THE TRUE STORY OF AH Q (Chapter 8)
BARRED FROM THE REVOLUTION
The people of Weichuang became more reassured every day. From the news that was brought they knew that, although the revolutionaries had entered the town, their coming had not made a great deal of difference. The magistrate was still the highest official, it was only his title that had changed; and the successful provincial candidate also had some post—the Weichuang villagers could not remember these names clearly—some kind of official post; while the head of the military was still the same old captain. The only cause for alarm was that, the day after their arrival, some bad revolutionaries made trouble by cutting off people’s pigtails. It was said that the boatman “Seven Pounder” from the next village had fallen into their clutches, and that he no longer looked presentable. Still, the danger of this was not great, because the Weichuang villagers seldom went to town to begin with, and those who had been considering a trip to town at once changed their minds in order to avoid this risk. Ah Q had been thinking of going to town to look up his old friends, but as soon as he heard the news he became resigned and gave up the idea.
It would be wrong, however, to say that there were no reforms in Weichuang. During the next few days the number of people who coiled their pigtails on their heads gradually increased, and, as has already been said, the first to do so was naturally the successful county candidate; the next were Chao Szu-chen and Chao Pai-yen, and after them Ah Q. If it had been summer it would not have been considered strange if everybody had coiled their pigtails on their heads or tied them in knots; but this was late autumn, so that this autumn observance of a summer practice on the part of those who coiled their pigtails could be considered nothing short of a heroic decision, and as far as Weichuang was concerned it could not be said to have had no connection with the reforms.
When Chao Szu-chen approached with the nape of his neck bare, people who saw him remarked, “Ah! Here comes a revolutionary!”
When Ah Q heard this he was greatly impressed. Although he had long since heard how the successful county candidate had coiled his pigtail on his head, it had never occurred to him to do the same. Only now when he saw that Chao Szuchen had followed suit was he struck with the idea of doing the same himself. He made up his mind to copy them. He used a bamboo chopstick to twist his pigtail up on his head, and after some hesitation eventually summoned up the courage to go out.
As he walked along the street people looked at him, but nobody said anything. Ah Q was very displeased at first, then he became very resentful. Recently he had been losing his temper very easily. As a matter of fact his life was no harder than before the revolution, people treated him politely, and the shops no longer demanded payment in cash, yet Ah Q still felt dissatisfied. He thought since a revolution had taken place, it should involve more than this. When he saw Young D, his anger boiled over.
Young D had also coiled his pigtail up on his head and, what was more, he had actually used a bamboo chopstick to do so too. Ah Q had never imagined that Young D would also have the courage to do this; he certainly could not tolerate such a thing! Who was Young D anyway? He was greatly tempted to seize him then and there, break his bamboo chopstick, let down his pigtail and slap his face several times into the bargain to punish him for forgetting his place and for his presumption in becoming a revolutionary. But in the end he let him off, simply fixing him with a furious glare, spitting, and exclaiming, “Pah!”
These last few days the only one to go to town was the Imitation Foreign Devil. The successful county candidate in the Chao family had thought of using the deposited cases as a pretext to call on the successful provincial candidate, but the danger that he might have his pigtail cut off had made him defer his visit. He had written an extremely formal letter, and asked the Imitation Foreign Devil to take it to town; he had also asked the latter to introduce him to the Liberty Party. When the Imitation Foreign Devil came back he asked the successful county candidate for four dollars, after which the successful county candidate wore a silver peach on his chest. All the Weichuang villagers were overawed, and said that this was the badge of the Persimmon Oil Party, equivalent to the rank of a Han Lin. As a result, Mr. Chao’s prestige suddenly increased, far more so in fact than when his son first passed the official examination; consequently he started looking down on everyone else, and, when he saw Ah Q, tended to ignore him a little.
Ah Q was thoroughly discontented at finding himself continually ignored, but as soon as he heard of this silver peach he realized at once why he was left out in the cold. Simply to say that you had gone over was not enough to make anyone a revolutionary; nor was it enough merely to wind your pigtail up on your head; the most important thing was to get into touch with the revolutionary party. In all his life he had known only two revolutionaries, one of whom had already lost his head in town, leaving only the Imitation Foreign Devil. Unless he went at once to talk things over with the Imitation Foreign Devil, no way would be left open to him.
The front gate of the Chien house happened to be open, and Ah Q crept timidly in. Once inside he gave a start, for there he saw the Imitation Foreign Devil standing in the middle of the courtyard dressed entirely in black, no doubt in foreign dress, and also wearing a silver peach. In his hand he held the stick with which Ah Q was already acquainted to his cost, and the foot or so of hair which he had grown again fell over his shoulders, hanging dishevelled like Saint Liu’s. Standing erect before him were Chao Pai-yen and three others, all of them listening with the utmost deference to what the Imitation Foreign Devil was saying.
Ah Q tiptoed inside and stood behind Chao Pai-yen, wanting to utter a greeting, but not knowing what to say. Obviously he could not call the man “Imitation Foreign Devil,” and neither “Foreigner” nor “Revolutionary” seemed suitable. Perhaps the best form of address would be “Mr. Foreigner.”
But Mr. Foreigner had not seen him, because with eyes raised he was saying with great animation:
“I am so impulsive that when we met I kept saying, ‘Old Hung, we should get on with it!’ But he always answered ‘Nein!’—that’s a foreign word which you wouldn’t understand. Otherwise we should have succeeded long ago. This is an instance of how cautious he is. He asked me again and again to go to Hupeh, but I wouldn’t agree. Who wants to work in a small district town? . . .”
“Er—er—” Ah Q waited for him to pause, and then screwed up his courage to speak. But for some reason or other he still did not call him Mr. Foreigner.
The four men who had been listening gave a start and turned to stare at Ah Q. Mr. Foreigner too caught sight of him for the first time.
“I. . . .”
“I want to join. . . .”
“Get out!” said Mr. Foreigner, lifting the “mourner’s stick.”
Then Chao Pai-yen and the others shouted, “Mr. Chien tells you to get out, don’t you hear!”
Ah Q put up his hands to protect his head, and without knowing what he was doing fled through the gate; but this time Mr. Foreigner did not give chase. After running more than sixty steps Ah Q slowed down, and began to feel most upset, because if Mr. Foreigner would not allow him to be a revolutionary, there was no other way open to him. In future he could never hope to have men in white helmets and white armour come to call him. All his ambition, aims, hope and future had been blasted at one stroke. The fact that people might spread the news and make him a laughing-stock for the likes of Young D and Whiskers Wang was only a secondary consideration.
Never before had he felt so flat. Even coiling his pigtail on his head now struck him as pointless and ridiculous. As a form of revenge he was very tempted to let his pigtail down at once, but he did not do so. He wandered about till evening, when after drinking two bowls of wine on credit he began to feel in better spirits, and in his mind’s eye saw fragmentary visions of white helmets and white armour once more.
One day he loafed about until late at night. Only when the wine shop was about to close did he start to stroll back to the Tutelary God’s Temple.
He suddenly heard an unusual sound, which could not have been firecrackers. Ah Q, who always liked excitement and enjoyed poking his nose into other people’s business, went looking for the noise in the darkness. He thought he heard footsteps ahead, and was listening carefully when a man suddenly rushed out in front of him. As soon as Ah Q saw him, he turned and followed as fast as he could. When that man turned, Ah Q turned too, and when after turning a corner that man stopped, Ah Q stopped too. He saw there was no one behind, and that the man was Young D.
“What is the matter?” asked Ah Q resentfully.
“Chao . . . the Chao family has been robbed,” panted Young D.
Ah Q’s heart went pit-a-pat. After telling him this, Young D left. Ah Q ran on, then stopped two or three times. However, since he had once been in the business himself, he felt exceptionally courageous. Emerging from the street corner, he listened carefully and thought he heard shouting; he also looked carefully and thought he could see a lot of men in white helmets and white armour, carrying off cases, carrying off furniture, even carrying off the Ningpo bed of the successful county candidate’s wife; he could not, however, see them very clearly. He wanted to go nearer, but his feet were rooted to the ground.
There was no moon that night, and Weichuang was very still in the pitch darkness, as quiet as in the peaceful days of the ancient Emperor Fu Hsi. Ah Q stood there until he lost interest, yet everything still seemed the same as before; in the distance people moved to and fro, carrying things, carrying off cases, carrying off furniture, carrying off the Ningpo bed of the successful county candidate’s wife . . . carrying until he could hardly believe his own eyes. But he decided not to go nearer, and went back to the temple.
It was even darker in the Tutelary God’s Temple. When he had closed the big gate he groped his way into his room, and only after he had been lying down for some time did he feel calm enough to begin thinking how this affected him. The men in white helmets and white armour had evidently arrived, but they had not come to call him; they had taken away many things, but there was no share for him—this was all the fault of the Imitation Foreign Devil, who had barred him from the rebellion. Otherwise how could he have failed to have a share this time?
The more Ah Q thought of it the angrier he grew, until he was in a towering rage. “So no rebellion for me, only for you, eh?” he exclaimed, nodding maliciously. “Curse you, you Imitation Foreign Devil—all right, be a rebel! A rebel is punished by having his head chopped off. I’ll turn informer, and see you carried into town to have your head cut off—you and all your family. . . . Kill, kill!”
[Note: persimmon] The Liberty Party was called Zi You Dang. The villagers, not understanding the word Liberty, turned Zi You into Shi You, which means persimmon oil.
[Note: han lin] The highest literary degree in the Ching dynasty (1644-1911).
[Note: Saint Liu] An immortal in Chinese folk legend, always portrayed with flowing hair.
[Note: Fu Hsi] One of the earliest legendary monarchs in China.