Ghost of Chinese Past

Writer’s note:

Fun fact- I can trace my lineage to Princess Ping Yang’s brother, which makes her my great grand aunt, thousand times removed.

And this is how I imagine her- witty and quoting Shakespeare.

I apologize for any feathers I may ruffle with this piece, though indeed that is my intention, but not offensively. Although elements of this writing are (obviously) not 100% historically accurate, the keynotes persist.

I must emphasise that I do, and always have admire China as a nation. So rich in history and talent- fascinating to say the least. 

Yet, as I examine the social mechanics that surround me, I must return, to my roots, where it all begin.

P.S.: This is a work of fiction… or is it?

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I slam a shot glass on the table; the force sends shock waves up my right arm.

My armpit fats are flapping violently.

I throw my head back, disheveled black curls bouncing. The tequila shoots right through my nasal canal and explodes in my brain like Merdeka fireworks.

“Oooohh, babeh!” I shriek, not unlike a hyena, simultaneously releasing what I hope is a silent burp. A burping hyena.

A few empty shot glasses sit before me in single file.

The bar counter where I’m perched is nearly empty, because what idiot waste away at the bar on a Wednesday night. The bartender looks amused as he places a new batch of shots before me.

“Your shots, ma’am.” He says with an air of professionalism. “That will be RM109.90.”

I fix him with a pointed look. “You!” I wave a finger at his distinctively oriental features. My wedding band is gleaming under the yellow fluorescent light. “Walking embodiment of Chinese male privilege.”

I pause, finger mid-jab…

Then everything went black.

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“Babe, wake up. Babe!” Somebody is shaking my shoulders like an Osim massage chair.

I grunt.

The voice’s owner circles around and plops unto the stool next to me.

“Rough day?” she asked. I note her attire of black spaghetti straps and denim shorts.

My head feels heavy. I prop off the bar top with a mighty splurge of strength, not unlike a constipated dump.

I gather enough consciousness to study my new friend. There’s a scar on her left cheek, but not enough to taint her sublime Chinese beauty. Her long black hair flows all the way down her rich blossoms; her voice lined with sweet authority.

“Meiii aii elp youu?” I manage.

She helps herself to my shots. “Ooooff..” She blinks twice, then swirls her head around to face me. I notice a dark penis-looking tattoo on her left wrist.

She follows my stare. “Like it?” she says. “I got it last week. Reminds me of good times.”

“So, pray tell, of the affair that thrust you into this alcoholic rove.” She continues with a powerful gaze. Enchanting, even.

“I fought with my husband.” I say simply.

“Ahh… the opening to every good story ever.” She downs another shot. “How did he screw up? Obviously, it’s his fault.”

I relax a little. All hail the sisterhood. “Our first Chinese new year as a married couple is looming. And we can’t agree on where to spend new years’ eve reunion dinner.”

My fingers grip another shot glass, transferring its contents into my system. “Chinese tradition dictates we grace the male’s home. Obviously. Penis-ownership and all.” I don’t miss a beat. “As we know, the Chinese culture is one big tribute to the patriarchy.”

“He’s like, ‘why can’t we stick to the status quo?’ and all. And I’m, like, ‘I couldn’t care less where we eat. It’s the principle behind the gesture. We can’t allow another generation of gender-dictated policies’.”

I’m hyperventilating. And burping again- not so silently this time. But I don’t care. Rage is bubbling in my stomach, or maybe it’s the gas. It’s all pouring back to me. My friend who cares for her elderly father doesn’t get a cent of inheritance, while her useless brother gets all the land, on pure virtue of cock-entitlement. The other friend who slaves like Cinderella so her brothers can laze around like the douchebags they are, except Cinderella is a brainless masochist, while my friend has the misfortune of a vagina.

I’m seething with fury.

A balding uncle is eyeing me curiously. He’s either illiterate or a blatant jerk, judging by the cigarette in his mouth despite the striking “no smoking” sign.

My verbal diarrhea does not halt. “New years’ eve dinner seems minute, pick your battles and all. But these are the foundation to more palpable sexism. Rid the base, rid the peak, and rid the patriarchy.” I spit with fervor.

My new friend widens her eyes at me, a smile plastered on her lips.

She raises a shot glass. “Cheers babe. Death to misogynist.”

“Cheers.” I shadow her actions, chugging the glass down my throat.

A shot of adrenaline rockets through my body… and all went pitch black again.

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I open my eyes, and then close them quickly again. Sun is beating down, right through my eyelids and cornea.

“Arghh… my pancreas.” I moan, still lying flat on what appears to be grass, flapping my arms like some pathetic grass angel.

I hear a snort to my right. “Babe, sit up. Check this out.” It’s spaghetti-straps-with-scar girl. She’s sitting with her knees to her chest.

“Where are we? What…” I begin.

“Sshhh…” she interrupts. “Look!”

I drag myself up and discover we are perched on… a hill? Below us sits a city, a prominent pagoda in sight. China? Despite our beaming sun, the city is covered in darkness.

I’m about to crack some Kungfu Panda related joke when a girl sprints out through the huge city gates. She’s clad in a ruqun and white shawl, running like her life depends on it. In fact, she looks like Mulan at the 100m event of the Olympics, with the skirt pulled right up to her boobs.

Ancient China?

Her hair flowing behind her, she’s running and running. She’s a good 3km or so out of the city before she slows into a brisk walk.

“She’s fleeing from Imperial assassins,” scarred-face chick commentates. “Her father and husband are heading a rebellion to overthrow the emperor. The emperor is a dick head and medical wonder- born without a brain. He poisoned his dad for the throne, then aspired genocide through attempts to expand the great wall and great canal. And you’ll think a nincompoop of that magnitude would lose interest and switch goals, but no, he gathers an army to invade Korea and Vietnam, and we all know how that went. ”

She continues. “Along comes her dad, who rose through ranks from peasant to general, pretty kickass story. Emperor Moron sends him on a series of dimwit missions, and he doesn’t even complain. In fact, he’s so freaking legit that the enemies submit to a peace treaty with him- they won’t attack Chinese land as long as her dad is in charge. Problem is, Emperor gong-gong decides its…” she rolls her eyes and raises her fingers in air quotes, “a threat to national security or some crap along those lines, and orders his execution. Hence, rebellion.”

“Wow…” I manage. Our hill has mysteriously trailed the general’s daughter.

“A few days later, she arrives at her home province.” The landscape before us fades, only to be replaced by a village, acres of sweet land and yummy topless men.

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“The saga unfolds.” My raconteur gaze into the distance. “Our heroine sells her  family home and land for monies, which she uses to purchase weapons, equipment and tonnes of other badass shit.I watch as Mulan in the white shawl makes numerous exchanges. House. Land. Money. Bazooka. AK-47.

Next, she gathers every Tom, Dick and Harry Lee, Wong and Tan to aid her strive.

“Babe, keep in mind that this is the year 617, when men wore their egos like hair gel. The patriarchy then make 2017’s look like kindergarten play.”

The general’s daughter chick is so hardcore, she shaves her head and whips her homie peasants into shape, then proceeds to offer the surrounding warlord tribes 3 options: (1) bandit leader gets officer commission in her army, (2) gets bribed with food or money, or (3) get a serious ass-whooping in battle.

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They usually say yes to army-membership. Soon, the army grows to an impressive 70,000.

I’m engrossed.

My companion’s face grows serious. She stretches her feet and arms out in front of her. We’re still sitting on the grassy hill as battle after battle, negotiation after negotiation flash before us.

“Not long after, she joins forces with her dad. Together, they beat the macam-yes Sui army into sorry, rotting pulps. Papa claims the throne, declaring himself Emperor Gaozu, first emperor of the Tang Dynasty.”

I pause, and my gaze falls on her penis-tattoo, then the bald newly-crowned princess at the foot of our enchanted hill. A wave of revelation traverse through me.

“You are her, with hair. You are Princess Ping Yang, daughter of General Li Yuan, aka Emperor Gaozu.” I point at her tattoo. “That’s the Tang Dynasty, which you helped forge, because only a badass feminist like you can form an empire shaped like a giant male organ.”

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She smiles good-naturedly and folds her legs. “The tale progress,” she says slowly. “As you know, I died 2 years later at 23 years old.”

The scene before us transforms into a throne/ administration room. Emperor Gaozu is sitting on his throne with a determined look etched on his face.

“… But she’s a girl. With a V-jay-jay. How can we allow this??” Says the ugliest guy I’ve ever seen.

“… Does she have Y- chromosomes? Huh? Huh?” I take it back, this one’s uglier.

Wú huáng, wàn suì, wàn suì, wàn wàn suì! Your majesty, we simply CANNOT allow this! Our customs and traditions simply disallows martial music at a woman’s funeral! ” This one looks like the offspring of an Orang Utan and Frankenstein’s monster, except deformed.

I’m watching with dropped jaw. “What’s their problem? You rallied the rebellion troops and helped form the empire! What’s their contribution? Other than comical relief with their faces?”

She sniggers. “The lizard-looking one had the audacity to harass my handmaiden? Pinched her ass. Male chauvinist pig.”

“Jerk,” I agree, leaning over our magic hill for a closer look.

“We value her contributions, and are eternally grateful. However, we cannot discount the fact that she’s a woman!” Lizard man is still talking.

I’m about to launch a chain of choice words when the emperor raises his hand. Silence follows.

“The princess personally beat the battle drums and aided my ascend to power. There WILL be martial music.” He relays with authority.

There may be hope yet.

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I blinked, and the bar shimmers into sight. Princess Ping Yang is still perched on the bar stool next to me.

She has a shot glass in her clasp. “Cheers, babe,” she says, a twinkle in her eye.

I mirror her move. “Cheers, princess.”

We down the shots simultaneously.

And the bar plunge into darkness, again.

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I snap my eyes open. We are back on the sunny little hill.

I study the view before me. I know a modern Chinese village when I see one.

“It’s the year 2017. Look through that window.” Princess Ping Yang gestures.

I obediently trace her pointer. A family sits around a table for dinner… it IS a family?

“The man is entertaining guest, the elderly couple. Miss his wife?” Her focus shifts and I follow. “She’s in the kitchen. She doesn’t have the ‘right’ to dine with guest at the table.” I’m horrified.

The panorama changes. A similar scene unravels. “Same shit, different home.”

And another. And another. Gosh… another?

Suddenly, we arrive at an unexpected scene. The husband, wife, and three guests are seated at the dining table, chatting and being merry. I’m so surprised I gasp aloud.

“That’s Li Xiaomin. She’s an elementary school teacher. She is this village’s only married woman who eats at the table with guest.” Princess Ping Yang relates. “She also earns 1000 yuan in monthly wage, way higher than the village’s average of 170 yuan. In northern rural China, a woman’s status is directly proportionate to her earnings.”

“The sexism in this village might seem like the exception and not the rule, and while the law may dictate that each child share equal inheritance, misogynist dies hard.”

She tilts her head and gathers her hair behind each ear. “For exactly this reason, girls must be educated, to raise the female status, everywhere. On top of improved status, education brings forth urbanisation, which entails independence and equality.”

“Every revolution begins with a tiny change- our individual role to play.

We are at the bar again.

“So, I should NOT oblige social norms, shut up, and follow my husband to his parents’ home?” I asked confused.

“Not exactly, I suggest you give the situation serious thought, fully informed. There is no handbook for feminism. Instead, we strive for generations of thinking woman. Woman who understand the ultimate goal- female empowerment. We must right the system, but be cautious not to, in the process, lose our soul.

I rest my chin on my palm and pout.

She winks. “I’ll leave you with that for now,” and raises yet another shot glass. “Parting is such sweet sorrow that I say goodnight till it be morrow.”

I clank my glass against hers with a grin. “Goodnight! Goodnight!”

We down.

And darkness envelopes me. Again.

“Baby, you okay?” A deep voice meets my ear.

I wrestle my torso off the bar top. Where Princess Ping Yang was, now sits my husband.

“I’m fine.” My voice is coarse. I eye his expression- slightly concerned, yet brimming with purpose.

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He holds up a 50 cent coin, turns it so I glimpse the Bunga Raya and Wau at alternate intervals. “I have a solution. I’m going to flip this coin. Heads, we spend new year’s eve at your parents. Tails, mine.”

I grip his hand just as he’s about to toss the coin into the air. “And then next year, we alternate.”

He shoots me that smile that turns my insides to agar-agar.

The coin leaps into the air, lands on the bar counter, and spins for a few seconds.

Then it settles- flat and stationary.

We bend over to determine the verdict.

Slowly, our gaze raise and meets. Smiles escape the corner of our lips.

“Amorous congress?” He asked.

“You bet.”

Then we beeline for the toilet.

P.S.: I am thankful that my parents raised my siblings and I strictly equal, regardless of gender. Some close to me will argue that I was raised as a boy, a claim with gravity given that (as far as I remember) the most feminine purchase my father has made for me are sanitary pads. However, many around me do not share that good fortune. I may not change the system, but I hope to do my part, because, at the risk of sounding like a broken record- every revolution begins with a tiny change.


Princess Ping Yang

Rural North China


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