Bamboo Shoots After the Rain: Contemporary Stories by Women Writers of Taiwan

Bamboo Shoots After the Rain: Contemporary Stories by Women Writers of Taiwan

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A short story collection hailed as a “welcome and valuable addition to our growing knowledge about the inner lives and literary talents of Chinese women” (Amy Ling, author of Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry).
This remarkable anthology introduces the short fiction of fourteen writers, major figures in the literary movements of three generations, who represent a range of class, ethnic, and political perspectives.
It is filled with unexpected gems such as Lin Hai-yin’s story of a woman suffering under the feudal system of Old China, and Chiang Hsiao-yun’s optimistic solutions to problems of the elderly in rapidly changing 1980s Taiwan. And in between, a dozen rich stories of aristocrats, comrades, wives, concubines, children, mothers, sexuality, female initiation, rape, and the tensions between traditional and modern life.
“This is not western feminism with an Asian accent”, says Bloomsbury Review, “but a description of one culture’s reality. . . . The woman protagonists survive both despite and because of their existence in a changing Taiwan.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781558617841
Publisher: Feminist Press at CUNY, The
Publication date: 01/01/1993
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 266
File size: 512 KB

Read an Excerpt




Eileen Chang

Translated by the Author

BORN IN 1921 in Shanghai of a distinguished family, Eileen Chang (Chang Ai-ling) studied at the University of Hong Kong until the outbreak of World War II. She lived in Shanghai from 1942 to 1952 and in Hong Kong from 1952 to 1955. During those years, she produced a significant body of short fiction and two novels which have placed her among the most important women writers in Chinese. Although she has never lived in Taiwan, her work has exerted wide influence on younger women writers there. C. T. Hsia, in his History of Modern Chinese Fiction, states that her best known work, "The Golden Cangue," is "the greatest novelette in the history of Chinese literature" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961, p. 398). Two of her novels, Rice-Sprout Song (1954, Hong Kong) and Naked Earth (1954, Hong Kong), and several short stories have been translated into English. Her other works include The Embittered Woman (1968, novel), Half a Lifetime's Romance (1969, novel), the collection Short Stories of Chang Ailing (1954, Hong Kong; 1968, Taipei), Floating Words (1968, essays), and Chang's Outlook (1977, essays). Eileen Chang now lives in the United States. "Shame, Amah!" was first published in Chinese in 1944. (ACC)

* * *

"SHAME, AMAH!" belongs to Eileen Chang's brilliant series of literary portraits of China's largest port city, Shanghai, well known for its materialism and cosmopolitan life style. The story represents its author at her best with its caustic sarcasm, freezing irony, and grim vision of reality — all of which contribute to the mood of desolation, a hallmark of Chang's fiction.

The arduous, straitened life of Ah Nee, who occupies the lower end of Shanghai's social ladder, is aptly suggested by the dreary landscape described in the opening passage: "all back yards, rear windows, back alleys," from which "even Heaven had turned its face away." The numerous obstacles which are inevitable parts of Ah Nee's everyday life, from the crowded train to the rain that prevents her from meeting her husband, are constant entrapments, to which she responds with passivity and wordless submission, fully aware of the futility of resistance.

It is quickly apparent that not a shred of hope for real improvement exists in Ah Nee's life. The story itself, however, goes on to reveal Ah Nee's nurturing of repressed aspirations and her arduous efforts to maintain a sense of respectability despite her underclass status. For example, Ah Nee has made every effort to simulate the ideal of the traditional, "normal" family. When her "husband" comes on a rare visit, she slips automatically into the subservient, attentive wifely role, demonstrating in every possible manner that he is the focus of her attention, while the reader is aware that the couple is not actually married. Or, whereas Ah Nee feels the need to adopt a son and send him to school, we know she is barely able to support herself financially.

"Shame, Amah!" is also about a working woman's struggle to survive with dignity in a demeaning servant-master relationship with her foreign male employer, an interaction complicated by imperialism and sexism. Ah Nee apparently enjoys a sense of superiority over Chinese women with poor English pronunciation, and is defensive about her master in front of his girlfriends despite her real contempt for him. Even though her delicate sense of dignity is unappreciated, one cannot but be impressed by her resourceful, imaginative, and complex character, fully manifested in her acute sensitivity to the subtle variations in status and manners in relation to class and ethnicity.

Ah Nee develops this propensity to discriminate, however, both because it is essential for survival as a low-status worker and because she feels it elevates her in the oppressive system of which she is a part. She, like many other people in her society, is both a victim of and an accomplice in the system's denial of humanity. The author's artistic portrayal of people unconsciously enacting their social roles powerfully dramatizes the historical reality of her time. (SYC)

Ah Nee climbed ten stories holding her son Shin Fa by the hand. From the back of the tall apartment building the city spread like a wilderness, a rubble of gray and rust-red roofs, all backyards, rear windows, back alleys. Even Heaven had turned its face away, the sky blank and sunless. Nobody knew what it was thinking of. The Moon Festival had passed and still so hot. Many sounds floated up from below: cars and buses, carpets being beaten, school bells ringing, carpenters sawing and hammering, motors humming, but all very vague, Heaven paying no attention to any of it, as if all were just wind past its ears.

The next door neighbor's amah was eating rice gruel on the back veranda with her children. She made her mouth a beak to blow on the scalding gruel, frowning on the snow-white mush. Sweat pasted a wisp of bobbed hair on her yellow cheek.

"Morning, Younger Sister," she called out to Ah Nee and her children cried, "Morning, Aunt!"

Ah Nee and her son chirped back, "Elder Sister!" "Aunt!" "Elder Brother!"

"Late today," Ah Nee said. "The cursed trams were so crowded I couldn't get out at my stop. The foreigner must have rung."

"Isn't this weather crazy, so hot," the next door amah said.

"Really crazy. Almost the Ninth Moon now," Ah Nee said.

She hastily let herself in. The Master did not have dinner at home last night and had let her go home two hours early, so she guessed he would be especially difficult today to make up for it. She lifted the lid off the big brown water jar embossed with pale yellow dragons, filled the kettle and put it on the gas range. Water was rationed because of the war. She glanced at herself in the chipped little purse mirror pasted on the wall. Her hair was not too mussed. She had her back hair twisted into little braids until they disappeared, and the front was worn high and tight so it needed combing only every three or four days. She looked neat in her white blouse and black pajama pants. She put on her apron. Being tiny she had to step on a stool to reach for the coffee on the shelf.

"Shin Fa! Now where are you running to? Only a moment left and your mind still on playing! Feed, you little devil, and go to school." When she yelled, her thin, pretty face was like a stepmother's.

Shin Fa brought a stool outside and set his plate on it, put his arms around a biscuit can, brought it out and sat on it waiting quietly with a sweet expression on his round face with slit eyes.

Ah Nee took out half a loaf of French bread. "Here, take it. Eat it all by yourself if you can. Or save some for others for a change. I never saw a child this small eating more than grown-ups."

She took a toothbrush out of the blue glass on the window sill, filled the glass with hot water from the thermos and handed it to him. "You have to be served everything. How much wages do you pay me every month? I don't know what I owed you in my last life. Won't you eat and be gone?"

While still chewing Shin Fa went for his school bag. He suddenly felt tired of the graying blue overall he had worn all summer. "Ma-ma, I'll wear my sweater tomorrow."

"Gone out of your head! A sweater in this weather."

She sighed after Shin Fa had gone. The school fees had risen so much and with so many extras. Just the colored paper for handicraft cost something frightful. She tilted her head and glanced sideways at the little national flag he had made, hanging from the window sill, the flagpole of split bamboo pressed under the soy bottle.

The coffee had just boiled when the telephone rang.

"Hello?" she spoke English in a shrill falsetto. "Yes, Missy, please waita minute." She had never heard the voice before. Another new one. She went and knocked on the door. "Master, telephone."

The Master was already dressed and seemed displeased with her. He was tall and handsome with a little mustache. He cleared his morning throat before he picked up the phone. "Hello?" Then his voice grew faint, "Hello-O!" as though o vercome.

Ah Nee got the breakfast tray ready. The yellow-haired woman had given a party last night. She had probably come back with him because there were two glasses in the kitchen, one with lipstick on it. One thing about his women, they never stayed the night. He had eaten a raw egg after the woman had gone. She noticed a whole eggshell in the trash can with a pin hole on it from which the egg had been sucked out. She shook her head. A real barbarian.

After he hung up he looked over the numbers the amah had jotted down, of calls she took when he was out. He rang them and found they were wrong numbers. He poked his head into the kitchen and sang out:

"Shame, Amah!" wagging a finger at her. "Never have the numbers right."

Ah Nee crimsoned and smiled ruefully, hands wrapped in the apron.

He looked at the leftover bread on Shin Fa's plate. Ah Nee knew he was suspicious. She happened to have bought it with a ration ticket that the next door mistress had left over. Ah Nee blushed so that red welts rose on her cheeks as if she had been slapped. The amahs from Soochow were the most sensitive.

Master did not say anything. As long as he employed her he would humor her. "Amah," he said, "dinner for two tonight. Buy a pound of beef."

"Yes, Master."

He pondered, propped on the door frame with an outstretched arm, the other hand at his waist. When not being seductive his eyes became large and white, staring at the leftover bread and making Ah Nee nervous. "And corn, maybe?"

She nodded. "Corn." Always the same menu, she thought. Fortunately the women were different.

"And a dessert. Make two pancakes."

"No flour."

"Just eggs would do."

She had never heard of sweet eggs but she answered glibly, "Yes, Master."

She took breakfast into the room and saw that the photograph of the yellow-haired woman had been put away. Probably the new woman was coming today. When the usual ones like Miss Li came he did not even bother to remove the photograph. Miss Li gave Ah Nee a big tip each time. Ah Nee guessed she must be a rich man's concubine but you could not tell. She seemed too free and not pretty enough. Of course not all concubines were pretty.

The telephone rang again.

"Hello? ... Yes Missy, please waita minute."

Miss Li had spoken to her in English under the illusion that it kept her anonymous.

Master did not want to speak to her.

"Mr. Schacht, she in bathroom! Sorry, Missy, maybe you telephone after?"

"Thank you."

"Don't mention, goodbye, Missy."

Before Mr. Schacht went out to work he popped his head in to sing softly, "Goodbye, Amah!"

"Goodbye, Master!" the amah called back smiling, rushing out to see him off. She went in to do the bathroom and ground her teeth. Mr. Schacht had soaked all his sheets and towels and underwear in the tub to make sure that she would wash it all that day. She had to go to market early and there was water in the tap only for two hours each day. If the tub was occupied, how was she to fill it for his bath?

Miss Li telephoned again.

"Mr. Schacht, she go office!"

"What's his office telephone number?" Miss Li asked in Chinese.

"Is it Miss Li?" Ah Nee said smiling, flushed with embarrassment. "I don't know what's the number of his office telephone ... He didn't go out yesterday ... Yes, he ate at home ... by himself ... I don't know about today, he didn't say anything..."

The yellow-haired woman telephoned next. She wanted to send someone over to return the knives and forks borrowed for her party.

"Mr. Schacht, she go office! Yes Missy, I Amah ... I very well, thank you Missy." She acted up to the yellow-haired woman, shyly laughing, emitting in the foreign language the series of piercing chirps as happy and unreal as the world in advertisements. "What time you send Amah? Now I go market, ha' past nine come back maybe ... Thank you Missy ... Don' mention, goodbye, Missy."

Ning Mei, the yellow-haired woman's amah, a friend of Ah Nee's whom she had recommended to [Missy], was pounding at the back door calling, "Elder Sister! Elder Sister!" when Ah Nee came back from the market.

Ning Mei was big and pretty, wearing long curls and a pale green wool jacket over her gown, just like a college girl.

"What time did they leave last night?" Ah Nee asked, taking the stack of dishes wrapped in newspapers.

"About two or three," Ning Mei grunted, peering out from trachoma-reddened eyes.

"The mistress came here afterwards."

"Oh? Did she?" Ning Mei folded her arms over her bosom watching Ah Nee put the dishes away. "Our mistress is a heaven-made match for the master here. Such a good spender and she stints on everything she needs. Had to borrow chairs from next door for the party, and bread ran out, had to borrow a bowl of rice.

"She's still better than this one here. We never have parties. When anybody is invited, it's one woman alone and I'll tell you what there is to eat: a piece of soup beef, fried after you've made soup out of it. Then corn. The first time the guest is here there's a dessert. The second time there is none. He has a Miss Li who really can't get used to the food and has dishes sent here from restaurants. Miss Li is really good to him, by heaven and earth and conscience. He's got a new one now. It looks to me one is worse than the other. This one today can't even say Schacht."

"Chinese?" Ning Mei asked.

Ah Nee nodded. "There's Chinese and Chinese. Come to the room, Younger Sister, look at the birthday present Miss Li gave him, a silver bowl and silver chopsticks because he likes Chinese things, specially made for him at the silversmith's. Look at the glass box with the longevity red paper cut-out."

Ning Mei clucked. "Must cost hundreds?"

"More! More!"

There were Peking opera masks on the wall and a framed nude painting which had been a whiskey advertisement, Peking rugs, a wastebasket made out of a lantern, a nest of carved rosewood tables. A set of eight dark blond combs on the bathroom shelf went gradually from broad-toothed to fine-toothed, arranged in that order. The Master's hair was beginning to fall, like eyelashes, at each combing.

"While there's water, I still have a big tubful of things to wash. Sit a while, Younger Sister." Still with Miss Li on her mind she panted as she bent over scrubbing clothes, the odor of her own sweat thrust up about her face, smelling of watermelon just cut open. "To think anyone would love him. A man more cunning than ten women. I bought a loaf of bread and he thought it was his, kept looking at it from the corner of his eyes. If I steal, it won't be from the likes of him. A bit of rice left from last week still saved until now. If he doesn't say throw it away I won't touch it. 'In Shanghai even the servants take advantage of foreigners.' If he's not in Shanghai, the Germans in Germany have to go to war, he'd be dead long ago. Last time it was also like this, a tubful of clothes soaked here as if I won't wash it otherwise, soaked until the shirt color came off all over. He didn't say anything then. He's getting messier and messier. Like this woman today — how can he not get sick? Something like summer boils all over his head and face a few months ago. Gone now, I don't know what medicine he put on. It dirtied the sheets."

Ning Mei had made no comments for a long while. Ah Nee turned round and saw her leaning on the door, biting her nails, thinking. Ah Nee remembered then that Ning Mei's fiance's family wanted them to get married and her mother had come for her but she was unwilling.

"Is your mother still here?" Ah Nee asked.

"Elder Sister!" Ning Mei cried warmly. "I'm worried to death here." She was about to weep, her moist red eyelids looking just like lips.

"It seems to me you have to go. Otherwise people will say, a big girl all by herself in Shanghai, must have gone to the bad."

"That's what Mother says too. Go I must, but I'll be right back, I can't stand the life in the country. Mother is so excited these few days buying this and that, saying how expensive everything is. I said what are you grumbling about, the padded blankets and embroidered pillows are yours to show off. As to those embroidered clothes, I won't be able to wear them in Shanghai anyway. I don't care, except that among the jewelry I want a gold ring. They owe me this bit of respect. You wait and see, if they give a gold-plated one, see if I don't throw it on the ground. See if I'm not capable of that."

Her pride displeased Ah Nee, who was not married to her husband.

"Actually it's just as well if you're not so particular," she said. "It's not like the old days. There's a war on. Where would you have them get gold?"

Ning Mei sighed. "There's no getting out of it now. Their house has a mud floor but they've put in floor boards in just the wedding chamber. I'm worried to death. I hear the man gambles. What do you think I should do, Elder Sister?"

Ah Nee wrung the clothes dry and took them to the front veranda. Shin Fa, back from school, did not dare to ring the bell.


Excerpted from "Bamboo Shoots After the Rain"
by .
Copyright © 1990 Ann C. Carver and Sung-sheng Yvonne Chang.
Excerpted by permission of Feminist Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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