Through its shocking episodes, The Sacred Wood deals with peoples’ choice between good and evil. In it, two business partners have a system for making money – leading innocent migrant workers to their deaths to extort accident damages. But one of them eventually caves in to his guilt, which causes a fight with his partner and ultimately their deaths. Yuan Fengming, the boy who makes it out alive in this novella, symbolizes kindness in its simplest of forms. However, even the author can’t be certain if he will be able to escape similar disaster again in the future.
The novella touches on the purest of human evils, but doesn’t tack toward doom or despair. Instead, it retains a sense of repentance and honesty so as to light the blanket of darkness surrounding the coal mine.
The author, Liu Qinbang, is very sophisticated in his narrative skill. He leads readers to the story’s inner depths with great ease, demonstrating his powerful control of the subject matter.
Liu Qingbang was born in Shenqiu of Henan province in December 1951. He graduated from Henan Shenqiu Number 4 Middle School in 1967. After graduation, he became a peasant. He was recruited to work in a mine when he turned 19 years old. He worked as a miner, an administrative secretary of the Propaganda Section of the Mining Bureau, and later as an editor, a journalist and the director of the adjunct of Chinese Coal News. He is presently the vice-chairperson of the Beijing Writers’ Association and a member of the Beijing Committee of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CCPPC).
His works include five novels such as Fault, Poetry in the Distance, and Chords on Plains; more than 20 collections of novellas and collections of prose. For example, Miners, Shepherd Mei, White Flowers all across the Land, and Wind Instruments. His short story Shoes won the 2nd Lu Xun Literature Prize, and The Sacred Wood won the 2nd Lao She Literature Prize and was adapted into a movie named Blind Shaft which won the Silver Bear at the 53rd Berlin Film Festival. He was awarded “Excellence in both Art and Morality”. Many of his works have been translated into English, French, Japanese, Russian, German, and Italian.
Liu Qingbang is an “anomaly”. “Humans and nature” are consistent themes within his writing and he is a realistic writer. His works can be generally classified into two scenes — countryside and mines, which are two profound tunnels leading to the depth of his memory. He names the former the “harmony between humans and nature” and the latter “the conflict of human and nature”. A salient feature of his works is his personalized use of language.
Nearly a month before Chinese Lunar New Year, Tang Zhaoyang and Song Jinming were at the small train station looking for potential victims – their plan was to bring a guy to the coal mine, find a chance to kill him and claim compensation from the owner, claiming them as their relative. Sitting at the small open-roof restaurant, they cracked jokes with the waiters while observing the surroundings and pedestrians. But before they could have a spoon’s worth of freshly-served mutton soup, they spotted an ideal target. Hastening to gather up their props – bedding rolls and artificial leather bags – they walked over to him.
Judging from his appearance, Song Jinming understood he was in lack of money. So he pretended to ask for a light and struck up a conversation. He casually mentioned that working in the coal mine could earn 900 yuan a month before the Spring Festival. Finding those wages tantalizing, the guy begged Song to take him along. Song let him beg for a while before finally consenting. When he did, Tang Zhaoyang came up, pretending he couldn’t get his hands on any train tickets and fake-complaining about who Song picked for their job. After letting Song plea for a while, Tang finally agreed but on one condition: The guy should call himself Tang Zhaoxia and pretend to be his blood brother, instead of using his real name of Yuan Qingping. Naturally, these details were just the framework for their future moves. However, the man didn’t suspect a thing, agreeing without the least hesitation.
The group of three went far west, tackling many obstacles before finally coming to a coal mine in the remote mountains. On the way, Song Jinming got to know a little about Tang Zhaoxia and his family, such as that he was married and had a son and daughter. After a brief interview, the owner agreed to let them work in the well. Tang Zhaoyang purposely mentioned that they had previously worked in another mine, but the mine closed down and the owner was arrested following some kind of accident. With that bit of “evidence”, negotiations would go more smoothly once their plan had been enacted. Tang Zhaoyang also acted like in good temrs with Tang Zhaoxia when the owner was watching, so as to further win his trust. They also had some lively banter about dating girls.
By the fourth day, the two men treated Tang Zhaoxia to a meal that would serve as his last dinner. Down in the mine, Song Jinming deliberately tipped Tang Zhaoxia’s safety helmet off from atop his head, whereupon Tang Zhaoyang based his head in. Then they doctored the scene to make his death appear an accident due to his helmet being off.
When the coal cart started to come around, Tang Zhaoyang kept crying “Brother… brother!”, and pulled him from under the coal pile. But when he asked for 60,000 yuan in compensation from the boss, he was rejected flat out. Returning to their dwelling place at night, they dared not fall asleep and kept some bricks close at hand in case something bad happened. When talking continued later on, the owner gave Song Jinming 2,000 yuan in private, asking him to talk Tang into reducing the price. Finally, Tang Zhaoyang accepted the 28,000 yuan offered, and left with Tang Zhaoxia’s remains and cremation urn. They went to the hotel to have some fun with prostitutes, made arrangements for when they would meet up after the Spring Festival, and went their separate ways, saying to each other “May kind people be blessed with life-long peace.”