The Three Times I Dialogued with Huge Fish
By Wang Yongli
The huge fish I mentioned is not an ordinary fish, but has a length of two or three metres, is thicker than a huge vat of water, and is living, not a specimen in a museum.
The first dialogue between a huge fish and me happened at the end of the Cultural Revolution. During that time, due to the scarcity of goods, especially food, one had to use coupons to buy whatever limited quantities of necessities were available. One day my dad wanted to eat some fish and ordered me to go out and buy it for him. My father had a supreme status at home—he earned the money used to feed the family, therefore, he could be like an emperor and make us respect him. Of course he ate the best and other family members including me ate the leftovers, but as I had accepted so much of the austerity education, I had a negative opinion about my father thinking him too fond of good food. Except I could not disobey my father’s order. At that time, I was a middle school student, just a head taller than a bike, which I had just learned how to ride. I put the two Yuan my father had given me into my pocket and rode the bicycle from the Qinglong Bridge behind the Summer Palace toward the town of Haidian where there was a large market. But when I arrived at there, I found all the shelves were empty, there was not even the shadow of a little fish. Helpless, I had to go to downtown Beijing.
It was about thirty kilometres and it took me more than an hour to reach the Dongdan food market. To my great disappointment, although there were a lot of large shelves, all of them were also empty; I could not even smell a fishy odor. I asked a sales assistant: "Comrade, where can I buy a fish?" During that time, the Chinese way when speaking to others was with the use of the title of "Comrade", or "Revolutionary Comrade". A short, gray-haired attendant, dressed in white overalls, glanced at me and then gently answered: "Little child, only at the beginning or the end of each month are there fish for selling, but at other times there are usually no fish in the market. However, I just heard a piece of news that at Qianmen Market there is a huge fish, and it is much bigger than a boat. The fishermen wanted to present it to Chairman Mao, but Chairman Mao doesn’t want to eat it and presented it to the Beijing people. It has just been transported to there. You may go there to have a try.”
After hearing the news, I was overjoyed, and hurried on the bicycle to Qianmen Market. Through the huge glass window I saw a gigantic fish lying on the counter, thick as a huge cylinder, with a length of more than two metres. A shop assistant flushed with excitement, washing the huge thing, the head, the body, down to the tail to make it clean. He shouted in a loud voice: "Long live Chairman Mao! Long live the big fish!" Outside the market many people watched the scene and shouted slogans after the shop assistant. The passing people stopped and sighed: "Oh, a really big fish! So huge!" All the people, including myself felt amazed. It was my first time seeing such a large fish. But then the crowd became shocked. "Still alive!" Some people cried. I craned my neck to look, saw that the fish’s mouth was as big as a basin, and that when it was filled with water by a faucet, the fish opened its mouth much wider, then closed it, but after that never moved again. Its eyes were bulging, as if it was staring at me, seeming to silently say: "I'm dead. I hate you, for all your people are greedy." The fish’s convex white eyes fascinated me. It was a huge fish, a big beautiful fish, but around it there stood countless people who wanted to eat its meat. Suddenly I was sad for the fish.
It was time to start selling the fish. It did not need any coupon, only money, because this was a special gift that Chairman Mao wanted the citizens of Beijing to taste. So the crowd of people lined up, but I was pushed into the end of the long queue. I queued for about an hour then heard someone in front of me in a hubbub, "Sold out! Don't queue." The left people suddenly scattered. Those who had been able to buy the fish were jubilant, but those who couldn’t buy it felt sad and regretful, their faces gloomy. But I was not depressed and even rejoiced, for I had not bought the fish meat. Of course, after going home empty-handed, my father scolded me: "You are so useless!" However, the huge fish left an indelible imprint on my heart.
The second time I met huge fish happened in the late eighties. As a reporter I accompanied president Li Xiannian on his visit to the Western European countries. It was in Luxembourg that I had the chance to see huge fish again. Luxembourg is only a small state, but very rich. Archduke Luxembourg generously invited all the Chinese delegation entourages, including reporters, to dinner at his castle. The cars taking us there went through a dense forest then stopped. All of us had to walk across a wooden bridge that had a history of several hundreds years and connected two banks of a river. On the other side stood the towering castle. I found out the river was part of a vast lake, and the castle was surrounded by the lake. It was so quiet that I could only hear birds chirping cheerfully. No one could enter without invitation because it was the Royal citadel. Crossing the bridge, my colleagues and I were surprised to find huge fish slowly swimming toward us, the biggest one was about three metres long and others were about two metres long or a little more than two metres long. The wooden bridge’s vibration had attracted the group of fish. They swam leisurely, as if to say hello to us. One, two, three, four, five, ah, I saw five huge fish swimming towards me. They were as huge as tanks, like submarines, cruising, from time to time forwards and backwards around the bridge to welcome guests. Almost all of us were interested in the huge fish. "Ah, so many huge fish!" I sincerely praised Luxembourg’s rich resources, how fish here could grow so large and live such a comfortable life. It reminded me of the huge fish I saw at Qianmen Market. If only so many huge fish could live in China’s rivers and lakes! I thought with a sigh.
The dinner was very rich with many fish dishes. I wondered why the fish were so plentiful and tried to ask the question to a blond waitress wearing a white apron; she gave me a pleasant smile. “Miss, do you possibly know whether the fish come from the lake in the vicinity? Did your friends catch the fish from the lake?” I politely asked in English. "No, sir, here is a no-fishing area. The whole lake is a no-fishing area, so the fish can grow big. You must have seen the big fish. They are the castle's pride, guards of honor who give a special welcome ceremony. The cooked fish do not come from the lake or the castle river, but are brought from the food market. Please rest assured and enjoy them. Bon appétit." She said in a soft tone. “Thank you very much.” I said. I was touched by their fishing ban. No wonder those fish were so relaxed, they were protected, and serve as special guards of honor. Human beings and nature live harmoniously; what a wonderful picture it is! Here is an animal’s paradise, a huge fish’s paradise. If only this paradise could be in China.
The third time I dialogued with some huge fish really was in China, at the Miyun reservoir of Beijing. As an expert, I was invited to attend a meeting to define feature television programmes and documentaries. The meeting was held on a secluded island in the Miyun reservoir. The island has not been opened to the outside world, but a villa was built on the island in 1960. During the meeting break I walked to a corner of the island to watch the lake. The surface of vast lake’s clean transparent water was rippling in the refreshing breeze. I felt relaxed and enjoyed the scenery very much. I sat on a stone and watched the peaceful landscape. Suddenly, a splash sound broke the quiet atmosphere. I chased the sound down and found a huge fish jumping out of the water and falling back into the water with a plop. The fish was two or three metres long, thick like a water vat. To my surprise I watched another two large fish jump out of the water immediately after, as if to say hello to me. I was so excited to stand up. Ah, they were really huge fish! Not one, but three. They were a family! Swimming at ease they swam to my feet and looked at me, seeming to beg for food from me. But I didn't have any food with me. I thought if I went back to the room to fetch food, I would not see them again when I came back, so, I did not move, but waved my hands to them and said softly: "Big fish, how are you? Very nice to meet you. Don't touch the hook and don’t let the fishermen catch you! Never be greedy for the bait, for the bait is not good food, it is dangerous! Don't go to the area where human beings often fish, for there is risk! Be careful, I bless and pray for you!" The three huge fish swam around me slowly for a while and then turned to the center of the lake eventually vanishing out of sight. My heart seemed to go away with them and I hoped that they were safe.
The next day the meeting was tight, there was not a break, nor any rest time at all. I didn’t have time to see the three fish again. In the afternoon, the meeting finished. Before the car left the island I quickly ran down the corner of the lake to have a look, to try to see them again. Maybe my footsteps were too heavy, or the time was too short, and as a result I didn't see them. But I knew, they must have been in the vicinity, not far from me, because I felt the harmonious atmosphere between us, and because I could feel their comfortable rhythm.