Excerpt of Sky Burial by Xue Xinran
(Page 3 of 4)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
"Our wedding was celebrated in true 'revolutionary style.' A high-ranking
political cadre was the witness and friends and colleagues wearing little red
paper flowers were our escorts. For the refreshments we had three packets of
Hengda cigarettes and some fruit candies. Afterward we moved into the hospital's
married quarters. All we owned were two single wooden plank beds, two single
quilts, a rosewood chest, a red paper cutout of two 'happiness' characters, and
our marriage certificate decorated with a portrait of Chairman Mao. But we were
ecstatically happy. Then, only three weeks later, Kejun's call-up papers
arrived. His unit was to be posted to Tibet.
"We hardly had time to absorb the news before he left. The army arranged
for me to be transferred to a hospital in Suzhou so that I could be close to my
parents and sister. We hadn't requested a transfer but the Party organization
said that it was only right that army dependents should have their families to
look after them. I threw myself into my work so that I didn't think about how
much I was missing Kejun. At night, when everyone else was asleep, I would take
out Kejun's photograph and look at his smiling face. I thought all the time
about what he had said just before he left: that he'd be back soon because he
was anxious to be a good son to my parents and a good father to our children. I
longed for him to return. But instead I received a summons to the Suzhou
military headquarters to be told that he was dead."
We sat in silence together for some time. I did not want to interrupt her
That night, Shu Wen and I shared a room in the small hotel next to the teahouse.
During the two days we spent together, she opened up to me in a way that I had
hardly dared hope.
But a few days later, when I called the hotel in Suzhou, she had already left.
In a panic, I contacted the man who had called me about her.
"I don't know where she's gone," he said. "The other day she sent
me a packet of green tea via the rice seller to say thank you for introducing
her to Xinran. She said she hoped you would tell people her story. Since then I
haven't met her again."
It was not until I went to Tibet again in 1995 to make a documentary that I
began to understand what it might be like to live there. I and my four cameramen
were rendered speechless by the emptiness of the landscape, the invisible wind
that swept across the barren land, the high boundless sky, and the utter
silence. My mind and soul felt clean and empty. I lost any sense of where I was
or of the need to talk. The simple words that Shu Wen had
used--"cold," "color," "season,"
"loss"--had a new resonance.
As I wrote Shu Wen's story, I tried to relive her journey from 1950s China to
Tibet--to see what she saw, to feel what she felt, to think what she thought. I
deeply regretted having allowed Wen to leave without telling me how I could find
her again. Her disappearance continues to haunt me. I dearly wish that this book
might bring her back to me and that she will come to know that people all over
the world are reading her story.
I Can't Leave Him in Tibet, Alone
This is to certify that Comrade Wang Kejun died in an incident in the east of
Tibet on 24 March 1958, aged 29.
Issued by the Suzhou Military Office,
Jiangsu Province, 2 June 1958
Wen stood stunned on the steps of the military headquarters, the summer rain of
the Yangtze delta monsoon drenching her hair and face.
Kejun, dead? Her husband of less than a hundred days, dead? The sweetness of
those first days after their marriage lingered in her heart. She could still
feel their warmth. Of those hundred days, they had only spent three weeks
together. It was impossible that he was dead.
Excerpted from Sky
Burial by Xinran Copyright © 2005 by Xinran. Excerpted by permission of
Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part
of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing
from the publisher.