Mountain Road by Chen Yingzhen
The first time the reader meets the protagonists at the hospital. Almost fifty-year-old lady Lao Dasao is very sick, and Doctor Yang asks Li Guomu, her brother-in-law, about the onsets of her illness. He believes that there could be some events that caused Lao Dasao to worry or be extremely angry or that something had happened that made Lao Dasao to have no hope to live anymore. Li Guomo has no idea or pretends that he has no idea about it. At least, he tells the doctor that nothing made her angry which he can confess to himself was absolutely true. However, he is also interested in finding out why she has fallen ill.
The story looks like Li Guomu’s memories. His brother Li Guokun was taken by the government as the traitor and killed. After that Lao Dasao came to Guomu’s family as his young wife. She wanted to help and support his family as her own. Guomu’s family was poor and needed help, so she was welcome to help. She stayed there for thirty years. She helped to raise Guokun, Guomu’s brother. She worked very hard to let Guomu study and find his way in life. And he did, he became a good accountant and his family turned out to be pretty rich after all. By that time, Lao Dasao was an integral part of the family. She looked after Guomu’s and Guokun’s mother, she worked pushing the coal cart deep in the mine, and she was a good sister for Guomu.
The problems with Lao Dasao’s health started two month before the episode in the hospital. She read the article that said that after more than thirty year imprisonment four prisoners convicted of sedition were released. These prisoners were transferred to the district police by appointed unites wherein they regained citizenship. One of those prisoners was a man named Huang Zhenbo. Huang Zhenbo was Guokun’s old friend, and they were taken by the government together. At that time Guokun was killed, and Zhenbo was sent to jail to spend his whole life there. After all, he was released among those four prisoners. After reading this article Lao Dasao started crying. She could not find comfort for many hours. She showed the article to Li Guomu, but never explained why she was so upset. Since Lao Dasao found out about it she became sicker and weaker every day. It continued until she got to that hospital where Doctor Yang and his assistants Chen and Wang tried to understand what had happened to her.
The situation with Lao Dasao reminded Guomu about his mother. Her name was Qishi Shen. After Guokun had disappeared, she became sick and unwilling to live. She kept fading each day until it was too late. Lao Dasao looked after her just as Guomu’s wife Yuexiang looks after Lao Dasao at the hospital now. The only difference was that his mother was lying in the dark and stinking room while Lao Dasao stayed at a fancy and expensive hospital room.
The doctor could not understand what was wrong with Dasao. Guomu could not understand it either. At first, he thought that she was just touched by the memory of his brother when she read about Zhenbo being released from the prison. He thought it would change soon as it was nothing serious, just his brother’s best friend released from the prison. He never knew Zhenbo, and he was used to living without his brother. It seemed to him that nothing significant happened. However, Lao Dasao changed completely. She almost stopped eating, was quiet and thoughtful all the time until she took to her bed in two weeks. She accepted all the medication that Guomu and his wife tried to give her, but she never reached out for help. It seemed like she got very old and tired overnight. Li Guomu did not know what to tell the doctor. He could not tell him the whole story about his brother and Huang Zhenbo. He could not tell him about the morning when Lao Dasao read the article either. There was something important, but Guomu could not understand what exactly it was. He could only see the surface but was not able to look deeper into the thoughts and feelings of Dasao. And Dasao never wanted to share those thoughts and feelings, no matter how good the relationships in the family were. No matter how hard Guomu tried to help his sister-in-law to overcome the sickness it seemed that Dasao just gave up completely.
Unfortunately, Lao Dasao passed away three month after the beginning of her strange illness. The expensive hospital room did not help her to overcome the sickness or whatever took her life from her. Guomu and his wife loved Lao Dasao so they were very sad and unhappy about her death. This woman was a very close relative to them; she was a real part of the family.
At some point Guomu had to pack Lao Dasao’s things that left in her room after her death. That’s when he found an envelope that belonged to Lao Dasao. The letter was addressed to Huang Zhenbo and it cleared everything to Li Guomu in the way he never expected or suspected.
The interesting fact is that the reader finds the letter together with Guomu at the end of the story. Until this moment, the reader is as curious as the protagonist. In some way this letter reveals the main conflict and answers all the questions that appear during the first part of the story. The outcome is already seen, however nobody knows the reasons yet. The reader and Li Guomu are standing in front of a big secret, and the letter is like a beam of light that can clear everything for everybody.
The first thing Guomu learned from the letter was that Lao Dasao’s real name was Cai Qianxui, and that she was not the person he always thought she was. This letter let Guomu know everything that had been hidden from him for many years along with the reason why Lao Dasao had lost her desire to live.
More than thirty years ago Cai Qianxui was not Guokun’s wife but Zhenbo’s fiancée. More than thirty years ago she was young and passionate, and her feelings were bright and romantic. She loved Zhenbo and knew that he and his friends struggled to make the world a better place for everybody, and especially for workers. They were writing letters and poems about the government that were illegal. They were brave and strong. One day near the little village of Kamding in Thotin Zhenbo introduced Cai Qianxui to his friend Li Guokun whom she had to call Guokun Dage, which meant Older Brother. She liked him a lot. On the way home she and Zhenbo were on the mountain road, and she listened to him and thought that she was willing to take any struggle in life without complaint if it could help such people as Guokun Dage and Zhenbo. And she would still want to be Zhenbo’s wife if she could start her life all over again.
Among Zhenbo’s friends there was Qianxui’s brother Hanting who then deceived them and let the government arrest them along with others who were willing to fight. Hanting told the police everything he knew, and then told his beloved sister about it. In the end he was arrested. But it changed the course of life for the young girl completely. She felt terrible because her brother could do such a terrible thing; he could betray people she loved so much. She decided to go to Guokun’s family to help them with everything she could because she knew they were poor. She chose Guokun’s family instead of Zhenbo’s because she knew that Zhenbo’s family was rich, and that there were three sons and that they would be fine without her. So she sacrificed herself to Guokun’s family pretending to be Guokun’s young wife. She spent all her life working hard and helping her new family through their tough life without complaining. She abused her body and spirit in the name of people that were betrayed by her brother, the people that she loved with all her heart.
Lao Dasao, as she called herself in her new life, knew that Zhenbo’s imprisonment and Guokun’s death were caused by her family. And she wanted to do something to fix it or at least try to make amends. She suffered a lot when little Guomu was growing up. It took Guomu many years to become an accountant and to support the family. After all, he succeeded and the family became rich enough for Lao Dasao to stop working so hard. She lived well for seven or eight years and she had forgotten about Zhenbo and Guokun. Her feelings became numb; her life became happy and calm. The article reminded her about them, about her fiancée and his best friend; and she was stunned by the fact that she had forgotten them. Her room, her television, stereo, good sofa and everything she had gave her the sense of shame. Zhenbo’s return reminded Dasao that he and Guokun had suffered their whole lives because of Lao Dasao’s family, because of her brother. This thought was unbearable for Lao Dasao or Cai Qianxui; she could not accept the fact of living this fancy life anymore. She thought that she did not deserve it so she lost her desire to live further. That was the real reason why she became sick and why she finally faded away and died.
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Li Guomu was shocked by this revelation. All his life he knew Lao Dasao as one person, and then she turned out to be somebody else. It is impossible to say that she really lied because people normally lie to have a better life. And Lao Dasao lied to sacrifice her whole life to the family that was never connected to her. The only connection she had was established on a mountain road where she was walking side by side with Huang Zhenbo. At that time she realized that she could eat all the life’s bitterness without a word of regret. Basically, that mountain road changed her whole life.
At the end of the story, the reader can see Li Guomu crying. He puts the letter back to the envelope and thinks of Dasao. He will have been thinking about her many years, because this woman has done something extraordinary. She was not a heroine in a classical meaning of this word. She never saved life, or caught a killer or stopped the battle. However, her exploit is undeniable. She sacrificed her whole life to that moment on a mountain road that gave her enough strength to remain faithful forever.