(Approximate reading time: 9 minutes)
San Hwa Neu Hai
By Nikki Lee
Long ago, in the land of the people of the middle kingdom, the land of Zhung Guo, high up in the northern mountains, the winter season had been cold, more so than usual, and the poor women of the village had been hard pressed to stay warm.
Superstition warned that to those unfortunate women who were pregnant during the cold season, if they didn’t stay warm enough, to those unfortunates, girls would be born. It was a worse burden to bear, even more than the bitter cold. Every woman could only hope that it would not be true, for themselves; but all the same, they tried to keep their bellies warm and prayed greatly for sons.
Many of the women, took further action, heeding the old ways in the hopes that any little protection might aid them in these long hours of need when the winter months still wore on long and cold.
Some of the women tied a long string of red around their waist and then made sure to sleep with their feet towards the east – the way of the Phoenix, while their heads laid north – the way of the Dragon.
Other women, drank boiling herbal broths. The hotness helped keep the women warm and was said to be full of useful masculine energy that would ensure sons would be born! Still, the women left nothing to chance and so the scalding drinks were made even more virile with potent additives that were just as often drunk by the elder men of the village – whose ailing libidos so often depended upon such concoctions.
Even the high matron who was just as pregnant in the frigid winter, (but had never had a daughter yet,) even she was afraid of the cold winter stealing inside of her and making her worry that she might have girl…even though she was kept plenty warm with a well-tended fire and wrapped so thick in furs she poured with sweat; still, she was leaving nothing to chance – her brave husband and three of their elder sons were away still hunting a southern tiger for her – so that she could make, tiger penis soup, ensuring she would surely bear another fine son!
By the thick of winter, there had been many births.
A few women were lucky, the matron was, she found her tiger and had her soup; and to her, a son was born. But many others were not so lucky – to those unfortunates – better luck next season. And all that remained for them were their men’s fading tracks leading away from the village.
The men’s tracks led up the mountain, through snowy woods and tall cliffs dangling with ice, going to where the mountain became a broad mountainside where only tall, brown grasses, that though dead, still stood as if they refused to be buried under the snow. The tall, dead grasses were now and again in places softly worn as if deer had passed too often through their midst, but deer did not come near, not while the smell of human children laid out upon the mountainside kept them away.
No, these worn paths through the frozen grasses were alone made by the burdened steps of those village men, who came to discard their unwanted misery out upon the mountain. Here in the darkness of the high mountain in the dead of winter, under the cover of night – is where the village men came to be relieved of that sorrow that was their flesh and blood wasted in the form of an unwanted daughter, a girl worth less than a slave. Bitter is the poor man’s winter.
At the end of every path, there was a small patch of grass pressed upon by the tragic weight of the girls left before; that bore the grass flattened like the nesting of a small creature, had frequently been laying there. But by the kindness of hungry animals drawn by the very smell that kept the deer away, nothing remained there for too long, and so almost never would one man come to walk a path and find at its end another man’s discarded burden.
And so it was, one after the other, towards the end of winter in the cloak of the coldest darkness, many of the poor village men came with their unwanted burdens and left them there discarded upon the mountainside for the winter night, and the creatures within it to take their due of human waste. But what came next, when the hungry winter animals were well fed, was something too that wanted what the village men abandoned.
For in the winter came the traders from the western lowlands, who were not so well-known to the high northern villagers; but the traders came well aware, that with the bitter winter, what poor misfortune would bear upon the villagers. And if at all the traders encountered even one lone villager – it was only as one passing traveler, to another, cold and alone, and neither would reveal their face, and so, remained unknown to each other. Thus, it was the traders came one by one, unknown and unseen. And with knowing ways – finding the paths traveled by the weary village men up into the northern mountain, they followed the paths knowing full well what to find…
There at the ends of the paths, the traders would find the soft hollow spots where the hunger of winter and wild animal had already taken its’ due of wasted flesh, and the traders would then go off to the sides – hiding in the long withered grasses – and wait for their due. Waiting in the cold dead grass, crouched low and hidden by the winter shadows, the traders would quietly stay listening by the hours…
Until at last, usually late in the deep of the bitter night, the heavy steps of a village man – burdened with the weight of an unwanted thing, came trudging along the lonely way.
Upon the approach of another weary village man, the traders would hold themselves perfectly quiet and turn their heads away from the lonely man as he discarded his trouble; there was after all neither need nor want to watch a man suffer such intimate agony as casting away a daughter never wanted.
It was natural, of course, for any man to feel remorse that such unlucky fate had brought him a worthless girl instead of a worthy boy. And so, the village men, in turn, said their prayers, asking for forgiveness, and praying that the gods might grant them better fortune by way of a healthy son next season. For now, they made their obeisance – with the handing over of their forsaken daughters to the mountain.
Like each one before, every village man was quick to unwrap his burden from a coarse woven sack. And like each one before, every girl born from a sack, helpless and naked, with not even a scrap of cloth spent on the worthless waste of her flesh, cried a terrible cry! A cry that only a cold and forsaken infant may utter – as they were brusquely taken by the hands of their fathers – and held aloft into the icy night air, and then laid to suffer amidst the falling snow and the cold dead press of grass beneath them.
But the village men were not without sympathy for their unwanted daughters – and to silence the girls cries the village men were prepared to observe a cultural ritual , the planting of the seed.
Taking from a small pouch, a tiny seed – the seed had been hand-picked from a flower of spring from the very mountainside the men now stood upon ….and saved for this bitter occasion…
The village men would then forcefully press their seeds into the tiny screaming mouths of the girls, for the men believed that the girls brought in winter to the northern mountainside would be born again – come springtime; born as pretty flowers upon the mountain. And if local legends were to be believed the northern mountain in the spring and summer – was a land of pretty flowers, as far as the eye could see! And so it was, that all these unwanted girls were called, “san hwa nue hai,” mountain flower girls.
After the planting of seeds, the village men each took a small rounded stone that had been gathered and saved last summer from a riverbed, at the bottom of the Jade Valley – and taking this stone, placed the stone into the crying mouth- to weigh down the tiny tongue. The stone, too big to swallow, filled the wailing mouth and finally silenced the bitter cries. And with nothing more to do, at last, the poor village men, relieved of their burdens, would turn and leave; never coming back, until the spring bore true the flowers they believed they planted.
When the last footsteps of the village men disappeared from ear, the traders would emerge from hiding, and retracing the steps of the weary village men, quickly find the men’s discarded flesh. Always the same, small and naked things, helplessly shaking with cold abandon, and like dumb things forced to suffer quietly, unable to even cry because their stone filled mouths. All that was left for the girls was waiting for death to take them, or worse, for the traders to take them.
Throughout the winter, the traders would collect the girls, smuggle each one quick into a bag, then concealing the bag under their furry cloaks; escape down the mountainside – to just across a ridge where they could keep a hidden camp, and at last reveal their stolen goods. One by one, holding the girls up before campfire to make sure that not a one was unhealthy or deformed, almost none ever was. It was a rare find to have even one girl that suffered even a tiny deformity – like a birthmark. No, nothing wrong at all, save that they had been born girls, the worst deformity of all. For even a retarded son might be kept by his parents – for a son is still a son, but a girl was all but worthless, no better if not worse than – a slave.
And so the healthy girls were kept by the traders, and the smooth river stones were stolen from the girl’s mouths; freed of the stones quiet weight, the girls would begin again mewling their pitiful cries, some with seed still stuck to their tongues.
But with quick licks of hot knives, their tiny tongues with or without seed, were slit, and with each cut, their infant cries were stolen from them and so too was cut the right to birth the promised flower from their newborn lips!
The girl’s stolen screams became the soft wet gurgle that would be the last of their pain ever cried aloud. But death was not theirs for simply having their tongues cut out; no, the girls still lived. For the traders had not endured the winter, just to come and kill them. No, no, the traders had suffered the winter – to spare the girls deaths on the mountain; so that the traders might yet trade them; but the lives in wait for such girls, still depended upon the girl’s flower like silence, now and forever.