecturer Mo again. His colleagues greeted him with respect: ‘Professor Mo’
Age had ripened Mo (like his professorship) to a point where he was no longer excitable. Nonetheless, on hearing the announcement of his promotion he had taken two pills to protect his heart.
Lecturer Mo -my apologies- Professor Mo used to take a walk on campus, every day, in the midday sun. He held his hands behind his back, his body upright, and beamed at passers-by with a sophisticated yet modest smile that was like a well-thought out paper, the theme of which was confidence in success, a statement of faith in competence, incontrovertible.
He became generous and outgoing. His former, notoriously negative attitude had been blown away on the same wind that shook the tree.
He also began to cough.
Before his promotion Lecturer (I mean Professor) Mo hardly ever used to cough.
But Professor Mo (there you are see) began to cough a lot, especially before his lectures and speeches. It appeared to be a ritual that demonstrated his confidence. It made his colleagues and students smile. It was a manifestation of scholarship.
After his promotion Professor Mo looked years younger. His cheeks were pink but still, when he delivered a lecture or attended a meeting, he would cough like an old man.
After a few months, the cough began to get out of control. His sentences were decimated by it. Concerns arose amongst his colleagues. The cough was perhaps more than just a familiar symptom of promotion. His students were unhappy because during his classes the only thing they heard was the cough.
Professor Mo went to see his doctor.
The doctor pretended to be calm and told him to take it easy. It was just an ordinary lung ailment, at the very worst mild tuberculosis. Professor Mo was relieved.
His family however, was informed immediately of his lung cancer- final stage. No hope at all.
As for coughing to attract attention at his distinguished lectures? Professor Mo only enjoyed that privilege for three months.