A Chinese girl, newly left on the streets, was rescued by a Red-crowned Crane. He scooped the mewing bundle up in his olive green bill and took her to his foster home for abandoned girls.
Shan, the White Cloud Mountain, was home to lots of unwanted girls.
All of whom had been disowned and saved. Saved from being thrown
away, drowned, or peddled as virtual slaves; saved from being
subjected to beatings or sold into brothels. The girl babies arrived
wrapped in old newspaper like cold-blooded, lifeless fish, while the
older ones came in with uncoiled raven hair, pale skin, and unbound
feet. The babies relentlessly cried and the bigger girls ate and
sighed. What was their fate?
they didn't know how to behave or what was expected. The babies were
soon contented, but the girls didn't know how to let go of their
earlier lives or soothe their longings.
they were encouraged to use poetry, music, and painting. Those who
did not have these artistic skills found release in filial piety:
pouring tea, preparing rice congee, and showing the younger girls how to
spit out shells of melon seeds. They preferred domesticity to the
there was one girl that excelled in everything and that was Lingling.
A delicate girl who had no idea where she was from or where she was
going, yet she sang, she danced, she laundered clothes whilst
cracking sunflower seeds with her teeth. She didn't remember her life
before Baiyun Shan.
seventeen, the mountain was the only home she'd ever known and she
would often wander its peaks, or she'd sit on its star-scraping ridge
and play the lute. Her exquisite music carried to Guangzhou, where
its slow tempo pulled people into the streets. City life stopped
while these pieces spoke of her love and sorrow. Love for the
Red-crowned Crane and her mountain home and sorrow that she may have
to leave it. The music described her indecision. How could she decide
when the cranes were so far away?
was unaware of the effect these lyrical tunes had on the people below
for her view of Guangzhou was obscured by white clouds. Indeed, she
could not imagine life beyond the Baiyun Shan, although she knew it
was there and this grieved her. At seventeen, all the girls were
given their freedom; allowed to decide whether to stay or go. They no
longer had to claim the mountain as their home or the cranes as
their protectors. They could return to their birth home, make a new
life in the capital, or stay under the Southern Sky. This is what she
thought of when she plucked the four silk strings of the pear-shaped
pipa, as her fingers picked the notes and strummed the chords her
left hand made on its neck.
wanted both: the comfort of the known and the thrill of the unknown.
She wanted to leave the nest, be an explorer, but she also wanted the
safety that the mountain gave her. But when she played, her spirit
became like a Red-crowned Crane: it circled the air like a bird and
tugged at the thin thread that attached it to her, but like silk, the
link was so strong it never snapped. While Lingling's spirit wanted
to soar, her body refused to let her. Each time she played, her
spirit yanked hard to fly higher and her music increased its
poignancy, while her mind remained torn between sky and mountain.
the call of her one lute had been heard by one crane who was flying
over open seas and across vast skies to reach her. A Red-crowned
Crane who too had once struggled to decide – to follow his kin and
nature or to reside by a peaceful lake – before he learnt from
those older and wiser that he could have both: a simple life and