Ts’ao Ming (born Lo Ts’ao-ming) originated from Kwangtung province in South China, but she has spent most of her adult life in the north. In the late 1920s and 30s, many writers gravitated to the coastal city of Shanghai. Ts’ao Ming moved there in 1931 and subsequently married the famous writer Ou-yang Shan. Following the War of Resistance, she joined the Communist Revolution in the Northeast. She went “among the masses” by becoming a “cultural worker” in various factories in Changchiak’ou, Harbin, and Shenyang. Her association with a hydroelectric plant in Harbin provided the background for her novel Motive Force (Yüan-tung li), which gained her national renown as a writer in 1948. In the same year, she moved to Shenyang and, using her experience with the Shenyang Railroad Factory, wrote The Locomotive (Huo-che-t’ou). These two novels established Ts’ao Ming as an important “industrial writer” in China. She had been the Vice Chairman of the Northeast Federation of Writers. Today, at age sixty-eight, though in poor health, she is hard at work on a novel about industrial workers during the Cultural Revolution.
Aside from the two novels mentioned above, Ts’ao Ming has to her credit the novel Riding on the Wind and Waves (Ch’eng-feng p’o-lang, 1959) and two collections of short stories: Short Stories by Ts’ao Ming (Ts’ao Ming tuan-p’ien hsiao-shuo chi, 1957) and Love (Aich’ing, 1959). “Spring Is Just around the Corner” (Ying-ch’un ch’ü) appeared in People’s Literature (Jen-min wen-hsüeh, 1958, no. 5) at the beginning of the Great Leap Forward.
AT A FURNACE in Anshan, the entire team waited anxiously for the next batch of steel to emerge. Hopes were high that this batch would turn out to be high-speed tempered steel, for thus far the process had gone most smoothly, all the way from the mixing of ingredients to the smelting. If the entire process for this batch could be shortened to less than six hours, they would be able to complete it before going off shift. This would mean they could turn out two batches within the eight-hour shift. Although this would not break a new record, it would still be an event to celebrate.
Yao En-t’ai had noticed for some time the tension on the face of his team leader, Sun Yao-wu. His eyebrows were drawn up tightly, and the corners of his mouth pushed downwards in a powerful, authoritative fashion. His temper could be quite imperious at a time like this, although Yao En-t’ai knew his mood was only temporary. Yao En-t’ai was accustomed to Sun Yao-wu’s behavior at such times: the team leader ran madly around the furnace checking every item after the smelting had gone into its crucial stage; he became irritable, and his voice often boomed with authoritative demands. The team members dared not slack off their pace; they didn’t even dare breathe aloud. They knew from experience that the more tense their team leader became, the more assured they were of getting high-speed steel. The moment the steel came pouring out and the process was over, Sun Yao-wu would undergo a complete metamorphosis and become a congenial, relaxed person, someone you could joke with or even slap on the shoulder. Although no one particularly enjoyed seeing Sun Yao-wu in his imperious mood, his team was fully behind him, and Yao En-t’ai was especially proud to work with him. His reputation for sternness as well as for confidence and vigor was known throughout the factory. He was a person who was put off by easy jobs, but if asked to exceed a target or to experiment in producing a new kind of steel, he could be counted on to rise to the challenge. Yao En-t’ai was convinced that without Sun Yao-wu’s severe temper and discipline, such extraordinary accomplishments could never be achieved.
It was the afternoon before the Chinese New Year, and every furnасе was competing to see who could make the most high-tempered steel and take the least time off. On this day Yao En-t’ai felt more keenly than ususal that they couldn’t do without team leader Sun and all his vigor. He followed Sun’s every movement and expression. Even a twitch of an eyebrow was enough for Yao En-t’ai to know exactly what it was he needed; there was no need for Sun to motion or call out.
This was only the first New Year since the start of the second Five Year Plan, everyone was already working with a furious zeal. Actually, every New Year in the recent past had been an occasion for all the furnaces to compete in producing high-tempered steel. But in past years, the competition had not been so clamorous, workers had just quietly applied themselves. Those who did well were lauded, those who did not do so well slipped by without anyone taking notice. But now, what with the Great Leap Forward and the Productivity Competition, everything was laid out in the open. And this new openness was a phenomenon that took getting used to.
“How can our furnace fall behind others? We must produce three batches of high-tempered steel, or we won’t celebrate New Year.” The more Yao En-t’ai thought about it, the more fired up he got. When it came time to add the magnesium, he tossed it more evenly than ever into the cauldron.
The assistant just returned from delivering some steel samples and brought along a letter addressed to Yao En-t’ai. When Yao first saw the letter he was indignant, wondering who would have written to him, knowing how busy he was.
“Hmpf, who’s got time to read this,” he muttered to himself. He shoved the letter into his pocket and prepared a long ladle to extract a sample from the ore. But with a second glance at the envelope he realized it was from his wife. “What is she up to now? You think I can just drop everything at the factory and come home to spend New Year with you?” he admonished his wife mentally. Although he refused to read the letter, it seemed to grow heavier and heavier in his pocket, until he couldn’t resist taking a peek at it. On his way to the laboratory with a steel sample, his curiosity got the better of him and he finally stole a few extra seconds to read the letter. Then he quickly thrust it back into his pocket. From that moment on, his mind was flustered. His feet dragged him back to the furnace, his head hanging dejectedly.
He had always found it exhilarating to watch the boiling molten steel. Gentle ripples would rise from the fiery red surface; those ripples would smile and communicate a thousand feelings to him. But this afternoon he felt he had let those ripples down; it seemed as though the ripples were laughing at him, mocking his confusion. He didn’t know how to vent his frustration, on whom to put the blame for his dilemma.
“I simply can’t ask for a leave. Didn’t the Youth Corps Branch repeatedly exhort us to keep up the full shift straight through New Year? How can I take a leave and become a backward element? I’m even a member of the Youth Corps too, just like Feng-jung.”
But the next moment, he was again moved by his wife’s words, “We are determined to struggle for three months in order to complete the irrigation ditch. From now on we will work in three shifts. We’ll have just New Year’s Eve off, and on New Year’s Day we’ll be back to dig the ditch. Why don’t you come home, I’ll only have this one day to be with you.”
Yao was tormented by an irresistible conflict. Was she a good Youth Corps member, or was she a good wife?
The troubled expression on Yao’s face did not escape the assistant, who came up and patted him on the shoulder. “What’s the matter? Does she want you to go home for New Year?”
To avoid answering, Yao picked up a broom and began to sweep up some mineral dust. But the assistant did not let him get off so easily. He went straight to the point.
“Don’t listen to that female prattle. They are always trying to tie us to their apron strings. Hey, man, why don’t you wait until your next shift change to go home? You’d get more time off then. Why bother with all the hassle of going home at New Year and holidays. Take me, for example. Tomorrow’s my day off, but I’ve decided to come work with you guys for the day. To tell the truth, I think fifteen years is too long to wait to catch up to England. I’d like to see us do it in twelve.”
Just these few words renewed Yao’s strength. With a resolute expression on his face and a wave of his hand, he indicated to the assistant that nothing was bothering him at all. Just then the bell rang—the steel was ready to come out of the furnace. The two stepped up briskly to their respective stations to receive the high tempered steel, which was ready at 5:55.
Having changed out of his work clothes, Yao En-t’ai strolled out of the factory gates, bouyed by his team’s small success. This last batch of high-tempered steel had brought them considerable glory. New Year was truly something to celebrate now. But the strange thing was, his feet did not take their usual path north toward the dormitory. Instead he found himself walking involuntarily straight toward the train station. And, as if by reflex, he bought a ticket for a nearby suburb. It was only as he was sitting with the ticket in hand on a long bench in the waiting room that he realized with a start what an absurd thing he had just done.
“You haven’t asked for a leave. How can you go home, just like that? And isn’t taking a leave without permission even more shameful than asking for a leave?” These questions sounded in Yao’s mind. In a bit of a panic, he turned to look at the travelers around him. His gaze fell on an old fellow nearby.
“Pardon me, sir, where are you going? Have you bought a ticket yet? I’ve got a ticket here for T’engaopao, but I don’t want to go after all.”
The old fellow raised a hand clutching his own ticket. “Ah, I’ve already got my ticket too. Perhaps you can find somebody else who can use yours.”
A rugged young man nearby caught the last bit of their conversation. He turned to them and asked, “Where’s the ticket to?” But when he heard Yao’s reply, he shook his head and said cockily, “If it’s just T’engaopao, why bother taking the train? By the time you’ve waited in line and bought the ticket, you could have walked there!”
Yao ignored that last comment, thinking that the young man was being capricious. After all, T’engaopao was a good forty li* away. Who says you can walk there in the time it takes to buy the train ticket? Besides, he had just put in a solid day’s work at the factory and couldn’t possibly walk that far without collapsing from exhaustion.
As if out of spite, he refused to return the ticket, and he didn’t intend to walk back to the singles’ dorm either. He just leaned comfortably back, and with a long sigh closed his eyes to rest.
Suddenly visions of his wife Lü Feng-jung began to dance in his mind: she was nodding deliberately and glaring at him from the corner of her eye, as if to say, “If you don’t come home, you’ll never touch me again.” But Yao smiled and congratulated himself. That vision couldn’t get the better of him; he was no pushover. He felt perfectly composed as he reassured himself, “I won’t pay any attention to her. I’ll just explain to her later that the Youth Corps initiated the idea, and we all resolved to stick by it. What can she possibly say to that?” He knew that she was a reasonable person, so he wasn’t afraid that she would make a scene. But when he suddenly thought of her playful teasing ways when they were in bed together, a wave of longing gripped his heart, and he wished he could fly to her side immediately.
His wife Feng-jung was a woman of many guises. Sometimes she seemed like a kid, but in front of her in-laws, her behavior was impeccable. When she came home from working in the fields, she got right to the housework—fetching the water, fixing the meals: her father-in-law and mother-in-law never had to fret about a thing. When she was with the other girls, she could be as rowdy as the rest of them; but in front of her elders, she had always been a model of propriety.
Yao En-t’ai’s mom bragged about her daughter-in-law every chance she got. “My in-laws really know how to bring up a daughter right. Why she just stands out from the crowd. The grown girls, the young daughters-in-law, all the boys—big and small, they all squabble and make rackets all the time, driving us old folks to distraction, but Feng-jung is not a bit like them.”
The old lady was especially fond of bragging about her daughter-in-law in front of her son. En-t’ai for his part couldn’t help but chuckle to himself whenever he heard her talking this way, knowing full well Feng-jung could play up this image of herself in front of the elders. Only he knew that as soon as the lights were turned out at night and the old folks had lain down on their brick bed to sleep, the young couple would get under the quilt and she would squirm her way into his arms, like a fawn into its mother’s bosom, not even bothering to notice whether her hair clips were poking him in the chin and neck. What really got him was the way she loved to tickle his waist. At some point, he’d forgotten when, she had discovered that he was particularly ticklish at the waist; and knowing full well he didn’t dare burst out laughing with his parents within earshot, she’d take advantage of him and tickle him mercilessly in the dark. He’d strain to suppress his laugh and, at the same time, wrestle himself out of her clutch. Only when he had grabbed hold of her hands would she relent and snuggle her face up to him.
As he was reliving this scene in his mind, the train pulled up to the station. His feet followed the orderly crowd, although in his heart he wished he could hop onto the train in one leap. As the train started with a jerk, he closed his eyes, thinking that he would catch a few winks. But moments later he found himself sitting straight up with eyes wide open.
Where the train was passing, a thick stream of smoke wafted through half the town. Then it would be caught by the wind and scattered into the atmosphere. The huge trunks of nine tall furnaces gradually came into view. Day in and day out Yao En-t’ai had walked past the base of these tall furnaces and had never taken note of them. But at this moment for some strange reason, they appeared extraordinarily grand and imposing. The yellow fumes surging out from the nearby chemical plant encircled the tall furnaces, creating a mobile pattern of light and shadow, intensifying their aura of dauntless strength. A row of ten smokestacks, lined up in perfect formation, caught his gaze next. His thoughts were drawn to the eighth. It was under this one that he, with his twenty comrades on three different shifts, had sweated together, panted together, and rejoiced together. He recalled a time when the smokestack had been plugged up. He remembered well their anxiety and the mad running around. Two shifts were held up, which meant they missed two or three batches of steel. Not until it was finally fixed, and smoke surged evenly up the stack again, did they relax and smile. He stared at that smokestack, entranced; ah, how majestic, it’s slender gray torso standing perfectly erect, wisps of black smoke floating from its top, like the locks of a young girl’s hair blowing about her forehead. The wisps of smoke seemed to be waving goodbye to him. He smiled complacently to himself. “Five hours and fifty-five minutes. Not a record, but certainly impressive enough.” He was lulled into contented reverie, and his little leave without permission for a time escaped his conscience.
After Yao En-t’ai got off the train, he had to walk another six or seven li. It was a snowy evening. By the time he reached home it was already pitch dark. His family had finished making New Year’s dumplings and were all sitting around waiting for him. In her most proper tone of voice, Lü Feng-jung greeted him, “How many days do you have off?”
Even though he caught the subtle smile at the corner of her mouth, he didn’t like her question. Somewhat annoyed, he lectured her in his mind, “Hmpf, don’t you know steelworkers don’t take vacations? If we all took a few days off, the furnaces would burn themselves to ruin. I told you a long time ago that we can only rest in shifts, didn’t I?” However, he didn’t let these words slip past his lips. And how could he? He couldn’t exactly play the righteous role. Today wasn’t even his day to take a break!
Lü Feng-jung was no dimwit. She understood as well as anybody the shift system at the steel factory, and she knew perfectly well that En-t’ai had come home without leave permission. But seeing En-t’ai in high spirits, she thought she’d tease him a bit.
She hurriedly took his outer jacket, brushed off the snow from it, and hung it up. Then she went right to the stove, stoked up the fire, and got ready to cook the dumplings. Meanwhile, En-t’ai’s dad went on in a steady stream about the accomplishments of the village.
“Hai! Even if you don’t have time to come home to spend New Year, you ought to take a look at our village. On New Year’s—ah — that’s right, we used to call it New Year’s, you young folks call it Spring Festival now—well, on New Year’s, we go on digging the irrigation ditches and building the reservoir. Not to mention the young folks, we old fogies pitch right in too, even your mom does her bit now and then. In all my sixty-one years, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The old man handed the first bowl of dumplings to his son, while taking a puff or two on his pipe. Then he went on, “In the days of land reform, we poor peasants and hired hands did our fill of hard work. But compared with these days, that was nothing! The difference is, back then, only the poor peasants and hired hands worked their tails off. Nowadays everybody’s in the act. Ever since the cooperative was established, when there’s work to be done every one pitches in. This thing about taking time off at New Year’s, the commune cadres thrashed it out for hours, and finally decided that we old folks should take a four-day break, the rest would go on with the ditch digging. Now take Feng-jung here for example …”
Presently, En-t’ai’s mom walked in with a bowl of steaming dumplings, catching her husband mentioning Feng-jung, she gave him a sharp look and cut him short with these words, “Come on old man, let your son rest for a while. He must be exhausted. Let him eat in peace.”
Only then did En-t’ai’s dad realize that he had been talking his son’s ears off. Chuckling to himself, he conceded, “Right! Right! Go ahead and eat.” But in fact he couldn’t suppress the fervor bubbling up in his mind. In no time at all he started up again.
“En-t’ai, people may think that the country lags behind the cities in everything, but in this case, I think the country’s in the lead. Last month when you came home, you told us about your factory’s fifteen-year plan to catch up to England in industry. Well, we in the countryside have done you one better. We’re going to have an all-out, three-month struggle to end droughts. Now wouldn’t you say we peasants are ahead of you factory workers?”
En-t’ai couldn’t suppress a laugh. How could digging a few irrigation ditches and building a reservoir be in any way comparable to catching up to England in steel and other major industrial products in fifteen years? What they were aiming at was a momentous target, an all-encompassing target. And digging irrigation ditches? Why, that only involved a single village, or a cooperative at best. He wished he could explain the difference to his father, but he was afraid the old man would be too simple-minded and stubborn to understand, so he just let out a laugh.
At this, the old man’s proud expression turned to one of annoyance. Looking askance at his son, he said, “So you laugh. Well, when we say three months, we mean three months. We old folks don’t want a four-day holiday. We’ve made a secret pact. We’ll take just two days off to visit a few close friends. Hmpf, you just watch and see what we peasants can do.”
En-t’ai didn’t want to be at loggerheads with his dad, so he gave up trying to explain anything. Instead he just went along with the old man, “Right you are, Dad. I even read in the papers that irrigation projects are going on in all the villages on both sides of the mountain pass.”
When the last dumpling had been dropped into the pot to boil, the two women—En-t’ai’s mom and his wife—joined the men at the table. They ladled them out of the pot as they ate. The room was filled with their jovial banter and the appetizing steam from the dumplings. Their talk went from dumplings to the supply of pork, from the strategies for meeting the demand for pork in the industrial cities to their cooperative’s program for pig-husbandry, then on to the cooperative’s project to increase annual production. As one might expect, En-t’ai’s dad got more and more wound up as he talked. But even En-t’ai’s mom and Feng-jung interjected excitedly whenever they could get a word in edgewise. An impartial observer of this scene might think that the three of them were converging on this one factory worker, trying to mobilize him to come home and join in agricultural production.
Around three a.m. En-t’ai woke up with a start: this often happened to people used to working on three shifts. But also something was weighing on En-t’ai’s mind, and he couldn’t sleep anymore. Suddenly he wondered to himself whether the team in the shift before his was putting out high-speed steel at this very moment. He pictured the eight o’clock shift going on without him the next morning. Who’s going to run the steel samples to the lab, remove the dregs, adjust the gas valves, so on and so forth? En-t’ai made up his mind to walk the forty-odd li back to work. The cocky expression of that rugged young man at the train station resurfaced in his mind, “If it’s just T’engaopao, why bother taking the train? By the time you’ve waited in line and bought the ticket, you could’ve walked there!” That’s right! I can walk there by seven o’clock, the sun will be up then, just in time for me to go on shift.
As En-t’ai sat up and was about to get dressed, he impulsively bent down to kiss his wife on her rosy cheek. She stirred slightly. “Oh, no,” En-t’ai thought with alarm: “What if she wakes up and gives me a bear hug? How will I ever get away then?” So he quietly slid back down, kept his breathing soft and even, and peered at her from under his eyelids.
Meanwhile Feng-jung had been awake for quite some time, thinking that her husband was fast asleep. She was about to sneak out of bed. But when he kissed her cheek, she dared not make a move, and just pretended to be asleep. After En-t’ai had lain there quietly for a good while, Feng-jung decided that he must have fallen asleep again. Hesitating no more, she crawled up, put on her clothes, and slipped off the platform bed. En-t’ai distinctly heard her getting off the bed, followed by a creak of the door; he concluded that she had gone to the outhouse. At this point he became anxious. “If I have to wait for her to come back, and then wait until she falls asleep again before taking off, I’ll never get to the factory in time.” He took a look at his watch. In the dark he couldn’t make out the time too clearly, but it looked like three-thirty already. He waited and waited; what seemed like an eternity passed, but there wasn’t even the shadow of Feng-jung returning. Now En-t’ai figured: “I bet she ate too many dumplings and is having a bout with loose bowels. I might as well take off before she gets back. She won’t be able to catch me then even if she tries.” He sat up and hurriedly put on his clothes.
As it turned out, the two old folks had been awake for quite some time too and had heard the two of them moving about. En-t’ai’s mom said to her son in a muffled voice, “It’s early yet. Sleep a little more.”
En-t’ai didn’t answer and went right on putting on his socks. His dad raised his head and spoke straight to the point, “If you’re going out to look for her, don’t bother. She told me beforehand. They were supposed to have a day off, but the Youth Corps kids refused to take a rest. They agreed among themselves to start work in the middle of the night. Feng-jung was afraid you’d be upset, so she told us to keep it from you. Well, she’s gone already. You might as well get a little more sleep.”
En-t’ai was relieved and delighted. Now he could walk straight out the door without worrying about anybody. He answered the old folks lightheartedly, “No, I’ve got to get back to the factory. I didn’t take a leave you know.”
His mom grew uneasy; she fretted, “There’s no train now. There won’t be a train until eight-thirty! You’d best get back to sleep.”
“No, I’m walking back. I can’t make it if I take the train.”
En-t’ai’s mom became really upset. She got up and pleaded with her husband, “It’s forty-some li . . . and we just had a blizzard . . . and God knows there may even be wolves lurking in that wilderness.”
En-t’ai had hopped off the bed, he grabbed a wooden club by the stove and gave the floor a couple of whacks. “With this in hand, I can go anywhere and be safe from wolves.”
En-t’ai’s dad hesitated a moment, then decided to get dressed too. In a commanding tone, he said to En-t’ai, “Son, wait a minute. I’ll walk with you a ways. With two of us, no wolf would dare come near.”
En-t’ai wasn’t about to be held back by anybody. With a couple of strides, he bounded out the door and headed straight for the main road. Good Lord! Was it cold! It had stopped snowing, but there was at least half a foot on the ground. En-t’ai strained with each step he took, but he was already on the road back to work, he was no longer on leave without permission. This feeling of pride and relief gave him extraordinary strength, the night breeze cleared his head and invigorated his whole spirit.
Old man Yao, clutching a staff with one hand and buttoning his jacket with the other, rushed up to his son with a limp. Gasping for breath, he remonstrated, “En-t’ai, wait up, you’re such an impetuous kid.”
En-t’ai slowed down for a few steps, letting his dad catch up with him. When the old man had caught his breath, he started up, “There really may be wolves. Before Liberation, that’s when they were really ferocious. People were hungry in those days, and the wolves were even hungrier. From our own village, one of the Li kids was dragged off by a wolf.”
After they passed the outskirts of the village, the scene grew barren. There was just a large expanse with nothing but the glimmer of the moon’s rays on the snow. The old man kept talking, but En-t’ai wasn’t paying any attention. He had his mind on something else. Being escorted by his sixty-odd-year-old dad really bothered him. Later on when the old man had to walk back home, who would keep him company? En-t’ai made up his mind, and said in a determined tone, “Dad, you can turn back. I can walk perfectly well by myself. I walk pretty fast you know, you’re really holding me back. If I have to keep in step with you, I’ll be late for my shift.”
The old man wasn’t about to be turned back so easily. Puffing up his energy, he rejoined, “What’s the big rush? I’ll only walk with you through this stretch. Once you are on the highway, it’ll be perfectly safe. This is my own small way of contributing to industrialization.” He picked up his steps, refusing to fall behind his son.
The two were still some distance away from the Village of the Seven Peaks when sparks of light appeared in the open plains. For a minute, En-t’ai thought his eyes were deceiving him. Rubbing his eyes, he wondered to himself, “What? Have the stars fallen from the sky? Or have I walked into the sky in my sleep?” When he gathered his wits and listened, he caught sounds of hubbub and laughter through the night air. As they got closer, they could hear folks singing.
“Dad, what’s going on here?” When the old man didn’t answer, En-t’ai asked again, “Are they building a factory here and getting ahead in the night too?”
At this the old man could no longer hold back his proud laughter. He spoke half through his nose, “Son, I told you we had resolved to put up a three-month struggle, and you thought we were kidding? We in T’engaopao are out to do away with droughts. And the other villages? They are all out to do the same thing too! Otherwise, how would I have had the nerve to brag about us peasants getting ahead of you high and mighty factory workers?” He gave a dry cough, deliberately rubbing it in just a bit.
En-t’ai didn’t need to turn his head to look at his dad. He could well imagine the complacent expression on his face. As on the previous evening, En-t’ai couldn’t help laughing out loud at his dad’s views, but he felt it was useless to try to explain or argue with him. When the old man heard his son laughing, he grew indignant. He wasn’t one to be bested by his son; stepping up to En-t’ai he grunted, “So you laugh, huh? You think you can have a revolution without us peasants? Never!”
These words struck En-t’ai as being even more ridiculous, but he couldn’t help but be touched by the staunch spirit of this old peasant stubbornly shouldering responsibility for the revolution, so he decided to make a conciliatory gesture.
“What you say, Dad, is absolutely right. To catch up to England in fifteen years, we need to have you peasants working right along with us.”
Father and son trudged on in silence, each immersed in his own thoughts. They approached another village, and it too was crisscrossed with rows of lanterns and torches as if the great earth were laced with strands of golden lights. Sounds of the young folks’ songs and laughter were carried by the cold wind, filling the black night with a festive, exhilarating liveliness. Instinctively En-t’ai halted to gaze at that shimmering fiery-dragon of a crowd. He remembered now that passing on the train in broad daylight the day before, he did see all along the way people hauling earth in baskets. So it was these very same people, moving mountains and filling in seas!
Suddenly, visions of the flames from his steel furnace beckoned him. The urgent, imperative, and yet confident voice of his team leader, Sun Yao-wu, sounded in his ears. Under the dim light of the stars, he stole a glance at his father, then in a gentle but spirited tone he pleaded, “Dad, go on back, with so many people working along the road, what wolf would dare come out?”
The old man squinted his eyes to gaze at the crowd in the distance. “What wolves? None of them has dared to come out in a long time. It’s just that if I go home now, I’ll get a scolding from your mom. She still thinks of you as a seven or eight year old. Well, okay, I’ll let you go on your own; I’ll go and haul a couple of basketfuls with Feng-jung and the crew. We’ll see the New Year in together . . . and welcome in the God of Wealth . . . Hey, that’s not a bad idea.” With these words he turned and left.
En-t’ai picked up his steps and began to whistle a tune, echoing the songs from the distance. In the next moment, he flung the club aside. With both arms swinging by his side, he took brisk strides in the direction of Anshan, toward his factory.
The night was still bitter cold, but spring had surely arrived in people’s hearts.
* A li is equivalent to approximately one-third mile.