Deterrence Era, Year 61 The Swordholder
Cheng Xin’s recovery proceeded apace. The doctors told her that even if all ten seven-millimeter bullets in the gun had struck her, and even if her heart had been shattered, modern medicine was capable of reviving her and fixing her up good as new—though it would have been a different matter if her brain had been hit.
The police told her that the last murder case in the world had occurred twenty-eight years ago, and this city hadn’t had a murder case in almost forty years. The police were out of practice when it came to the prevention and detection of murder, and that was why Wade had almost succeeded. Another candidate for the Swordholder position had warned the police. But Wade’s competitor had presented no proof, only a suspicion of Wade’s intent based on a sensitivity that this era lacked. The police, dubious of the accusation, wasted a lot of time. Only after discovering that Wade had faked a call from AA did they take action.
Many people came to visit Cheng Xin at the hospital: officials from the government, the UN, and the Solar System Fleet; members of the public; and, of course, AA and her friends. By now, Cheng Xin could easily tell the sexes apart, and she was growing used to modern men’s completely feminized appearance, perceiving in them an elegance that the men of her era lacked. Still, they were not attractive to her.
The world no longer seemed so strange, and Cheng Xin yearned to know it better, but she was stuck in her hospital room.
One day, AA came and played a holographic movie for her. The movie, named A Fairy Tale of Yangtze, had won Best Picture at that year’s Oscars. It was based on a song composed in busuanzi verse form by the Song Dynasty poet Li Zhiyi:
You live at one end of the Yangtze, and I the other.
I think of you each day, beloved, though we cannot meet. We drink from the same river.…
The film was set in some unspecified ancient golden age, and told the story of a pair of lovers, one who lived at the source of the Yangtze, and the other at its mouth. The pair was kept apart for the entire film; they never got to see each other, not even in an imaginary scene. But their love was portrayed with utter sorrow and pathos. The cinematography was also wonderful: The elegance and refinement of the lower Yangtze Delta and the vigor and strength of the Tibetan Plateau contrasted and complemented each other, forming an intoxicating mix for Cheng Xin. The film lacked the heavy-handedness of the commercial films of her own era. Instead, the story flowed as naturally as the Yangtze itself, and absorbed Cheng Xin effortlessly.
I’m at one end of the River of Time, Cheng Xin thought, but the other end is now empty.…
The movie stimulated Cheng Xin’s interest in the culture of her new era. Once she recovered enough to walk, AA brought her to art shows and concerts. Cheng Xin could clearly remember going to Factory 7984 and the Shanghai Biennale to see strange pieces of contemporary “art,” and it was hard for her to imagine how much art had evolved in the three centuries she was asleep. But the paintings she saw at the art show were all realistic—beautiful colors enlivened with vitality and feeling. She felt each painting was like a heart, beating gently between the beauty of nature and human nature. As for the music, she thought everything she heard sounded like classical symphonies, reminding her of the Yangtze in the movie: imposing and forceful, but also calm and soothing. She stared at the flowing river until it seemed that the water had ceased moving, and it was she that was moving toward the source, a long, long way.…
The art and culture of this age were nothing like what she had imagined, but it wasn’t simply a matter of a return to classical style, either. It was more of a spiraling sublimation of post-postmodernism, built upon a new aesthetic foundation. For instance, A Fairy Tale of Yangtze contained profound metaphors for the universe and space and time. But Cheng Xin was most impressed by the disappearance of the gloomy despair and bizarre noise so prevalent in the postmodern culture and art of the twenty-first century. In their place was an unprecedented warm serenity and optimism.
“I love your era,” said Cheng Xin. “I’m surprised.”
“You’d be even more surprised if you knew the artists behind these films, paintings, and music. They’re all Trisolarans from four light-years away.” AA laughed uproariously as she observed Cheng Xin’s stunned gape.
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