I was staying in the village
That was known as Banzhushan,
In the mountains, in the Province
That the Chinese call Hunan,
It was perched atop the mountain
You could reach, and touch the sky,
But there were no single women,
And the men up there were shy.
They were poor, could offer nothing
To entice a willing bride,
They earned little from their labours,
And their houses, poor inside,
So the girls would leave to travel
Down the mountain to the plain,
Where they’d find a richer husband
Than the farmer, sowing grain.
So the men would send out raiders
To the outskirts of the towns,
And they’d kidnap straying peasants,
All the women that they found,
And they’d target younger widows
Who would not put up a fight,
Then would carry them to Banzhushan
Protected by the night.
I had met a village elder
By the name of Zhang Fan Cheng,
He was ancient, a magician,
One the Chinese call yāorén,
He invited me to dinner,
It was simple, shoots and rice,
He was dignified and courteous,
But caught me by surprise.
In the further room, a mirror
Stood at length, both straight and tall,
The frame was wrought in silver
And it leant against the wall,
He showed it to me proudly
Then asked how much would I pay?
For just 5,000 R.M.B.
He’d sell it me, today!
I reached out to feel the silver,
Was it fake or was it real?
He sensed my hesitation
Then he motioned, ‘You be still!’
And plunged his hand into the glass
The mirror let him in,
His arm up to the elbow
Against science, against sin!
He reached his arm behind and pulled,
A girl came into sight,
She was standing in the mirror,
He was holding her so tight,
And she stared, while looking at me
And she said: ‘Qing bang bang wo!’
I could read it on her lips, and then
The wizard let her go.
She had said: ‘Would you please help me!’
But I’d stepped back in the room,
She was nowhere near behind me
Just reflected, in the gloom,
And I saw a tear forming at
The corner of her eye,
The wizard pulled his arm out, and
She waved to me, ‘Goodbye!’
I paid the man his money, and
I took the mirror down
On a wooden cart he lent me,
And I took it through Hunan,
Then I packed it on a train and went
Off speeding to Nanjing,
Where I kept a small apartment,
And I turned, and locked us in.
I stood the mirror over by
A meagre wooden shelf,
Then I stood quite still before it
Hoping she would show herself,
And I tried to put my arm inside
Like he had done before,
But the mirror was unyielding,
So I stood there, and I swore!
That night the girl appeared,
Standing right behind the glass,
And she pummelled on the surface
As if she’d be free at last,
But the mirror was ungiving,
And I couldn’t hear her voice,
So I took a ball pein hammer -
It had given me no choice!
She could see me through the mirror,
In alarm, she mouthed ‘Meiyou!’
But her beauty had beguiled me
Though I knew she’d shouted ‘No!’
I was fevered and impatient now
To set this beauty free,
So I swung the ball pein hammer
And it shattered, over me!
She fell out through the broken glass,
Lay trembling in my room,
Bleeding, sobbing in the silence,
Like the silence of the tomb,
And she said she’d been imprisoned
Since the days of Qin **** Huang,
Then she writhed upon the carpet
As her flesh turned into sand.
I had wanted to release her
To relieve those tender tears,
But her body, once released took on
The last two thousand years;
She took one last, despairing look
Then withered up to die,
And for years I’ve sought the answer
To the only question - ‘Why?’
David Lewis Paget
R.M.B. - Ren-Min-bi - or yuan (Chinese currency.)
Yāorén - magician
Qing bang bang wo - (Ching bang bang wor) - Please help me!
Meiyou - (May yo) - No, nothing
Qin **** Huang - (Chin Sher Hwang)
1st Emperor of China - 246-210 BC)