Hsiao Hsiao 蕭蕭
WHEN THE NORTH WIND CAME
Translated by Patty Pei-Jung LEE 李佩蓉
Dear Eldest Brother:
Recently His Majesty our Father has been getting frequent dizzy
spells, but the doctors have not told us why. Now that he is on
medication, there are signs of improvement. His Majesty tells
you all not to worry.
Late last night His Majesty obtained for you the God Hsuen Tien
protective charm that you requested. Once it has been sewn up
in a scented pouch, Mei Juan will bring it to you. These are His
Majesty’s instructions: you must hang it at a clearly visible
place in the car, and must not take it into the washroom or any
other uncleanly place, so please do take care.
Your Youngest Brother
My brother’s letters have generally run along these lines in
the past ten-odd years: “kidnapping the Emperor to command
the vassals.” He always referred to our father as “His Majesty
Our Father” whenever he wrote. As Sun Yat-Sen had said: creation
of the republic is to make all four hundred and fifty million
compatriots of our nation emperors in their own right! So “we”
believe that there is no better way to refer to our Father than the
way “our” brother has chosen.
In our “palace,” Father really was the emperor. Ever since
we were young we had all been scared of Father, as if we were
mice in the vicinity of a cat. When I was little, I had at least
some sort of a safe harbor to shield me from the storms, as
Grandmother had always protected me; but by the time my
younger brothers were grown up, Her Majesty Our Grandmother
had passed away and we completely lost our source of indulgent
support. It was also from that year, however, that we felt Father
had also lost a certain pillar from his emotional strength, and
there were times when even he seemed lost and silent.
I did not know why I was so afraid of Father, until I came
to teach at the Girls’ School and the students asked me to always
keep a smile on my face; they said that they were afraid to see
my unsmiling face. Then I remembered that Father’s face was
also like that: “mighty without fury.” No wonder a girl
remarked a few days ago that my face is very “grand.” It was another “grand” face like mine that had kept us always “standing
straight” when saying “yes, sir” to our Father when we were
We rarely saw Father smile, although Father had a very
deep dimple in his cheek, so that it seemed as if a blossom had
stirred up ripples in a pond.
We rarely saw Father smile, although Father had a set of
pearly white teeth that made him look like a model for the
Blackie Toothpaste advertisement when he smiled.
However, we often heard him laugh resoundingly as he
chatted to our neighbors. His laugh had resonated like the enormous
bells from a mountain shrine.
Actually we were not the only ones who were afraid of
him; all kids in the neighborhood were afraid of him. Crying
children would suddenly choke back their tears when they saw
Father walk past. If Father then threw a grin in his direction, the
child would be at a complete loss, and only when Father had
strolled far far away would the child suddenly seem to recall
himself, at which point he would let out a piercing shriek as if
the sky had fallen!
Father had never shown his stern face to anyone other than
my brothers and me. When Father got angry, his words would
be clipped, and his scolds were always brief. A simple command:
“stand up straight!” was enough to keep us well reprimanded
for a long time. Once we were playing with a group of
children, and Father happened to see me aim a blow at my
younger brother. He was furious and called out: “Come here!”
In addition to my brother and me, three other pale-faced children
also ran over to stand straight before him!
One bellow and the sky becomes overcast!
Nonetheless, the lion does not always roar. Father said:“He who yaps a lot must not be a lion. A lion treads deeply
within the forests; knowledge is deep in the heart.” These words
are said in Hokkien, and I recall them clearly as I really liked
them. The lion would not roar all the time, and true “knowledge”
is not always bantered about. What is frequently being
boasted of is not true knowledge, not real wisdom. Father was
my sky when I was little; I did not know exactly how high or
how wide the sky was, because Father’s “knowledge” was
deeply hidden in his heart. The occasional drop of information
was to me an entire forest. Even now I often make reference in
my classes to things he had said, and I treasure every tree, every
blade of grass in that forest.
I am the eldest son, and therefore whenever Father made
the routine offerings to our ancestors, he would require me to
stand by his side to learn how to burn the incense sticks and
paper money correctly,...
From Hsiao Hsiao’s 蕭蕭 Fu-wang pien-tan lai-shih-lu 《父王‧扁擔‧來時
路》[His majesty my father, shouldering poles, and the way we came], Taipei:
Elite Publishing, 2001, pp. 18-21.