In Part I, Min Deren and his two older sons set out on a cold winter night together to go to the neighboring East Village where they would meet with Min Deren’s friends and discuss poetry. But before they got very far, Min Deren discovered that his eldest son, Ziqian, was dressed in a coat lined with grass—and was suffering from the bitter cold. Min Deren sent his middle son, Yingge, off to fetch his wife’s father, while he and Ziqian turned home, where Min Deren meant to argue with his wife. She had dressed Ziqian, who was her step son, in a reed hair coat, while dressing Yingge, the son she bore Min Deren, in warm silk cotton.
Grandpa said, “Son in law, why did you bring me here?”
“My family has everything good, only one thing worries me.”
“You are living well. What worries you?”
Min Deren, the father
Ziqian, the oldest son, born by Min Deren’s first wife, deceased
Yingge, the middle son, born by Min Deren’s current wife
Li Xiuying, Min Deren’s wife
Grandpa, Li Xiuying’s father
The youngest son, an infant born by Min Deren’s current wife
“Ziqian lost his mom when he was only 3 years old. I could not take care of him and make a living at the same time. I married your daughter to share my worry.”
Grandpa replied, “It’s her responsibility to do that. Ziqian is a very soft, polite, and gentle kid. He always respects the old and helps those who are younger.”
Min Deren said, “But someone treats Ziqian differently!”
“Does my daughter treat him badly?”
Li Xiuying said, “I take care of him exactly the same as Yingge.”
Min Deren retorted, “It seems you won’t kneel down until you see the true Buddha! Father in law, please come see.” Min Deren motioned to the two brothers to kneel down.
Grandpa stepped forward to the two boys. “Let me see, silk cotton, good, it’s warm. Ah! Reed hair!”
He pointed to his daughter. “How could you? In such cold weather!”
“Dad, don’t make a fuss! He stays home and doesn’t move around much. Cotton or reed hair makes little difference to him.”
Min Deren said, “No difference! Then why you don’t make Yingge’s clothes with reed hair?”
“Yingge is younger and not strong. If I give him reed hair, I feel my heart hurting.”
Grandpa said, “Daughter, I think you’d better admit you are wrong.”
“Dad, mind your own business!”
Min Deren said, “You shouldn’t mistreat Ziqian!”
“Give him to someone else’s care if you think I am mistreating him!”
Min Deren said, “Li Xiuying, how could be so twisted and spoiled. I won’t look away while Ziqian is suffering so. Yingge, give me a pen and paper. I will write a divorce letter and divorce you!”
Grandpa intervened, “Hey, my good son-in-law, what you are doing? No, please don’t.”
Grandpa pointed to Li Xiuying. “You, you—my good son-in-law is very gentle and never upset. He is always kind and careful to look out for me and your mom. In winter he sends cotton clothes to us. Summer he gives us food and supplies. Everybody knows he’s such a good man! He teaches Ziqian to treat you as his own mom. How could you be so cruel as to make reed hair clothes for him!
“You’ve done a very bad thing forcing him to divorce you, and you still won’t admit your wrong doing. We have lost face!
“I won’t say anything more. Let me go.”
Li Xiuying said, “Oh, dad, please don’t go.”
“You don’t want me to go?”
“OK, if you don’t want me to go and still want me to take care of this, you have to listen to me. I want you to hold the third son and kneel down on the ground. Put the divorce letter on your head, apologize, and admit you were wrong. Then I can make things right for you.”
“OK, I will listen to you, dad.”
Grandpa turned to Min Deren. “Son-in-law, my daughter has realized she is wrong. Also, it’s my fault that I didn’t raise her well.”
Min Deren said, “The one who did it should take responsibility. It has nothing to do with you, father-in-law. Let me divorce her. Take her home.”
Grandpa pushed Li forward to make her apology.
Li Xiuying spoke, while pulling gently on Min Deren’s clothes. “Oh, my dear husband, let there be no quarreling between husband and wife. It is all because I am too careless and made a reed hair coat. Please forgive me, my husband.”
Min Deren objected. “No, you are not serious. You just want to make what is big small, to understate it, and treat me like I am 3 years old. You made a coat out of reed hair due to carelessness? You are not serious and not honest. Take the divorce letter and go away right now!”
Li Xiuying said, “Husband has really gotten angry. I feel so ashamed but there is no way out. Let me die, and then no trouble will bother others anymore.”