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Translation from Mandarin:Leopard Wang’s Marital Sex—Review on The Spots of The Leopard

Author: Lin Gao (林高), Singapore Translated by Claire L. Hennessy, United States


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Published on May 10, 2007 in Singapore's United Morning Express-Literature City (新加坡联合早报之文艺城), Huang Kaide(黄凯德)'s short story The Spots of The Leopard (豹变) has instant won accolades from many for its gripping plot that constantly engages its readers in an emotional roller-coaster. Yet, there are more to its veneer charm. The novel's meta-structure, subtle cues, pronounced characterization, and sophisticated syntax interweave a dense web of meanings:


Meanings that are cooped up beneath their cosmetic spellbound await the readerly touch of magic to be set free.


This is where the canny meets the uncanny and where the familiar plot pattern is imbued with the sophistication of the moral. The protagonist Leopard Wang (王豹) is troubled by a condition worse than infertility: [according to his culture,] not having a son to carry his family name or to take care of him in his old age is a big deal. He has so far exhausted every possible means, including exhausting himself in trying to conceive. His wife then says,“since we are already infertile, what’s the point of having sex?” which further upsets the relationship. It just so happens that there is a black panther on the loose from a nearby new zoo that is under construction. The panther is thus presented as a “cure” for Wang's infertility. According to some folk prescription, “all ferocious carnivores” are sexually active and highly fertile, and their penises are considered as natural aphrodisiac tonics. Without delay, Wang borrows a sow from his brother-in-law and names it "black sister-in-law" (乌嫂) in the hope of spreading its female productive mojo onto his wife. More preposterous to its ritual function is that it is intended as a bait for the black panther. Ironically, things go south as the black panther runs away.


Before long, Leopard Wang discovers the panther hiding in a ditch near a racetrack. He then sets the ditch on fire to lure it out, which also ends in futility—The panther would rather die than become his cure. Watching it struggle, Wang discovers that it is, after all, a female. This sarcasm sheds on him a moment of epiphany and makes him able to see that he has been blinded by false beliefs. Feeling almost a fire burning inside his body, “the young leopard took on its prominent spots (豹变).” He then goes home drunk and forces himself on his wife who is blown away by Wang's "beastliness". The next year, Wang and his wife are seen visiting the new zoo—in Wang's arms is his two-month-old son.


The author makes no haste in revealing the protagonist’s plan. The illogicality of Wang's motives are revealed to the reader when irrationalities and puzzles accumulate one after another. When Wang asks his nephew Akun (阿昆) to help with the hunting, the nephew initially “has thought it as simply an opportunity for some reward from the government until he sees that life-and-death look in his uncle's face.” Suspicions from other characters only arise when Wang becomes increasingly desperate, this includes him planning to use a durian to strike the panther on its head should all weapons run out.


The character’s meticulous attempts to conceive a child effectively brings out the most profound criticism, as the intended absurdism leaks through the character’s farcical demeanors and language. The author skillfully delineates the character’s psychology through exposing Wang's unspeakable embarrassment as an impotent. Possessed by the thought of “I want a chubby little son so bad,” Wang is seen praying in front of every god of fertility, pestering every gynecologist, sucking empty every raw sea-turtle egg, licking up every drop of pythons’ blood, noshing on every male frog, and swallowing every bite of tree branch that is tonic for improving sexual prowess. It is through these details that Wang's motivation is subject to scrutiny.


Comedic delineations are careful observations of the artist who then transforms them onto the paper and into archetypes.


Very often, the author's criticism of Wang's philistine sexual awareness lands in farce and irony, behind which is the lesson on reproduction. The author ingeniously demonstrates that apart from the instinctual nature and cultural obligation involved in human reproduction, sex is also part and parcel of a harmonious marital relationship as well as the true exertion of humanity. Yet, when sex is burdened with a purpose such as fulfilling marital obligation, producing heirs, carrying the family name, complying with social expectations, and bringing honors to one's family, it instantly loses its appeal.


This is not to deny, however, that sex is inherently a social construct, since it cannot escape moral, religious, cultural and even legal responsibilities. After all, no one is able to filter out the social noise that tenaciously knocks on one's conscience. It is true that the modern concept of reproduction has gone beyond our cherished dominion of individuality. Especially, each marriage has to prove itself "successful" with the so-called "product" from that relationship— the child. Yet, at the minimum, one needs to be cognizant of such a socially constructed discourse. Otherwise, one is just an operative instrument who participates in the guaranteed functioning their social machinery. Otherwise, sex is just another productive tool.


There is another mode of interpretation: From bottom-up, and vice versa. One's sexual awareness reflects the personality of the character, and by extension, the society. From top-down, society produces and shapes a certain personality, and by extension, one’s sexual awareness. It all boils down to the questions of whether the superstructure could match its base, whether its ideology was overtaken by its ruling class, and whether its citizens were living like walking-dead zombies.


Society should function like a mirror in which we seek reflection rather than a swamp of moral values that sucks us in.


This aspect is further explored by the author's voice over the protagonist's unreflected sexual awareness. Sex, under social pressure, brings him neither true happiness nor profound reflection over life and marriage. Wang is the example of those who are gradually losing their subjectivities and falling unconscious to a social machinery in which they are only parts without agency.


We seldom hear the voice of Wang's wife except under a few rare circumstances, such as where she expresses her suspicions towards Wang's stealthy behaviors, her bewilderment and frustration towards her husband’s negligence of her, and elsewhere, her exclamation of his “regained beastliness” in bed. Does this mean that she is represented as the censored female voice by her culture? We, more than often, tend to be misled by the clichéd assumption of a “minor character." Even though the wife is meant to serve as but another puppet in the system, the author skillfully conveys that she is just as unaware of her own sex as her husband is, whose philistine sexual awareness can be effectively brought to the center by another character— someone just like himself.


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