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Pearl Buck

EAST WIND: WEST WIND

first pages

PART ONE
A Chinese Woman Speaks

THESE THINGS I may tell you, My Sister, I could not speak thus even to one of my own people, for she could not understand the far countries where my husband lived for twelve years. Neither could I talk freely to one of the alien women who do not know my people and the manner of life we have had since the time of the ancient empire. But you? You have lived among us all your years. Although you belong to those other lands where my husband studied his Western books, you will under stand. I speak the truth. I have named you My Sister. I will tell you everything.

You know that for five hundred years my revered ancestors have lived in this age-old city of the Middle Kingdom. Not one of the august ones was modern; nor did he have a desire to change himself. They all lived in quietness and dignity, confident of their rectitude. Thus did my parents rear me in all the honoured tradi tions. I never dreamed I could wish to be different. Without thinking on the matter it seemed to me that as I was so were all those who were really people. If I heard faintly, as from the distance outside the courtyard walls, of women not like myself, women who came and went freely like men, I did not consider them. I went, as I was taught, in the approved ways of my ancestors. Nothing from the outside ever touched me. I desired nothing. But now the day has come when I watch eagerly these strange creatures-these modern women-seeking how I may become like them. Not, My Sister, for my own sake, but for my husband's.

He does not find me fair! It is because he has crossed the Four Seas to the other and outer countries, and he has learned in those remote places to love new things and new ways. My mother is a wise woman. When at the age of ten I ceased to be a child and became a maiden, she said to me these words: 'A woman before men should maintain a flower-like silence and should withdraw herself at the earliest moment that is possible without confusion.'

I remembered what she said, therefore, when I stood before my husband. I bowed my head and placed my two hands before me. I answered him nothing when he spoke to me.. But, oh, I fear he finds my silence dull!

When I examine my mind for something to interest him, it is suddenly as barren as rice-fields after the harvest. When I am alone at my embroidery, I think of many delicately beautiful things to say to him. I will tell him how I love him. Not, you mind, in the brazen words copied from the rapacious West. But in hidden. words like these:

'My lord, did you mark this day how the dawn began? It was as if the dull earth leaped to meet the sun. Dark ness. Then a mighty lift of light like a burst of music!

My dear lord, I am thy dull earth, waiting.' Or this, when he sails upon the Lotus Lake in the evening: 'What if the pale wan waters should never feel how the moon draws them? What if the wave should never again be touched to life by its light? Oh, my lord, guard thyself, and return to me safely, lest I be that pale wan thing without thee!' But when he comes in, wearing the strange foreign dress, I cannot speak these things. Can it be that I am married to a foreigner? His words are few and carelessly spoken, and his eyes slide too hastily over me, even though I wear my peach-coloured satin and have pearls in my freshly bound hair. This is my sorrow. I have been married a bare month, and I am not beautiful in his eyes.

Three days have I pondered now, My Sister. I must use cunning and seek for a way to turn my husband's eyes to me. Do I not come of many generations of women. who found favour in the eyes of their lords? There have been none lacking in beauty for a hundred years save only one, and that one Kwei-mei in the age of Sung, who was pitted with smallpox at the age of three years. Yet it is written that even she had eyes like black jewels and a voice which shook men's hearts like wind in the bamboos in spring. Her husband held her so dear that though he had six concubines suitable to his wealth and rank, none of them did he love so well as he loved her. And my ancestress Yang Kwei-fei-she who bore upon her wrist a white bird-held the very empire in the scented palms of her hands, since the emperor, the Son of Heaven, was mad with her beauty. I, therefore, the least of these honourable ones, must yet have their blood in my blood, and their bones are my bones.

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