Excerpt from The Bathing Women by Tie Ning, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Bathing Women

A Novel

by Tie Ning

The Bathing Women by Tie Ning X
The Bathing Women by Tie Ning
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2012, 368 pages
    Oct 2014, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Rigby

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Print Excerpt

He opened his arms to hold her loosely, so loosely that their bodies didn't come close. She went on tiptoes, raising her face to kiss him, then immediately let him go and ran into the hotel.

Fang Jing could never forget Tiao's first kiss, because it was so light and subtle, like a dragonfly skimming the water. It could not actually be considered a kiss, at most it was just half a kiss, like a flying feather gently brushing his lips, an imagined snowflake melting away without a trace on a burning-hot stove. But she was so devoted and shy. It was impulsiveness caused by too much devotion, and too much shyness that caused . . . what did it cause? She just about missed his lips.

Maybe it was not only that. When Tiao ran so decisively toward Fang Jing, her heart had already started to hesitate. All by herself, she felt she had to run to this man. She responded to her own prompting in one moment, but letting her lips slip away from the unknown in the next. It was hesitation caused by fear, and caution caused by discretion.

It was the solemn and hasty half kiss, so pure and complicated, that prevented Fang Jing from returning her kiss. He didn't dare. And when he loosely encircled her slim and supple waist with his arms, he knew his heart had been captured by this distant and intimate person.


The letters he wrote to her usually ran very long, and his handwriting was very small. He used a special type of Parker fountain pen to write, which produced extremely thin strokes, "as thin as a strand of hair," as the saying goes. This sharp pen allowed him to write smaller and more densely packed characters, like an army of ants wriggling across the paper. He wrote the tiny words greedily, wrestling them onto the white paper. He used those tiny words to invade and torture the white sheets, leaving no breaks for paragraphs, and paying no attention to format and space. He was not writing words; he was eating paper and gnawing on paper with words. It looked as though he were driven to use those tiny black words to occupy every inch of the paper, to fill all the empty places on every sheet of white paper with those tiny black words, transforming pieces of thin paper by force into chunks of heavy dark clouds. He couldn't help shouting at the sky: Give me a huge piece of white paper and let me finish writing the words of my entire life.

No one else wrote to her like that before or afterward. Ten years later, when she read those letters with critical detachment, the patience he took in writing pages of tiny words, the vast amount of time he spent on writing such letters, the hunger and thirst with which he fought for every inch of paper with his words and sentences, could still move her somehow. What she valued was this meticulous patience, this primitive, sincere, awkward, and real dependence and love between paper and words, whether it was written to her or some other woman.

He wrote in his letter:

Tiao, I worry about your eyes because you have to read such small writing from me. But still I write smaller and smaller, and the paper gets thinner and thinner because I have more and more to say to you. If I wrote in big characters and used thick paper, it might not be safe to send it to your publishing house. People might think it is a manuscript from an author and open it for you.

He also talked about his absurd experiences, in some of the letters.


You're not going to be happy to read this letter, but I must write it because you're watching me anyway even if I don't write it. You have been watching me all the time. A few days ago, I was on location at Fang Mountain—you know what I'm talking about, the place where I shot Hibernation. I was making love to actress so and so (she is even younger than you are, and not very well known) but I felt terrible. Maybe because everything was too rushed, and she was too purposeful and too blunt. She had been chatting me up for the last few days, not that she wanted to angle for the part of the heroine in this film—the heroine had been cast long ago. She was maneuvering for the next role. She was hoping I'd give her a juicier part in my next film. Clearly, she has some experience with men. She is straightforward, not allowing a man to retreat, but my male vanity made me hope she at least had some feeling for me. Unfortunately she had none. She doesn't even bother to flirt with me. To girls of her age, I might just be a boring, dirty old man, even though I'm not fifty years old yet. But she wanted to make love to me badly. I admit her body attracted me, but I kept my attitude toward her light, only kidding with her. Later I was turned on by my contempt for her but I didn't understand why I was thinking about you at the time. It was because of you that I so yearned to get a kiss from her. Nothing else but her kiss, wholehearted, passionate, a kiss that risks a life, like the kind I want from you, although I have never gotten it. The only thing you granted me on that evening I can't forget, after which I couldn't sleep, was utmost power, the power of "not daring."

Excerpted from The Bathing Women by Tie Ning. Copyright © 2012 by Tie Ning. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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