Chapter 7 Tibetan Oil Painting

It was a strange picture.

After returning from Nepal at the end of 2010, I went to Tibet and rested for a week at the foot of Ka’er Ren Mountain.

I didn’t immediately start looking for clues about the Ma family since the journey was too tiring. With my friends’ suggestions, I was prepared to deal with all kinds of encumbrances gained from my trip to Nepal.

I brought back a large number of antique jewelry with Tibetan Buddhist characteristics from Nepal, hoping to use them as display samples and to find the real source of those jewelry pieces from the Zhang family’s ancient building. In the place called Motuo, I packed all the jewelry into three large packages and mailed them to three different addresses in Hangzhou to relieve some of the burden.

Since Motuo was a very special place, it had two kinds of “post offices”. Motuo had been closed off for many years and was difficult to get in and out of, so the regular post office here could only receive letters but couldn’t send them. It was only in recent years that there was a path through which mail could be sent, but the mail trucks were only allowed once a week.

As a result, there was also a non-governmental postal service in the local area, which was really just finding someone who would be willing to take packages with them when they left. It was very common for people entering and leaving Motuo to help others carry mail and parcels, and some people even made money as middlemen. The so-called “post office” I found was opened by this kind of person. Although it wasn’t particularly safe, you could at least guarantee the timeframe. As long as someone left Motuo, you could estimate when they would get to the post office outside, and it would be safer to forward the packages later.

The only ways to leave Motuo were by bus, caravan, or porter. The bus route was often closed to traffic throughout the year, and I happened to come when the route was closed. The caravan was almost extinct, so I was looking for the so-called backpackers or porters.

All mail had to be carried out by the “postman” bit by bit, so the weight couldn’t be too heavy. As a result, I spent nearly three hours dispersing the weight of my three large packages.

It was at that time that I saw the painting hanging on the wall behind the “post office counter” (it was really just a piece of toughened glass set up on a desk).

The wall was painted with light green paint, on which hung the following things: an ink brush painting with an eagle and four big characters that read “Peng Cheng Wan Li” (1); three bright, bilingual banners that had encouraging phrases such as “pick up money but don’t hide it” (2) and “safe and secure”; and an oil painting.

Oil paintings weren’t the kind of thing that you could tell at a glance were done by a professional artist, but this one was a very common, poorly crafted painting of a person’s profile. Based on the degree of peeling and the color of the pigment, it seemed like it had been here for a long time.

The subject of the painting was a young man. I didn’t know anything about Western paintings, but the so-called principle of painting was the same to a certain extent. Although this was poorly done, it had a unique style.

I didn’t know where this feeling came from. The person in the picture was wearing a lama’s clothes on his upper body and a Tibetan robe on his lower body and standing in the mountains. You could see Ka’er Ren Mountain’s other snowy peak behind him. I didn’t know whether it was the setting sun or the brilliance of dawn, but the base tone of the whole painting was changing from a white color to a grayish-yellow color.

This was an excellent example of poor painting, but the bold use of color directly brought out the artistic concept.

Even so, it didn’t mean that the painting had any obvious value. But I was surprised because I knew the person in the painting.

Yes, I had absolutely no doubt about this person’s characteristics and expression.

It was him.

I was completely at a loss as to why he was here, because he really had no reason to appear in Motuo, let alone in a poorly painted Motuo oil painting.

This was a portrait of Poker-face.

I vehemently denied it at first because it was too strange. In fact, there was a strong possibility that I saw it wrong. After all, it was a painting, not a photo. Many of the details in the painting were vague, which made it possible to create such a similarity.

But I found myself unable to look away. All the details of the person in the picture were telling me that he was a bit too similar. Especially the eyes. I’ve never seen a man with the same eyes as Little Brother. Fatty said those were the eyes of one who had seen everything but was connected to nothing. Few people could live in this world without any connections.

But the person in this picture had that look.

After staring for half a day, I subconsciously felt that the person in the picture was definitely him.

It was only five years ago when he disappeared from our sight. Of course, I knew the truth of his disappearance and could say a lot about him, but what he did before wasn’t important here. My first thought when I saw this painting was: maybe Motuo was part of his search? He appeared here, so did it mean that what he was looking for had something to do with it?

I asked the post office staff—an old man with a typical Tibetan face—who painted the picture. He pointed to the area across the way and told me in stiff Chinese that the painting’s artist was Chen Xuehan.

I looked in the direction he was pointing and saw a middle-aged man picking up boiling water in a boiler room across the way. He looked to be the person in charge over there. It was the place where the water was boiled for nearby residents to use at thirty cents a pot. Compared with the heavy snow outside, the boiler room was so warm that people sweated, so many residents surrounded the boiler to keep warm. These people were all dressed in the same clothes, so the group standing together all had the same look and feel.

The old Tibetan man was very enthusiastic. Upon seeing that I couldn’t distinguish clearly, he shouted at the boiler room, “Chen Xuehan!”

The voice was so loud that it almost seemed as if the snow on the roof of the post office had moved a few inches. The man named Chen Xuehan heard the cry of the Tibetan elder, raised his head from amongst the crowd, and looked at us doubtfully.

I immediately walked over. The man had a very dark face and rough, dry skin that unexpectedly made him look older upon closer inspection.

“Hello, did you paint that oil painting in the post office?” I asked him in Chinese.

Chen Xuehan gave me a look and then nodded. I found that his eyes lacked a certain spark. They were the eyes of a person who lived a very peaceful life. Because his life was too calm, he didn’t need to often think about a lot of questions.

When I handed him a cigarette and asked him about the details of the oil painting, Chen Xuehan seemed a little surprised. He looked at me, closed the door of the boiler, and then asked, “Why are you asking about this? Do you know him?”

His voice was especially hoarse, but his articulation was very clear. I gave him a basic account of the situation, as well as Poker-face’s general background and my relationship with him.

Chen Xue showed a slightly surprised expression before he took off his gloves that had been made from white towels and walked out of the boiler room, “You’re mistaken. I copied this oil painting twenty years ago. How old were you then? Moreover, since it’s a copy, it shows that there’s still an original painting, which is older.”

I was a little surprised. Although the painting didn’t look fresh, I didn’t think it had lasted so long. I didn’t know how to answer his question because it really wasn’t something that could be explained in a few sentences. Fortunately, he didn’t really want to know anything and continued, “This person has nothing to do with me.”

He pointed to a snowy mountain in the distance outside the door, “I saw the painting there. If you want to know more, you can ask the lamas there.”

I looked in the direction he pointed and saw silvery-white buildings hidden amidst the heavy snow.

“Where is that?” I asked.

“That’s the lama temple,” Chen Xuehan said. “I copied this painting from there.”

“Did anything strange happen at that time? Or, is there anything special about that lama temple?” I asked. Wherever Poker-face usually appeared, strange things always happened. Or maybe the lama temple itself was very strange.

Chen Xuehan shook his head and thought for a moment before saying, “There’s nothing strange about it. The only strange thing is that the lama insisted that I copy the painting.”


“He can see cause and effect. If he asks me to paint, I paint. I didn’t ask why. He can see everything after this painting, but I can’t.”

Chen Xuehan told me that the young man in the painting was the guest of the lama temple. The original painting was done by the head lama three days before the man left Motuo and Chen Xuehan copied this painting later. He lived in the temple for a long time that winter and accidentally saw the oil painting in the head lama’s room. The head lama insisted that he paint, so he tried to copy the painting.

It was only at that moment that I understood why the color usage of this painting was so bold and vivid, but the painting technique was poor.

Many Tibetan lamas had very high aesthetic literacy and professional knowledge and many lamas had degrees from famous foreign universities. I attributed these kinds of things to their focus on the austere life.

As I thought about this and what might have happened in the lama temple on the snowy mountain at that time, I was a little distracted.

“Do you want to go?” He asked. “Three hundred yuan and I’ll take you. The lama temple isn’t considered part of the local area and can’t be entered by just anyone.”

Perhaps the cause and effect seen by the lama was this three hundred yuan.

<Chapter 6> <Table of Contents><Chapter 8>


TN Notes:

(1) Characters are 鹏程万里 which is the idiom “the fabled roc flies 10,000 miles”. Basically means one’s future prospects are brilliant.

(2) Characters are 拾金不昧. I left the idiom in the sentence but the literal meaning is to return property to its owner.


Updated 12/5/2021


4 thoughts on “Chapter 7 Tibetan Oil Painting

  1. T-T
    You are my favorite person in the world right now. I read all the english books of Daomu Biji and was so sad knowing that none of the other titles were translated. Finding your translations was so thrilling. I am in awe of you and your willingness to not only tackle these translations but share them with all the fans. I have enjoyed them so much! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Awww 😊 you’re welcome! I knew a lot of people must be feeling the void left after Graveyard of a Queen and I wanted to know what happened next (nothing worse than an unfinished story). So I figured I’d share the wealth 😀. And I just got into this so I can’t imagine waiting YEARS. You all are the real champs! Lol

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I second that.. soooo grateful that we can enjoy the rest of the story. My mind really went black when i reach the last book from amazon and don’t know what to do with myself until i found this gem

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a relief that already five years past in the story (for me its three day😅) otherwise we couldn’t deal with this emotions (he is strong if he had endured it to this days). You made it possible for us with your translation thanks a lot.


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