In the past

From my book (pp.33–4):

We have to learn to latch onto troublesome terms like “in the past” (guoqu) or “originally” (yuanxian). I’m getting better at leaping in and asking, “You mean in the 1980s? Or before the Cultural Revolution?” or even more precisely, “Before the 1964 Four Cleanups, or before Li Qing went to Datong in 1958? Or before Liberation?” Even the seemingly mechanical task of eliciting dates requires imagination. Though not necessarily clear on dates, they may recall how old they were the last time they performed such and such a ritual, or we may ask questions like “Was Li Peisen still alive?” or “Before your first son was born?”

One day, admiring the trendy outfit that Li Manshan’s second daughter Li Min has bought for her young son, I observe, “Funny, in the past one never had to worry about fashion for kids’ clothing, either in China or England!” She has an astute come-back: “How do you mean, ‘in the past’?!” Me: “Ha—that’s what I’m always asking your dad!” Hoist on my own petard.

Like her dad, she is perceptive and humorous.

6 thoughts on “In the past

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