‘Bull’ by Mo Yan
From The New Yorker:
It was Lao Lan who invented the scientific method of forcing pressurized water into the pulmonary arteries of slaughtered animals. With this method, you could empty a bucketful of water into a two-hundred-jin pig, while with the old method you could barely empty half a bucket of water into the carcass of a dead cow. The amount of money that the clever townspeople have spent on water from our village when they thought they were paying for meat in the years since will never be known, but I’m sure it would be a shockingly high figure.
Lao Lan had a substantial potbelly and rosy cheeks; his voice rang out like a pealing bell. In a word, he was born to be a rich official. After rising to the position of village head, he selflessly taught his fellow-villagers the water-injection method and served as the leader of a local riches-through-ruse movement. Some villagers spoke out angrily and some attacked him on wall posters, calling him a member of the retaliatory landlord class, which was intent on overthrowing the rule of the village proletariat. But talk like that was out of fashion. Over the village P.A. system, Lao Lan announced, “Dragons beget dragons, phoenixes beget phoenixes, and a mouse is born only to dig holes.” Sometime later, we came to realize that he was like a kung-fu master who will never pass on all his skills to his apprentices—who holds back enough for a safety net. Lao Lan’s meat was water-injected, like everyone else’s, but his looked fresher and smelled sweeter. You could leave it out in the sun for two days and it wouldn’t spoil, while others’ would be maggot-infested if it didn’t sell the first day. So Lao Lan never had to worry about cutting prices if his supply did not sell right away; meat that looked as good as his was never in danger of going unsold.
My father, Luo Tong, told me it wasn’t water that Lao Lan injected into his meat but formaldehyde. My father was much smarter than Lao Lan. He’d never studied physics, but he knew all about positive and negative electricity; he’d never studied biology, but he was an expert on sperm and eggs; and he’d never studied chemistry, but he was well aware that formaldehyde can kill bacteria, keep meat from spoiling, and stabilize proteins, which is how he guessed that Lao Lan had injected formaldehyde into his meat. If getting rich had been on my father’s agenda, he’d have had no trouble becoming the wealthiest man in the village, of that I’m sure. But he was a dragon among men, and dragons have no interest in accumulating property. You’ve seen critters like squirrels and rats dig holes to store food, but who’s ever seen a tiger, the king of the animals, do something like that? Tigers spend most of their time sleeping in their lairs, coming out only when hunger sends them hunting for prey. Similarly, my father spent most of his time holed up, eating, drinking, and having a good time, coming out only when hunger pangs sent him looking for income. Never for a moment did he resemble Lao Lan and people of that ilk, who accumulated blood money, putting a knife in white and taking it out red. Nor was he interested in going down to the train station to earn a porter’s wages by the sweat of his brow, like some of the coarser village men. Father made his living by his wits.