Introduction 5: Gunshots in Front of the Mining Company Part I


Merebear note: This is the online version from It’s not technically an introduction since it’s one of the author’s WeChat stories, but it seems to take place right after Intro 4 so we’re rolling with it. I don’t like to do this, but we had to split this up into 2 parts because it was almost 10,000 characters long (so about 5600 words in English).


[From Wu Xie’s Point of View]

From that moment on, Lan Ting disappeared from this world. I didn’t deliberately listen for any news of her, so her face was gradually fading from my memory.

It wasn’t until six months later that something happened. 

After half a year of silence, the news of Lan Ting’s death was suddenly announced. Many journalists had spread this rare, explosive news all over the internet which caused a great ripple. There had been no mention of the cause of Lan Ting’s death in any of the reports, nor had there been any investigation into her death, so the internet was full of wild and unfounded speculations.

After the online storm had died down, Lan Ting’s obituary was published in a corner of the city newspaper and the memorial service notice was sent to all the contacts in her phone.

Of course, I received the text as well:

“Dear Mr. Guan Gen, the memorial service for my daughter, Lan Ting, will be held in Jing’An Sky Blue Hall on the afternoon of the 27th. Please respond to this text message if you would like to attend the private memorial ceremony.”

Today was the twenty-seventh, so I entered the memorial hall and found that the service hadn’t yet started.

I felt very uneasy since there was a mixture of doubt and guilt weighing on my heart. I wasn’t sure whether those six months of silence and Lan Ting’s sudden death had anything to do with the desert I had mentioned that night half a year ago, but I had a vague premonition which was making me feel uneasy.

Among the crowd of people who had come to mourn, I saw the publisher I had met six months ago, along with some of the people who had gathered at that time. Because we didn’t end up working together after that, I didn’t keep in contact with them. They didn’t notice me, but I didn’t want to be noticed, either. 

Lan Ting’s coffin wasn’t in the hall, but there was a door to the back hall that was closed tightly and had a huge photo of her on it, along with a lot of flowers. In the photo, her expression looked very peaceful. I believed her body was right behind this door.

“What do you want? You can’t go in here.” The security guard stopped me.

“Can you let me see Miss Lan one last time?” I answered truthfully, looking as sincere as possible.

“I’m sorry, Miss Lan’s parents have instructed that there will be no viewing at this memorial service. The door is locked and I don’t have a key.” The security guard refused very resolutely.


“Please go back, Mr. Guan.” Before I could speak again, the guard made a gesture to show that he could do nothing. But I was surprised that he had correctly identified me, so I asked, “Do you know me….?”

“You’re different from the other guests,” the guard explained. “Miss Lan’s parents asked me to keep an eye out for you.”

“Why…” I realized that things weren’t that simple.

“We’re just employees. If you want to know why, then you can ask Miss Lan’s parents yourself.” The guard’s gaze was already moving in another direction, indicating that the conversation was over.

Lan Ting’s parents were in another corner of the hall, but I was too far away from them to see their faces clearly. All I could see was that they were dressed in black Chinese funeral wear and people were busily helping them receive senior guests. They simply just stood there in silence, immersed in their own grief.

The anxiety in my heart became even more intense. Lan Ting’s parents specially asked security to keep an eye out for me, which seemed to indirectly confirm my premonition just now. If I went up there and asked them what had happened to Lan Ting, what would they say to me? I couldn’t tell, so I hesitated for a long time. As I thought of all the various possibilities, the worst ones made me want to escape. Besides, did I even have the courage to make my request to them?

Yes, I had a request. This request popped into my head as soon as I learned about Lan Ting’s death. I wanted to see her body and take a picture of it. It’s probably very easy to understand why I had such a request and idea. The story that Lan Ting told me six months ago was now becoming a lot clearer in my mind. I desperately wanted proof of the connection between all of this and the photos, but I stood there for a long time, unable to summon the courage to make my demands to her parents.

The weather outside the hall was nice, so I went out, sat on the steps, and lit a cigarette for myself.

Maybe if this had happened a few years earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to overcome my desire of seeking relief from my curiosity and guilt. But I was quite mature now, so no matter how eager I was, I knew that this wasn’t the right time to disturb her parents.

I decided to wait for the memorial service to end, but I couldn’t stay in that depressing atmosphere for too long. Being outside and looking at that touch of blue sky was probably the best way for me to commemorate Lan Ting.

As I sat there, mind idle, someone suddenly sat down next to me.

It was an old woman with grey hair and black clothes, so I assumed she was attending the funeral. She looked at me as if she knew me. After carefully thinking about it, I realized that I might have met this person before, so I asked, “May I ask who you are…?”

“She’s a good girl. God loves her, so he took her away from us, right?” The old woman said faintly. I suddenly remembered that this person was Lan Ting’s mother.

“Mrs. Lan….” I unconsciously stood up.

“You’re Guan Gen, aren’t you? Tingting often mentioned you over the past six months. Are you her boyfriend? Colleague?”

“Neither. Lan Ting and I had an opportunity to work together, but it didn’t work out.” I answered truthfully, but I was becoming nervous. Since Lan Ting’s mother had appeared in front of me, she must have received a report from the security guards. It was obvious that they had passed on the message as soon as they spotted me, and Lan Ting’s mother immediately left the guests to come looking for me. This wasn’t a good sign.

“Well, if that’s the case, then it’s unusual that Tingting mentioned you so many times.”

I smiled awkwardly, not knowing how to answer her. If Lan Ting’s mother misunderstood and thought that me and Lan Ting had dated, then my denial and rejection might have angered her. But I had to be true to reality, “I wouldn’t lie to you on this occasion. I only met her once.”

Lan Ting’s mother breathed a sigh of relief and seemed to accept my statement, so I tried to change the subject, “Why did you come outside? Is the atmosphere inside bothering you?”

“I’m here to fulfill the task Tingting has given me. It’s a task involving you.” Lan Ting’s mother handed me an envelope.

“This is…?”

“Tingting asked me to give this to you. She asked me several times in her suicide note.”

I stared at the envelope, unable to describe the surprise in my heart. I didn’t expect that Lan Ting actually left something for me.

“She said that you’re the only person in the world who can possibly believe her story and that if you came to her memorial, it would mean you believed her. The contents in the envelope will answer your questions.”

After a moment of silence, I finally plucked up the courage to ask, “…Mrs. Lan, may I be so bold as to ask how Lan Ting passed away?”

“She killed herself.”

Lan Ting came back from Badain Jilin four months ago. After she came back, she immediately shut herself in her room, saying that she had deadlines to catch up on. 

This kind of thing was very normal for a writer, so Lan Ting’s parents didn’t pay much attention to it. But after that, Lan Ting’s mental state deteriorated and she kept repeating strange words like “desert” and “Gutong Jing”.

Lan Ting’s father had always been her first reader and was responsible for reading her first drafts. Lan Ting usually wrote her first drafts very quickly—usually within three weeks—but this time, there had been no results even after several months had passed.

Later, Lan Ting began to go out frequently. She would take her camera with her each time and didn’t return all night.

During that time, while Lan Ting’s father was cleaning his daughter’s room, he secretly turned on her computer. He found that there wasn’t a manuscript in Lan Ting’s Word documents, only a single sentence:

“Eyes are the biggest liar in the world.”

Just as her parents began to worry about her, Lan Ting ended her life with sleeping pills. This all happened without warning.

She was found dead in a hotel room, and it was a maid who found her body. She was fully dressed and lying quietly on the bed with a suicide note placed on her lower abdomen.

She didn’t say much about herself in the note but directed her parents to find an envelope in her desk drawer. It was the envelope she had left for me. According to her, the answer to everything was in there. 

Everything was exactly as I had inferred, but I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment.

After returning from Gutong Jing, Daodao also committed suicide. I had seen in the news that there were lots of photos on the walls of her room. She was an illustrator, so it was normal for her to have a collection of raw photos. But the scene in her room was more like that of an investigator’s layout in a movie.

Now that Lan Ting came back from Gutong Jing, she also committed suicide. Her mother told me that before she died, she also went out frequently with a camera. There had to be some kind of connection between these two incidents.

Inside the envelope, I could feel several notebooks and a thick stack of manuscript paper. I couldn’t help but wonder what was written on them.

I didn’t wait for the memorial service to end and just hurried home, closed my door, and unplugged the phone line. I didn’t want to be disturbed by anyone.

I opened the envelope and poured the contents out, but I was surprised to find that as soon as I turned the envelope upside down, the first thing that came out was white sand. The sand was sandwiched between the notebooks and manuscript paper, so these things had obviously been used to record information in a desert environment for a long time.

The manuscript was the outline of the novel “Sand Sea”. There were over thirty pages, and as I glanced over them, I realized that there was no difference in plot or writing style compared to her previous draft. But the further in the manuscript I got, the more her handwriting became illegible. I could tell that her mental state was getting worse and worse.

On the back of the manuscript, I found a few sketches of a middle-aged man, along with these notes on the side:

“Li Zhongyuan, Warehouse Manager, Division 7 Engineering Department, Beijing United Mining Group, Inner Mongolia Company.

Since 1994, he has not participated in any photography or group photo activities. No photos of him exist.”

The notes were followed by sketches of Li Zhongyuan’s side profile and a 45-degree angle of his face. Nothing else was written after that. 

I opened the notebook, expecting the notes inside to be filled with her experiences in the desert, but what I found was that the first notes were an engineering brief.

“The Gutong Jing project, which began in the 1980s, is a large-scale co-op project that involves the cooperation of both mining and engineering companies. Beijing United Mining Group is one of the contractors of the Gutong Jing project and the transaction method is of a replacement nature. The group provides all the infrastructure equipment for ore logistics and storage and will build two large transit freight centers from Inner Mongolia to Beijing. Since the warehouses are fully enclosed, it’s suspected to conform with the transportation and storage requirements that properties dealing in biochemicals must have. As of now, the project still hasn’t ended. The current warehouse manager is Li Zhongyuan from Beijing United Mining Group’s Division 7 Engineering Department. He has been in charge of this project since 2005.”

The date of the first note after that was already after she had returned to the city. The note said:

“On the first day of surveillance, the target transferred goods from the Miyun factory to the warehouse near Xiangshan. He left at 8:27 a.m., finished work at 3:00 p.m., returned to the office for a meeting at 6:00 p.m., returned to the dormitory at 8:00 p.m., and did not go home.”

I turned to the second page and saw that it was the next day’s entry, also with a simple timeline:

“On the second day of surveillance, the target transferred goods from the Miyun factory to the warehouse near Xiangshan. He left at 9:00 a.m., finished work at 5:00 p.m., returned to the office at 8:00 p.m., drank with colleagues in the dining hall at 9:00 p.m., returned to the dormitory at 11:00 p.m., did not go home.”

I flipped a few more pages and found that most of the notes were in this format. It looked like Lan Ting was closely monitoring a target whose name was Li Zhongyuan.

I put together a few keywords:

The Inner Mongolia Company was located in Badan Jilin. 

Since 1994, Li Zhongyuan had not participated in any photography or group photo activities. No photos of him existed. This meant that if Li Zhongyuan couldn’t appear in any photos just like Lan Ting and Daodao after they visited Gutong Jing, then he should also be related to Gutong Jing.

If this was the case, then why did Lan Ting keep following Li Zhongyuan? She must have wanted to learn something from him.

As I kept flipping through the pages, something suddenly fell out from the notebook—it was a camera SD card.

After plugging it into my computer, I saw a lot of photos. Judging from the way the shots had been taken, the photographer must have been Lan Ting. She had talent, but she didn’t receive strict training. 

These were all pictures of the desert and everything she saw when she last entered Gutong Jing. I saw the rock she had talked about before. Lan Ting carefully photographed this rock from all angles. It was so tall that it shouldn’t even be called a rock, but a rock mountain.

The exact height of the rock couldn’t be determined from the photos, but it would take at least a few hours to reach the top with professional climbing equipment. In the photos after that, I saw Lan Ting’s companions, who looked like members of a local outdoor tour group. Lan Ting had probably paid a high price to hire them.

Then, I saw a panoramic view of the desert from a high point and figured she must have climbed to the top of the rock mountain. In the rest of the photos, she basically focusing on photographing one thing from various angles. It was a rusty metal stand that was about as tall as a person and nailed to the top of the rock. There was a barely visible rusty sign at the foot of the stand, which read:

“Gutong Jing Engineering Signal Tower 07”

This was a man-made signal tower, and judging from the degree of rust, it was at least twenty years old. This tower shattered the legend that Gutong Jing was a no-man’s land because it showed that there had been construction projects in Gutong Jing since the 1980s.

The desert projects during that era were either top-secret mining projects or classified military projects, so it wasn’t surprising that Lan Ting was interested in it. Maybe when she was investigating the project, she found that the person in charge of the project encountered the same phenomenon as Daodao. Perhaps she began to suspect that this phenomenon had something to do with the project.

In all of Lan Ting’s investigations, there was no mention of her own situation. I didn’t know whether she had the same problem as Daodao, where her image wouldn’t show up when photographed, but I didn’t have anyone I could currently confirm this with, either. 

The last photo on the SD card, however, had nothing to do with the desert. It was a photo of a teenager who looked like a high school student.

The teenager was alone in a room with a lively expression on his face.

I instinctively sensed the problem in the photo right away. This teenager’s behavior was extremely lively, but in such a lively composition, there was also an unexplainable eeriness to it. If I hadn’t been a photographer for so long, I probably would’ve just sensed it without knowing why.

Based on this teenager’s behavior, he wasn’t alone in that room. He was obviously interacting with another person in the photo. In other words, there was supposed to be another person in the photo, but that person didn’t show up. 

“Father and son photographed. The father’s image doesn’t show up in the photo. The son’s name is Li Cu; image is normal.”

Lan Ting left this kind of message in the notes section.

I leaned back in my chair and lit a cigarette.

Lan Ting left me a lot of files, but it was obvious that she hadn’t reached any conclusions. Still, I thought it was quite remarkable that she had been able to carry out an investigation to this extent.

Lan Ting passing the information on to me was obviously an act of faith and I could understand her desire for me to find out the truth.

After hearing her whole story before, I felt like I was probably one of the few people who could patiently listen to the whole thing. In fact, it was probably because of my patience that she chose me at that time.

My life probably wouldn’t change much if I ignored these files, but Lan Ting’s will might torture me for the rest of my life.

It seemed like it was time for me to ditch my photographer persona and restore my original identity. This way, I could move much more conveniently. Maybe investigating this matter was beyond Lan Ting’s abilities during her life, but for me, there was no obstacle.

<Introduction 4><Table of Contents><Introduction 5 Part II>


Translated by: Yvette
Edited by: merebear226

3 thoughts on “Introduction 5: Gunshots in Front of the Mining Company Part I

  1. That was much longer than the original, thank you!!! So…was this actually Wu Xie??? Or one of Wu Xie’s clones?


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