About the Author

Ting-Xing Ye

by Ting-xing Ye and illustrated by Harvey Chan

Books by this Author
My Name is Number 4

Part One

The morning of my exile to the prison farm arrived, a characteristic November day in Shanghai, damp and chilly with an overcast sky. My two older brothers silently wrapped my wooden boxes and bedroll with thick straw ropes against the long rough journey. For lunch Great-Aunt made my favourite meal: pork chops Shanghai-style, with green onions. I ate hardly a mouthful, nor did my brothers and sisters. After the dishes were cleaned up, Great-Aunt told us she was going to her regular newspaper-reading meeting and, without saying goodbye or wishing me a safe journey, without looking at me, she left and closed the door behind her.

An hour later, I left my home, wondering if I would ever again walk in those three rooms, sleep in Great-Aunt’s bed or stand in the sky-well and look up at the room where my ­parents had lived and died. My sisters and brothers and
I trudged down Purple Sunshine Lane, where I had played and chased sparrows, where I had walked white-clad in two funeral processions. We passed my old temple school and the market where I had lined up many times to buy rice and pork bones. On the way to the bus stop we had to pass the building where Great-Aunt had her meeting. I saw her sitting in the doorway, weeping. I stopped and tried to speak. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, but she looked away.

When we arrived at the district sports centre, where all the exiles had been ordered to assemble, my brothers set down my luggage. They and my two sisters stood awkwardly, at a loss for words. My younger sister, Number 5, was crying; Number 3 stared at the damp sidewalk. The guards told me that only those going to the farm could enter the building. My final moment with my family had come. I let out a loud cry.

“Why can’t they stay with me until I have to leave?” I begged.

It was no use.

At that moment someone shouted my name and through my tears I saw Teacher Chen running toward me. She had come to see me off. She assured my brothers and sisters that she would stay with me. I said a solemn goodbye to each of them, picked up my luggage and walked to the stadium door.

Teacher Chen persuaded the guard to let her accompany me inside, saying she represented the school. There were more than three hundred unhappy teenagers gathered inside, with bundles tightly packed and tied. Four other students from my school were also being sent away, Teacher Chen told me, but I didn’t know them.

We sat down to wait. My teacher gave me some bread she had brought for me, but it stayed untouched. “Be proud of yourself, Xiao Ye,” she said, trying to cheer me up. “You may only be 16, but you are not a coward.”

I didn’t feel brave at all.

It was getting dark when the loudspeakers called us to the waiting buses. As I was about to board, Teacher Chen held my hands in hers, in front of her chest. “Xiao Ye,” she whispered, “remember the old saying, ‘When at home, depend on your parents; when away from home, rely on your friends.’ Make friends on the farm. They will help you.”

I knew that in repeating this familiar old saying she was taking a risk, because most of the old proverbs had been denounced and she might be overheard. Everything is against me, I thought, even this proverb. I had no parents at home, and the Cultural Revolution, which encouraged friends to inform on one another, had destroyed friendship. There seemed nothing left to depend on, not even my shadow.

When I got on my bus, the fifth in line, there were no seats left. After stowing my luggage in the overhead racks, I stood in the aisle, wiping my eyes with my sleeve, as others were doing, and stared out the window. The bus passed through the gate into a street thronged with families and relatives who had been waiting for hours. Horns from passing vehicles honked. Bicycle bells rang out. People ran alongside the buses, shouting names and crying. When the buses came to a halt, dozens of hands were thrust into the windows, clutching the hands of loved ones. I searched the crowd for my sisters and brothers.

The bus lurched and began to move forward again. The hands at the windows gradually fell away. Then I heard desperate shouting. “Ah Si! Ah Si! Where are you?”

I pushed and squeezed my way to a window, ignoring the protests of those in the seats.

“Here! Here!” I yelled.

Then I saw Number 1 checking the buses ahead of me, waving and calling out my name as each one passed him.

“Number 1, I’m here!” I cried out.

The bus sped up. My brother ran alongside, stretching his hand to the window. More than anything I wanted that one last touch. I reached out the window as far as I could, opening and closing my hand, but Number 1 fell back and I felt only cold air.

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Share the Sky

Share the Sky

by Ting-Xing Ye
illustrated by Suzane Langlois
also available: Paperback
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The Chinese Thought of It

The Chinese Thought of It

Amazing Inventions and Innovations
also available: Paperback
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Three Monks, No Water

Three Monks, No Water

by Ting-Xing Ye
illustrated by Harvey Chan
also available: Paperback
tagged : other
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Throwaway Daughter

Throwaway Daughter

by Ting-Xing Ye
contributions by William Bell
also available: Paperback
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No one seemed to understand what it was like to have no real birthday. Even Blackie, our Shih-Tzu, had one, noted on the form given to me when Mom put my name down as his adoptive “parent” when I was five years old. Never mind how that affected my understanding of the word adoption. Blackie’s registration form even recorded his family history, the whole pedigree.

Lucky me. I had a made-up birthday -- December 8, 1980, the day I was found on the steps of the orphanage. I could have been weeks old or a couple of days young; I didn’t know and neither did anybody else. I might as well be a lake discovered by an explorer.

My name is Grace Dong-mei Margaret Parker, but don’t call me anything but Grace Parker, without initials. Grace is my nanna’s name, and Margaret is the first name of Grandmamma, my mother’s mother. When I came along I ended a silent battle between my two grandmothers that had smouldered ever since my sister was born. Megan was Grandmamma’s middle name, but Nanna only won a spot as my sister’s middle name, Carole. It became a bigger deal, I guess, after my mom had a hysterectomy.

My name has Chinese in it thanks to my pig-headed parents. I did everything I could to change their minds. I begged, argued, and threw tantrums. All I wanted was to have my Chinese name, Dong-mei, removed. “I promise I’ll never, ever ask for anything else,” I pleaded. But my pathetic begging failed. So I tried playing dumb and deaf, with my mother especially, refusing to respond when she called me Dong-mei. I made fun of the sound, saying “done-mine” or, once, “dung-may” because I thought it was a dirty word.

My mother applied her teacher’s patience and reasoning like sticky ointments. “It’s not just a name, Grace; it means much more. Your dad and I promised Mrs. Xia that we would bring you up in touch with your culture and your roots. The name is a good place to start.”

“I don’t know any Mrs. Whatever,” I shouted. “Why do I want their roots? I don’t want to be Chinese, and I don’t want a Chinese name.”

Finally, Mom came up with one of her “reasonable” compromises. Up ’til then, she had called me Dong-mei only at home. If I didn’t stop fussing, she said, she’d use my Chinese name outside our house as well. My resistance crumbled.

As if there wasn’t enough repeating or reusing names, my confusion deepened when my grade three teacher, Miss McKerrow, taught us a new word, junior. She used a boy’s name in my class as an example.

“Robert Smith Junior,” she said loudly before she wrote the name on the blackboard, “because Rob’s father is also called Robert.”

Rob, who always needed a haircut and smelled bad, beamed at the attention he was getting. He stood up and told the class that in his family there were three Robs and two Juniors. “My grandfather is the first Robert. My dad and I are Juniors. Whenever my grandfather stays with us there’s a mix-up.”

That evening I told my mother that I wanted to be a junior, too. I didn’t have much idea what the term meant, even after Miss McKerrow’s little lesson, but I was pretty sure I was missing out on something, and that it wasn’t fair. After the dishes were done Mom sat me down and said that only boys could be Juniors. It was a sort of tradition that boys were named after their fathers or grandfathers. It seemed to me that boys enjoyed a lot more choices than I did.

* * * * *

My parents insisted on feeding me memories of the misery in my life before I came to Canada, which, to me, was no misery at all because I didn’t remember it. They told me about my abandonment, my life in an orphanage, their journey to China to adopt me. Little by little they let the details out, as if they were rehearsing a well-directed play, every scene written with extra care and consideration.

But it was as if these tragic events had happened to someone else. I hated my parents’ narratives about a stranger, even if the stranger was me. I was sick of seeing the sacred scrap of paper on which there were some marks in faded blue ink. According to my father, it had been hidden between the layers of blankets I was wrapped in when I was found outside the orphanage.

“Dong-mei,” my mother pronounced awkwardly, pointing at the second line. “Mr. Wu says it means Winter Plum-blossom.” Her finger then moved up and she spoke again. “Chun-mei, Spring Plum-blossom, is the name of your birth mother. Mrs. Xia from the orphanage told us that.”

Since I was born in the winter, probably at the time when winter plum trees were in flower, Chun-mei must have been born in the spring. In China it was traditional to name girls after flowers, Mom went on, adding that the note must have been written and tucked into my blanket by my birth mother. “Obviously the names are very important to her or she wouldn’t have taken such a risk.”

“It’s a stupid name,” I snapped. “I don’t want to be named after some dumb flower. Why didn’t this Chun-mei keep the baby and throw away the note?”

As far as I was concerned, the note as well as my Chinese roots could wither in hell.

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White Lily

Nearly a century ago, deep in the center of the Forbidden City, China’s last emperor reigned from his dragon throne. Although he was only a boy, the imperial decrees issued in his name were shouted in every corner of the country, binding his subjects with the stout bonds of custom and law, taxes and tribute, rules and regulations. Every man was required to shave his head, leaving a single pigtail to grow from the crown down his back, symbolizing his submission to the boy-emperor. And every woman was second in importance, even in her own family, for the burdens of law and tradition weighed much more heavily on females. They were called to obey their fathers and brothers as young girls, to comply with their husbands after their arranged marriages, and to yield to their sons if they were widowed.

Into this world, one day, in a village in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, a baby girl was born.


Lee Family Village was no ordinary place.

As far as the eye could see, jade-green rice paddies dotted a land crisscrossed with canals. The many quiet ponds were home to the most beautiful lilies in the nation. When in full blossom, they bathed the air with their sweet fragrance.

Nor was the newborn an ordinary girl. Her father, Master Lee, was the wealthiest man in the area, and his family the most prominent. As if to prove her worthiness to belong to such a clan, the baby cried out so lustily that she silenced the cicadas droning rhythmically in the trees, complaining far too hot! far too hot! Her shrill wails brought the villagers rushing to the gates of Master Lee’s house, each anxious to be the first to extend his congratulations and best wishes.

The richest merchant arrived first, followed by his wife and household. Next came Master Lee’s tenant farmers, slapping dust from their tattered trousers with their straw hats as they hurried along. Far behind waddled the local scholar, encircled by a flock of students.

“May I have the honor to make a proposal, noble Sir?” intoned the merchant when all had assembled. “I request that your beautiful child be promised in marriage to my Number One son, who is five years her senior.” He held out a red silk pouch filled with silver coins.

With the heavy pouch resting in his palm, Master Lee responded, “I accept this proposition, Sir, and from now on we are relatives.”

The crowd cheered the announcement as the head farmer stood out and made a deep bow. “Distinguished Master, we wish your precious girl good health, long life, and all the happiness in the world. May her daughterly obedience and virtue last as long as the universe!”

Behind him, the farmers pressed forward. Hens cuddled under their arms, strings of wriggling fish dangled from their hands, and fresh vegetables and fruit piled on pans were suspended from their shoulder poles. A group of ducks scurried worriedly to and fro under the watchful eyes of a pair of white geese. All this the farmers offered as gifts to the family.

Master Lee accepted the tributes with a silent nod.

“In my humble opinion, respected Lord,” wheezed the scholar, puffing from his walk, “your baby girl is the purest among the pure and the finest among the best, like this precious flower.” He presented a single, long-stemmed lily in full, white bloom. “May I suggest she be named White Lily?”

“Then White Lily she shall be,” Master Lee declared, barely concealing his disappointment that the newborn was not a boy.


White Lily was a happy child. She began giggling before she could stand up, and she learned to laugh, louder than her cries, before she was able to wriggle her chubby toes and walk on her own. But her happiest times were those when she pulled off her socks and scampered barefoot across the wooden floors, or outside in the courtyard where the spring sun warmed the cool flagstones.

There she played with her elder brother, Fu-gui, and chased after sparrows. However, her running and jumping and shrieks of delight often earned Grandmother’s -- Nai-nai’s -- angry scolding, Father’s frowns and grumbles, or Mother’s gentle criticism for disrupting the household peace.
White Lily was sure that it was not her beating feet that displeased Nai-nai and upset her father, because for as long as she could remember the thump of feet was a familiar noise in their house. It came from Mother and Nai-nai.

In White Lily’s eyes, the difference between these two important women in her life was as wide as the sky. While Nai-nai was short and chubby, almost balloon-shaped, Mother was tall and slim, much like the lily stems that stood in the ponds. Mother spoke in a soft, quiet manner that would hardly startle a bird, but Nai-nai’s voice was loud and firm, as if a brass gong had been struck with a wooden mallet. Mother wore either a long skirt or a full-length robe, often in colorful prints. When she walked, her hips swung rhythmically while her pointed shoe-tips peeped in and out from under the hem. Yet Nai-nai seemed to know one color and one style only. She had chosen to wear black ever since Grandpa had passed away two years before White Lily was born. Her shapeless pants were wide and loose around the hips but narrow at the legs, wrapped tightly at her ankles with black ribbons.

But there was one thing that Mother and Nai-nai had in common -- their feet. They were almost as small as White Lily’s. Mother’s and Nai-nai’s richly embroidered silk shoes were even shorter than their own outstretched hands. How could that be possible? White Lily wondered, looking down at her own plump feet, which seemed to grow with every passing breeze.

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