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HomeModern Chinese EssaysZhang Xianliang: Half Man is Woman  (Excerpt) ~张贤亮·《男人的一半是女人》 with English Translations

Zhang Xianliang: Half Man is Woman  (Excerpt) ~张贤亮·《男人的一半是女人》 with English Translations

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Half Man is Woman  (Excerpt)

Zhang Xianliang


‘Me? Don’t even ask.’ She laughed, as she reeled off a line from a model revolutionary play. Then she stamped down the earth that I had shoveled in. ‘Eight years: I married twice and divorced twice. That was about it. Luckily there weren’t any children.’


I kept on working, not at all surprised. I had seen too much, and heard too much. In the end, there was very little that I could not imagine. If she didn’t get along that way, how was she to live? Good fortune was a kind of miracle, misfortune was the norm. She, in turn, felt no surprise at my own experience. In that respect we both totally understood each other. Her lack of any commiseration was fine—through the years, I had come to dislike the simpering sympathy of other people.


‘You’ve been in jail twice over these years, well, don’t laugh, I’ve been married twice. Comes to the same thing. At times, I think jail must be easier to take than marriage. The first time, I didn’t tell him I’d been in the camps, and I lived in fear that he would find out. When he eventually did, he asked for a divorce. The second time, at the White Sands Commune, I told him all about my past from the very start. After that, he was always bringing it up again holding it against me. In the end I couldn’t take it, and I asked him for a divorce. First time, he didn’t want me; second time, I didn’t want him. One to one, even! So that’s life, I’m not getting married again.’


‘That’s easy enough. If you don’t want to marry, you don’t have to. But me, if I don’t want to go to jail it isn’t my decision.’ I teased her, ‘Marriage is up to you, jail’s not up to me.You’ve been a lot better than I have.’


From the start we spoke to each other like old friends. There are all kinds of patterns in friendship. With some, you find it natural to be close from the beginning, with others it takes some time before the wheel engage. If the gears don’t mesh, the thing does not go at all. We both ignored the hardships of the other, because we had encountered enough in our own lives. At the same time, we understood each other, because although the form of suffering we each had endured was different the essence of what we had felt was the same.

(Martha Avery 译)

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