Please Don't Call Me Human

Please Don't Call Me Human

by Wang Shuo

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Now Wang Shuo, easily Chinas coolest and most popular novelist, applies his genius for satire and cultural irreverence to one of the worlds sacred rituals, the Olympic Games. In Please Dont Call Me Human, he imagines an Olympics where nations compete not on the basis of athletic prowess, but on their citizens capacity for humiliationand China is determined to win at…  See more details below


Now Wang Shuo, easily Chinas coolest and most popular novelist, applies his genius for satire and cultural irreverence to one of the worlds sacred rituals, the Olympic Games. In Please Dont Call Me Human, he imagines an Olympics where nations compete not on the basis of athletic prowess, but on their citizens capacity for humiliationand China is determined to win at any cost. Banned in China for its rudeness and vulgarity, this astonishing, tripped-out novel is filled with outlandish antics that have earned Wang Shuo his own genre, hooligan literature.

Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal
...the purest of diabolical pleasures...may be the most delicious parody ever of China's often self-destructive pride...
Wang Shuo, dubbed China's Kerouac , has been a best selling author of zeitgeisty hooligan fiction . . . [this] surreal farce carries through to an apocalyptic close.
The New Yorker
Much of the Jow Orton-like dialogue consists of exuberantly subverted cliché's, and the author's playfullness leavens his tales misanthropy.

Product Details

Hachette Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"There are four items on today's agenda. First, the Secretary-General of the Chinese Competition Committee, Comrade Zhao Hangyu, will report to the stockholders on the progress of our work to date. The second item deals with stockholders' expressions of no confidence in certain members of the Secretariat. To ease stockholder concerns and prove the existence and necessity of these crucial games, we have obtained a videotape of the Sapporo Games, which we'll play for you during the break. The third item concerns name changes for the Chinese and Foreign Free-Style Elimination Wrestling Competition Organizing Committee and for the Secretariat. The fourth and final item is intended to facilitate the implementation of work associated with the games. I'm talking about a third round of fund-raising and pledges, so please, don't anyone leave early."

    In a theater with over a thousand seats, all currently empty, the attendees sat shoulder to shoulder around a large circular table on the stage. A spotlight shone down on the face of the presiding officer, an unusually handsome young fellow.

    The spotlight shifted slightly, to fall on the disheveled, ashen-faced man sitting beside the presiding officer. The light reflected off his glasses, hiding his eyes from view. The staccato, almost violent way he spat out his words showed he was an excitable person. He was none other than the Secretary-General of the Chinese Competition Committee, Zhao Hangyu.

    "Regarding the work of the Secretariat, there are four points I wish to make. You may ask questions after I've finished.Whether submitted verbally or in writing, I'll answer every one I can. Those I can't will be answered by other members of the Secretariat. First, I wish to report that a good group is in place in the Secretariat, and that our work has proceeded nicely. Second, I want everyone to know that this is demanding work. Let me read you some figures. Since the first day of the Secretariat's existence, not one of us has enjoyed a single peaceful meal or a decent night's sleep. If you added up the miles we've traveled, the line would stretch from Beijing, across the Pacific, all the way to San Francisco. Altogether we have consumed more than seven thousand packages of instant noodles, smoked over fourteen thousand cigarettes, and gone through more than a hundred kilos of tea. We've kept a meticulous account of all our expenses, and not a penny of public money has found its way into our pockets. Third, while it's possible that one or more of the comrades might have dumped a fried egg or two into his instant noodles, or taken a few sips of Royal Jelly tonic along with his tea during an all-night work session, we have dealt harshly with every case of unwarranted expenditure, and welcome information provided by whistle-blowers, that is, any of you here. Now I'll wrap up my presentation with a report on the status of recent Secretariat work. At our last stockholders' meeting, we approved a resolution authorizing a search for a latter-day Big Dream Boxer. Well, as soon as the meeting ended, we dispatched nine missions to the four seas to carry out the search. As of last night, eight of the nine have returned, all empty-handed, despite going up to the mountains and down to the seas. Our last hope rests with the ninth mission, which, happily, is under the leadership of Bai Du, our esteemed lady general. Before she set out, we gave her strict orders: Find a latter-day Big Dream Boxer or don't come back! I have absolute faith in Comrade Bai Du's abilities. As long as such a person exists, she'll find him, if she has to travel to the ends of the earth to do so. That said, harsh realities force us to consider the possibility that such an individual no longer exists, that Big Dream Boxers are, in fact, extinct. The last sighting of one was over ninety years ago, captured in a photograph of warriors from the Boxer Rebellion being led to the execution ground, one of whom is easily recognizable as the supreme Big Dream Boxer."

    Zhao Hangyu picked up a black leatherette satchel from the table, opened it, and removed an enlarged black-and-white photograph of a ragtag line of Boxer prisoners being herded to the execution ground by gendarmes with swords at their hips. A tiny black arrow pointed to one of the condemned, a swarthy, heavy-set, bare-chested man whose queue, that pigtail all Chinese were forced to wear, was twisted around his neck.

    "One of our intelligence agents took this photograph in the Louvre in Paris. The arrow points to the supreme Big Dream Boxer of the time. His name and place of origin are unknown."

    Zhao Hangyu handed the photograph to the man beside him to pass around the table. Their curiosity piqued, their interest stirred, the stockholders carefully scrutinized the scruffy man in the photograph.

    "Looks kind of like a hog butcher, doesn't he?" Zhao commented to the person now holding the photograph, a skinny man with neatly combed hair and a pair of gold-trimmed eyeglasses; dressed in a Western suit, he looked the part of a corporate manager. "What you must keep in mind," Zhao said, lighting a cigarette, "is that appearances can be deceiving."

    "How do you know he was a Big Dream Boxer?" the skinny man asked.

    "We based our conclusion on four sources," Zhao Hangyu replied unhurriedly as he flicked his ashes. "First, we did research in the Qing dynasty archives, then read up on Boxer activites in the Beijing-Tianjin area. After that we pored over unofficial histories and popular narratives of military action. All these sources recorded the fact that during the Boxer upheavals, Cao Futian had under his Tianjin-Jinghai command an able general who was a master Big Dream Boxer. His strength was unmatched, and he was impervious to everything from bullets to artillery shells. He cut a murderous swath wherever he went, including the Purple Bamboo Grove foreign concession and the church in the West Shiku district, killing countless enemy soldiers. After the Beijing-Tianjin region fell to the enemy, he was spotted among Liu Nineteen's troops in Gao Family Village. Eventually, this authentic hero was captured in Beijing along with Big Sword Wang Five, and dispatched in the marketplace. That was our first confirmation. Then, using this photograph, we located a descendant of the commander of the gendarme unit in the photograph; the commander had committed suicide during the Cultural Revolution. At the descendant's house we found a copy of The Big Dream Boxer Manual. According to the commander's descendant, Gui Leiqing, who lives at One Twenty-five Little Guo Village Avenue, in the Tailai neighborhood of Tianjin's East River District, his forebear had come across the manual when he was in charge of dispatching Boxer prisoners. Just who gave it to him is unknown. The condemned prisoners, who refused to disclose their names, all shouted the same thing: `In twenty years I'll be back, mightier than ever!' One thing is certain: The man participated in only one Boxer liquidation operation, forced to do so by foreign powers, who then photographed it. Which proves that this manual must have belonged to someone else in his unit. We then located a descendant of the French man named Paul Pierre, a missionary who took the picture. Currently attached to the French Embassy in China, the younger Paul Pierre happily prepared a list of his grandfather's friends who had been in China. Finally, we located a man by the name of Ladou in Toulouse, in southern France, who is the European soldier standing at the end of the column in the photograph. Over a hundred now, the old geezer is still going strong and recalls every detail of his expedition in China at the end of the last century. Now, of course, he's a true friend of China. After we told Ladou what we were looking for, he pointed to the man in the photograph beneath the arrow and told us he was a marvel of a man who could cause a bullet to change course in mid-air. He even said he himself had once engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a Big Dream Boxer, and that an entire column of soldiers had fired at the man, but the bullets had reversed course and killed a whole slew of them. Panicked, he'd shot his weapon into the air, and that bullet, to his amazement, actually struck the Big Dream Boxing master, incapacitating him long enough for the remaining soldiers to rush up and subdue him with shackles."

    "A crying shame," the men around the table sighed.

    "A postscript: Monsieur Ladou still feels deep remorse over his actions in China as a young man, and asked us repeatedly to express his apologies to the Chinese people."

    "I have four questions for Comrade Secretary-General," a shrewd-looking dark-skinned agricultural entrepreneur said to Zhao Hangyu. "First, since there's no way of knowing for sure that a latter-day Big Dream Boxer even exists, do we want to continue mobilizing people and spending money searching for one? With all the schools of martial arts in China, don't tell me there isn't anyone to rival the Big Dream Boxers. The way you're relentlessly pushing them, sir, has me wondering if you've got some personal agenda. Second, since the foreigners want to patch up their historical differences with us, in the name of world peace, is it a good idea for us to `go to war' with them again? Third, the Secretariat is made up of no more than a dozen individuals, yet in the week you've been at work, you've already consumed more than seven thousand packages of instant noodles and finished off over a hundred kilos of tea. In my view, that's excessive. How do you expect us to foot the bill if you continue at this rate? Either lower your standards, or fire the big eaters and heavy smokers. It was never our intention to determine how much a few people can put away. And fourth, why did you take a select group of stockholders with you on your Parisian holiday?"

    "I'll answer the representative's questions," Zhao Hangyu said somberly. "All four points. First, we have no intention of hanging ourselves on the Big Dream Boxer tree. At the same time we're searching for one of them, we're establishing contact with boxers from other schools, such as Big Vulture and Eagle-Claw Monkey. If the day comes when we're convinced that no more Big Dream Boxers are to be found, we'll turn our attention to others. As for my personal interest in Big Dream Boxers, I assure you it is purely a matter of seeking the best opportunity to defeat our rivals. I have no hidden agenda. The vanquishing power of the Big Dream Boxers is the consummate fruit of thousands of years of Chinese culture. When you watch the video in a few minutes, you'll see what I mean. In terms of strength and ferocity, we herbivores don't stand a chance of overpowering those carnivores. I, for one, come from a long line of scholars and literati. Second, the old foreigners may be congenial, but the young ones are aggressive as hell. One look at today's world is proof positive that we can't compete with people from other countries in anything at all. We might put up the good fight, but if we come away with less than a gold medal, the prestige of our ancestors—their face, if you like—will be destroyed by their no-account, unworthy descendants: us."

    "It's no easy matter for a whole nation to rise up," the presiding officer volunteered, "but entirely possible for a country of a billion to nurture one sterling individual. Except for eating, the only talent bequeathed to us by our ancestors is that of fighting."

    "I haven't finished," Zhao Hangyu said to the men around the table, casting an unhappy glare at the offending officer. "This is something we absolutely have to do. If we can't find someone to purge the poison that's been fed us for a hundred years or more, it'll remain with us forever. Which is why I'll stop at nothing. If necessary, I'll take out my heart and I'll hand it to anyone who comes to our aid. Haven't you ever heard the foreigners say, `One Chinese is a writhing dragon, a group of them is a can of worms.'"

    "That's high praise."

    "What is it with you? I didn't interrupt when you were talking."

    "Sorry. Go ahead." Lowering his head, the presiding officer smiled apologetically. "I'm just a little high-strung, that's all."

    With growing excitement of his own, Zhao Hangyu said to the stockholders, "That proves that the foreigners understand how formidable we Chinese can be, which is why we must be extremely thoughtful about whom we select."

    "We appreciate that. We understand exactly what you're saying," someone said. "Now, how do you respond to the next question?"

    "Ah, the next question. Since this individual is so important, what difference does it make if we eat a few extra packages of instant noodles while trying to find him? And while we're on the subject of eating your instant noodles, let me tell you something you may not know. If I clued the world in on what I was up to, I could eat anywhere I wanted in town, and it wouldn't cost me a cent."

    "I take it all back," the agricultural entrepreneur said, "every word. Eat away, as much as you want. If you can produce results, it won't bother me a bit."

    "Aw, forget it, I was just letting off steam. I'd never do what you propose. If you were to spread the people's wealth out in front of me, I'd gag on it."

    "We trust you," they said to reassure Zhao Hangyu. "Would we have handed you our hard-earned money without batting an eye if we didn't?"

    "Now that's the sort of talk that upsets me, gnaws at my gut." Zhao's tearful gaze passed through the lenses of his eyeglasses and honed in with unvarnished sincerity on the agricultural entrepreneur. "Have I ever forgotten any of you when something good was to be had? Your complaint about not asking you along on the trip to France is a bum rap. Who went? Nobody, that's who. I have no idea what direction the great door of France faces. That's all stuff we learned from members of our French subcommittee."

    "Just forget I said anything, okay?" the agricultural entrepreneur said earnestly as he grabbed Zhao Hangyu's hand. "I thought you knew me better than that. We go back, how many years is it? I'm just a crude country boy."

    "I know you just fine," Zhao Hangyu said as he patted the back of the entrepreneur's hand. "I'm not angry, and nothing I said was directed at you. I'm angry at myself, disappointed that I screwed up something so easy."

    "There's nothing to be angry about," the presiding officer said. "Now that everyone has said his piece, that's, the end of it. Let's move on to the next item on the agenda, or we won't get a thing done before the concert begins."

    That comment turned everyone's attention to the musicians, who were finding their seats on the stage behind the shareholders and tuning up their instruments. As disjointed toots and twangs filled the air, stagehands began setting the stage and lighting up the backdrop, which was transformed into a scene with grazing sheep one moment and a city skyline the next. The presiding officer had to clap his hands to draw everyone's attention back to the business at hand. "Come on, now, we have work to do. Anyone interested in the concert can stick around after the meeting and watch to your heart's content. Now the next item."

    Leaning toward Zhao Hangyu, the presiding officer said, "Since we're running short on time, maybe we should forget about taking a break. We can watch your video while we're discussing the third item, dealing with the makeup of the Chinese Competition Committee and the Secretariat. What do you say?"

    "Fine with me." Zhao called out to a stagehand standing by the curtain, "Set up the VCR, so we can watch the video I gave you."

    While the stagehand was setting up the VCR, Zhao Hangyu said, "What we've learned from our work so far is that the names of our organizations, the Chinese Competition Committee and the Secretariat, have been the cause of some difficulties. We need to change them both."

    "I thought it was okay to call ourselves the Chinese Competition Committee," a young entrepreneurial stockholder with permed hair said. "It's got a `gangbuster' sound."

    "And that's the problem," Zhao Hangyu said. "When we went to engraving shops to have an official seal carved, no one would take the job. They all said that the Chinese Central Committee had never brought them any business before, and that there was a law against outsiders carving national seals. Nothing we said made any difference, and without the written permission of some higher-up, they all told me I'd have to take my business elsewhere. So after mulling it over, we decided that the name has too official a ring to it, and could lead to misunderstandings. In other words, trouble. As I see it, it's crucial for our organization to be spontaneous and linked to the people, not the government. The members of the Secretariat tried out some new titles, but none of them took our fancy. Like `Awakened Lion Lodge' and `Fierce Dragon Hall,' which are catchy enough, but don't convey what it is we're trying to accomplish. Even worse, we could be outlawed as some kind of reactionary secret society. So let's put our heads together and come up with something that will appeal to both refined and popular tastes. That way the people will flock to us."


    "That's a tough one," the agricultural entrepreneur said to break the silence. "There's nothing harder than coming up with names."

    "I've got an idea how we can start it," the corporate manager said. "Tell me what you think. The National People's Mobilization ..."

    "Salvation through Loyalty and Virtue?" the agricultural entrepreneur volunteered. "The National People's Mobilization for Salvation through Loyalty and Virtue."

    "No good," Zhao Hangyu said somberly after a momentary reflection. "National Salvation? Which nation? Salvation from what? Our nation's doing just fine, thank you, and getting better. What you're proposing smacks of scare tactics. Don't ever forget that we're in the entertainment business. The nation's in fine shape, everyone has plenty to eat, and leisure is the logical result. That you've invested in our enterprise proves not only that you've got plenty to eat, but that you're in the lap of luxury, doesn't it?"

    "Then how about Move toward the World?" a private businessman said. "The National Mobilization Committee to Move toward the World."

    "That's no better, too vague," the presiding officer said, taking his cue from the look on Zhao Hangyu's face. "If I'm not mistaken, there's already a Twenty-First Century Committee, or something like that."

    "Here's what I think we should do," Zhao Hangyu said expansively, a broad grin on his face. "Since we can't come up with a name that reflects what we're doing, why force the issue? We can call ourselves the National Mobilization Committee. No one has to know what we're mobilizing for. Keeping it ambiguous has two distinct advantages. First, it makes it hard for outsiders to figure out what we're up to. Second, it opens up all sorts of possibilities, since virtually anything we want will fall under the umbrella. That, in turn, will unify people from all classes and walks of life."

    "Let others try to figure it out?" the presiding officer asked with a little giggle. "Old Zhao's got my vote."

    Everyone agreed, and a resolution calling for a name change from Chinese and Foreign Free-style Elimination Wrestling Competition Organizing Committee to National Mobilization Committee, "MobCom" for short, along with a reconstitution of the leadership, was passed unanimously. The newly approved Directorate quickly settled upon the following appointments: a permanent chairman and thirty to fifty nonpermanent chairmen, selected by the permanent chairman on the basis of need. The Directorate was to be directly responsible to the stockholders. The first permanent chairman was to be Zhao Hangyu, General Secretary of the original CCC, chosen with the enthusiastic approval of all present.

    "Thank you, everybody," Zhao said with a nod to the stockholders, who were congratulating him with their applause. "You can count on me to give a hundred and ten percent. Now let's watch the video."

    He lit a cigarette and walked out with the presiding officer.

    "Aren't you going to stick around to watch it?"

    "I've seen it," Zhao said with a wave of his hand. "Once is enough."

    The TV set alongside the table flickered on and speeding race cars filled the screen, followed by horses running around a race track, jockeys hunched over their mounts, butts sticking up in the air; the picture broke off abruptly, snow filled the screen, and when the picture returned, the scene was a wrestling ring with thousands of rabid men and women screaming and waving their arms. Spotlights above the carpet of black heads lit up the center of the ring, where a four- or five-hundred-pound Caucasian combatant with a full golden beard, fists clenched, was stalking a wiry Asian combatant, who was jumping around, also with his fists clenched. With quickness and agility, the Asian circled his opponent, sparring with both hands, like a monkey bluffing and blustering to intimidate an approaching lion. He struck like lightning, leaping up and smacking his opponent's neck with a sweeping kick. The white combatant stood stock-still for a moment, as a smile spread across the red lips in the middle of his golden beard; then he continued pressing toward his yellow opponent, who kicked out over and over, sending the white man's large head snapping from side to side, like a pellet drum. But he just kept smiling and licking his lips, the spotlights dancing on his golden beard. The yellow man rained punches and kicks down on his opponent, creating waves of approving roars from the crowd below. All of a sudden the noise stopped, then was replaced by a much higher-pitched sound in response to the sight of the yellow wrestler lying unconscious in the middle of the ring, the victim of a single blow from one of the white wrestler's piledriver fists. The bearded man raised his meaty arms in a gesture of victory.

    Another Asian combatant stepped into the ring. Roughly the same height and size of the white man, he lacked the agility, and was knocked around the ring mercilessly, until he could only cover his face with his hands and wobble, beaten senseless. He stuck it out for a few rounds, but ultimately, inevitably, he crashed to the canvas like a felled log.

    One after another, the white man dispatched his yellow opponents of various heights and heft: One of them grabbed his beefy opponent by the wrist and crouched to flip him over on his back, but the man turned the tables on him and sent him sprawling to the canvas, facedown.

    Once more the white wrestler raised his arms in triumph. Then he shrank to the size of a dot of light just before the screen went black and the TV was turned off.

    Zhao Hangyu and the presiding officer walked out from behind the curtain. The people sitting around the table watched them approach, grief and anger filling their eyes. The stage was deathly silent; even the musicians' instruments were stilled.

    "Well, how does that make you feel?" a somber Zhao Hangyu asked.

    "Mad as hell," the private businessman replied sadly.

    The agricultural entrepreneur's face was the color of raw liver. "What times are we living in, when people can push us Chinese around like that?"

    There wasn't a Chinese on the stage, including the musicians and stagehands, who wasn't mired in dejection.

    "That tub of lard who creamed our compatriots is a strong-man with the Alvin Keller Circus. We've used every channel available to us to invite him to China. Our strategy," Zhao said somberly, "is to grab him the minute he steps foot on Chinese soil and loose our own martial-arts masters on him, a whole team of fighters taking turns attacking him until he's beaten to the ground, a team prepared to sustain as many losses as it takes."

    "We've got no choice," the presiding officer said. "You saw what a formidable enemy he is. We must do whatever's necessary to ensure victory for our top contender."

    "By `top contender,' are you referring to a Big Dream Boxer?" the corporate manager asked.

    "You got that right," Zhao Hangyu said. "It's our only hope."

    "Sounds good to me," the corporate manager said earnestly, turning to his fellow stockholders. "We can't leave anything to chance with an enemy this powerful. We must surround him with forces outnumbering him ten to one, holding our most powerful weapon in reserve for when he's least capable of offering resistance."

    "That's exactly what we have in mind," Zhao Hangyu said. "First, lead the dog into a trap, then slam the door and beat it to a pulp."

    "Are you sure you can trick him into coming?" the private businessman asked. "It's been my experience that people aren't as gullible as they used to be."

    "Why wouldn't he come?" Zhao Hangyu asked. "He won't know why he's received such a warm invitation. He'll just think we're very hospitable people. Leave it to me, there'll be no problem. The only possible snag is money."

    Zhao Hangyu cast a warm glance around the table, which lowered the head of everyone it fell upon.

    "I'm not singing the poverty blues," Zhao said. "But, just think, with a project of this size, and involving a foreign guest, well, we must extend every courtesy. Then there's the training of our own competitors, and don't forget that the Directorate has to eat and drink. All that costs money. The forty thousand we raised the first time around is gone, and as of yesterday, we don't have a pot to piss in."

    "Don't get me wrong, it's not the money," the corporate manager said. "For affairs involving national sentiments, anyone who wouldn't reach into his pocket would be branded a traitor, wouldn't he? But here's the rub: We're doing this for China, so shouldn't the entire nation be ponying up the costs? You can't keep coming back to the few of us for money and provisions, not when you can tap into the whole population. Even if you wiped us out, big deal! The problem is, the few meals we can supply won't do the trick. As I see it, we're looking at a bottomless pit. You can chop us up, bones and all, but how many dumplings do you think you'll fill with what you get?"

    "If you want the truth," the agricultural entrepreneur said, "I don't care how much of my money you use. At worst, I've put in a few years' work for nothing, that's all. If you think you can get a decent price for me, go ahead, sell me. I have one condition, and that is; accomplish what you set out to do."

    "You have my word."

    "Your word? You haven't found your Big Dream Boxer, have you? And if you don't find that fine fellow, even if you trick that alien tub of lard into coming here, what have you accomplished? Let's not get caught in a trap we set in our own doorway. That would be so humiliating, a billion compatriots couldn't show their face anywhere."

    "He's our only hope," the private businessman said earnestly. "If we don't find him, as far as I'm concerned, we close up shop, stop wasting our time, and admit failure."

    "I said you have my word. By the day after tomorrow, at the latest, I'll present this individual in the flesh," Zhao Hangyu said. "There's absolutely no need to worry."

    "Okay, show us the man, and we'll come up with the money," the private businessman said. "Since we're only talking about a day or two, you folks can eat at home till then."

    "You really don't get it, do you?" Zhao's forehead was dotted with perspiration.

    A modish young man walked gingerly up and whispered something to the presiding officer, who leaned over to Zhao Hangyu. "Let's wrap things up, Mr. Chairman. The manager of the People's Theater wants us out before the concert starts."

    "We're almost done," Zhao said as he glanced at his wristwatch. "I can't believe we've been here this long. I have two more things to say, then we can adjourn. I'm still baffled that you can't see the big picture. I don't expect you to foot the bill for the competition itself. I'm just asking for help with what we call start-up funds. And it's not like trying to drive dogs away by throwing meat-stuffed buns at them. You're buying into an enterprise that will not only earn back your initial outlay, but will pay hefty dividends down the line. Think about it this way. No other major international sports competition is scheduled for the coming summer, and that will ensure the appeal of ours. It'll be the kind of event that makes the country sit up and take notice. Forget about money from the sale of admission tickets; that's peanuts. The big money will come from advertising. We've also got plans to sell corporate sponsorships and lottery tickets. When we get to that point, the returns on your modest investment will knock your eyes out. You have to take the long view. You can't trap the wolf if you won't use your kids as bait."

    The opening concert bell rang, and a moment later, a handful of theatergoers began filing in, some with ice-cream cones. Spotting the people on the stage, they quickly found their seats and sat down. A few ran back out to the lobby to tell their friends the show had begun.

    "We have to wrap this up quickly. So, what do you say?"

    "I say we don't release the hawk till we see the rabbit."

    "Let's lower the figure for now, what do you say? A hundred apiece should get us through the day."

    A young, ice-cream-nibbling fellow who was being dragged to his seat by his girlfriend complained loudly, "What's going on here? This is a play. I thought we bought tickets to a concert."

Backstage, Zhao Hangyu counted the few bills in his hand and grumbled loudly to the presiding officer, "That bunch of tightwads bundled us off like a couple of bums."

    "I think the problem was in the agenda for today's meeting," the presiding officer said with a respectful smile. "We should have shown the video first, then hit them up for money. Besides, you were too honest with them. Why didn't you just lie and tell them we found a latter-day Big Dream Boxer, and been done with it?"

    "They got me so pissed off I wound up defending foreigners against us Chinese," Zhao complained angrily. "Come on, let's go see if Bai Du's back. It's all up to her now."

    "I can't go with you," the presiding officer said. "The show starts in a few minutes, and I'm the emcee. If other people don't show, no problem, but I've got to be here."

    "Tell me," Zhao Hangyu said, his eyes narrowed to slits, "how much do you make standing out there one show after another, day in and day out?"

    "A guy's gotta do what he's gotta do," the presiding officer said. "Why go looking for Bai Du on a scorcher like today? What's wrong with the telephone? You'll get the same results."

    "You might think I'm worried," Zhao grumbled as he and the presiding officer walked toward the backstage telephone. "I'm not. But if I don't follow through after all this hard work, just when success is within our grasp ..."

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