The Years of Rice and Salt

Rating 7/10
Status Finished on 2017-09-28
Highlights

The men stood and watched the spectacle, eyes bright. When the geese had all departed, they saw the reason they had left; a herd of giant deer had come to the lake to drink. The stags had huge racks of antlers. They stared across the water at the men, vigilant but undeterred. For a moment, all was still. In the end the giant deer stepped away. Reality awoke again. “All sentient beings,” said I-Chin, who had been muttering his Buddhist sutras all along. Kheim normally had no time for such claptrap, but now, as the day continued, and they hiked over the hills on their hunt, seeing great numbers of peaceful beaver, quail, rabbits, foxes, seagulls and crows, ordinary deer, a bear and two cubs, a slinky long-tailed gray hunting creature, like a fox crossed with a squirrel—on and on—simply a whole country of animals, living together under a silent blue sky—nothing disturbed, the land flourishing on its own, the people there just a small part of it—Kheim began to feel odd. He realized that he had taken China for reality itself. Taiwan and the Mindanaos and the other islands he had seen were like scraps of land, leftovers; China had seemed to him the world. And China meant people. Built up, cultivated, parceled off ha by ha, it was so completely a human world that Kheim had never considered that there might once have been a natural world different to it. But here was natural land, right before his eyes, full as could be with animals of every kind, and obviously very much bigger than Taiwan; bigger than China; bigger than the world he had known before. “Where on Earth are we?” he said to I-Chin. I-Chin said, “We have found the source of the peach-blossom stream.”