(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A young woman named Pipa leaves her Chinese village to work for a wealthy family in Shanghai. Because Pipa’s mother works in charms and makes potions, she is a powerful figure in her village. When Pipa prepares to leave, her mother mixes potions to protect her against bodily harm as well as herbs that will fix her past in her memory and never allow her to forget her mother, no matter how far away she goes. The mother also asks Pipa to promise her to take a small stone with her and to find the heart of the house in which Wen, the man for whom she is going to work, lives and to hide the stone there. She tells Pipa not to tell anyone what village she is from and not to tell anyone her mother’s name.

Pipa gets a ride to Shanghai with her mother’s family friend Lao Fu. When she arrives, she is terrified by the size of the city. Reaching the house where she is to work and watching her mother’s friend drive his cart away, she thinks she has said her last good-bye to her village and her mother. After years of avoiding her mother’s sight, Pipa feels she is now in a place where her mother cannot see her; she is so filled with conflicting emotions about this that she vomits on the side of the road.

Pipa makes friends with another young woman named Meisi who works in the Wen house. She allows the stone, which her mother sewed up in her smock, to be thrown away. When Wen learns that Pipa can read, she is given a more important role in the...

(The entire section is 553 words.)