Tom Bradley

Part II.

Having had their class consciousness raised by the early field commissars, who'd paid two quick, nose-holding visits to Lolo Mountain in the very late thirties, the ladies had transformed --- some townsfolk would say perverted --- Marxist doctrine until it fit comfortably into their own long-established ethos. They referred to themselves as a priestess class, since all females were automatically ordained from the moment of birth (not unlike males in my native Utah, where an adolescent boy can be addressed as "Elder"). They'd picked up on the implicitly hereditary nature of class, but had conveniently forgotten the part about perpetual struggle.

This was a Pleistocene-style matrilineal matriarchy, which meant that everybody knew who his/her mother was, but nobody was sure or gave much of a shit who, among the several candidates (usually ten), might be his/her father. Nobody was supposed to be aware of the modern theory of where babies come from. The assumption was that women produced them in their bellies through an awesome, single-handed act of will and grace. But the men, judging from the off-color jokes they cracked downtown, knew better --- or at least, for the sake of ribald conversation, were willing to entertain alternative methods of whelping as possibilities for the propagation of the sub-species called "Han."

This unusual state of sociological affairs resulted from the fact that, for the first æon of their existence as a tribe, until the Chinese had come around with their axes and draft animals and ploughs, the Lolos had never had to think for more than three minutes at a time about food. They'd just stretched out on the warm fruitcake-like rain forest humus and let the loquats fall in their yawning mouths. They'd never let agriculture or animal husbandry seep into their awareness, nor the extended sense of calendar time that comes with sowing and harvesting and foaling.

Thus the gestation period between an innocent act of dorking and the first bursting forth of amniotic fluid was to them, in one sense, an eternity incapable of being stored even fragmentarily in the memory and, in another sense, too infinitesimal a period to be worth troubling themselves about. How were they supposed to associate the transitory boner with the awesome whole-body orgasm of labor?

As a reminder of the half-assed cooperativization of a few decades back, the priestesses allowed their men to pretend to groom a few wild loquat trees in the name of production. Untouched, their formless orchards flourished with a seemingly man-induced fecundity, which was due, according to the tribal witch doctress, to the "magic black shit of our Mother Mountain," i.e., the several feet of rich volcanic ash under the layers of jungle rot. The men were not exactly hard-pressed to maintain their status as model peasants.

But the women openly expressed contempt for such labor as man's work, and preferred to feed themselves and the babies they willed into existence by the time-honored methods. Hence their warlike determination to hang on to as much of their mountain as they could.

And the remoteness and ruggedness of their habitat, combined with the vast intransigence of the women themselves, might have been the only thing that had kept their children from throwing tantrums, holding their breaths and otherwise extorting permission from their eldresses to perform on Sunday morning national television for the amusement of Han people everywhere. Pandering to a peculiarly communist national philistinism, the poodle-cut producers wanted to dress the kids in a sanitized, sequined version of their ethnic garb, and to coach them to warble the microtonal polyrhythmics of their neolithic anthems to the accompaniment of an untuned upright piano at the back of the low-budget studio in Beijing. All their beauty and devotion sucked out, the virgin born Lolo children would be degraded into head-bobbing kewpie dolls --- in other words, Hanized.

But, though it had even happened to the proud, outraged Tibetans, it hadn't to the Lolos yet, to their great relief. They sensed that the light of day would dry up the feminized half of Loloism like fungus under a rock.

Perhaps the authorities downtown assumed their own presence was as unnecessary as it would be unwelcome. Since Liberation, almost nobody official had bothered to go up there, and the Lolos had been represented to the outside world by their men only. Henpecked to an individual, and seemingly Hanized to a quintessential degree, with their cars and fairly nice clothes, the men helped keep any military or paramilitary intervention at bay.

As long as the Lolo lady-theocrats stayed under cover in their butterfly-infested caves, their lubricious midriffs invisible, the authorities seemed willing to leave them alone. The totalitarians didn't care what went on in their province as long as nobody had guns (not counting a handful of archaically equipped boar hunters deep in the hinterlands), and as long as no big brothers from overseas saw anything that would contradict the second-world vision of the place imposed by the central authorities in Beijing.

And that was my stated excuse for never being brave enough to accept the Lolos' hospitality. But to this day I can't decide whether it was the threat of deportation, or the prospect of polyandry, that deterred me.

Tom Bradley's China novel, Black Class Cur, was nominated for the Editors Book Award. A review of his third Japan novel is featured in "Arts and Letters Daily."

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