Full Moon is the first prominent work by Jia Pingwa. It was published in 1978 and was awarded the First National Outstanding Short Story Award. Jia Pingwa utilizes a kind of poetic and modern vision to seek out warmth and brightness among China’s native soil and to reveal a unique kind of love and beauty.
The narrator of the story meets two sisters from her Aunt’s home while recovering from an illness at her hometown. The elder sister is called Man’er and the younger sister Yue’er. The two have opposite personalities: Yue’er likes to laugh and tease while Man’er is gentle and very introverted. Regardless, both girls possess a fine and healthy sense of humanity. They are unadulterated and sincere. The two girls have a strong effect on the narrator. The story simultaneously follows Man’er’s study of English and her research of wheat seeds. These pursuits demonstrate the respect and yearning for knowledge. It is a realization of “modernization” and praises conviction of ideals and hard work. As a whole, the story is written meticulously with a crisp style. It is similar to a countryside folk song. Coming out of the 1970s, such a voice is distinctive and precious.
Starting with Full Moon, the novels created by Jia Pingwa are more or less centered on the theme of native soil. The works also pay close attention to the transformation and progress of the times. From Full Moon, to Turbulence, and eventually to Qin Opera, the stream of Jia’s narratives develops and changes, inevitably shifting from a countryside folk song to a countryside elegy.
Jia Pingwa，born in 1952, is a native of Danfeng County, Shangluo City in Shaanxi Province.
Having graduated from the Chinese Language Department of Northwest University in 1975, Jia Pingwa founded the literary journal Essay in 1992, and assumed the position of Dean of School of Humanities at Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology in 2003. He is, now, a member of the Presidium of the Chinese Writers’ Association, Chairman of Shaanxi branch of the organization, and Chairman of Xi’an Literary Federation of Literary and Art Circles. Jia Pingwa started publishing literary works in 1974, First Records of Shangzhou, Turbulence, Ruined City, White Nights, Earth Gate, Old Gao Village, Heavenly Dog, Black Clan, The Good Fortune Grave, The Regrets of a Bride Carrier, Pregnancy, Wolves of Yesterday, Health Report, and Qin Opera are but some of his major pieces.
In 1979, Jia Pingwa won the 1st National Best Short Story of the Year for his short story Full Moon. His works have been translated into over 20 languages including English, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.
Last summer, I was in the countryside getting over an illness. As the summer was nearing its end, I went to my aunt’s house. It happened to be the sixth day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar. On that day, the peasants all paid careful attention to set out their furs and silks to dry in the sunshine. As it’s said, this keeps the insects away.
In front of Auntie’s multi-household compound, there were rows of iron wire tied between the poplar trees. Hung upon the wire were fur-lined jackets, down coats, tussah silk fabric quilts, and dog felt carpets all drying under the sun. It was a sight to behold. Just as I was admiring them, I heard the sound of chuckling. I walked around a poplar tree and saw a 17- or 18-year-old girl and an elderly lady shaking bed sheets together. One of them pulled while the other slackened the tension to and fro. In this way, the recently washed, not-yet-dry quilt cover opened up unwrinkled. The girl was mischievous. Each time she pulled, she used too much force and yanked the old lady forward a step. The old lady scolded her in return.
“You damned girl! Are you looking for me to praise your strength? Be gentler with it! Gentle!”
The girl just laughed but didn’t let up at all and kept carrying the lady along with her.
The lady grew angry, saying “Be serious!” She pulled with all her might. The girl, all her attention now on laughing, carelessly let the quilt slip out of her hands. The lady stumbled and nearly toppled down backwards, but the girl shot forward a few steps to catch her. Both ended up landing with a thud, sitting down on the ground. The girl let out another gurgling laugh. The lady gave her a fierce poke on her forehead between her eyebrows, and then let out a laugh herself. Suddenly, the lady covered the girl’s mouth and pointed to the window to the east. The girl snuck over to the window. She was a little careless and knocked over a tile on the windowsill, breaking it. Frightened, she hopped forward two feet and yelled out, “Rise and shine sun! Don’t grow mold sitting on your butt!”
At this moment, my aunt noticed me. Happily, she brought out some tea and made me sit under the shade in front of the door. I could see the girl was still laughing over there and called her over to drink some tea. She came over immediately. The old lady laughed and used her hand to poke the girl’s face, teasing her and asking if she felt ashamed of herself.
“What? Shouldn’t I be able to drink with her too?” my cousin asked. “She’s my elder sister!”
“You really are something,” my aunt said. “It’s your first meeting, and you want to get familiar! My niece is the ‘fine scholar’ of the agricultural college. You should call her teacher!”
I laughed and asked her why she was looking into the window.
“The jewel of our family lives over there” she said.
“This is Yue’er,” my aunt told me. “The girl inside is her older sister, Man’er. Their names put together mean ‘the full moon’. Man’er works in a research station and she’s currently conducting an experiment inside. When she’s working, nobody in the family is allowed to disturb her – her mother included."
“Man’er is the important one of the family,” Yue’er said. “You need to protect what’s important!”
“And you?” I asked.
“We’re plebeians! Ha – I really doubt whether or not I came from my mom.”
Everyone laughed. Yue’er herself laughed the hardest.
Yue’er started to sift through the netted bag I had brought along and took out two books. She noticed that they were filled with characters from a foreign country and asked what country’s letters the books contained.
“English,” I said.
“Can you understand it?”
“She can sit there reading all morning without moving an inch and never get the slightest bit dizzy,” Aunt said. Yue’er was happy. She said her older sister had that kind of book too, except not so thick. She absolutely loved to hear her older sister read aloud from that book, but her sister simply wouldn’t let her listen.
But before I finished reading half a page to her, she ran off. She ran across the field to a young man stomping and playing atop the stoneroller used for grinding the husks of reeds. She jumped up to join him, making the stones roll and grate against each other. She let out a gurgling laugh.
That night, as I stewed the medical herbs, I read one of the foreign language books under a lamp’s light. Then I unexpectedly heard a gentle knocking. It subsided, and I figured it was the blowing of the wind; but then two more gentle knocks followed along with a voice. “Teacher Lu, are you asleep?”
“Who is it?” I opened the door to reveal a girl of 24 or 25 leaning on the doorframe. When I looked at her, she blushed a little, then lowered her head and played with her long braid.
“I’m Man’er,” she said. “I live in the room diagonal from here. It’s really late – am I disturbing you?”
I was happy and told her to come in. When I raised the curtains, she lightly flashed inside. Noiselessly, she went over to the kang and sat stably down on its edge, not moving in the least.
“You and your sister look so different!” I said with Yue’er in mind.
“Everyone has their own character,” she said with a gentle smile. “This afternoon, I heard her say you came over and brought some foreign language books with you. I’m really happy about it. Teacher Lu, how long will you stay?”
“About ten days.”
“Actually, you can stay a little longer,” she said, then suddenly noticed the medicine pot. “Are you sick?”
I told her that I’d contracted a chronic stomach ulcer and that my current visit was chiefly making time for me to recuperate.
She furrowed her brow for a while, then finally spoke. “Tomorrow I’m going to write a letter to Shengwen. He’s my classmate. Right now, he’s a village doctor. He has special traditional, home remedies for this disease – they’re extremely effective. At first I wanted to ask you for something, but it looks like you’re sick..."
She sat in front of the medicine pot as she spoke and used the chopsticks to stir it.
“You want to study English?” I asked.
The chopsticks stopped and she raised her head. “How did you know?”
“Yue’er said so.”
“Teacher Lu,” she gave out a quick laugh. “Before, when we were just ‘those peasants’, what was the use in us studying a foreign language? But now that I’ve started doing research, I realize how important it is! I’ve started teaching myself, but without a teacher I’ve given it all my effort just to memorize a few words.”
“Then how about I teaching you.”
She let out a cheerful noise of laughter. Her laugh had its own touch of magic as well! She got near the lamp and used her hairpin to pull the wick up a little. We started studying right away. She took a list out of her pocket with the Chinese words “wheat”, “oats”, “tiller”, “bloom” and “pollination” written on it. She said she was researching the distant hybridization of wheat and oats right then and subsequently wanted to master these few words first. I taught her the spelling three times, and then she started to write them from her memory. When she was writing out “pollination”, the medicine pot began to bulge and screech from its boiling. She let out a squirm of surprise and took the pot off the flame. She yelped all of a sudden and quickly set the pot down on the table. She held her hand up to her mouth to blow at it and cool it down. I worriedly took a glance at her finger and saw that the middle already had a blister bulging up. I panicked, but she just plucked a long hair from atop her head and got it through a needle. She used this to pop the blister. “It looks OK, just let it slowly drain. Have a look, did I write ‘pollination’ correctly?”
She had written it perfectly. The letters were clear and fluent, just like her – graceful, warm, and beautiful.