At the time Hei Nuo entered junior high, the country’s leader had been correcting wrongs and restoring order for the past few years. Every industry was undergoing a period of recovery and there were a mult.i.tude of tasks to handle, but the economy saw an obvious improvement. It reflected off the families who had their brick flooring changed to cement floors, and who now had adequate food plus other supplies. Some families even had extra cash to afford luxury goods – televisions started making their way into many homes, and by 1983 there were even families who had obtained a laundry machine.
This was probably the earliest marker of the difference between the rich and the poor. Hei Nuo’s family had a lot of people. His Papa and Mama came from the village so even though Papa managed to became a worker, Mama was only a family member, so their income was peanuts 1. Other families had just three or four children, and along with the families who had to adhere to the one-child policy that the government launched in 1976, they managed to strip off their poverty status and joined the ranks of the well-off. In comparison, the Hei family looked even poorer than they already were. Fourth Brother was in his second year of senior high, while Fifth Brother was in his third year of junior high and will be entering senior high soon. The eldest and second eldest brothers were already 24 and 22, yet they still have not tied the knot. This was because they were poor and couldn’t afford the brideprice for any of their prospective partners. The money they earned from their past few years of work all went into maintaining their family’s finances, which ruined their chances of finding a wife.
The two eldest brothers never said anything about this, but as they watched their colleagues and people their age start their own families, their hearts were filled with envy and bitterness. Because they were the older ones, they weren’t expected to study much, so they graduated after their first year of junior high to do apprenticeships. Even after they resumed their senior high education, they didn’t have the chance to take the college entrance examination. Hei Papa had already felt very bad because of this, but now he felt even more guilty. The stubbornly proud Hei Papa finally yielded and borrowed 500 yuan to give to the eldest brother’s girlfriend’s family, and heaped on an additional basket of praises as well. After guaranteeing that after eldest brother’s marriage he wouldn’t need to contribute to the family’s finances anymore, eldest brother’s marriage was finally settled.
Soon after, Hei Papa settled the problems on Second Brother’s side too. Hei Papa asked Second Brother to stop giving him his earnings from work and start saving it up instead for his future brideprice. From then on, the Hei family had to repay their debts monthly, and the tightness of their finances wasn’t hard to imagine. Hei Nuo clearly understood that his family was poor, because putting aside the fact that they don’t own a television, he couldn’t even afford new clothes to celebrate Chinese New Year. Fourth and Fifth Brother have always been more favoured by their parents, so they would receive new clothes. The twins were the youngest which gave them some special privileges, so their wardrobes would see some new additions during Chinese New Year too. As for the Hei Nuo who always had a weaker presence in the household, he was usually neglected by his parents.
As usual, he would pick up the leftover clothes from his older brothers, including underwear. However, his school’s sports festivals have all added new requirements for the students’ dressing – white shirt, blue pants and white shoes for the opening ceremony, and singlet and shorts for the partic.i.p.ants. He had never even seen a new pair of underwear before, much less a pair of athletic boxer briefs. When he was in elementary school, most of the time he didn’t even wear underwear; underneath his pants he would wear tights, woollen underpants or cotton-padded trousers depending on the season. It was only during summer that he would wear his brother’s old underwear. Hence, Hei Nuo had to completely bid goodbye to his school’s sports festivals. His new cla.s.smates were the same cla.s.smates he had for the past 6 years from his previous elementary school, and everyone knew he was fast. Thus, he had to restrain himself during physical education lessons and ended up as one of the last few runners at the back.
Junior high — the beginning of youth. Students were already starting to pay attention to their appearances; girls wanted to be pretty, while boys hoped to have a chance at impressing the girls. But they didn’t really know how, so they just tried their best to help the girls with what they could and tidied up their appearances. Previously, there was a layer of light muslin between the boys and girls that was now sprinkled with the wonderful prime of youth. Hei Nuo also had the heart of a teenager and experienced the ripples of youth, but before long it had settled down peacefully and disappeared without a trace. Because he realised that even if he partook in the drama of youth, he would only play a supporting role. Someone like him who wore raggedy and tattered old clothes was the perfect prop to enhance the splendour of others. Besides, students were more willing to befriend those whose families were of similar statuses.
Hei Nuo’s friends were books. He loved reading books, and had read many books of various genres. He already had access to a few magazines; he liked “The Journal of UFO Research”, “Reader’s Digest” and “Shiyue”2. And because he had already read so many literary cla.s.sics, he became more interested in Shiyue’s “Bone Red” wuxia novel instead. It was this Bone Red that lured Hei Nuo into the wuxia world and the works of Liang Yusheng, then Jin Yong3. Even though today it looks like Mr Jin Yong’s status as the master of wuxia novels is untouchable by Liang Yusheng, the Hei Nuo of that time preferred Liang Yusheng’s works. If we were to talk about who his favourite character was, it would be Li Shengnan, the character from “Jade Bow Connection”; a woman who was deeply in love and craftily deceitful. It’s not that Hei Nuo didn’t have any male characters he like, he did like “Chronicles of the Shadow Swordsman”‘s Zhang Danfeng, “The Bride with White Hair”‘s Zhuo Yihang…… he could picture all of these characters vividly in his imagination, but none of them could match up to the straightforward, self-a.s.sertive and resourceful Li Shengnan.
Due to these reasons, Hei Nuo always scored high marks for his compositions and they would be exhibited as model essays. But he preferred to keep a low profile, so even though his language teacher would recommend him to join some oratorial contests, he would always refuse. His clothes had already shown a noticeable discrepancy from those of children from common families, and his dressing had often thrown him into an unwanted limelight. He had no interest in making himself stand out anymore than he already was to let other people criticise his tattered clothes. So what usually happened in junior high school was that he would sit down and listen to other people present the speeches he wrote, and of course the honour it came with was enjoyed by them too.
1. Okay I am a bit confused about this but in the enterprise’s factory that they work at there are a few different roles. From what I’ve read so far there’s a “technician” role, a “worker” role and a “family member” role – in order of decreasing rank and salary. Idk what each role does but I guess the main point is their low salaries?
2. “The Journal of UFO Research” is China’s only science magazine that focused on unidentifiable flying objects. Reader’s Digest is an American general-interest family magazine, published ten times a year. Shiyue is a Chinese literary magazine. It was established in August 1978 as a quarterly periodical in Beijing. Since 1980 Shiyue has been published bimonthly.?
3. Chen Wentong, better known by his pen name Liang Yusheng, was a Chinese writer. Credited as the pioneer of the “New School” of the wuxia genre in the 20th century, Chen was one of the best known wuxia writers in the later half of the century, alongside Jin Yong and Gu Long. Jin Yong is a Chinese wuxia (“martial arts and chivalry”) novelist and essayist who co-founded the Hong Kong daily newspaper Ming Pao in 1959 and served as its first editor-in-chief. He is Hong Kong’s most famous writer.?
TN: I did so much googling for this chapter cuz of all the novels Hei Nuo read. Btw all the novels he read are actual works, and those are the English names I’ve found for the novels eg. Jade Bow Connection, Chronicles of the Shadow Swordsman and The Bride with White Hair.
Also, Shi Yan appears in the next chap!!! He’s a d.i.c.k!!!!!!! (at the start…he gets….better……I have mixed feelings…….)