Excerpt of Under Fishbone Clouds by Sam Meekings
(Page 5 of 5)
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Around three thousand years ago, the Shang kings turned to their
dead ancestors for help at times like these. The dead, they believed,
were powerful. Evidence of this was all around them storms
gathered from frothy clouds, drooping and meagre crops, victories
in vicious frontier wars: all could be attributed to the unpredictable
justice of the dead, moving between the seen and the unseen.
To appease their ancestors, the kings offered sacrifices, slaughtering
scores of convicts and slaves, and transforming fields of oxen
into seas of cloying blood and wild flies. Yet this did not always
solve their problems, and, when rains continued, battles stalled
and queens became barren, they sought to commune more directly
with the dead, to ask them how much sacrifice was enough. They
turned to animal bones in order to learn how to tame the future.
Their questions, for which one of the first written examples of
Chinese was created, were inscribed on these oracle bones and
were answered by the cracks that appeared in the bones after they
had passed through fire for everyone knows that the dead do
not speak the same language as the living. These writings have
survived them, and so another exchange with the dead has been
achieved, though even today its impossible to fathom answers to
their dark and blood-soaked questions.
Hou Jinyi, his cropped mass of curly black hair plied into a messy
side-parting over his horsy face, scrubbed up and shaved and dressed
and smiling especially for this, his first visit to a photographer,
stared up at Yuying. She traced a finger over that familiar lopsided
smile. She too talked to those who could no longer answer, though
she did not expect a reply. This is how she wanted to remember
him, not as the wrinkled thing wheezing fitfully in the busy ward.
She leaned forward to study the small portrait, and slowly let her
memories carry her back to where she always travelled when she
was alone, to the summer of 1946.
Excerpted from Under Fishbone Clouds
by Sam Meekings. Copyright © 2010 by Sam Meekings.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.