Forbidden City, Beijing shrouded in smog. Yinan Chen/Wikimedia Commons

The Mayor read a letter. It had been written by a student named Yangyang in Class Two of the third grade at Green Primary School. The full text is as follows:

Dear Uncle Mayor,

How do you do?

I have two things to tell you. One is good and the other is bad.

First the good news. My parents bought a new house in the No. 23 building of the Future Community. We live on the 14th floor. The house is great and there are no leaks no matter how much it rains. When we stood at the front window, Dad pointed out the beautiful view of the Western Hills. You know, it is because we could see the hills that the whole family wanted to buy this house. The first time I saw the green hills I was filled with joy. I told my parents many times, if only Uncle Mayor could see the view of these hills like me! They told me the Mayor is very busy at his job and we should invite the Uncle Mayor, if he’s free, to join us on the balcony of our home to enjoy the Western Hills.

But I have to tell you the other thing now, the bad news. I haven’t seen the hills for more than two months. When we first moved to the new house I kept gazing at the hills. But I was not so lucky every day, since only when it’s clear and sunny do the hills appear. I keep a record in my math book. Every morning I stand on the balcony and look westward. If I see the hills, I put a tick in the notebook, if not then a cross. Six months have passed. There are only 12 ticks in my book and the rest are crosses. In the past two months I have not seen the hills at all, and the book is full of crosses. It is gray every day and Dad says it’s because of the air pollution. Uncle Mayor, can polluted air block the view of hills? I wish I could see the hills every day, but I cannot! Please help me see the hills, will you? The hills are really beautiful!

I am sorry to bother you with this, Uncle Mayor.

The Mayor was deeply moved by the letter. He picked up his pen and wrote in the margin: “What this child says is very important. His eyes need treatment. Ask the department concerned to transfer this letter to the hospital concerned. Be sure to make every effort to restore this child’s eyesight!”

From the collection Individuals, translated by Li Qisheng and Li Ping.


Lao MaLao Ma (the pen-name of Prof. Ma Junjie) began to write novels in the 1990s, and is recognised as the father of Chinese flash fiction, publishing hundreds of stories in various literary publications. His writings, which have won numerous awards, include the novel Ai Hai Yo (Hey) and the short story collections Sha Xiao (Giggle) and Ge Bie Ren (Individuals). Lao Ma combines his writing with his duties as a professor at the People’s University of China. Individuals, translated by Li Qisheng and Li Ping, is published by Make-Do Publishing. Read more.

Read Lao Ma’s short preface from Individuals in defence of the micro story.