Editorial Reviews. Review. It [has] crossed cultural boundaries and fused literary genres in startlingly original ways * Guardian * A book of fierce clarity and. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (Vintage International series) by Maxine Hong Kingston. Read online, or download in secure EPUB. We want your feedback! Click here. cover image of The Woman Warrior. Read A Sample. The Woman Warrior. by Maxine Hong Kingston. ebook.
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In her award-winning book The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston created an entirely new form—an exhilarating blend of autobiography and mythology, of world and self, of hot rage and cool analysis. As a girl, Kingston lives in two confounding worlds: the California to which her. Read "The Woman Warrior Picador Classic" by Maxine Hong Kingston available from Rakuten Kobo. Sign up today and get $5 off your first download. With an. Editorial Reviews. musicmarkup.info Review. The Woman Warrior is a pungent, bitter, but beautifully Kindle Store; ›; Kindle eBooks; ›; Politics & Social Sciences.
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Your rating has been recorded. Write a review Rate this item: Preview this item Preview this item. The woman warrior Author: Ipswich, Massachusetts: Critical insights. This book provides readers with a collection of essays and in-depth discussions of Maxine Hong Kingston's novel, "The Woman Warrior". A chronology of Kingston's life, a complete list of Kingston's works and their original dates of publication, a general bibliography, a detailed paragraph on the volume's editor, notes on the individual chapter authors, and a subject index are also provided.
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Woman warrior Kingston, Maxine Hong Feminism in literature. Women and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century. Transnationalism in literature. My Chinese brother and sister had died of an unknown sickness. Adultery, perhaps only a mistake during good times, became a crime when the village needed food. The round moon cakes and round doorways, the round tables of graduated sizes that t one roundness inside another, round windows and rice bowls—these talismans had lost their power to warn this family of the law: The villagers came to show my aunt and her lover-in-hiding a broken house.
The villagers were speeding up the circling of events because she was too shortsighted to see that her in delity had already harmed the village, that waves of consequences would return unpredictably, sometimes in disguise, as now, to hurt her. This roundness had to be made coin-sized so that she would see its circumference: Awaken her to the inexorable.
People who refused fatalism because they could invent small resources insisted on culpability. Deny accidents and wrest fault from the stars. After the villagers left, their lanterns now scattering in various directions toward home, the family broke their silence and cursed her. Death is coming. Dead ghost! When she felt the birth coming, she thought that she had been hurt. Her body seized together. She turned on her back, lay on the ground.
The black well of sky and stars went out and out and out forever; her body and her complexity seemed to disappear. An agoraphobia rose in her, speeding higher and higher, bigger and bigger; she would not be able to contain it; there would no end to fear.
Flayed, unprotected against space, she felt pain return, focusing her body. This pain chilled her—a cold, steady kind of surface pain. Inside, spasmodically, the other pain, the pain of the child, heated her. For hours she lay on the ground, alternately body and space.
Sometimes a vision of normal comfort obliterated reality: She saw them congratulating one another, high joy on the mornings the rice shoots came up. When these pictures burst, the stars drew yet further apart. Black space opened. She got to her feet to ght better and remembered that old-fashioned women gave birth in their pigsties to fool the jealous, pain-dealing gods, who do not snatch piglets. Before the next spasms could stop her, she ran to the pigsty, each step a rushing out into emptiness.
She climbed over the fence and knelt in the dirt. It was good to have a fence enclosing her, a tribal person alone. Laboring, this woman who had carried her child as a foreign growth that sickened her every day, expelled it at last. She reached down to touch the hot, wet, moving mass, surely smaller than anything human, and could feel that it was human after all— ngers, toes, nails, nose.
She pulled it up on to her belly, and it lay curled there, butt in the air, feet precisely tucked one under the other. She opened her loose shirt and buttoned the child inside. After resting, it squirmed and thrashed and she pushed it up to her breast. It turned its head this way and that until it found her nipple.
There, it made little snu ing noises. She clenched her teeth at its preciousness, lovely as a young calf, a piglet, a little dog. She may have gone to the pigsty as a last act of responsibility: It would look after her soul, leaving supplies on her grave. But how would this tiny child without family nd her grave when there would be no marker for her anywhere, neither in the earth nor the family hall? No one would give her a family hall name.
She had taken the child with her into the wastes. At its birth the two of them had felt the same raw pain of separation, a wound that only the family pressing tight could close.
A child with no descent line would not soften her life but only trail after her, ghostlike, begging her to give it purpose. At dawn the villagers on their way to the fields would stand around the fence and look. Full of milk, the little ghost slept. When it awoke, she hardened her breasts against the milk that crying loosens. Toward morning she picked up the baby and walked to the well. Carrying the baby to the well shows loving. Otherwise abandon it.
Turn its face into the mud. Mothers who love their children take them along. It was probably a girl; there is some hope of forgiveness for boys. Your father does not want to hear her name. She has never been born. I have thought that my family, having settled among immigrants who had also been their neighbors in the ancestral land, needed to clean their name, and a wrong word would incite the kinspeople even here.
But there is more to this silence: And I have. People who can comfort the dead can also chase after them to hurt them further—a reverse ancestor worship.
Her betrayal so maddened them, they saw to it that she would su er forever, even after death. Always hungry, always needing, she would have to beg food from other ghosts, snatch and steal it from those whose living descendants give them gifts. She would have to ght the ghosts massed at crossroads for the buns a few thoughtful citizens leave to decoy her away from village and home so that the ancestral spirits could feast unharassed.
At peace, they could act like gods, not ghosts, their descent lines providing them with paper suits and dresses, spirit money, paper houses, paper automobiles, chicken, meat, and rice into eternity—essences delivered up in smoke and ames, steam and incense rising from each rice bowl. In an attempt to make the Chinese care for people outside the family, Chairman Mao encourages us now to give our paper replicas to the spirits of outstanding soldiers and workers, no matter whose ancestors they may be.
My aunt remains forever hungry. Goods are not distributed evenly among the dead. My aunt haunts me—her ghost drawn to me because now, after fty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper to her, though not origamied into houses and clothes.
I do not think she always means me well. I am telling on her, and she was a spite suicide, drowning herself in the drinking water. The Chinese are always very frightened of the drowned one, whose weeping ghost, wet hair hanging and skin bloated, waits silently by the water to pull down a substitute. We could be heroines, swordswomen. Even if she had to rage across all China, a swordswoman got even with anybody who hurt her family.
Perhaps women were once so dangerous that they had to have their feet bound. It was a woman who invented white crane boxing only two hundred years ago. She was already an expert pole ghter, daughter of a teacher trained at the Shao-lin temple, where there lived an order of ghting monks.
She was combing her hair one morning when a white crane alighted outside her window. She teased it with her pole, which it pushed aside with a soft brush of its wing. Amazed, she dashed outside and tried to knock the crane o its perch. It snapped her pole in two. Recognizing the presence of great power, she asked the spirit of the white crane if it would teach her to ght. It answered with a cry that white crane boxers imitate today. Later the bird returned as an old man, and he guided her boxing for many years.
Thus she gave the world a new martial art. This was one of the tamer, more modern stories, mere introduction. My mother told others that followed swordswomen through woods and palaces for years. Night after night my mother would talk-story until we fell asleep. And on Sundays, from noon to midnight, we went to the movies at the Confucius Church. At last I saw that I too had been in the presence of great power, my mother talking- story.
Instantly I remembered that as a child I had followed my mother about the house, the two of us singing about how Fa Mu Lan fought gloriously and returned alive from war to settle in the village.
I had forgotten this chant that was once mine, given me by my mother, who may not have known its power to remind. She said I would grow up a wife and a slave, but she taught me the song of the warrior woman, Fa Mu Lan. I would have to grow up a warrior woman. The call would come from a bird that ew over our roof. I would be a little girl of seven the day I followed the bird away into the mountains. The brambles would tear o my shoes and the rocks cut my feet and ngers, but I would keep climbing, eyes upward to follow the bird.
We would go around and around the tallest mountain, climbing ever upward. I would drink from the river, which I would meet again and again. We would go so high the plants would change, and the river that ows past the village would become a waterfall.
At the height where the bird used to disappear, the clouds would gray the world like an ink wash. Even when I got used to that gray, I would only see peaks as if shaded in pencil, rocks like charcoal rubbings, everything so murky. There would be just two black strokes—the bird.
Suddenly, without noise, I would break clear into a yellow, warm world. New trees would lean toward me at mountain angles, but when I looked for the village, it would have vanished under the clouds. The door opened, and an old man and an old woman came out carrying bowls of rice and soup and a leafy branch of peaches. Do you have any cookies? I like chocolate chip cookies. They gave me an egg, as if it were my birthday, and tea, though they were older than I, but I poured for them.
The teapot and the rice pot seemed bottomless, but perhaps not; the old couple ate very little except for peaches.
When the mountains and the pines turned into blue oxen, blue dogs, and blue people standing, the old couple asked me to spend the night in the hut.
I thought about the long way down in the ghostly dark and decided yes. The inside of the hut seemed as large as the outdoors.
Pine needles covered the oor in thick patterns; someone had carefully arranged the yellow, green, and brown pine needles according to age. When I stepped carelessly and mussed a line, my feet kicked up new blends of earth colors, but the old man and old woman walked so lightly that their feet never stirred the designs by a needle.
A rock grew in the middle of the house, and that was their table. The benches were fallen trees. Ferns and shade owers grew out of one wall, the mountainside itself. The old couple tucked me into a bed just my width. The rope was tied to the roof, and the roof opened up like a basket lid. I would sleep with the moon and the stars. In the morning light I could see her earlobes pierced with gold.
We can train you to become a warrior. The old man untied the drinking gourd slung across his back. He lifted the lid by its stem and looked for something in the water.
At rst I saw only water so clear it magni ed the bers in the walls of the gourd.
On the surface, I saw only my own round re ection. The old man encircled the neck of the gourd with his thumb and index nger and gave it a shake. As the water shook, then settled, the colors and lights shimmered into a picture, not re ecting anything I could see around me. There at the bottom of the gourd were my mother and father scanning the sky, which was where I was.
The water shook and became just water again. You can go pull sweet potatoes, or you can stay with us and learn how to ght barbarians and bandits. You can be remembered by the Han people for your dutifulness. So the hut became my home, and I found out that the old woman did not arrange the pine needles by hand.
She opened the roof; an autumn wind would come up, and the needles fell in braids—brown strands, green strands, yellow strands. The old woman waved her arms in conducting motions; she blew softly with her mouth. I thought, nature certainly works differently on mountains than in valleys. At night, the mice and toads looked at me, their eyes quick stars and slow stars.
Not once would I see a three-legged toad, though; you need strings of cash to bait them. The two old people led me in exercises that began at dawn and ended at sunset so that I could watch our shadows grow and shrink and grow again, rooted to the earth. I learned to move my ngers, hands, feet, head, and entire body in circles. After ve years my body became so strong that I could control even the dilations of the pupils inside my irises.
After six years the deer let me run beside them.
I could jump twenty feet into the air from a standstill, leaping like a monkey over the hut. Every creature has a hiding skill and a ghting skill a warrior can use. When birds alighted on my palm, I could yield my muscles under their feet and give them no base from which to fly away.
But I could not fly like the bird that led me here, except in large, free dreams. During the seventh year I would be fourteen , the two old people led me blindfolded to the mountains of the white tigers. A wind buoyed me up over the roots, the rocks, the little hills. We reached the tiger place in no time—a mountain peak three feet three from the sky. We had to bend over. The old people waved once, slid down the mountain, and disappeared around a tree. The old woman, good with the bow and arrow, took them with her; the old man took the water gourd.
I would have to survive bare-handed. Snow lay on the ground, and snow fell in loose gusts—another way the dragon breathes. I walked in the direction from which we had come, and when I reached the timberline, I collected wood broken from the cherry tree, the peony, and the walnut, which is the tree of life.
Fire, the old people had taught me, is stored in trees that grow red owers or red berries in the spring or whose leaves turn red in the fall. I took the wood from the protected spots beneath the trees and wrapped it in my scarf to keep dry. I dug where squirrels might have come, stealing one or two nuts at each place.
These I also wrapped in my scarf. It is possible, the old people said, for a human being to live for fty days on water. I would save the roots and nuts for hard climbs, the places where nothing grew, the emergency should I not find the hut. This time there would be no bird to follow. The rst night I burned half of the wood and slept curled against the mountain.
I heard the white tigers prowling on the other side of the re, but I could not distinguish them from the snow patches. The morning rose perfectly. I hurried along, again collecting wood and edibles. I ate nothing and only drank the snow my fires made run. The rst two days were gifts, the fasting so easy to do, I so smug in my strength that on the third day, the hardest, I caught myself sitting on the ground, opening the scarf and staring at the nuts and dry roots.
That night I burned up most of the wood I had collected, unable to sleep for facing my death—if not death here, then death someday. The moon animals that did not hibernate came out to hunt, but I had given up the habits of a carnivore since living with the old people. On the fourth and fth days, my eyesight sharp with hunger, I saw deer and used their trails when our ways coincided.
Where the deer nibbled, I gathered the fungus, the fungus of immortality. At noon on the tenth day I packed snow, white as rice, into the worn center of a rock pointed out to me by a nger of ice, and around the rock I built a re.
In the warming water I put roots, nuts, and the fungus of immortality. For variety I ate a quarter of the nuts and roots raw. Oh, green joyous rush inside my mouth, my head, my stomach, my toes, my soul—the best meal of my life. One day I found that I was striding long distances without hindrance, my bundle light. Food had become so scarce that I was no longer stopping to collect it. I had walked into dead land. Here even the snow stopped.
I did not go back to the richer areas, where I could not stay anyway, but, resolving to fast until I got halfway to the next woods, I started across the dry rocks. Heavily weighed down by the wood on my back, branches poking maddeningly, I had burned almost all of the fuel not to waste strength lugging it.
Somewhere in the dead land I lost count of the days. It seemed as if I had been walking forever; life had never been di erent from this. An old man and an old woman were help I had only wished for.
I was fourteen years old and lost from my village. I was walking in circles. Or was that yet to come? I wanted my mother and father. The old man and old woman were only a part of this lostness and this hunger. One nightfall I ate the last of my food but had enough sticks for a good re. I stared into the ames, which reminded me about helping my mother with the cooking and made me cry.
It was very strange looking through water into re and seeing my mother again. I nodded, orange and warm. A white rabbit hopped beside me, and for a moment I thought it was a blob of snow that had fallen out of the sky. The rabbit and I studied each other. Rabbits taste like chickens. My mother and father had taught me how to hit rabbits over the head with wine jugs, then skin them cleanly for fur vests. Let me put on another branch, then. I had learned from rabbits to kick backward. Perhaps this one was sick because normally the animals did not like re.
The rabbit seemed alert enough, however, looking at me so acutely, bounding up to the re. But it did not stop when it got to the edge. It turned its face once toward me, then jumped into the re. The re went down for a moment, as if crouching in surprise, then the ames shot up taller than before.
When the re became calm again, I saw the rabbit had turned into meat, browned just right. I ate it, knowing the rabbit had sacri ced itself for me.
It had made me a gift of meat. When you have been walking through trees hour after hour—and I nally reached trees after the dead land—branches cross out everything, no relief whichever way your head turns until your eyes start to invent new sights. They were light; they were molten, changing gold—Chinese lion dancers, African lion dancers in midstep. Manes grew tall into feathers that shone—became light rays. Then the dancers danced the future—a machine-future—in clothes I had never seen before.
I am watching the centuries pass in moments because suddenly I understand time, which is spinning and xed like the North Star. The man and the woman grow bigger and bigger, so bright. All light. They are tall angels in two rows. They have high white wings on their backs. Perhaps there are in nite angels; perhaps I see two angels in their consecutive moments.
I cannot bear their brightness and cover my eyes, which hurt from opening so wide without a blink. When I put my hands down to look again, I recognize the old brown man and the old gray woman walking toward me out of the pine forest. Afterward, whenever I did not eat for long, as during famine or battle, I could stare at ordinary people and see their light and gold.
I could see their dance. When I get hungry enough, then killing and falling are dancing too. The old people fed me hot vegetable soup. Then they asked me to talk-story about what happened in the mountains of the white tigers. I told them that the white tigers had stalked me through the snow but that I had fought them o with burning branches, and my great-grandparents had come to lead me safely through the forests. I had met a rabbit who taught me about self-immolation and how to speed up transmigration: That made them laugh.
I would want to tell them about that last moment of my journey; but it was only one moment out of the weeks that I had been gone, and its telling would keep till morning. Besides, the two people must already know. In the next years, when I suddenly came upon them or when I caught them out of the corners of my eyes, he appeared as a handsome young man, tall with long black hair, and she, as a beautiful young woman who ran bare-legged through the trees.
In the spring she dressed like a bride; she wore juniper leaves in her hair and a black embroidered jacket. I learned to shoot accurately because my teachers held the targets. Often when sighting along an arrow, there to the side I would glimpse the young man or young woman, but when I looked directly, he or she would be old again.
After I returned from my survival test, the two old people trained me in dragon ways, which took another eight years. Copying the tigers, their stalking kill and their anger, had been a wild, bloodthirsty joy. Tigers are easy to nd, but I needed adult wisdom to know dragons.
Unlike tigers, dragons are so immense, I would never see one in its entirety. But I could explore the mountains, which are the top of its head. I could touch the stones the old woman wore—its bone marrow. I had worked the soil, which is its esh, and harvested the plants and climbed the trees, which are its hairs.
I could listen to its voice in the thunder and feel its breathing in the winds, see its breathing in the clouds. Its tongue is the lightning. In the spring when the dragon awakes, I watched its turnings in the rivers. The closest I came to seeing a dragon whole was when the old people cut away a small strip of bark on a pine that was over three thousand years old. The resin underneath ows in the swirling shapes of dragons. I brought the leaves to the old man and old woman, and they ate them for immortality.
I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes. Pearls are bone marrow; pearls come from oysters. The dragon lives in the sky, ocean, marshes, and mountains; and the mountains are also its cranium. Its voice thunders and jingles like copper pans.
It breathes re and water; and sometimes the dragon is one, sometimes many. I worked every day. When it rained, I exercised in the downpour, grateful not to be pulling sweet potatoes. I moved like the trees in the wind. I was grateful not to be squishing in chicken mud, which I did not have nightmares about so frequently now. They were eating the biggest meal of the year, and I missed them very much. I had felt loved, love pouring from their ngers when the adults tucked red money in our pockets.
My two old people did not give me money, but, each year for fteen years, a bead. By looking into the water gourd I was able to follow the men I would have to execute.
Not knowing that I watched, fat men ate meat; fat men drank wine made from the rice; fat men sat on naked little girls. I watched powerful men count their money, and starving men count theirs. When bandits brought their share of raids home, I waited until they took o their masks so I would know the villagers who stole from their neighbors. The old man pointed out strengths and weaknesses whenever heroes met in classical battles, but warfare makes a scramble of the beautiful, slow old ghts.
I saw one young ghter salute his opponent—and ve peasants hit him from behind with scythes and hammers. His opponent did not warn him.
You can see behind you like a bat. Hold the peasants back with one hand and kill the warrior with the other. Let it run. To console me for being without family on this day, they let me look inside the gourd. My whole family was visiting friends on the other side of the river. Everybody had on good clothes and was exchanging cakes. It was a wedding. My mother was talking to the hosts: Wherever she is, she must be happy now.
She will certainly come back if she is alive, and if she is a spirit, you have given her a descent line. We are so grateful. How full I would be with all their love for me. I would have for a new husband my own playmate, dear since childhood, who loved me so much he was to become a spirit bridegroom for my sake. We will be so happy when I come back to the valley, healthy and strong and not a ghost.
A horseman with silver scales a re in the sun shouted from the scroll in his hands, his words opening a red gap in his black beard. The baron and his family—all of his family—were knocking their heads on the oor in front of their ancestors and thanking the gods out loud for protecting them from conscription. I plunged my hand into the gourd, making a grab for his thick throat, and he broke into pieces, splashing water all over my face and clothes. I turned the gourd upside-down to empty it, but no little people came tumbling out.
No army will be able to stop you from doing whatever you want. You will deprive your people of a champion. You will have the advantage.
But I had ended the panic about them already. I could feel a wooden door inside of me close. I had learned on the farm that I could stop loving animals raised for slaughter. We had lost males before, cousins and uncles who were conscripted into armies or bonded as apprentices, who are almost as lowly as slave girls. I bled and thought about the people to be killed; I bled and thought about the people to be born.
During all my years on the mountain, I talked to no one except the two old people, but they seemed to be many people. The whole world lived inside the gourd, the earth a green and blue pearl like the one the dragon plays with. When I could point at the sky and make a sword appear, a silver bolt in the sunlight, and control its slashing with my mind, the old people said I was ready to leave.
The old man opened the gourd for the last time. The old people gave me the fteen beads, which I was to use if I got into terrible danger. We bowed to one another. The bird ew above me down the mountain, and for some miles, whenever I turned to look for them, there would be the two old people waving. I saw them through the mist; I saw them on the clouds; I saw them big on the mountain-top when distance had shrunk the pines.
They had probably left images of themselves for me to wave at and gone about their other business. When I reached my village, my father and mother had grown as old as the two whose shapes I could at last no longer see. I helped my parents carry their tools, and they walked ahead so straight, each carrying a basket or a hoe not to overburden me, their tears falling privately.
My family surrounded me with so much love that I almost forgot the ones not there. I praised the new infants. After eating rice and vegetables, I slept for a long time, preparation for the work ahead. In the morning my parents woke me and asked that I come with them to the family hall.
My father had a bottle of wine, an ink block and pens, and knives of various sizes. They had stopped the tears with which they had greeted me. Forebodingly I caught a smell—metallic, the iron smell of blood, as when a woman gives birth, as at the sacri ce of a large animal, as when I menstruated and dreamed red dreams.
My mother put a pillow on the oor before the ancestors. My mother washed my back as if I had left for only a day and were her baby yet. My father rst brushed the words in ink, and they uttered down my back row after row. Then he began cutting; to make ne lines and points he used thin blades, for the stems, large blades.
My mother caught the blood and wiped the cuts with a cold towel soaked in wine. It hurt terribly—the cuts sharp; the air burning; the alcohol cold, then hot—pain so various. I gripped my knees. I released them. Neither tension nor relaxation helped. I wanted to cry. If not for the fteen years of training, I would have writhed on the oor; I would have had to be held down.
The list of grievances went on and on. If an enemy should flay me, the light would shine through my skin like lace. At the end of the last word, I fell forward. Together my parents sang what they had written, then let me rest.
My mother fanned my back. When I could sit up again, my mother brought two mirrors, and I saw my back covered entirely with words in red and black les, like an army, like my army. My parents nursed me just as if I had fallen in battle after many victories. Soon I was strong again. A white horse stepped into the courtyard where I was polishing my armor. Though the gates were locked tight, through the moon door it came—a kingly white horse. It wore a saddle and bridle with red, gold, and black tassles dancing.
The saddle was just my size with tigers and dragons tooled in swirls. The white horse pawed the ground for me to go. We took the fine saddlebags off the horse and lled them with salves and herbs, blue grass for washing my hair, extra sweaters, dried peaches.
They gave me a choice of ivory or silver chopsticks. I took the silver ones because they were lighter. It was like getting wedding presents. The cousins and the villagers came bearing bright orange jams, silk dresses, silver embroidery scissors. They brought blue and white porcelain bowls lled with water and carp—the bowls painted with carp, ns like orange re. I accepted all the gifts—the tables, the earthenware jugs —though I could not possibly carry them with me, and culled for travel only a small copper cooking bowl.
I could cook in it and eat out of it and would not have to search for bowl-shaped rocks or tortoiseshells. Just then, galloping out of nowhere straight at me came a rider on a black horse. The villagers scattered except for my one soldier, who stood calmly in the road.
I drew my sword. I have travelled here to join you. Families who had hidden their boys during the last conscription volunteered them now. I took the ones their families could spare and the ones with hero- re in their eyes, not the young fathers and not those who would break hearts with their leaving.
We were better equipped than many founders of dynasties had been when they walked north to dethrone an emperor; they had been peasants like us. Millions of us had laid our hoes down on the dry ground and faced north.
We sat in the elds, from which the dragon had withdrawn its moisture, and sharpened those hoes. Then, though it be ten thousand miles away, we walked to the palace. We would report to the emperor. The emperor, who sat facing south, must have been very frightened—peasants everywhere walking day and night toward the capital, toward Peiping.
But the last emperors of dynasties must not have been facing in the right direction, for they would have seen us and not let us get this hungry. We would not have had to shout our grievances. The peasants would crown as emperor a farmer who knew the earth or a beggar who understood hunger. They had carved their names and address on me, and I would come back. Often I walked beside my horse to travel abreast of my army. When we had to impress other armies—marauders, columns of refugees ling past one another, boy gangs following their martial arts teachers—I mounted and rode in front.
The soldiers who owned horses and weapons would pose ercely on my left and right. The small bands joined us, but sometimes armies of equal or larger strength would ght us. Then screaming a mighty scream and swinging two swords over my head, I charged the leaders; I released my bloodthirsty army and my straining war-horse.
I guided the horse with my knees, freeing both hands for sword-work, spinning green and silver circles all around me. I inspired my army, and I fed them. At night I sang to them glorious songs that came out of the sky and into my head. When I opened my mouth, the songs poured out and were loud enough for the whole encampment to hear; my army stretched out for a mile. Then people would want to join the ranks. My army did not rape, only taking food where there was an abundance.
We brought order wherever we went. When I won over a goodly number of ghters, I built up my army enough to attack fiefdoms and to pursue the enemies I had seen in the water gourd. My rst opponent turned out to be a giant, so much bigger than the toy general I used to peep at. During the charge, I singled out the leader, who grew as he ran toward me.
Our eyes locked until his height made me strain my neck looking up, my throat so vulnerable to the stroke of a knife that my eyes dropped to the secret death points on the huge body. First I cut o his leg with one sword swipe, as Chen Luan-feng had chopped the leg o the thunder god.
When the giant stumped toward me, I cut o his head. Instantly he reverted to his true self, a snake, and slithered away hissing.
In the stillness after battle I looked up at the mountain-tops; perhaps the old man and woman were watching me and would enjoy my knowing it. They had climbed out of their palanquins to watch their husband ght me, and now they were holding each other weeping. They were two sisters, two tiny fairies against the sky, widows from now on. Their long undersleeves, which they had pulled out to wipe their tears, ew white mourning in the mountain wind. After a time, they got back into their sedan chairs, and their servants carried them away.
I led my army northward, rarely having to sidetrack; the emperor himself sent the enemies I was hunting chasing after me. Sometimes they attacked us on two or three sides; sometimes they ambushed me when I rode ahead. We would always win, Kuan Kung, the god of war and literature riding before me. I would be told of in fairy tales myself.
I overheard some soldiers—and now there were many who had not met me—say that whenever we had been in danger of losing, I made a throwing gesture and the opposing army would fall, hurled across the battle eld. Hailstones as big as heads would shoot out of the sky and the lightning would stab like swords, but never at those on my side.
I never told them the truth. Chinese executed women who disguised themselves as soldiers or students, no matter how bravely they fought or how high they scored on the examinations. And since I had no family with me, no one ever visited inside. Riverbanks, hillsides, the cool sloped rooms under the pine trees—China provides her soldiers with meeting places enough. I opened the tent ap. And there in the sunlight stood my own husband with arms full of wild owers for me. He loosened my hair and covered the words with it.
I turned around and touched his face, loving the familiar first. So for a time I had a partner—my husband and I, soldiers together just as when we were little soldiers playing in the village. We rode side by side into battle. When I became pregnant, during the last four months, I wore my armor altered so that I looked like a powerful, big man. As a fat man, I walked with the foot soldiers so as not to jounce the gestation.
Now when I was naked, I was a strange human being indeed— words carved on my back and the baby large in front. I hid from battle only once, when I gave birth to our baby. In dark and silver dreams I had seen him falling from the sky, each night closer to the earth, his soul a star.
Just before labor began, the last star rays sank into my belly. My husband would talk to me and not go, though I said for him to return to the battle eld. He caught the baby, a boy, and put it on my breast. We had both seen the boxes in which our parents kept the dried cords of all their children. We made a sling for the baby inside my big armor, and rode back into the thickest part of the ghting. The umbilical cord ew with the red ag and made us laugh.
At night inside our own tent, I let the baby ride on my back. I walked bowed, and the baby warmed himself against me, his breathing in rhythm with mine, his heart beating like my heart.
When the baby was a month old, we gave him a name and shaved his head. For the full-month ceremony my husband had found two eggs, which we dyed red by boiling them with a flag. I had brought dried grapefruit peel in my saddlebag, and we also boiled that. I altered my clothes and became again the slim young man. Only now I would get so lonely with the tent so empty that I slept outside. My white horse overturned buckets and danced on them; it lifted full wine cups with its teeth. The strong soldiers lifted the horse in a wooden tub, while it danced to the stone drums and ute music.
I played with the soldiers, throwing arrows into a bronze jar.
But I found none of these antics as amusing as when I first set out on the road. It was during this lonely time, when any high cry made the milk spill from my breasts, that I got careless.
Wild owers distracted me so that I followed them, picking one, then another, until I was alone in the woods. Out from behind trees, springing o branches came the enemy, their leader looming like a genie out of the water gourd. I threw sts and feet at them, but they were so many, they pinned me to the earth while their leader drew his sword.
My fear shot forth—a quick, jabbing sword that slashed ercely, silver ashes, quick cuts wherever my attention drove it. The leader stared at the palpable sword swishing unclutched at his men, then laughed aloud.
As if signaled by his laughter, two more swords appeared in midair. They clanged against mine, and I felt metal vibrate inside my brain. I willed my sword to hit back and to go after the head that controlled the other swords. But the man fought well, hurting my brain. The swords opened and closed, scissoring madly, metal zinging along metal. Unable to leave my sky-sword to work itself, I would be watching the swords move like puppets when the genie yanked my hair back and held a dagger against my throat.
I grabbed his arm, but one of his swords dived toward me, and I rolled out of the way. A horse galloped up, and he leapt on it, escaping into the forest, the beads in his st. So I had done battle with the prince who had mixed the blood of his two sons with the metal he had used for casting his swords.
I ran back to my soldiers and gathered the fastest horsemen for pursuit. Our horses ran like the little white water horses in the surf. Across a plain we could see the enemy, a dustdevil rushing toward the horizon.
Wanting to see, I focused my eyes as the eagles had taught me, and there the genie would be—shaking one bead out of the pouch and casting it at us. Nothing happened.
No thunder, no earthquake that split open the ground, no hailstones big as heads.
I stood on top of the last hill before Peiping and saw the roads below me ow like living rivers. The depth and width of Joy were exactly known to me: After much hardship a few of our millions had arrived together at the capital. We faced our emperor personally. We beheaded him, cleaned out the palace, and inaugurated the peasant who would begin the new order.
In his rags he sat on the throne facing south, and we, a great red crowd, bowed to him three times. He commended some of us who were his first generals. I told the people who had come with me that they were free to go home now, but since the Long Wall was so close, I would go see it. They could come along if they liked. So, loath to disband after such high adventures, we reached the northern boundary of the world, chasing Mongols en route. We lay our foreheads and our cheeks against the Long Wall and cried like the women who had come here looking for their men so long building the wall.
In my travels north, I had not found my brother. Carrying the news about the new emperor, I went home, where one more battle awaited me. The baron who had drafted my brother would still be bearing sway over our village.
I jumped over the double walls and landed with swords drawn and knees bent, ready to spring. When no one accosted me, I sheathed the swords and walked about like a guest until I found the baron. He was counting his money, his fat ringed fingers playing over the abacus.
What do you want? He sat square and fat like a god. All this is mine. I earned it. Who are you? Everyone takes the girls when he can. The families are glad to be rid of them. I pulled my shirt back on and opened the house to the villagers.
The villagers dragged them out into the courtyard, where they tried them next to the beheading machine. They beheaded the others. Their necks were collared in the beheading machine, which slowly clamped shut.
There was one last-minute reprieve of a bodyguard when a witness shouted testimony just as the vise was pinching blood.
The guard had but recently joined the household in exchange for a child hostage. A slow killing gives a criminal time to regret his crimes and think of the right words to prove he can change. I searched the house, hunting out people for trial. I came upon a locked room. When I broke down the door, I found women, cowering, whimpering women.
I heard shrill insect noises and scurrying. They blinked weakly at me like pheasants that have been raised in the dark for soft meat. The servants who walked the ladies had abandoned them, and they could not escape on their little bound feet. Some crawled away from me, using their elbows to pull themselves along. These women would not be good for anything. I called the villagers to come identify any daughters they wanted to take home, but no one claimed any.
I gave each woman a bagful of rice, which they sat on. They rolled the bags to the road. They wandered away like ghosts. Later, it would be said, they turned into the band of swordswomen who were a mercenary army. They bought up girl babies so that many poor families welcomed their visitations. When slave girls and daughters-in-law ran away, people would say they joined these witch sites.
They killed men and boys. I myself never encountered such women and could not vouch for their reality. After the trials we tore down the ancestral tablets.
Go to your mother. She gave him her helmet to wear and her swords to hold. My parents had bought their co ns. They would sacri ce a pig to the gods that I had returned. From the words on my back, and how they were ful lled, the villagers would make a legend about my perfect filiality. My American life has been such a disappointment.
And it was important that I do something big and ne, or else my parents would sell me when we made our way back to China. In China there were solutions for what to do with little girls who ate up food and threw tantrums. Bad, I guess. You know how girls are. Better to raise geese than girls.