A people saying goes, “It is easier to change the course of a river than a person’s nature.” Despite my parent’s tireless guidance, my natural desire to talk never went away, and that is what makes my name — Mo Yan, or “don’t speak — an ironic expression of self-mockery.
After dropping out of elementary school, I was too small for heavy labor, so I became a cattle-and sheep-herder on a nearby grassy river-bank. The sight of my former schoolmates playing in the schoolyard when I drove my animals past the gate always saddened me and made me aware of how tough it is for anyone — even a child to leave the group.
I turned the animals loose on the riverbank to graze beneath a sky as blue as the ocean and grass-carpeted land as far as the eye could see — not another person in sight, no human sounds, nothing but bird calls above me. I was all by myself and terribly lonely; my heart felt empty. Sometimes I lay in the grass and watched clouds float lazily by, which gave rise to all sorts of fanciful images. That part of the country is known for its tales of foxes in the form of beautiful young women, and I would fantasize a fox-turned beautiful girl coming to tend animals with me. She never did come.