(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

From the day that handsome Huang Baowen proposes to Beina, his homely coworker at a sewing factory in northeastern China, Old Cheng, Beina’s adoptive father and the chief of security at the factory, begins to dread the failure of their marriage. However, when the couple marry after a short engagement, the old man begins to hope for the best. Eight months later, however, Beina is not yet pregnant, and Cheng fears the young man will lose interest in an apparently barren wife whose puffy face reminds even her own father of a blowfish. Consequently, when Beina rushes into Cheng’s office to report Baowen’s overnight absence, Cheng thinks his fears have been realized and starts to worry in earnest.

The reason for Baowen’s disappearance becomes clear when Cheng receives a call from Maio, the chief of public security of Muji, informing him that Baowen has been arrested for indecent activity. Cheng goes downtown to the public security office, where he learns that the young man has been detained on a charge of homosexuality. He does not know how serious the charge is, and Maio explains that homosexuality is a crime if intercourse has occurred and a social disease if it has not. Cheng is greatly relieved when Baowen tells him he did not act on his desires the previous night. Cheng pleads Baowen’s case before the factory manager and the Communist Party secretary, citing insanity as the young man’s defense. The men agree to support Baowen. The secretary is especially eager to keep the young man out of jail. The factory manager offers mitigating stories, comparing Baowen’s conduct to the behavior of emperors in the Han Dynasty.

Cheng goes to Beina’s apartment to deliver the bad news that her husband is a homosexual and the good news that he is insane and has a good chance for leniency. As he visits, Cheng looks around the room and is impressed by the decor, attributing its charm to Baowen’s good taste and fastidiousness. When her father asks, Beina confirms that her marriage to Baowen has not been...

(The entire section is 827 words.)