Carrying the Torch

Clashing horns at a grasslands festival – by Edward Columbia


I didn't see the bull at first.

We had come four hours on gut-scrambling roads to this grassland site, above a Yi minority village in Sichuan province. Ordinarily, this was a quiet place of rolling meadows, but today was the first day of the annual Yi Torch Festival, and the grasslands had been transformed into a lively fairground for the holiday revelries.

Hundreds of local Yi people, along with the occasional Han photographer from out of town, squatted on the scrub-pocked hillside. The flatland was a smoky campground of parked vehicles, where vendors sold toys out of their trunks and women in colorful headscarves pulled skewers of hotdog meat and sliced potatoes from vats of oil.


Gorge Life

Unexpected encounters at the top of Taiwan – by Brent Crane



My bus to Taroko, a natural reserve on Taiwan’s east coast, was as slow-going as its passengers. A big tour liner, it stopped frequently and each pause brought in another sluggish senior – the island oozed with them – wearing a bucket hat with thin straps that dangled below their chins like soba noodles. They congregated in groups at the front of the bus, looking like middle school field trippers in their silly hats, chatty and spry. I sat alone in the back by a window, pleasantly anxious in my hiking shoes, spying from my seat the sceneries of Hualien, a quiet littoral town with an alpine tinge. The island was kind to a slow-going solo traveler like me, showing itself off in hidden valleys, milky coastlines and green mountains that looked like English hills.


House of Cards

Spring Festival with the losers of China’s development – by Frank Muruca


“I apologize. My uncle lives in a shanty house.”

On the second day of the Chinese New Year, in the town of Jintan, Jiangsu Province, a teacher colleague named Wei invited me to spend the day with him. All morning, we had been driving around town on a kind of sober bar crawl – dropping into relatives’ homes for not more than 15 minutes, eating dates and nuts, and bestowing hongbao to the children. By lunchtime, my coat pockets were filled with lone cigarettes and candy. At one stop, an aunt had put a halfdozen cherries into my pocket “for the road”.

“After lunch, we like to play cards,” Wei told me. “Well, really it’s to gamble. We will go to my uncle’s house. It’s his turn to host the family. Next week, it will be my turn.”


Mixed Blood

On being biracial in Beijing – by Amy Hawkins


“Mixed blood” is not a term I thought I’d ever take too kindly to, resonant as it is of eugenics, segregation and Harry Potter’s “mudbloods”. But just as the past is a foreign country, so too are, well, foreign countries.

Tourists in China often return home with tales of being asked to take hundreds of photographs with locals, who marvel at their white or black or brown skin, their height, and their willingness to walk through the dusty streets without wearing a mask. Living in Beijing, an international city like Shanghai, I have mostly avoided becoming such a curiosity. Reveal that I am half Chinese, however, and the questions come flooding in.


Revolutionary Class

A tribute to a father’s love in chaotic times – by Jianguo Wu


Ed: 元旦快乐 and a happy 2017 to all readers in the colony! We have some great nonfiction stories lined up for the first months of the new year, like this touching, untold true tale from the Cultural Revolution. If you'd like to see more like it, pleasdonate to keep the hill alive

It was in the early 1970s, during the Cultural Revolution. Meat was very rare at that time; everyone had only half a kilogram of meat ration each month. Even if you had the ration ticket, there was still no guarantee that there was meat to buy with it.

My father worked as a labourer in a steel factory. At lunchtime one day, the factory’s canteen offered a bowl of ‘twice-cooked pork’ (huiguorou) to each worker – extra meat without need for a ration ticket. My father didn’t eat it but kept it in a round metal bowl. In the afternoon when he finished work, he brought it home to share with the whole family – my mother, me and two younger sisters.

For many years, I have wondered how my father brought that bowl of meat back home on his bicycle – a bicycle so old that it was hard to decipher its trademark. It was five kilometres from the factory to his home, on bumpy roads. He had neither plastic bag nor food box, only a round metal bowl without a lid. He held the bowl on the rear bike rack with a cheap clamp. But he managed to ride home without losing a single piece of pork. I have always wondered how.