Saturday, July 21, 2007

Four extracts from a novel in Sport 23: Spring 1999

Alison Wong
Four extracts from a novel
The Wife
Red Silk
When a woman is young, she follows her father When she marries, she follows her husband And when she is old, she follows her son.
My father was a shipbuilder and his father before him. They built the large riverboats that plied the Pearl River with their cargoes of salt, and the seafaring junks that sailed from Canton to Amoy and Formosa. My father had three hundred men who worked in his yards, and we lived in a red-columned mansion in the eastern hills of Canton.
Father was an enlightened man. Although I was only a daughter, he made sure I was educated, almost like a son. We had a private tutor who taught us calligraphy, painting and poetry. I read the Five Classics, the Four Books, the Book of Filial Piety. And I dreamed of Muk Lan, the daughter who dressed as a man and saved her father from battle.
But I never wore the clothes of a man. I could not go out like my brothers, to watch the street theatre, or sit in tea-houses with pearl-faced women—the red dust of their cheeks, their lips painted rose-bud vermilion. Sometimes I'd go out in a sedan chair and watch the world from behind its curtains, but mostly I stayed at home, reading The Dream of the Red Chamber, Journey to the West, or doing needlework.
I was a good girl, respectable. Until I was fifteen, no one outside of the family knew of my existence. Then my father's elder sister arranged my marriage. She enquired after all the good families with eligible sons. There was the eldest son of Magistrate Chew, but although his father was known as a fair man, the son was renowned for his foul temper and lack of respect for the ancestors. There was the second son of the Lees, the wealthiest family in Canton—ah, but he was a spendthrift and a gambler. There was the third son of the Kwoks, who had a thriving silk business, but he was born with not enough breath—they say he had beautiful blue-white skin, a gentle man waiting to expire.

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