Donna Jo Napoli
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YOUNG XING XING IS BOUND.
Bound to her late father's second wife and daughter. Bound to a life of servitude as a young girl in ancient China, where a woman is valued less than livestock. Bound to be alone, with no parents to arrange for a suitable husband. Xing Xing spends her days taking care of her half sister, Wei Ping, who cannot walk because of her foot bindings, the painful tradition for girls who are fit to be married. Even so, Xing Xing is content to practice her gift for poetry and calligraphy, and to dream of a life unbound by the laws of family and society.
But all of this is about to change as Stepmother, who has spent nearly all of the family's money, grows desperate to find a husband for Wei Ping. Xing Xing soon realizes that this greed and desperation may threaten not only her memories of the past, but also her dreams for the future.
Stepmother believed that if she acted kind at these times, Father’s ghost wouldn’t know how she treated her stepdaughter at other times. Such a belief would be absurdly naïve—spirits could be anywhere, at any time. You had but to call out to a spirit of a close ancestor and it would come to you if it knew where you were. That’s why it was so important to speak to the spirits and let them know when you went anywhere unexpected. Together Stepmother and Xing Xing stood the candles in the trough of
wiped his mouth with the back of his wrist. “People need my services. A girl your age understands that surely.” Xing Xing was not sure where this line of thought was leading, but it made her stomach tumble in worry. “My sister needs your services.” “I use alchemy for longevity. I call on male and female spirits to protect inner organs of humans. I exorcise demons by saying spells in two different Indian languages. I draw on astrological calculations so that I can use acupuncture to its greatest
to Sheng and threw her arms around the dog’s neck. She looked back defiantly at the man with the stick. The man withdrew his stick. “He’s not a real doctor—a real zhong yi,” he said loudly. “If he were a real zhong yi, he would send his patients to a state run pharmacy for their medicine. He’s nothing but a lang zhong. He costs little,” said the man, looking around with a challenge in his eyes, “because he’s a quack. A wandering quack. A real doctor is thin because he works hard. This man is a
grass, every stone. No blood. No telltale blood. Indeed, the stones were shiny clean, as though they’d been washed. Every trace washed away. Xing Xing ran. Over dirt and grass and pebbles and sticks. She ran as fast as she could. When she couldn’t run anymore, she threw herself to the ground in an alfalfa field and howled with grief. The sun burned across the entire sky, and still Xing Xing lay prostrate in the field, as though lifeless. But by the time night came, her ears were doing strange
all, wisdom resided in the stomach, and she wanted Father’s wisdom to refine her motions; she wanted his guidance and approval even more these days than she had when he was alive. Her art had not deteriorated in the period since his death. Xing Xing sat on the floor now and looked carefully at Master Tang’s new painting. In the foreground was a home on a cliff with a pear tree in blossom; in the background, a bay cradled by mountains. This was a scene from the long, long coastline that Xing Xing