The Cremation

Flash nonfiction by Xujun Eberlein

In the cremation chamber, a solid wall blocked us from the furnace. This was new, I heard, as it used to be that the furnace was in plain view. Perhaps the sheer horror of watching a loved one turning into ashes had led to the change. On the wall, a small, low window opened to the idle conveyor belt, on which my mother’s coffin waited. Three cremation workers stood by the coffin. One of them, a woman, said that it was a “custom” to set off a chosen number of firecrackers to send the deceased “along the road.” This again was new, lighting firecrackers inside a room. Tradition is an ever-changing concept, especially in clamorous China.


Aren’t We All Accomplices?

Unearthing a father’s past – by Xujun Eberlein

In May 2012, a stranger contacted me through my website. A professor of cultural psychology at Hampshire College, Q.M. Zhang was interested in talking about Chongqing, the city I grew up in. What triggered her request for a meeting, apparently, was my article titled “Another Kind of American History in Chongqing,” which had appeared on the Atlantic website the previous year. She was writing a memoir about her relationship with her father, who had worked for the Kuomintang (aka the KMT or the Nationalists, the ruling party of China from 1928 to 1949) in Chongqing during WWII.

By contrast, my own parents were underground Communists in the 1940s. So her father and mine, though unknown to each other, had literally been enemies in the same city.