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Maxine Hong Kingston is a Senior Lecturer for Creative Writing at the University of
For her memoirs and ɹction, The Fifth Book of Peace, The Woman Warrior, China Men, Tripmaster Monkey, and Hawai’i One Summer, Kingston has earned numerous awards, among them the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonɹction, the PEN West Award for Fiction, an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Literature Award, and a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the rare title of “Living Treasure of Hawai’i.
When Chinese girls listened to the adults talk-story, we learned that we failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves.
We could be heroines, swordswomen. Even if she had to rage across all China, a swordswoman got even with anybody who hurt her family.
Perhaps women were once so dangerous that they had to have their feet bound. It was a woman who invented white crane boxing only two hundred years ago.
She was already an expert pole ɹghter, daughter of a teacher trained at the Shao-lin temple, where there lived an order of ɹghting monks.
She was combing her hair one morning when a white crane alighted outside her window.
She teased it with her pole, which it pushed aside with a soft brush of its wing. Amazed, she dashed outside and tried to knock the crane oʃ its perch. It snapped her pole in two.
Recognizing the presence of great power, she asked the spirit of the white crane if it would teach her to ɹght. It answered with a cry that white crane boxers imitate today.
Later the bird returned as an old man, and he guided her boxing for many years. Thus she gave the world a new martial art.
This was one of the tamer, more modern stories, mere introduction. My mother told others that followed swordswomen through woods and palaces for years. Night after night my mother would talk-story until we fell asleep.
I couldn’t tell where the stories left oʃ and the dreams began, her voice the voice of the heroines in my sleep.
And on Sundays, from noon to midnight, we went to the movies at the Confucius Church. We saw swordswomen jump over houses from a standstill; they didn’t even need a running start.
At last, I saw that I too had been in the presence of great power, my mother talking story. After I grew up, I heard the chant of Fa Mu Lan, the girl who took her father’s place in battle.
Instantly I remembered that as a child I had followed my mother about the house, the two of us singing about how Fa Mu Lan fought gloriously and returned alive from war to settle in the village.
I had forgotten this chant that was once mine, given to me by my mother, who may not have known its power to remind me.
She said I would grow up a wife and a slave, but she taught me the song of the warrior woman, Fa Mu Lan. I would have to grow up a warrior woman. The call would come from a bird that ɻew over our roof.
In the brush drawings, it looks like the ideograph for “human,” with two black wings. The bird would cross the sun and lift into the mountains (which look like the ideograph “mountain”), there parting the mist brieɻy that swirled opaque again.
I would be a little girl of seven the day I followed the bird away into the mountains. The brambles would tear oʃ my shoes and the rocks cut my feet and ɹngers, but I would keep climbing, eyes upward to follow the bird.
We would go around and around the tallest mountain, climbing ever upward. I would drink from the river, which I would meet again and again.
We would go so high the plants would change, and the river that ɻows past the village would become a waterfall.
At the height where the bird used to disappear, the clouds would gray the world like an ink wash.
|No. of Pages||26|
|PDF Size||7 MB|
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