(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

China Browne is sitting in a railroad station lounge, reading and absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of her surroundings. English-language travel posters on the wall behind the ticket counter reveal that she is in China. She has been in the country only three days, but the harried American couple who soon join her in the Beijing lounge are beginning their second year as teachers in China. When the heavily burdened teachers learn that China Browne—carrying only an overnight pack—is going their way, they impose on her to carry their heaviest piece of baggage.

As the three Americans head down the crowded stairs of the Beijing terminal for the departure platform to Tianjin, China finds herself behind an old Chinese woman. The woman, wearing peasant clothing and a visored cap with a red star, has traditionally bound feet; she is carefully descending the steps, not realizing that China is helping her by slowing the surging crowd behind them. A moment later China smiles at her, but the woman, who recognizes her as a foreigner, reacts with suspicion.

China continues her friendly overtures toward the old woman, introducing herself in Chinese and offering assistance, but is sorely repaid for her efforts: The old woman calls her a “foreign devil” and shouts irrational accusations at her. China feigns imperturbability and is admonished by the seasoned American couple not to befriend the Chinese. Inwardly, however, she wonders how to promote...

(The entire section is 475 words.)