Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Dong XI

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Dong XI

Article excerpt

The only joke that my mother ever told begins: A husband and wife after years of waiting and expensive fertility treatments finally conceive, and nine months later they are in the delivery room and their son's head slides out into the doctor's hands. "Where's the rest of him?" asks the father. The doctor informs him that the boy was born without a body, but he's perfectly healthy otherwise. The father looks down at his son and loves him immediately. He raises him just like he would a son with a body. And, at this point, the joke can be stretched. And there are better ways to set up the punchline (a scene in a bar is one) but here's how my mother ended it: One morning, the boy is sitting in his favorite spot looking out the window watching other kids play. The boy wishes for a body, wishes he could play outside with the other kids; he's done this a million times, but this time arms begin to sprout and then legs and he rushes out the door. The boy is hit by a bus. I'm sure you know the punchline or you can guess it.

I never laughed. I think she only told the joke once but it's rattled around in my head for three decades. It devastated me. It's less a joke than a parable. Since my first translation of Dong Xi's fiction appeared in Chinese Literature Today in 2014 ("Why Don't I Have a Mistress?" in Vol. 4 No. 2), I have struggled to come up with a simple answer to the question of what Dong Xi is all about, and that joke was always on my mind. …

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