There, in the far east,
Beyond the birthplace of the sun,
Lies the wondrous land of Gold Mountain
Whence no traveller returns
But has some changes
In the way his eyes burn.
Year of the Ox 1937
BROAD, deep and lush, the valley of Hai Ping lay silent in the predawn hush of a growing day. High above, the edge of the mighty Nan Ling range was a jagged orange blade lifted from some celestial forge and laid upon the earth. Clouds smoked from the high peaks. The valley mists were gossamer and mother-pearl in a soft bed as far as the eye could see towards Linhsien. Trees and houses hung in ghostly suspension above the rice paddies in the mystic light spilling golden over the peak called Song Tower, stirring the perched cockerels to shake their foolish coxcombs, fluff out their ruffs, and call a notice to the sleeping world that it was day.
Chang Suey-sun opened his eyes and stared at the old beams of the ceiling. For a while he listened smiling to the crowing cockerels, turning his eyes to watch the plumtree branch outside the single clear pane of glass set in the paper door. The bough hung still, radiant with the refraction of light caught in its dewdrops. Sun yawned and stretched himself, rising from the pallet bed and pulling on a robe. Walking out onto the high verandah, he vigorously brushed the strong blueblack hair back from his brow, to stand looking down over the valley, nimble fingers working round silken buttons through the loops of his robe.
Selecting some candied ginger from a jar on a sidetable, Sun strolled to the thick stone wall that formed the edge of the veranda and looked down, chewing, tasting the peppery bite of it, letting its sweetness clear his head. There was a sheer drop down the green face of a mossgrown cliff. The houses below were toys in the distance, their shadows black on the surface of the mist. Already, downvalley towards the village, he could see peasants going early about their work, making their ways along the bunds of the paddyfields like people walking in the clouds of the sky, mist swirling about their legs. Chang Suey-sun calmly watched morning progress as light flowed down into the valley, searing away the mist where it touched, revealing the stubbled water-pans of ricepaddies terracing down into deeper mists and infinity, a regular quilt of watery fields skirting the mountainsides. He was reaching for his ink and brush when he heard the sound of running feet and turned.
“Second Young Master! Second Young Master!” A nervous servant was kowtowing at the door to his quarters.
“Yes, Lao Chen. Speak up. What is it?”