Chapter 15 A Wicker Book Case under the Bed

Almost everyone in my generation, when talking about Grandma, has mentioned the books that she kept at her bedside. Where were these books when they were not at her bedside? The correct answer is :“In a finely woven wicker book case under her bed.”
Grandma used a pine fiber bed. There was a lot of space under the bed. The finely woven book case was kept there. The books were all the old style thread-bound ones. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Collection of the Classical Essays, and The Strange Stories of the Liaozhai were my favorite; there was a book titled Jing Hua Yuan which is a fantasy travelogue , and another story book about the notorious Wei Zhongxian, a eunuch in the Ming court. These and other books were the reading materials Grandma brought from Changshu and kept with her.
When pressed by her grandsons, Grandma would oblige and read from The Three Kingdoms word by word in the traditional literary Chinese. Her style of reading was more like singing, and we simply listened, “swallowing half-cooked rice”. Grandma could recite from memory the entire text of Zhuge Liang’s famous “Petition for Marching Order”—“chen liang yan…”. Of course, this one was too much when we were little kids, but soon I managed to read it somehow.
In an earlier chapter, I mentioned the letter Zhang Zhi wrote to his son Yuhe while the latter was studying in Japan. I found this letter in the same book case. My great grandfather wrote it in his very delicate hand with a thin brush.
I also discovered a hand-written little book. Now I realize it is a handbook for visiting gravesites. In it were listed all the burial sites of the ancestors spread over the two xiangs of Zhangqiao and Liantang, their locations and markings, specifics for the offerings at each gravesite, and quantity of paper silver, etc. Each ancestor was treated differently. At Qingming, my grandma would hire a boat and visit all the sites. Her son would follow her and perform the requisite rites. He would lit the candles and joysticks, kowtow, and burn the papers.
When we were living in Shanghai, we kids would sit down with Grandma and other adults in the household and we all folded the silver papers into the boat-shaped ding. Now when I visited the gravesites, vendors at the gate would be selling ready-folded silver and gold ding. I would buy them and burn them at the site, but felt that something was missing.
Everything mentioned here, the books, the letter, and the handbook, were all destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. The wicker book case was also lost…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s