Shepherd Boy died.
Shepherd Boy hanged himself.
As soon as the lamps were lit, pa’a’er, a whip was usually heard on the outskirts of the village. It was shepherd Boy leading a flock of sheep back to the village.
But that day as people were getting ready to blow out their lamps, still they hadn’t heard his whip; Shepherd Boy hadn’t yet been heard driving the sheep, “Lamby, lamb, lambkins”; Shepherd Boy hadn’t been heard swearing at the sheep, “Fuck your mothers, fuck your damned ancestors”; nor had the bleating or the hooves of the sheep been heard.
The Brigade Leader gave orders to several of the unmarried men, “Go up to West River and look. Maybe he’s in a dark mood.”
The Brigade Leader was right.
They found Shepherd Boy at West River. Shepherd Boy was hanging from that crooked tree at the outlet of the river, swaying in the wind like a banner. The round toads in the bottom of the river had become silent; not a single one croaked. Only the sheep seemed aware that something was wrong. They looked up and faced Shepherd Boy, bleating, “mom–mom.”
“Ai, such a wrongful death.”
“All because he wanted to see some heavenly sun.”
“But he died without seeing it.”
And so people talked about Shepherd Boy as they cut him down from the tree.
— Cao Naiqian, “Heavenly Sun,” from There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late At Night, trans. John Balcom.
Cao Naiqian’s stories are based on his experience on a remote village on the Mongolian border during the Cultural Revolution.