Ma Lan

Ma Lan.jpg

MA LAN was born in Meishan, Sichuan, China. Formerly an accountant at China Construction Bank, she immigrated to the U.S. in 1993. Since 1982, Ma Lan has published poetry, essays, and fiction in various Chinese literary journals. Her works have appeared in multiple annual anthologies. Her short story “Going Deaf” has been translated into German and Italian, and several of her poems in English appeared in Poetry in Translation (Summer 1996) and Another Kind of Nation: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Poetry, ed. Zhang Er and Chen Dongdong (New York: Talisman, 2008). Ma Lan has self-published a poetry collection Zuozainali (Where to Sit) and a short story collection Hua Feihua (Flowers Are Not Flowers). She has served for many years as an editor of The Olive Tree online literary magazine, the first online Chinese literary journal.

Charles A. Laughlin


CHARLES A. LAUGHLIN is the Ellen Bayard Weedon Chair Professor of Chinese Literature at the University of Virginia. Born in Minneapolis, he received his B.A. in Chinese Language and Literature from the University of Minnesota in 1988 and went on to complete a Ph.D. in Chinese Literature at Columbia University in 1996. He taught modern Chinese Literature at Yale University for ten years and then served as Resident Director of the PKU-Yale Joint Undergraduate Program at Beijing University (2006-2007) and the Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing (2007-2009). Laughlin’s first book, Chinese Reportage: The Aesthetics of Historical Experience, was published by Duke University Press in 2002, with a Chinese translation forthcoming. He edited Contested Modernities in Chinese Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), and his latest book The Literature of Leisure and Chinese Modernity was published by University of Hawai‘i Press in April 2008. Laughlin has translated Chinese stories, articles, and poems for several collections.


Written by Ma Lan

Translated by Charles A. Laughlin



Women have been dying in our town, jumping off buildings, drowning, hanging, and poisoning themselves.


Four women have died, their ages between thirty-eight and twenty-three. 


They died in place of me. The odor of death filled our Bent Neck town. Entertainment venues, like karaoke bars, quickly shut their doors. The streets were empty. Singing and dancing had long flourished in Bent Neck without being impacted by any deaths, even though people die all the time.


The people of our town had lived peaceful lives, waiting to live out our allotted years until the eternal sleep. The word “suicide” had been removed from The People’s Dictionary of Bent Neck.


We had reason to believe that suicide was a thing of the past. The town’s young and old, men and women, all stride forward, weathering all storms.


We had a reason not to believe that death is right beside us, that death is 


We had reason to believe that suicide was a thing of the past. The town’s young and old, men and women, all stride forward, weathering all storms.


We had a reason not to believe that death is right beside us, that death is inside the bodies of our loved ones, that death is a chronic disease just waiting for the time to be ripe, and that it can’t be avoided. That no one can hold death back, or that it is like a broken sword thrust into our hearts, tearing us asunder.


I sat upright in my bed and turned my eyes outside the window. There were seven inches of snow. My mind was blurry white clumps as the snow was quivering on the tree branches. So much snow; this winter seemed to never end.


Every time you thought it was the last snowfall, it would again come falling from the sky.


In this snowy winter, as I recollected the dead women and sketched them out in my mind, I felt that they came into my body, gradually making me swell like a balloon getting bigger and bigger. Eventually, not being able to withstand the tension anymore, the balloon exploded with a pop in midair and its shreds scattered about. Some of the shreds fell into my computer. Chinese characters flashed across the screen like a group of dancing snowflakes; with no other place to go, they escaped into my fingertips.


I used both my hands to search for fire, wanting to melt the snow. Instead, I gradually became a flurry of snow with nowhere to run. I couldn’t distinguish the dead women from me. Together, we formed gibberish symbols.


I saw myself in certain detail, and in the end, I did not die, because they died.


One jumped from a building; 


One swallowed sleeping pills; 


One walked into a river; 


One hanged herself.


The causes of death were varied, but the common thing was that they all died.

Dead, yet they live today, and they don’t think about the future. They are women I don’t know, but they died. They were hurt by their feelings; in other words, they murdered themselves.

Check out The Strangers for the whole story.