Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Boxer-Murder Mystery in Hainan: Part 3

by Maple, guest blogger

[in translation, continued from Part 1 and Part 2 / 阅读中文原文]

I couldn't help but asking in a gossipy whisper: "The man behind us is George's grandson! How come you are not more excited to see him? Does he evoke any old memories? Does he look like his grandfather?" Elder Wu turned his face to me, eyes limpid and calm: "What kind of things have I not seen at this age? What's there to be excited about? Here you go, a castor leaf for you to block the sun."

I don't know whether I will live to 92, or if I did, whether I would no longer feel excited about anything. In any case I haven't woken to such a state in my current life. I trotted back to Situ and told him what Elder Wu said. Eloquent as Situ was, he stammered with widening eyes, "Therefore Elder Wu, he, he…" "Yes! Therefore hurry up, go tell Karl!" Watching Situ and Karl catching up with Elder Wu, Elder Zhou smiled tolerantly, "Disorder! I had planned to tell you guys at lunch."

Elder Zhou explained that now "the land of George's old residence no longer belonged to the church. After it was confiscated by the government, it became the property of the Tropical Plant Sciences Institute. Through our efforts, the Institute agreed not to destroy George's residence, but preserve it as a cultural relic. But the land is not ours and we don't have the right to go in at will, not to mention maintenance. Karl won't be happy to hear this. I had planned to let Elder Wu talk about the old days with Karl at lunch, to cheer him up."

At the gate of the Tropical Plant Sciences Institute, the elders negotiated our way in. After passing a dirt ridge buried in wild glasses, Elder Wu pointed – through switch-grass taller than us – at the faintly visible outline of George's old residence. Karl immediately began to push his way into the messy grass. Elder Wu said nothing. Elder Zhou hurriedly stopped Karl's advance: "Absolutely not! There are poison snakes!"

Poison snakes? We all turned our eyes to Elder Wu, who silently continued walking. We followed him to the Institute's residential compound, and realized that this was only one wall away from George's old residence. My husband found a good viewpoint and led Karl to it. Karl compared the house with the photo in his hand and nodded happily: "Yes! Yes!" The old cottage looked exactly like the photo; the years that passed had not left a significant mark on it. White wall, black roof, vermillion beams, arch gate, winding corridor, hollowed-out rails, all were intact. Only the residents were gone, leaving the building to luxuriant grasses.

George's residence, 2010 photo

George's residence, old photo

This was once George's path to home from church

At our side, Elder Wu talked softly, "I often played with Karl's father in the front garden. I taught him the Hainan dialect, he taught me hymns. I was six and he was seven. George was killed at the landing of the staircase in that building. I saw him lying there covered in blood."

"Do you know who killed him?" I asked. The old man said it was unclear, but people later figured it must have been a thief who did it. The Church was newly built; school, hospital, church, bell tower, everything was so perfect. In a small town like this, the cottage was as beautiful as a royal palace. It must have been someone who coveted, trying to steal something valuable. That night George returned home from the church and met his killer at the door. The killer was never caught. Nobody took care of those things then. The government didn't care either.

"Couldn’t it have been a heretic who did it?"

"Couldn't be," Elder Zhou replied firmly. "There were no Taoists here, only a small number of vegetarian Buddhists. It was 2000 years since Buddhism came in China? Buddhist culture had long permeated into every social class. People here had the custom of placing a statue of the village god at the entrance of their village, pasting a drawing of the god of wealth on their door, or worshiping the kitchen god by their stove, every now and then lighting up incense and kowtowing. This was just a tradition; many people actually did not know what Buddhism really is. Furthermore, Buddhism forbids killing. Most likely it was an unsuccessful thief who was recognized by George that had the murderous intention."

"Where is George's body? Was it buried here?"

"No. George's wife had wanted to bring her husband's body back to America, but then Hainan had neither civilian airplanes nor a crematorium. It was not practical. In the end, Hainan's Christians put together some money, transported the body to Haikou, and buried it near the then military airport. This location was also chosen for future convenience so that, if an opportunity presented itself, George's bones could return home.

"In 1939, the Japanese army occupied Hainan Island. They prospected and found out there were rare earth mineral resources on the island. In order to plunder the mineral resources, the Japanese expanded Hainan's highway and the military airport. George's tomb was thus destroyed and all trace lost."

"How regrettable! What about this old residence? Could the church take it back? George was the founder of Jiaji Church. Could this matter be solved through Hainan's Christian Association? After all, the building is being wasted here; it can be used as the church's library or museum. You guys can build a small path through the dirt ridge, completely separate from the Tropical Plant Institute. "

"Good suggestion. We can try."

When I was talking with the two elders, Karl kept silent. Situ did not translate either. Perhaps the content of our conversation had been repeatedly discussed among Karl and his family, perhaps he no longer minded the truth and consequences; he just wanted to touch his ancestor’s house with his own hand.

Karl said softly, "I want to go in."


"I want to go in."

"But, poison snakes!" (to be continued here)


Ryan said...

Xujun and Maple -- this is a great series. Am really enjoying it.

Out of sheer curiosity, I was wondering where Jiaji is exactly? I managed to narrow things down to Qionghai, but couldn't find Jiaji on this map:,+china&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=52.947994,114.169922&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Hainan,+Qinghai,+China&ll=19.257349,110.67215&spn=0.498483,0.891953&t=h&z=11

Anyone know?

Xujun said...

Hi Ryan, Jiaji is the government seat of Qionghai. As to why the name "Jiaji" did not show up on the Google map, my guess is that it's the same spot as Qionghai. If you search the web in Chinese 琼海加积镇, you can see maps with streets of Jiaji but Jiaji itself is not marked. A bit strange, which I take as an indication of the "backward" status of the place.