Kahlil Gibran

Chapter 7


On the fourteenth day of the ninth moon of the third year in the reign of Emperor Hsuan Tung —the day on which Ah Q sold his purse to Chao Pai-yen—at midnight, after the fourth stroke of the third watch, a large boat with a big black awning came to the Chao family’s landing place. This boat floated up in the darkness while the villagers were sound asleep, so that they knew nothing about it; but it left again about dawn, when quite a number of people saw it. Investigation revealed that this boat actually belonged to the successful provincial candidate!

This incident caused great uneasiness in Weichuang, and before midday the hearts of all the villagers were beating faster. The Chao family kept very quiet about the errand of the boat, but according to the gossip in the tea-house and wine shop, the revolutionaries were going to enter the town and the successful provincial candidate had come to the country to take refuge. Mrs. Tsou alone thought otherwise, maintaining that the successful provincial candidate merely wanted to deposit a few battered cases in Weichuang, but that Mr. Chao had sent them back. Actually the successful provincial candidate and the successful county candidate in the Chao family were not on good terms, so that it was scarcely logical to expect them to prove friends in adversity; moreover, since Mrs. Tsou was a neighbour of the Chao family and had a better idea of what was going on, she ought to have known.

Then a rumour spread to the effect that although the scholar had not arrived himself, he had sent a long letter tracing some distant relationship with the Chao family; and since Mr. Chao after thinking it over had decided it could, after all, do him no harm to keep the cases, they were now stowed under his wife’s bed. As for the revolutionaries, some people said they had entered the town that night in white helmets and white armour—in mourning for Emperor Chung Chen.

Ah Q had long since known of revolutionaries, and this year with his own eyes had seen revolutionaries being decapitated. But since it had occurred to him that the revolutionaries were rebels and that a rebellion would make things difficult for him, he had always detested and kept away from them. Who could have guessed they could so frighten a successful provincial candidate renowned for thirty miles around? In consequence, Ah Q could not help feeling rather “entranced,” the terror of all the villagers only adding to his delight.

“Revolution is not a bad thing,” thought Ah Q. “Finish off the whole lot of them . . . curse them! . . . I would like to go over to the revolutionaries myself.”

Ah Q had been hard up recently, and was probably rather dissatisfied; added to this, he had drunk two bowls of wine at noon on an empty stomach. Consequently, he became drunk very quickly; and as he walked along thinking to himself, he felt again as if he were treading on air. Suddenly, in some curious way, he felt as if the revolutionaries were himself, and all the people in Weichuang were his captives. Unable to contain himself for joy, he could not help shouting loudly:

“Rebellion! Rebellion!”

All the villagers looked at him in consternation. Ah Q had never seen such pitiful looks before, and found them as refreshing as a drink of iced water in midsummer. So he walked on even more happily, shouting:

“All right . . . I shall take what I want! I shall like whom I please!

Tra la, tra la!

I regret to have killed by mistake my sworn brother Cheng, in my cups.

I regret to have killed . . . yah, yah, yah!

Tra la, tra la, tum ti tum tum!

I’ll thrash you with a steel mace.”

Mr. Chao and his son were standing at their gate with two relatives discussing the revolution. Ah Q did not see them as he passed with his head thrown back, singing, “Tra la la, tum ti tum!

“Q, old chap!” called Mr. Chao timidly in a low voice.

Tra la!” sang Ah Q, unable to imagine that his name could be linked with those words “old chap.” Sure that he had heard wrongly and was in no way concerned, he simply went on singing, “Tra la la, tum ti tum!

“Q, old chap!”

I regret to have killed. . . .

“Ah Q!” The successful candidate had to call his name.

Only then did Ah Q come to a stop. “Well?” he asked with his head on one side.

“Q, old chap . . . now. . . .” But Mr. Chao was at a loss for words again. “Are you getting rich now?”

“Getting rich? Of course. I take what I like. . . .”

“Ah—Q, old man, poor friends of yours like us can’t possibly matter . . .” said Chao Pai-yen apprehensively, as if sounding out the revolutionaries’ attitude.

“Poor friends? Surely you are richer than I am,” replied Ah Q, and walked away.

They stood there despondent and speechless; then Mr. Chao and his son went back to the house, and that evening discussed the question until it was time to light the lamps. When Chao Pai-yen went home he took the purse from his waist and gave it to his wife to hide for him at the bottom of a chest.

For some time Ah Q seemed to be walking on air, but by the time he reached the Tutelary God’s Temple he was sober again. That evening the old man in charge of the temple was also unexpectedly friendly and offered him tea. Then Ah Q asked him for two flat cakes, and after eating these demanded a four-ounce candle that had been used, and a candlestick. He lit the candle and lay down alone in his little room. He felt inexpressibly refreshed and happy, while the candlelight leaped and flickered as on the Lantern Festival and his imagination soared with it.

“Revolt? It would be fun. . . . A group of revolutionaries would come, all wearing white helmets and white armour, carrying swords, steel maces, bombs, foreign guns, double-edged knives with sharp points and spears with hooks. They would come to the Tutelary God’s Temple and call out, ‘Ah Q! Come with us, come with us!’ And then I would go with them. . . .

“Then all those villagers would be in a laughable plight, kneeling down and pleading, ‘Ah Q, spare our lives.’ But who would listen to them! The first to die would be Young D and Mr. Chao, then the successful county candidate and the Imitation Foreign Devil . . . but perhaps I would spare a few. I would once have spared Whiskers Wang, but now I don’t even want him. . . .

“Things … I would go straight in and open the cases: silver ingots, foreign coins, foreign calico jackets. . . . First I would move the Ningpo bed of the successful county candidate’s wife to the temple, and also move in the Chien family tables and chairs—or else just use the Chao family’s. I would not lift a finger myself, but order Young D to move the things for me, and to look smart about it, unless he wanted a slap in the face. . . .

“Chao Szu-chen’s younger sister is very ugly. In a few years Mrs. Tsou’s daughter might be worth considering. The Imitation Foreign Devil’s wife is willing to sleep with a man without a pigtail, hah! She can’t be a good woman! The successful county candidate’s wife has scars on her eyelids. . . . I have not seen Amah Wu for a long time, and don’t know where she is—what a pity her feet are so big.”

Before Ah Q had reached a satisfactory conclusion, there was a sound of snoring. The four-ounce candle had burned down only half an inch, and its flickering red light lit up his open mouth.

“Ho, ho!” shouted Ah Q suddenly, raising his head and looking wildly around. But when he saw the four-ounce candle, he lay back and went to sleep again.

The next morning he got up very late, and when he went out in to the street everything was the same as usual. He was still hungry, but though he racked his brains he did not seem able to think of anything. Suddenly an idea came to him, and he walked slowly off, until either by design or accident he reached the Convent of Quiet Self-improvement.

The convent was as peaceful as it had been that spring, with its white wall and shining black gate. After a moment’s reflection, he knocked at the gate, whereupon a dog started barking within. He hastily picked up several pieces of broken brick, then went up again to knock more heavily, knocking until a number of small dents appeared on the black gate. Ar last he heard someone coming to open the door.

Holding his broken bricks, Ah Q hastily stood with his legs wide apart, prepared to do battle with the black dog. The convent door opened a crack, and no black dog rushed out. When he looked in all he could see was the old nun.

“What are you here for again?” she asked, giving a start.

“There is a revolution . . . don’t you know?” said Ah Q vaguely.

“Revolution, revolution . . . there has already been one,” said the old nun, her eyes red from crying. “What do you think will become of us with all your revolutions?”

“What?” asked Ah Q in astonishment.

“Didn’t you know? The revolutionaries have already been here!”

“Who?” asked Ah Q in even greater astonishment.

“The successful county candidate and the Imitation Foreign Devil.”

This came as a complete surprise to Ah Q, who could not help being taken aback. When the old nun saw that he had lost his aggressiveness, she quickly shut the gate, so that when Ah Q pushed it again he could not budge it, and when he knocked again there was no answer.

It had happened that morning. The successful county candidate in the Chao family learned the news quickly, and as soon as he heard that the revolutionaries had entered the town that night, he immediately wound his pigtail up on his head and went out first thing to call on the Imitation Foreign Devil in the Chien family, with whom he had never been on good terms before. Because this was a time for all to work for reforms, they had a very pleasant talk and on the spot became comrades who saw eye to eye and pledged themselves to become revolutionaries.

After racking their brains for some time, they remembered that in the Convent of Quiet Self-improvement there was an imperial tablet inscribed “Long Live the Emperor” which ought to be done away with at once. Thereupon they lost no time in going to the convent to carry out their revolutionary activities. Because the old nun tried to stop them, and put in a few words, they considered her as the Ching government and knocked her on the head many times with a stick and with their knuckles. The nun, pulling herself together after they had gone, made an inspection. Naturally the imperial tablet had been smashed into fragments on the ground, and the valuable Hsuan Te censer before the shrine of Kuanyin, the goddess of mercy, had also disappeared.

Ah Q only learned this later. He deeply regretted having been asleep at the time, and resented the fact that they had not come to call him. Then he said to himself, “Maybe they still don’t know I have joined the revolutionaries.”


[Note: Day 14] The day on which Shaohsing was freed in the 1911 Revolution.

[Note: Chung Chen] Chung Chen, the last emperor of the Ming dynasty, reigned from 1628 to 1644. He hanged himself before the insurgent peasants army under Li Tzu-cheng entered Peking.

[Note: censer] Highly decorative bronze censers were made during the Hsuan Te period (1426-1435) of the Ming dynasty.

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