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Bright is the Moon over My Home Village

By Ji Xianlin

Everyone has his hometown, every hometown has a moon, and everyone loves the moon over his hometown. Presumably, that's how things are.

However, the moon would look lonely if it hung in the sky all by itself. In classic Chinese poems or essays, therefore, the moon is always accompanied by something, most likely by a mountain or a river. Hence, "High is the mountain, and small is the moon," and "Three towers reflected on the lake on a moonlight night," etc. There are simply too many such scenes to count.

My home village is located on a major plain in northwestern Shandong. I never saw a mountain when I was small; as a result, I didn't know what a mountain was like. In my imagination, a mountain was probably a thick and round column, so tall that it pierced the sky and looked awesome.

When I grew up, I went to Jinan, where I saw some mountains for the first time. Suddenly I became aware of what a mountain was. The moon that I saw in my village when I was young, therefore, was never associated with any mountains. It was beyond my wildest dream to understand what the poet Su Dongpo said in his poem: "The moon rises above the Eastern Mountain and lingers between the Southern Dipper and Altair."

As for water, there was plenty of it in my small village. Several reed-filled ponds made up most of the village. In the eyes of a kid such as me, those ponds were not as magnificent as Lake Dongting whose "waters in August are placid," but they did seem to extend far and wide.

On a summer evening, I would lie on the ground near a pond and try to count the stars in the sky. Occasionally a bonfire would be set under an old willow. Someone would climb onto the tree and shake it. And lo and behold, many cicadas would drop down. That was a much easier way of catching cicada than trying to get them glued to chewed wheat grains. Every evening I took great pleasure in doing that, and everybody I looked forward to the early arrival of dusk.

Later in the evening, I would walk to a pond, where I looked up at the moon in the sky, bright and clear, and down at the moon reflected, just as bright and clear, on the surface of the pond. Too young to know what a poem was, I was nonetheless so impressed by what I had seen that there seemed to be something stirring in my heart. On some days, I would play by the pond late into the night.

Not until midnight did I go home to sleep. And in my dream, I would see two moons, one on the top of the other, their light shining all the more brightly and splendidly. The next day, early in the morning, I would go to the pond to look for duck eggs in the reeds. Glistening, they were there for me to pick. I was happy beyond words.

I lived in my home village for only six years. Then I left it and began to live the life of an itinerant, roaming freely all over the world. First I spent a dozen or so years in Jinan, then I spent four years in Peking and then I returned to Jinan for one more year. Following that, I lived in Europe nearly eleven years, only to return to Peking again. Altogether, it was over forty years, during which I visited nearly 30 countries and saw the moon everywhere I went.

I saw it in Lake Leman in Switzerland, on the great desert in Africa, in the vast sea, and over huge mountains. The moon was undisputedly beautiful wherever I saw it, and I liked it every time I saw it.

But the sight of the moon in foreign lands would invariably remind me of the small moon I had seen over my own village, reflected on the water of a pond. I always felt that, however big and beautiful the foreign moon was, it could not be as bright and beautiful as the lovely moon I saw over my small village. However distant I might be from my home village, the thought of that lovely moon would make my heart fly back. My dear lovely small moon, I'll never forget you!

Now almost 70 years old, I live at Peking University in its Langrun Garden, which is itself a scenic attraction. To brag a bit, I would describe it as having lush bushes and slender bamboo with streams running merrily around several tiny hills. The scene is exquisitely beautiful.

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of spending a summer vacation in Mt. Lushan, one of the best summer resorts in China. Back in Peking together with one of my old friends, he exclaimed at the sight of Langrun Garden, "Oh, with such a beautiful place to live in, why should you have gone to Mt. Lushan for vacation?" His words testified to the beauty of the Garden, which boasts of hills, streams, trees, bamboo, flowers, and birds.

On a night with the full moon in the sky, the Garden is certainly an ideal place to appreciate the poetic beauty seen in the vast sky where the moon hangs, the lush trees where sleepy birds sing, and the tranquil ponds where lotuses send out a delicate fragrance. The much-coveted sight of "moonlight over a lotus-covered pond" is right next to my room window. Whoever comes to my home will be delighted to see it.

On such beautiful nights, however, I will think of the ordinary moon over the pond in my home village. Indeed, seeing the moon never fails to make me think of my home village. It is hard to say if nostalgia—a malady, isn't it?—brings one sweetness or bitterness. As it is, nostalgia is filled with fond memories, anxieties, regrets, or even pain. Time, once gone, is gone forever. Ultimately, nostalgia is sweet with a touch of bitterness.

Bright is the moon over my home village. When can I see that moon again? As I look southward, my heart flies there.

November 3, 1989