Chapter 1.1 Shrine Hall (Extra)

This village was no different from the new countryside.(1)

It happened after New Year’s Day in a certain year, but I can’t remember the exact date. It was freezing cold during that time and I must’ve stayed in Hangzhou during this season, either staying at home or occasionally going to the shop. Basically, it was unlikely that I would go out of town under such circumstances. But that year was an exception—I had to travel over long distances with my family to return to a mountain village on the edge of Changsha.

The village was our ancestral village and its name was Maoshajing.

From the outside, this village was no different from the new countryside of today—the houses were built high and the walls had fancy porcelain tiles stuck on them. A little further inside was the old village with many old yellow mud houses built along the mountain. The houses were so old that it was almost impossible to find out when the first wooden beam was erected. Most of them were occupied by the elderly, but some of them had been left unattended and were vacant. As a whole, the houses were leaning and looked ready to collapse.

We didn’t come back to the ancestral village to catch up on the old days. In fact, from my birth up until now, I could count on one hand the number of times I had returned to my hometown, especially after I went to college. There were no entertainment facilities and only a few TV channels that I could receive in these ten miles. Naturally, I didn’t want to stay.

But this time I had to come back—not only me, but also Uncle Three, Uncle Two, and my father.

On the surface, it seemed that something big had happened in the village, but the actual reason made me speechless: the highway was going to be built here. The road would pass right through the old cemetery, so the family’s ancestral graves had to be moved; otherwise, they would be bulldozed.

This kind of thing seemed very pointless to me, but the old men in the village valued it a lot. Moving ancestral graves involved changing feng shui and disturbing the ancestors, which was a big event. My father was the eldest son, and our branch of the Wu family was the most prosperous in the village, so my father and uncles had to come back to take charge of the overall situation—in fact, they had to pay most of the money.

My father was notoriously accommodating and also agreed to have me and several cousins return home to recognize our ancestors. As a result, we all came back here.

Originally, I had a little hope—with many people getting back together at this time, it might be more interesting than before. After all, in the mountains, you could have some fun as long as you had company. I vaguely remembered that my cousin might still have an old shotgun, so I thought hunting might be a good way to pass the time.

To my surprise, our party had just arrived when Uncle Two was taken away to handle the feng shui. Uncle Three was very familiar with this place and came by more than fifty times a year, so when he arrived, he looked for someone to play mahjong with. My father was approached by several old members of the family to discuss the matter, but he knew I was restless and wouldn’t let me run away. They discussed things in front of the ancestral hall while I was left to wander around inside alone.

Our ancestral hall was on the border of the old village. It was a big house, but it was different from the old houses on TV—although it was also painted with yellow mud, there were no white walls or black tiles. The first thing you would see when entering the hall was a courtyard. There was a pavilion-like stage in the middle of the courtyard and the hall was further inside. The hall itself was tall and big, but when I looked up at the roof, I saw that it was full of holes. It was probably impossible to waterproof on rainy days. The ancestral tablets were placed at the end of the hall—there were many niche-like holes dug in the wall, each with two tablets inscribed with the names of our ancestors. There was a table in front of the spirit tablets, but the candles had been switched out with electric ones.

This ancestral hall was built by my grandfather, so it had been around for a long time. The Wu family wasn’t very prosperous and the most populated branch had moved to Hangzhou, but the ancestral hall was still passable. I looked for grandpa’s spirit tablet, which was one of the bigger ones. In fact, because my grandfather went to Hangzhou, he shouldn’t be allowed in this ancestral hall according to the rules. But now that I was here, I wondered if maybe it was one of his tricks he thought up during his lifetime.

It was extremely boring in such a place, and since the weather was cold and there was no one in the ancestral hall, I couldn’t bear it and began to touch everything. As I was reading the couplets and looking at the merit monuments, I suddenly noticed that there was a corridor on the side of the hall which led to a door. After going out the door, I saw a vacant lot where an old thatched cottage sat.

At that time, I didn’t think much of it and walked over— there was sunlight shining down in the open space and the thatched cottage looked very old. I saw that it was locked with a big iron chain, which was very intriguing.

When I walked to the edge of the cottage to look at the lock, I found that it was really old.

The cottage’s windows were two large holes, and the window frames had been covered with very old newspapers—these windows obviously had glass in them.

I was bored so I looked inside. The light was very faint, but I could vaguely see that the mud floor was full of dry wood, on top of which sat a coffin covered in dry mud.

<Vol 8 Chapter 82> <Table of Contents><Extra 1.2>


TN Notes:

(1) Apparently this “building a new countryside” movement was done in the early 2000s by China’s government to coordinate urban and rural development and gear up national economic growth


Updated 11/20/2021


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