White tiger

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  • 1. ALSO BY MAXINE HONG KINGSTON China Men TripmasterMonkey

2. Contents No Name Woman .i - White Tigers i7 Shaman . 5 5A t the Western Palace u 1 A Song f or a Barbarian Reed'Pipe:16 1 3. hen we Chinese girls listened to the adults talk-story, we learned that we failed i f we grew up to be butwives or slaves. We could be heroines, swordswomen. Eveni f she had to rage across all China, a swordswoman goteven w i t h anybody who hurt her family. Perhaps' womenwere once so dangerous that they had to have their feetbound. I t was a woman who invented white crane boxingonly two hundred years ago. She was already an expert polefighter, daughter of a teacher trained at the Shao-lin temple,where there lived an order of fighting monks. She was comb-ing her hair one morning when a white crane alightedoutside her window. She teased i t w i t h her pole, which i tpushed aside w i t h a soft'brush of its wing. Amazed, shedashed outside and tried to knock the crane off its perch. I tsnapped her pole i n two. Recognizing the presence of greatpower, she asked the spirit of the white crane i f i t wouldteach her to fight. I t answered w i t h a cry that white craneboxers imitate today. Later the bird returned as an old man,and he guided her boxing for many years. Thus she gave theworld a new martial art. This was one of the tamer, more modern stories, mere introduction. My mother told others that followed swords- women through woods and palaces for years. Night after night my mother would talk-story until we fell asleep. I couldn't tell where the stories left off and the dreams began, her voice the voice of the heroines i n my sleep. And on Sun- days, from noon to midnight, we went to the movies at the Confucius Church. We saw swordswomen jump over, houses ~4-from a standstill; they didn't even need a running start. A t last I saw that I too had been i n the presence of 4. 20 | T H E W O M A N W A R R I O RWhite Tigers | 21 great power, my mother talking-story. After I grew up, Irest on the thatch of a hut, which, until the bird's two feetheard the chant of Fa Mu Lan, the girl who took her touched it, was camouflaged as part of the mountainside.father's place i n battle. Instantly I remembered that as achild I had followed my mother about the house, the twoof us singing about how Fa Mu Lan fought gloriously and Treturned alive from war to settle in the village. I had f o r - _Lhe door opened, and an old man and an old womangotten this chant that was once mine, given me by mycame out carrying bowls of rice and soup and a leafy mother, who may not have known its power to remind. Shebranch of peaches. said I would grow up a wife and a slave, but she taught me "Have you eaten rice today, little girl ?" they greeted me.the song of the warrior woman, Fa Mu Lan. I would have"Yes, I have," I said out of politeness. "Thank you." to grow up a warrior woman.("No, I haven't," I would have said in real life, mad atThe call would come from a bird that flew over our roof. the Chinese for lying so much. " I ' m starved. Do you have I n the brush drawings i t looks like the ideograph for " h u - any cookies? I like chocolate chip cookies.") man," two black wings. The bird would cross the sun and "We were about to sit down to another meal," the old l i f t . into the mountains (which look like the ideograph woman said. "Why don't you eat w i t h us ?" "mountain"), there parting the mist, briefly that swirled They just happened to be bringing three rice bowls and opaque again. I would be a little girl of seven the day I three pairs of silver chopsticks out to the plank table under followed the bird away into the mountains. The brambles the pines. They gave me an egg, as i f i t were my birthday, would tear off my shoes and the rocks cut my feet and and tea, though they were-, older than I , but I poured for fingers, but I would keep climbing, eyes upward to.followthem. The teapot.and the rice pot seemed bottomless, but the bird. We would go around and around the tallest moun-perhaps not; the old couple ate very little except for tain, climbing ever upward. I would drink from the river,peaches. which I would meet again and again. We would go so high When the mountains and the pines turned into blue the plants would change, and the river that flows past the oxen, blue dogs, and blue people standing, the old couple village would become a waterfall. A t the -height where theasked me to spend the night i n the hut. I thought about the bird used to disappear, the clouds would gray the worldlong way down i n the ghostly dark and decided yes. The like an ink wash.inside of the hut seemed as large as the outdoors. Pine Even when I got used to that gray, I would only seeneedles covered the floor i n thick patterns; someone had peaks as i f shaded in pencil, rocks like charcoal rubbings, carefully arranged the yellow, green, and brown pine nee- everything so murky. There would be just two black strokes dles according to age. When I stepped carelessly and mussed t h e bird. Inside the cloudsinside the dragon's breath-^- a line, my feet kicked up new blends of earth colors, but the I would not know how many hours or days passed. Suddenly, old man and old woman walked so lightly that their feet without noise, I would break clear into a yellow, warmnever stirred the designs by a needle. world. New trees would lean toward me at mountain angles,A rock grew i n the middle of the house, and that was but when I looked for the village, i t would have vanishedtheir table. The benches were fallen trees. Ferns and shade under the clouds. flowers grew out of one wall, the mountainside itself. The old couple tucked me into a bed just my width. "BreatheThe bird, now gold so close to the sun, would come to evenly, or you'll lose your balance and fall out," said the 5. 22 | T H E W O M A N W A R R I O R White Tigers | 2 3 woman, covering me w i t h a silk bag stuffed w i t h feathers"You can avenge your village," said the old woman.and herbs. "Opera singers, who begin their training at age"You can recapture the harvests the thieves have taken.five, sleep in beds like this." Then the two of them went out-You can be remembered by the Han people for your dutiful-side, and through the window I could see them pull on a ness."rope looped over a branch. The rope was tied to the roof," I ' l l stay w i t h you," I said.and the roof opened up like a basket lid. I would sleep w i t h So the hut became my home, and I found out that the the moon and the stars. I did not see whether the old people old woman did not arrange the pine needles by hand. Sheslept, so quickly did I drop off, but they would be there opened the roof; an autumn wind would come up, and thewaking me with food i n the morning. needles f e l l i n b r a i d s b r o w n strands, green strands, yellow "Little girl, you have now spent almost a day and a strands. The old woman waved her arms i n conducting m o - night w i t h us," the old woman said. I n the morning lighttions; she blew softly with her mouth. I thought, nature I could see her earlobes pierced w i t h gold. "Do you thinkcertainly works differently on mountains than i n valleys. you can bear to stay w i t h us for fifteen years ? We can train "The first thing you have to learn," the old woman told you to become a warrior."me, "is how to be quiet." They left me by streams to watch "What about my mother and father ?" I asked.for animals. " I f you're noisy, you'll make the deer go w i t h -The old man untied the drinking gourd slung across hisout water." back. He lifted the lid by its stem and looked for something When I could kneel all day without my legs cramping in the water. " A h , there," he said.and my breathing became^ even, the squirrels would buryA t first I saw only water so clear i t magnified the fibers their ..hoardings at the tiem'of my shirt and then bend their i n the walls of the gourd. On the surface, I saw only my owntails i n a celebration dance. A t night, the mice and toads round reflection. The old man encircled the neck of the looked at me, their eyes quick stars and slow stars. Not gourd with, his thumb and index finger and gave i t a shake. once would I see a three-legged toad, though; you-need As the water shook, then settled, the colors and lightsstrings of cash to bait them. shimmered into a picture, not reflecting anything I couldThe two old people led me i n exercises that began at see around me. There at the bottom of the gourd were my dawn and ended at sunset so that I could watch our shadows mother and father scanning the sky, which was where I grow and shrink and grow again, rooted to the earth. I was. " I t has happened already, then," I could hear my learned to move my fingers, hands, feet, head, and entire mother say. " I didn't expect i t so soon." "You knew from body i n circles. I walked putting heel down first, toes p o i n t - her birth that she would be taken," my father answered..ing outward t h i r t y to forty degrees, making the ideograph "We'll have to harvest potatoes without her help this year,""eight," making the ideograph "human." Knees bent, I my mother said, and they turned away toward the fields,would swing into the slow, measured "square step," the straw baskets i n their arms. The water shook and becamepowerful walk into battle. After five years my body became just water again. "Mama. Papa," I called, but they were i nso strong that I could control even the dilations of the pupils the valley and could not hear me.inside my irises. I could copy owls and bats, the words for "What do you want to do?" the old man asked. "You can ."bat" and "blessing" homonyms. After six years the deer go back right now i f you like. You can go pull sweet pota-let me run beside them. I could jump twenty feet into the air toes, or you can stay w i t h us and learn how to fight b a r -from a standstill, leaping like, a monkey over the hut. Every barians and bandits."creature has a hi