Behind the Li Gang Case:
- Part 1: Chen Family Forced to Drop Suit
- Part 2: Family Goes Silent, Legal Rumblings
- Part 3: “A Sleepless Night in Xiaofeng’s Home” (this post)
This is the third (and final) post in our translation of Wang Keqin’s investigation into the outcome of the Li Gang incident. This post is a translation of an essay by Wang Keqin’s student, Feng Jun, about a night he spent with the victim’s family (her name was Chen Xiaofeng) while compiling his report on the case.
Unlike the first two pieces, this essay doesn’t concern itself with the facts of the case and instead focuses on the emotions of the Chen family and the feelings of the reporter himself as he spends a night in their home, haunted by thoughts of the innocent, dead daughter who used to sleep in the room he is now in.
It’s two o’clock in the morning on November 12th, and I can’t sleep. Xiaofeng’s father and mother are sleeping soundly, and her brother Chen Lin is asleep in the next room. Just now I went out into the courtyard to piss, and in the utter blackness of the night, I suddenly felt an indescribable panic. I thought of Chen Xiaofeng; was I once again dreaming of ghosts? In the late-night stillness, I was uneasy.
On the afternoon of the 11th, Chen Lin told me that the room I was sleeping in was the one that Xiaofeng had liked best when she was alive. The computer I’m using right now is one Xiaofeng used to study before she went off to college. The small courtyard outside is where they took family photos with her, and there’s the little dog, the desk, the chair, the teacup…
The whole Chen family is asleep, but I don’t even feel tired. Sweeping my eyes over the things in this room, I sigh softly. When did Xiaofeng leave them?
A few barks from the dog, does it mean that Xiaofeng is home? Has she come to visit her father, mother, and brother? Or has she come to drive off the stranger who is using her computer and sleeping in her bed?
There are strange customs in Xiaofeng’s hometown. The remains of those who die in accidents outside cannot enter the family home. Unmarried women who have died cannot be buried here, one must find a similarly-deceased and unmarried man, “marry” them, and then bury the girl where he and his family are buried.
When we were chatting, Chen Lin told me quietly, “It took us two days to sort out my sister’s funeral affairs.” I asked to visit Xiaofeng’s grave, and Chen Guangqian [the father] shook his head over and over in admonition. No one in their family knew where she was buried.
Not long after Xiaofeng’s body was taken from Baoding to the Xinji No. 2 People’s Hospital morgue, the family of an unmarried dead man came forward and “proposed marriage”. Then, they buried her. Only after 49 days have passed can the Chen family go to find her grave and burn incense and funeral money.
“We just know which village, but we’re not sure of the specific place. When the time comes, we’ll go ask,” Chen Guangqian explained.
Oh Xiaofeng, when will you be able to come home? You must know that your mother has cried so hard her eyes have swollen up and she no longer wants to eat, that your father has withstood immense pressure for you, and that your brother has been wearing himself out seeking fairness and justice for you. Then there are your uncles, the local leaders, and even I came here to visit you, but it is impossible…
At the dinner table, the small sort one kneels at, the three Chens and I sat one to a side. Xiaofeng, the place I sat was your spot, your mother held her bowl, looking dazed around the table, and finally taking a meager sip of porridge. She misses you, Xiaofeng…
Remembering past times, four people in a five room pingfang ((Literally, “flat house”, the traditional style of dwelling in China’s countryside, a one story house, generally with a walled courtyard in the front.)), two mu of farmland and a little courtyard, what a warm and happy family…
I can imagine this place was once full of laughter. The deep love between mother and daughter, the deep affection between father and daughter, the love of siblings; now it’s more desolate in the bleakness of Beijing’s early-winter cold. Here, people speak little, wear expressionless masks, and move sluggishly. They’ve lost a relative, a love, and a family treasure.
Now, the Chen family is living their original rural life. Empty rooms are kept tidy, and the courtyard is piled with corn stalks, the tractor loaded with heating oil for the winter. The oil can heat the air, but it can’t warm the hearts of the Chen family, and no matter how many cornstalks there are, they still can’t be used to fight…
The corn has been harvested and there’s nothing to do in the fields, so on the afternoon of the 11th, the father Chen napped for a while. A few days earlier, Chen Lin had also tuned up the computer. Mama Chen made meals for me and the neighbors who dropped in to chat.
Xiaofeng’s family is in a village near Shijiazhuang, and 26 days after her death, at around 10:30 in the morning on November 11th, I arrived at their house. Coming from nearby Xinji City, the crisscrossing roads perplexed my cab driver and I, and we stopped to ask for directions: “How do I get to the family home of Chen Xiaofeng, the girl who was killed in the accident at Hebei University?” The country folk quickly asked in reply: “Where are you from? Why are you looking for them?”
When I got my things and walked into Xiaofeng’s home, the door was closed. I called a few times, and Chen Lin and mother Chen surprisedly welcomed this unexpected guest into their home.
A few minutes after I got there, the village head and the Party secretary showed up, saying a villager had called and reported someone in a cab asking directions to the Chen family home. In the kitchen, they asked Chen Guangqian who the person who had come was. I have heard that tomorrow, the village leader, a village cadre, and the Party secretary will come to the Chen family’s home again.
In villages near Beijing, tiny roads spread in all directions. For a southerner like me, it’s hard to get used to. I don’t belong here, the person who is used to this place is Xiaofeng, Hebei University’s Chen Xiaofeng…
Now it’s three o’clock in the morning. Just now I went out to pee again, and it’s still silent, so silent I don’t dare to think. I’ll sleep with my clothes on, and when I sleep I can dream of the home I’m used to in the south, dream of my beloved father and mother, and of my nieces and nephews.
In dreams, everything is possible, our harmonious dreams! ((This is a bit of a play on words, as he’s suggesting both that actual dreams allow us to reconnect harmoniously with our family and our past, but it’s also a jab at the concept of “harmony” used in government propaganda; Feng Jun is suggesting that it’s just a [pipe] dream. There’s a clever mix of cynicism and optimism in the twin meanings that’s very difficult to translate, perhaps someone else could have a better go at it.))