A man between two worlds – new fiction by George Gao



Jackson and his grandmother sat at the teahouse on the city wall overlooking the river moat. An old peddler bundled in a wool jacket walked by with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He had a bamboo stick slung across his shoulders. There was a basket on each side, both filled with candy. “Ma Ya Tang,” he said, smirking at the two of them. “Five kuai each.”

Grandma Li waved the man away. She turned to Jackson and said, “When your mother was little, she used to love that stuff. But they were terrible for her teeth.”

“Yea?” said Jackson. He refilled his teacup and took a sip. He liked hearing about his mother’s childhood in Suzhou. Jackson was born in this city, though he left for the U.S. at age five. He often wondered what his life would be like if he had grown up here, instead of in the small suburb of Winslow, New Jersey.


Grindstone Mountain

Money to burn but no tomb to sweep – by Mark Treacher


Flames lap around the banknotes as they shrivel inside a rusty old oilcan, wisps of black smoke spiralling up into the overcast sky. Squatting down on his haunches, Lee peels off a few more 10,000 yuan bills from a fat bundle and offers them to the fire. His teenage son, father and stepmother Auntie Zhang follow suit, holding out the money until it catches alight. Lee’s downcast face is compelling: his mother died in 1985, of heatstroke on a broken-down train near Wuhan. Lee had just graduated; he was very close to his mother.

Suddenly the fire spits, leaping the gap to Lee’s fingertips, making him yelp and drop the money to the ground.  “Nide mama chu lai le!” hisses Auntie Zhang – “Your mum is here!”


The end of the hill

We're closing our gates in a month


A quick housekeeping note, for our patient readers. Apologies for the radio silence on the Anthill in the last couple of months – I have been in Taiwan this summer, studying classical Chinese, and fiction editor Tom is based on the other side of the pond in Monterey, California. We also had a technical glitch, now fixed, that put the site out of commission for a stretch as some of you had noticed.

More importantly, we have news: the hill, alas, is closing down. In a month or so, the Anthill is folding into the new China Channel at the Los Angeles Review of Books, which I will be managing editor of (see more in this Q&A) alongside a terrific team of China hands, old and new. Over at LARB we will still be running narrative pieces, as well as much more, so think of it as a continuation. But the Anthill itself will be closing its gates for new submissions, although the site will remain up and archived in its entirety.

We still have a last few pieces to publish, starting with a son's moving tribute to his mother on qingmingjie that I will put up early next week. A handful more will follow, taking us to late September or early October when the China Channel launches.

Thanks for following us these last five years, and watch this space for the new reincarnation! - Alec


Lanzhou Dust

A poem from the edge of the desert – by Lowell Cook


the day’s end brings us to the end of the earth

where dust has gathered for centuries

like aged wine, it has a rather refined taste 

swirling on the tip of your tongue and mine.



An unexpected passenger – flash fiction by William Dyke


Mr. Wang woke at dawn to eat congee and fruit. He filled his tea mug and said goodbye to his wife before walking to the elevator. They lived on the 13th floor of an apartment that the government had given them after being displaced from their inner city hutong.

The apartment was on the outskirts of Beijing. It wasn’t especially nice, but it was his own. People like Mr. Wang didn’t normally own apartments. In the story of Mr. Wang’s life, he considered it a win on the whole.

Mr. Wang worked as a taxi driver, even though he didn’t have to. Years of steady work and a healthy pension ensured there would be food on the table plus some leftover. But ever since his son had moved out, he found himself lonely. He loved his wife but one person wasn’t enough to keep conversation going.