汉语世界(The World of Chinese) 2020年5期


Why do Chinese authenticate documents with a stamp?


By the time police were called, it was far too late: Li Guoqing, erstwhile CEO of e-commerce website Dangdang, had stormed the company offices with five men and made off with 42 corporate “seals”—leaving behind a letter stating he was taking over the business from Yu Yu, his cofounder and estranged wife.

This saga in April, part of an ongoing public divorce between Li and Yu, was as dramatic as it was illustrative of the importance of physical stamps, also known as seals or chops, to legal documents in China.

In a spicy case in June, internet giant Tencent sued chili-sauce conglomerate Laoganma due to 10 million RMB in unpaid advertising fees, only to find out their client wasnt the real Laoganma: Three con artists had forged the Guizhou companys corporate stamp on the contract, which was apparently all they needed to fool the hard-boiled internet executives.

Official seals, or gongzhang

(公章), are a must-have for any Chinese enterprise today. They are normally etched with the name of organizations, and serve as a validated signature on business and legal documents where they are dipped in red ink or cinnabar paste and stamped. In some cases, a company representative will sign before stamping as an extra guarantee.

To have their seal be considered legal, a company must submit their business license and a “seal certification” document at the public security bureau. Employees usually in the human resources or accounting departments are commonly tasked with keeping the physical seal in a secure location.

Throughout Chinese history, seals have served as symbols of high office. A bronze seal unearthed in 1998 in Anyang, Henan province, bears testimony to stamps being created in China since at least the Shang dynasty (1600 – 1046 BCE). It is etched with the taotie pattern, an ancient design typical of bronzeware of its era, and is believed to have been used by a vassal state to symbolize its political link to its feudal master.

Stamps became a symbol of absolute centralized power in the subsequent centuries. Various groups employed different classes of seals: xi (璽) for the ruling class, yin (印) for officials and merchants, and zhang (章) for military generals. The most significant was the jade-based Heirloom Seal of the Realm, which allegedly dates back to Chinas first emperor Qin Shi Huang. The sacred relic, held in the triumphant hands of the founder of a new dynasty, symbolized the transfer of imperial power.

However, the legendary relic mysteriously disappeared in the ninth century, and afterward, emperors could only rely on their own jade seals to impress their authority. The Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty (1616 – 1911) had 25 imperial seals and 1,800 personal seals. Each imperial seal was reserved for a different function, such as signing documents, declaring wars, and sending troops.

Yin, the seal used by civil servants to sign their official correspondence, embodied the power of the government bureaucracy. Civil servants wore their yin on a belt when they assumed office, and took it off when they left. In the eighth century, poet Wang Wei (王维) wrote that the official Tao Yuanming (陶渊明) “took off his seal belt and quit the office” because he was unwilling to bow down to a government bigwig, afterward becoming known as a hermit and poet.

Seals were also used on calligraphy and paintings to signify authorship or ownership. The Qianlong Emperor, renowned for his literary tastes, had collected a large number of masterpieces affixed with over 1,000 personal seals. One of them is “Timely Clearing After Snowfall,” a 28-character calligraphic scroll now displayed in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. It was embossed with a stunning 172 stamps by the emperor, who also wrote comments in the margins to show how much he admired the fourth-century work.

Seals were historically made of stone, ivory, metals, bamboo, or wood, though plastic stamps are also common today. Seal-making has evolved into an art in itself, requiring painstaking craftsmanship and fetching high prices at markets. A seal from the Qianlong Emperor made of pink jade, featuring nine well-sculpted dragons searching among the clouds for a sacred pearl, fetched 22 million USD at a Paris auction in 2016. Qi Baishi (齊白石), a well-renowned Chinese painter, was also a master seal-carver who engraved complicated ancient characters onto his stamps.

Individuals also kept personal seals carved with their name to use as their signature, and even today, under Chinas contract law, personal stamps can be used to authenticate documents instead of a signature. Artisans at print shops, tourist sites, and antique markets like Beijings Panjiayuan offer seal-making, and often recommend their customers to pick a distinct design. Individuals can even apply to have their seal pattern put on record at the public security bureau if they plan on using it in business.

Apart from physical seals, “e-seals” are becoming a solution in protecting online transactions. In July, the city of Hangzhou debuted Chinas first e-seal application based in blockchain technology with Ant Financial. The platform will purportedly offer greater security and convenience for enterprises, as it will match electronic seals with records of the corporations unique physical seal—and as a bonus, making it much harder for ones business partner or irate ex to steal.


All those who have met Dalai                                  Emch-nar (emch-nar means  “doctor” in Mongolian) say he is a genius. He could make the blind see the blue sky and make the mute sing. He could grow new legs on amputees and make infertile women give birth to twins. How do you find him? Some people say that he is traveling around the world. One day he might be a blacksmith; another day a shepherd. Maybe he is sitting next to you.

One day Dalai Emch-nar traveled to the Zürkh River Ranch in the northern part of the steppes. Instead of a horse, he led a donkey. But not only did he not ride the donkey, he carried all his possessions himself and let the donkey trot along in leisure. The people who saw this whispered behind his back—why does he do all the work and let the animal rest? Dalai Emch-nar didnt care. He just walked to the ranchers house at a slow pace.

The hospitable rancher slaughtered cattle and lambs to welcome Dalai Emch-nar, but he only waved his hands and asked where he could find the lushest grass nearby. When he got the answer, he took his donkey there to graze. The ranch hands were all confused, but Dalai Emch-nar didnt explain. He only said, “In three days, you will know the reason.”

At noon on the third day, Dalai Emch-nar brought his donkey to eat the lush grass as usual. By the time he returned, the ranch was in an uproar. The crying of the ranchers wife could be heard throughout the whole ranch. The ranchers 13-year-old son had fallen down from his horse and broken his rib while hunting. He was in his last gasps now, and no one knew how to save him. At this moment, Dalai Emch-nar led his donkey forward and said, “Slaughter this donkey, and take out the third rib on its left side.”

So Dalai Emch-nars cherished donkey was killed, its belly still full of fresh grass. Holding the donkeys rib, Dalai Emch-nar walked to the bedside of the ranchers son and replaced the human rib with the donkeys. He threw the broken rib into a copper container and told the ranch hands to bury it together with the donkey in the place where the lushest grass grew. As soon as Dalai Emch-nar stitched up the wound, the ranchers son woke up.

The rancher was deeply grateful to Dalai Emch-nar, and offered to give him half of his ranch. But Dalai Emch-nar just waved his hands again and said, “No, no. Just make sure that the place where you buried the donkey is covered by lush grass in the spring and summer, and clean snow in the winter. Only then can you preserve your sons life. You also have to tell your son that he must never eat donkey meat or ride a donkey in the future.” After saying these words, he picked up his bags and continued his journey. After he left, all the people at the Zürkh River Ranch said, “That was the genius doctor—Dalai Emch-nar!”

After this, Dalai Emch-nar became a shepherd who herded sheep for a lord of the Juu-Uda League. The lord was extremely wealthy, but he had a younger brother who was a fool. How foolish was this brother? When he saw the birds in the sky, he said they were fish in the river. When he saw girls, he said they were men. When he heard the howling of wolves, he said this was his mother calling him home. The lord had spent much time and energy finding a way to cure his brother. He had asked all the doctors in the area to diagnose his brothers illness, but none succeeded.

One day, a servant suggestedthat the lord should make an announcement that he would give the person who cured his brothers illness fifty taels of gold, one thousand sheep, and one hundred horses as rewards. Dalai Emch-nar heard the announcement. As a shepherd, he couldnt let the lord give away all his sheep, so he ran to the lord and asked, “Your honor! Your honor! Is it such a bad thing to be a fool? Why do you insist on curing him?” The lord wept and said, “My brother and I ate lamb tails and grew up together. We were like a pair of bulls horns. How can I be happy if he is ill?”

Dalai Emch-nar was touched, so he said to the lord, “Your brothers illness isnt incurable, and you dont need to give me gold, sheep, and horses. You just need to find a black sheep with white eyes, and then you can cure your brothers illness.” The lord trusted him, so he asked his servant to find a black sheep with white eyes. But the servant didnt believe Dalai Emch-nar. He thought Dalai Emch-nar wanted to swindle the lord, so he didnt make any effort. After a whole year, he still couldnt find a black sheep with white eyes.

One day, the foolish young lord ran off, and no one could find him even after a whole nights search. His older brother was so worried that his hair turned white overnight. The next morning, though, to everyones surprise, the young lord came back on his own before the sun rose into the sky and the dew shone on the grass, leading a black sheep with white eyes. Seeing this, the lord was overjoyed. He sent for Dalai Emch-nar and dismissed the servant who was asked to find the sheep. Dalai Emch-nar asked the servants to kill the sheep and take out its brain, and then he replaced the young lords brain with the sheep brain. He also fed raw sheep eyes to the young lord.

Twelve days later, the young lord woke up, but everything he saw was turned upside down. The blue sky was below the green grass, and all the people walked on the sky. The young lord was so terribly frightened that he fainted away. His brother became extremely angry, so he decided to banish Dalai Emch-nar. But Dalai Emch-nar said, “Please fetch me a big wooden spoon used for making milk tea. It must be a wooden spoon that has been used for making milk tea for 20 years.”

This time, the lord didnt trust anyone else, so he went searching for the spoon by himself and finally found it in the home of a childless blind woman. He offered the old woman some gold and brought her back to his palace to repay her for the wooden spoon. Dalai Emch-nar took the spoon and struck the back of the young lords head with it ten times a day. Like the hands of a clock revolving around, the world gradually righted itself in the young lords eyes.

A month later, the wooden spoon broke, and the world that the young lord saw also returned to normal, albeit a little slanted. From then on, he looked at everything with his head tilted to one side, but he was no longer a fool—he could distinguish not only between men and women, but also between birds and fish. When he heard the howling of wolves, he no longer said it was his mother calling him home. There was just one strange thing: He insisted that the blind old woman, who was brought back to the palace by the lord, was his mother.

Even so, the lord was overjoyed, and offered to share his throne with Dalai Emch-nar. Dalai Emch-nar waved his hands and said, “No, no. I just want a pregnant female sheep.” The lord happily agreed to his request and gave him a pregnant ewe. Dalai Emch-nar picked up his bags and led the sheep away. Before he left, Dalai Emch-nar told the lord that his brother should be prevented from looking into the mirror and the river in the future. These actions wouldnt kill him, but might frighten him.

After Dalai Emch-nar left, the lord was curious about what he said, so he looked at his brothers reflection in a copper mirror while he was sleeping. Then the lord got so frightened that he fell onto the ground—the thing he saw in the mirror was the head of a white-eyed black sheep.

Dalai Emch-nar led his pregnant ewe, shouldered his bags, and walked. Before they left the Gong Geer Grassland, the ewe gave birth. While Dalai Emch-nar delivered the lambs, a local bully robbed him of both his sheep and lambs. This man was the tyrant of the Gong Geer Grassland, and he was used to picking fights and robbing others. He had kidnapped dozens of women and had almost a hundred children by them. His sheep were as numerous as the clouds in the sky, and he had so many horses and cattle that they covered the grass when they grazed. One day, his favorite white horse became ill. When he saw Dalai Emch-nar delivering the lambs, he concluded that Dalai Emch-nar was a veterinarian and kidnapped him.

Knowing why he was kidnapped, Dalai Emch-nar quickly cured the white horse. The horse was ill because it had eaten some poisonous grass, so it recovered immediately when Dalai Emch-nar drew out the poison. From then on, the tyrant kept Dalai Emch-nar around and gave him a good job—treating his livestock.

One day, a group of people came to the Gong Geer Grassland calling themselves magicians. They begged the tyrant to let them perform in exchange for a bite to eat. The tyrant was intrigued, so he asked them, “What kind of magic can you do?” They answered, “We have the largest stomachs in the world. We swallow people and we can spit them back out.”

Saying this, they began their performance. The adults swallowed the children; the heavy people swallowed the slim people; the tall ones swallowed the short. Finally, there was only one person left standing before the tyrant. The tyrant asked, “How do you work your magic and let those people appear again?” That person opened his mouth, and spat out his companions one by one, and they again all stood before the tyrant. The tyrant was pleased with their performance, so he gave them some gold and asked them to stay. These magicians only had one requirement. They said that their magic would fade when the sun went down, so they could only perform during the day.

As time went on, the tyrant gradually got bored with their performance. One day, he came up with a new idea. He called all his wives and children over and asked the magicians to swallow them. Those magicians did so without any hesitation. The tyrant wasnt satisfied, so he asked Dalai Emch-nar to lead all the cattle, sheep, and horses to him, and asked the magicians to swallow those as well. Unsurprisingly, these magicians swallowed all of the livestock. The tyrant was delighted. He clapped and shouted, and then asked the magicians to spit out his wives, children, and livestock. However, instead of obeying, the magicians turned around and ran. Startled, the tyrant ran after them, but he was no match against so many people, so he could only watch them escape.

Finally, the tyrant only had Dalai Emch-nar left with him. Dalai Emch-nar looked at the tyrant and asked, “If I bring your wives, children, and property back, can you promise me one thing?” Hearing this, the tyrant nodded eagerly, for he was willing to promise Dalai Emch-nar anything.

Dalai Emch-nar and the tyrant tracked these magicians to a temple. When the night fell, Dalai Emch-nar took out a pair of golden scissors and sneaked into the temple with the tyrant. The tyrant spent a long time searching in the temple, but found nothing. The magicians had disappeared, along with his wives and children.

Dalai Emch-nar told the tyrant not to worry, and led him to the prayer mats before the altar. Lifting them up, he found a few sacks underneath. They were the same color as the magicians clothing. Without saying a word, Dalai Emch-nar cut up the sacks with his scissors and then set the pieces on fire. A few agonized cries came from the fire, and if you looked carefully, you could have spotted blood streaming from it.

Everything was burnt out at last. The tyrant was deeply shocked and he asked Dalai Emch-nar what kind of beings those sacks were. Dalai Emch-nar answered, “Those magicians were sacks, which couldnt do anything but carry things. Since they were placed beneath the mats before the altar, they had been worshiped by too many people and they gradually became spiritual beings. When they became ch?tg?r [‘monster or ‘devil in Mongolian], they started to do evil and swallow people.”

Hearing this, the tyrant again became anxious and he asked, “Where are the things in those sacks? Where are my wives, children, and property?” Dalai Emch-nar smiled and said, “Dont worry. Youll know where they are when you return home.” When the tyrant came home, he found all his wives, children, and property there. He became exhilarated and asked Dalai Emch-nar what his request was—he would be willing to grant it no matter what it was.

“No, no. I just want my sheep and lambs back.” This request was easy to satisfy. The tyrant found the mother sheep and led it to Dalai Emch-nar. But there was a problem—all the lambs looked the same, so how could you find Dalai Emch-nars lambs among so many others? Dalai Emch-nar was not worried. Sitting beside the mother sheep, he started to milk it. All the lambs came to the sheep, but only two of them knelt down and suckled. The tyrant was pleased by this scene—Dalai Emch-nar really was a smart guy.

Before he left, Dalai Emch-nar told the tyrant, “You have enough property, so dont rob any more people. Those sacks didnt choose their victim randomly.” The tyrant took those words to heart, and shared most of his property with his clansmen and lived a happy life with his wives and children.

Dalai Emch-nar led his sheep and lambs, carried his bags, and continued his journey. Some people say he traveled to Ergun; some say he went to herd in a place where lush grass grew, and others say he became an official in the city.

But no one knows where Dalai Emch-nar will turn up next.


Genghis Khan once said, “No descendant of mine shall ever live in a city.”

It was six months after Old Hus death that Darkhan heard the news. Darkhan had run out of money, so he asked around for a loan, but no one was willing to lend him money again. He thought of Old Hu, who used to herd sheep with him. Old Hu once said that after his son graduated from university and got a job, he would be able to give up herding and go enjoy life in the city.

Darkhan found the sheeps owner and got Hus address. He hadnt been to the city for five years, but this time he had a plan. When he found Old Hu, he would drink with him first. Old Hu seldom got drunk—in the past, when they herded sheep together, each of them could finish two bottles of Grassland baijiu.

Darkhan pestered the lamb dealer until the latter agreed to take him along when he transported lambs to the city. The dealer had just one requirement—that Darkhan should never ask to borrow money from him again. Darkhan smiled and agreed. When did he ever borrow money from the lamb dealer? He had long forgotten it.

There was no doubt that the lamb dealer would mistreat him. Darkhan would have to huddle with the lambs at the back of the three-wheeled truck. It was still hot in early autumn, and the air was filled with the stench of sheep dung and mud. Wherever the truck passed, people would cover their noses. Darkhan wasnt afraid of the smell, because he had slept with the sheep when he worked as a shepherd. After he got drunk, he couldnt smell them at all.

The lamb dealer said they would leave after dark. Since they would spend most of the night on the road and arrive in the morning, Darkhan thought he had better eat something. He decided to go to a restaurant that he frequented in the banner and staggered to the door. The restaurant had just a shabby sign that said “Mutton Noodle Soup Restaurant” in Chinese characters. It also had its Mongolian name written in vertical script, but like all other restaurants, it was so small that almost no one could read it.

Darkhan couldnt read Chinese characters, though he could vaguely remember their forms. He arrived at the restaurant, but before he could pull open the door, the young waitress pulled back the handle and said, “Go away! Go away!”

Darkhan pulled the handle in the other direction. He didnt even need to use his full strength to struggle with her, and he even had a smile on his face. His beard was so long that it quivered as he smiled, and his amber eyes crinkled up at the corners with a gleam of humor. He said, “Whats the matter? I dont come for two days and now you wont let me in?”

The waitresss face flushed with anger, and she said, “Go away! It was because I let you buy noodles on credit the other day that my boss wanted to fire me.” Hearing this, Darkhan released the door handle. He brushed the dust off his deel and sat directly in front of the door to the restaurant. He took a tobacco pouch from his pocket and poured some tobacco out, and then he started to puff on his blackened pipe, which no one knew how long he had used. As he smoked, he said, “Little girl, dont be afraid. Ill go to the city today, and Ill pay my bills after I come back. I just want a bowl of noodles, only a bowl of noodles.”

Of course, the young waitress didnt believe him. Who didnt know Darkhan? Every day he said that he would make a fortune and pay his debts. However, he didnt know how to do anything but herd sheep. Although the waitress ignored him, Darkhan didnt say any more and just sat at the door by himself. The sun was scorching at noon, and there wasnt any shade on the grassland; even in town, everything was exposed to the sun. Darkhans greasy sweat glittered in the sun, and he gradually fell asleep.

It was the young waitress who woke him up. She handed him half a bowl of noodles, pointed off to the side, and said, “This was left by a customer. He took two bites and didnt like the taste. You can eat whats left. Go sit there. Dont bother our customers.” Darkhan was only half-awake, but he took the bowl and looked at the spot that the young waitress pointed to. It was really a good spot. There was shade there and the sunlight was blocked out.

Wearing a smile on his face, Darkhan took the bowl of noodles, and walked over and squatted in the shade. He found a twig on the ground and broke it in two, and used them to slurp the noodles. Mutton noodle soup only tasted fresh if it was made from lambs slaughtered in the morning. It should be boiled in cool water, and no salt should be added. Then the newly made noodles could be put into the soup, and it could be seasoned with some salt and chives. This way, the mutton noodle soup would get a wonderful flavor. How could people not like such delicious noodles? There was only a little minced mutton in Darkhans bowl, but he carefully picked the pieces out and ate them, and then he chugged down the mutton soup. Sweat broke out all over his body, and he felt quite at ease.

If only he had a cup of baijiu—Darkhan lifted his hand, pretending that he was holding a cup, and then he raised his hand to his lips and tossed his head back, just as if he was drinking liquor. To complete the scene, he also made some slurping sounds, and this made him feel as if there really was a stream of baijiu flowing down his throat and into his stomach where it mixed with the mutton soup. He touched the objects hidden under his deel and felt satisfied. He took the bowl to the well, cleaned it, and drank a few bowls of well water. He smacked his lips—well water really was tasteless.

Putting the clean bowl on the doorstep where he had slept, he knocked on the door, and left. The young waitress came out and took the bowl back into the restaurant. Huh, he certainly washed it carefully. Seeing that she had slipped Darkhan some food again, another waitress exclaimed, “You gave him your noodles again? Now what will you do if you feel hungry? Why dont you tell him he can come to our restaurant and wash dishes? Then hed have noodles to eat every day.”

The young waitress didnt answer. She didnt like Darkhan, but she sympathized with him and pitied him. She also understood why he would never accept a job washing dishes, because he reminded her of her father, who was now dead. They would rather herd sheep forever than work in a place like this.

Darkhan went back to the place where the lamb dealer would depart. Squatting beside the road, he smoked and waited for the truck to arrive. As he waited, he remembered Old Hu. Old Hus name was Huugjil, and they had grown up in the same banner. They had known each other since their youth, but not well. At that time, Huugjil was the wrestling champion of their banner, and was already famous for it when he was only 16 years old. When Darkhan was young, he had been the most capable horse trainer. No matter how wild the horse was, it would be tamed by his urga.

Those were the good days—girls still liked boys who were good at riding, wrestling, and herding sheep, so both he and Huugjil were always surrounded by admirers. Even the five charming daughters of the banners chief would smile and sing to them, “Hey, brothers! We lost our sheep. Have you seen them?” At that time, they didnt know about alcohol; at that time, they had nimble limbs and strong bodies, and they didnt know the meaning of growing old.

Every story had to have an end. Just as one couldnt be a wrestling champion forever, one couldnt always be young. Darkhan didnt care about politics and didnt understand it. He thought that he would be a shepherd his whole life. He would marry a bad-tempered Mongolian girl with wide hips who could deliver many babies. Once he loosened her belt, she would become his woman. They would herd the sheep in spring, shear the sheep in summer, slaughter the sheep in autumn, and rest in their yurt in winter.

But one day the banner suddenly implemented a new policy. Your sheep were no longer your sheep, and instead, they became the publics sheep. The publics sheep belonged to the public, not to you, so you couldnt slaughter them or sell them or herd them at your will. Your horses and cattle also became the publics horses and cattle. Thus, Darkhan suddenly turned from a wealthy man to someone like the cripple who lived next door. He didnt understand what had happened, but everyone said it was a good thing, so he had no choice but to accept it.

After that, he discovered alcohol. The first time he drank was when the banner chief found him and told him that they were no longer allowed to herd sheep in this area, because this area had to be used for farming—wheat, buckwheat, and corn would all be planted there. At that time, he didnt pay much attention to the chiefs words, and he said, “The grassland is so big. I can herd sheep somewhere else.”

Instead of answering, the chief just took gulps of baijiu. The sight tempted Darkhan, so he stared at the chiefs mouth and asked, “Can I have a sip?” The chief smiled and said, “Alcohol is a good thing.” Darkhan was 20 years old at that time, and this was the first time he had tried alcohol. It was so spicy! The taste made his mouth pucker. The chief laughed loudly at the sight.

Darkhan felt embarrassed, so he took a few more sips, and he started to feel dizzy. He lay on the grass and felt that the stars were revolving. The chiefs face and his five daughters faces mixed together, and he felt that he was riding on a horse and he was filled with joy. He was so happy that he sang to the sheep in the sheep pen and patted the horses rumps. He felt that nothing had changed. When he drank alcohol, nothing had changed.

The lamb dealer finally arrived. Darkhan lay in the back of the truck, huddled with the lambs. As the truck started and rumbled, he suddenly saw a woman by the road. He knew her; she was one of the five charming daughters of the chief. Of course, they were both old now. They had spent their youth on horseback, but they didnt know that one day when they dismounted from their horses, they would no longer have the strength to climb back up.

That beautiful girl was old and heavy now. Her waist was thick. She wrapped her head up in a scarf and sold yogurt by the roadside, and there wasnt any expression on her face. People who were unfamiliar with her didnt know that she used to sing like an angel. Sitting in the truck, Darkhan looked at the woman as she receded farther and farther away from him; the grassland was also getting farther and farther away. Then he looked at the endless road, like a scar on the land.

Darkhan hated going to the city. He didnt like the fashionable clothes and the cubic buildings. He didnt like the Mongolians in the city, who spoke fluent Mandarin that he couldnt understand. Although the lamb dealer cursed all the way to the city, he was still kind enough to help Darkhan find Old Hus home. Then he hurried off to sell his lambs, for he had to send them to the restaurants before dawn. The lambs would be slaughtered at daybreak—people living in the city also liked fresh mutton.

Darkhan sat at Old Hus door without knocking or calling out to anyone. He just sat downstairs, looking at the sky. There were only a few stars in the city, but the dawn rose early here. When the streetlights went out, daylight broke. When the morning dawned bright, Darkhan knocked on Old Hus door.

A little boy opened the door. He didnt recognize Darkhan, so he ran inside shouting in Mandarin, “Dad! Dad!” Then a man in his thirties walked out. He wore a crisp shirt and his hair was tidy. He looked at Darkhan and asked in broken Mongolian, “Hello! Who are you looking for?” Finding that the man spoke Mongolian, Darkhan grinned, revealing his yellow teeth. He said, “Is Old Hu living here? Huugjil? We used to herd sheep together.”

That man frowned and said, “Oh, youre looking for my dad. Come in first. Have you had breakfast?” Darkhan answered as he followed the man into the room. When he took off his old-fashioned white malgai, he saw the mans clean hair, so he brushed the straw off his own hair.

Then he was in the room. He finally saw Old Hu, who was a photo on the wall. Confused, he first looked at the photo and then at the man. The man stood before the photo and brushed off the dust with his clean shirt, and said, “My dad passed away six months ago. In spring, before the snow had melted, Dad got drunk. He fell down by the roadside and fell unconscious. It was such a cold spring. There was still snow on the ground. Quite a few people froze to death this spring.”

A strange feeling rose from the bottom of Darkhans heart. He remembered Old Hu happily telling him that he was going to live in the city. Darkhan touched the objects hidden under his deel without saying anything. Old Hus son said, “Uncle, have you had breakfast? Lets have breakfast first.”

Darkhan sat at the table, and the little boy sat down as well. The boy immediately started eating large mouthfuls of his food and gulping down his milk. Seeing this, Darkhan finally opened his mouth. “Kid, how can you eat before your elders?”

It was hard to tell whether the boy understood Darkhans Mongolian, but he answered, “When Grandpa isnt here, I eat first.” The man brought a plate of dumplings and put it before Darkhan. Then he patted the boys head and said, “Eat up, then Ill take you to school.”

The dumplings were stuffed with mutton, and their wrappers were thin. When Darkhan bit into them, mutton juice spilled out. Darkhan hadnt eaten such delicious mutton for a long time—good quality lambs were all sent to the city. Darkhan quickly polished off the plate of dumplings, and then looked at Old Hus son and asked, “Do you have tea?”

Old Hus son nodded as he answered, “Yes. I almost forgot.” He turned and walked to the kitchen, and took out a small bag. He tore it open and poured out some powder, mixed it with hot water, and brought the drink to Darkhan. Darkhan picked up the cup and studied the drink for a while. Did they call this milk tea?

He silently put the cup down. “Did Old Hu suffer when he passed away?” he asked.

“He was smiling when they found him the next morning,” the man assured him. “They say that only alcoholics smile when they die.”

After sitting for a few more minutes, Darkhan stood up and walked out. When he got to the door, he suddenly remembered something. He touched his deel and took out two bottles of Grassland baijiu from his pocket. He opened one and put it before Old Hus photograph.

The photo had been taken when Old Hu was young, when he was still a wrestling champion. His face was square, his long hair was braided, and his eyes were narrowed into slits as he smiled. This was completely different from how he looked when he herded sheep with Darkhan—when his back was bent and he had lost almost all his hair. Then Darkhan opened the other bottle of Grassland baijiu and gulped it all down. The sixty-degree alcohol was so strong that it brought tears to his eyes and made his stomach ache. Ah, Old Hu, we really are old now. Just one bottle of Grassland baijiu can do it for us.

Finishing his drink, Darkhan put the empty bottle back into his deel and said to Old Hus son, “Ill leave now. Remember, your dad was a hero in our banner. He used to be the wrestling champion! He won your first school fees by wrestling!” Reeking of liquor, he pulled the little boy toward him and shouted, “Hey, you brat! In the future, dont you dare pick up your chopsticks before your old man starts eating! That was the rule set down by our ancestors!” Saying this, Darkhan stumbled out of Old Hus home. It was now completely bright outside, and the roads were full of people who wore fashionable clothes, drove cars, drank soy milk, and ate Chinese dough sticks sold by the road.

Darkhan walked for a long time, and he finally arrived at a sculpture of Genghis Khan in the city. He fell down on the step and looked up at the magnificent figure. What else did they remember except this? Darkhan took out his blackened pipe, and some tobacco from his tobacco pouch. He rubbed it and put it into the pipe, and then he lit the pipe and smoked it. He felt absolutely full, and he hadnt had such a feeling in a while. The mutton dumplings were so delicious. He hadnt drunk Grassland baijiu with Old Hu in a long time. When he finished smoking, he poured out the ashes from his pipe and took off the filter tip. Then he took out a piece of cloth from his deel and slowly and carefully began cleaning the filter.

Darkhan felt a little dizzy. Genghis Khans horse seemed like it was about to start galloping. He wiped the filter tip clean and staggered to his feet. He had to find a place. People who saw Darkhan all hurried to avoid him, for they had seen too many alcoholics like him. Those alcoholics were so annoying. They were a disgrace to Mongolians.

Darkhan didnt pay attention to their stares. He searched and searched, and he found it at last: Yongji Pawnshop. Its name was written in big Chinese characters and small Mongolian script, so it took Darkhan a long time to see it. He walked into it and threw down his filter tip in front of the clerk.

The clerk seemed to be familiar with people like Darkhan. He took the filter tip and carefully examined it under the magnifying glass. It was made of jade, and the jade was of high quality. Although it had been used for many years and was blackened by smoke, its color was still brilliant when it was wiped clean.

“Eight hundred yuan.” Darkhan understood this sentence. He first nodded, and then he shook his head. The clerk was a little confused. Why did this customer only nod and shake his head? He should haggle. The clerk took out 800 yuan, and then two 50 yuan bills. He handed these bills to Darkhan and said, “Ill give you 900 yuan! But you cant buy your jade back again.”

Darkhan didnt understand those words. He just took the bills and counted them, and he handed the two extra 50 yuan bills back to the clerk. Then he stumbled out of the shop. The clerk put the bills into the cash box. How strange; he wouldnt even accept extra money. The jade was quite excellent. It could be sold at a good price.

The lamb dealer had said they would return to the banner after dark. Darkhan went back to the place where the lamb dealer would depart. There were many restaurants in the area, and a few of them were hosing off the blood in front of their doors, probably left from when they slaughtered the lambs in the morning. Seeing Darkhan, the lamb dealer joked, “Didnt you say you came to borrow money? How much did you get?” Instead of answering, Darkhan took out the bills from his deel and asked, “How much do I owe you?”

The lamb dealer looked at Darkhan. He didnt know why Darkhan seemed so different after this trip to the city. He suddenly smiled and said, “What are you talking about? When did I ever lend you money? You must have borrowed from so many people that you got mixed up!” Saying this, he put the money back into Darkhans deel. “Lets go! There arent any more lambs in the truck. You can have the back all to yourself!”

Darkhan fell asleep as soon as he got on the truck. He was drunk, though hed had just one bottle of Grassland baijiu. He dreamed about Old Hu, himself, and the five charming girls. He dreamed about how one of the girls had secretly slipped him her jade filter tip just before she married a Han businessman; about how straight Old Hus back was; about how, when other people offered him work in town, he would crack his whip and say, “My ancestor Genghis Khan said, ‘No descendant of mine shall ever live in a city!” He remembered his own past—how in the coldest days of winter, he could only warm himself by huddling with the sheep, for he had to hand in even the cow dung to the government.

He was drunk; totally drunk. Grassland baijiu was an excellent thing. It was top quality. There wasnt any liquor in the world to compare with it. He wanted to open his eyes, move a little, and check the alcohol content of that bottle of baijiu, but he couldnt open his eyes or move his limbs, so he gave up. He continued dreaming about his past and the fascinating grassland. And that young waitress, who always gave him noodles. Eight hundred yuan...he could pay her back…and then she wouldnt lose her job…


Authors Note: I never left the grassland before the age of 10. Later, as I tried to assimilate into city life, my childhood made me feel very insecure. But as life went on, I gradually discovered that my time on the grassland is the most precious thing I have. The drunken Darkhan in “Sixty-Degree Grassland Liquor” is a common figure from my hometown. They were full of spirit and vigor when they were young, but have been regretfully left behind by the times, much like the way our nomadic lifestyle is now a show put on for tourists. The marvelous happenings in “The Doctor” were taken from the stories my granny told me when I was a child. Theyre not always innocent childrens stories, but contain the deepest Mongolian wisdom. Im delighted to bring you these tales of the Mongolians—maybe one day, our nomadic lifestyle will go extinct, but I hope I can preserve more of our stories before that happens.



Born in 1992 to a traditional Mongolian family who pastured sheep and cattle on the steppes of Inner Mongolia, Surina is now a radio host in Changchun, Jilin province. She enjoys rock music and literature, and describes herself as an urban dweller whose inner child has settled permanently on the grassland. She began to write in 2010 and is a contracted author on and a magazine columnist. Her fiction has been published on Douban and


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