So To Bed

Entry by: Mac

30th November 2016
I write to record the beginning of my end. End of life if not of living. My life as a choreographer. It is 1982; I am Li Jun … Jun to those who know and care about me; Master Li to my company. But I am master no more. I led the first visit to the West of a Chinese ballet company since … well, nobody is really sure. I am returning to my homeland, my home city after a brief meeting in Beijing, and being replaced by another – it doesn’t matter who. I am in disgrace. I fell in love.

It is ironic that I called my ballet Peony Autumn. The peony is a symbol of Spring, a metaphor for feminine beauty and reproduction … and it symbolizes peace. By autumn it has lost its colour, its flower; it has become withered, brittle … but hidden beneath its shrivelled dishevelment it is perennial. It is considered hard to grow but only if you do not have the will to make it grow.


If I had not accepted an invitation from a business acquaintance to attend a ballet and if I had not acceded to the pressure to attend the after-party I would never have met Li Jun. But there I was and so was he and he mistook me for someone else that he had been instructed to talk to. I had no idea who he was - a young man in a suit and tie; I assumed he was an administrator with the company. He was formal and self-effacing. And he had astonishing eyes.

If I could have foreseen what would happen I would have walked away then and there. That isn’t true; I would have recognised the desperation of his situation and tried anything – everything – to make it all happen differently. He was the artist. I was the audience; I think part of me assumed that this was just a fling to bring excitement to his new-found temporary freedom in the West. Or maybe that was just my rationalisation to try to deal with the feelings I had. He was young, after all.


In Beijing I was given choices. To deny love and be consigned to a teaching post in a remote town north west of Harbin, close to the Russian border or … some other unspecified alternative that would be found. Along with denying love I must also denounce it; nothing specific, you understand. I must simply make it clear that I was seduced and corrupted by Western decadence and had returned to China to save myself. I was put on the plane. I was met off the plane. I was driven to a nondescript government building for questioning.

Choice did not figure large in this swift turn of affairs. And with every step I longed for his touch on my body. To fall in love with a western woman would have been betrayal; to fall for a man was debauchery.


“I thought it was incredibly moving … and the staging was stunning … beautiful. Blending East and West was really clever … I’m not a ballet aficionado but … god, so much talent. The choreographer is clearly highly creative,” I declared.
“Thank you … I am so glad you enjoyed it. I will pass on your kind words to the dancers – and musicians.”
“Is the choreographer here? Please tell him I loved it.”
“He knows.”
That’s when I realised he was rather more than an administrator. I felt stupid and shook my head. He smiled shyly.

“I am honoured by your compliment. Let me get you more wine”. I became conscious that some people were watching us, no doubt aware of who he was and equally unaware of who I was: a stranger, an audience member certainly, but not part of this world, not someone to be recognised and acknowledged. Perhaps they thought I was a sponsor – money.

As he handed me another glass from the table, he brushed his hand against mine and I saw in his eyes the connection that had been hiding since the moment of meeting, gliding secretly between us, encircling us, bringing us to the moment when the connection was unfolded before us. He saw it too.


In Beijing I was interrogated for three hours. Then there was silence for much longer. I sat on a chair and waited, ignored if I spoke. My request for water went unheeded. The room was grim, spare. Another official appeared and questioned me: personal details … name, province, where I studied, my degree, my work record. Then there was another long wait. Water and a little food arrived and then the ultimatum: I must deny – to the officer in charge – that there had ever been love between us. And publicly I must declare that I have returned home to further my political education and to turn my back upon the corrupt western decadence that had threatened my love for my homeland. Was I corrupted? Is it decadence?

He had told me of China’s history, of noblemen who had their male lovers, of how beautiful boys began with the Yellow Emperor. Such a long history, conveniently erased by the Cultural Revolution. I never knew. Others must have.

But, worse than anything … can I deny love? And my lover? Ten intoxicating days, a thousand secret moments, a million deceits in order to meet. His ingenuity exceeded mine.

Now I just wanted sleep.


We had been talking for perhaps twenty minutes or so. “One moment,” he said. He walked purposefully toward one of the auditorium staff, spoke briefly, hunched over and then quickly returned. He picked up a glass of wine; until that moment I hadn’t noticed that he didn’t have one. As he did so, he slyly deposited a piece of paper on the table and he nodded for me to take it, all the while looking around and smiling politely. Then he made a show of having to move on, talk to others, and left me standing there. Palming the paper, I looked down and read it. It was his hotel, and telephone number. Two words written underneath: Leave yours. I didn’t understand the subterfuge but assumed it was connected to his situation as a representative of his country as well as a visiting performer.

An hour later, he was deep in conversation with the principal dancer. Then he walked towards me swiftly and quietly as his friend tapped his glass to gain attention for the small speech of gratitude he was about to make. Jun stood next to me and tapped my fingers; I passed my phone number to him and he walked away. My heart was beating, racing, and I felt my throat tighten.

My phone rang.
“Pick me up … across the street from my hotel. A small shop on the corner.” And he hung up. It was 2am. I had been ready for bed.


I recall when I was younger – perhaps fourteen – going out to the small lake past the outskirts of the town where I lived, in the north eastern province near Dalian. It was beautiful: blue glass surrounded by the auburn sheen of autumn, the sunlight glinting on polished stones and the air warm and then chill. We went there swimming, my cousin and I.

I lay on the grass looking up through the leaves when he emerged from the water, naked and glistening. His laughter woke me from my reverie and I turned to see him, squatting to pick small stones from the water’s edge. He leaned forward, his back towards me; I could see his most secret parts exposed: intimate and vulnerable. I gazed in astonishment and felt a burning desire to reach out and touch. I knew instantly it would be reaching into a mystery from which I could never return. Fear gripped me and I remained still, even as my body stirred, in thrall to this secret knowledge that awaited me beyond fear. He turned and glanced at my exposed arousal and laughed. Then he ran back into the water, saying nothing. I never mentioned it either. Not to anyone … apart from a middle-aged Englishman in a room in a house in Liverpool, some sixteen years later.

It was a profoundly beautiful autumn. There were no peonies.


“There’s a letter for you … here.” My day care visitor, Janice, smiled and handed it to me. I was reading a newspaper. “It’s been lying there all day. Have you not been through to the hall? A little exercise is good for you, you know.”
“I’ve been out to the garden … sat there a while. And the kitchen. I haven’t sat all day, Janice. And I’ve been reading.”
“It’s from China.”
“Your letter. Aren’t you going to open it? Have you got a friend there?”

I glanced down at the letter that I had ignored. Yes I have someone in China, I thought. From so long ago … twenty years.
“Do you want a cup of tea while you read it?” she said, kindly. “you look like you’ve seen a ghost, suddenly. I hope it’s good news.”

It couldn’t be good news, not after all this time. And how had he found me? It had to be from him. Who else? Why now? China had declared in 2001 that it’s no longer on the list of psychiatric disorders. Does that make it acceptable? Can he suddenly come out of his closet? Does he truly expect that I am waiting? After all this time?
“Aren’t you going to read it?” asked Janice.


In China, hiding one’s perversions isn’t difficult; finding a kindred spirit is. During my student years, I met an older man. He took care of me. He taught me. We were discreet. Nobody knew. He died and part of me did too. I kept it from his family.


I opened the letter slowly, staring at the paper.
“Dear esteemed sir,
I have been asked to write to you by my good friend Li Jun, with whom I have worked for the last twenty years. I know I can write to you in confidence and therefore hide nothing from you, as he has told me everything about your time together in England. We were close friends indeed … so close yet never true companions in the way that you were. Though I harboured longings for my dear friend for many of those years.

His dying wish was that I should write and explain that he could never return to the West or contact you. He was a prisoner – in a prison without bars. It was a prison of isolation, a prison of the spirit. The party officials would never have let him travel again. He wanted you to know. He hoped you remember the performance you attended of his great ballet. Since then he has been allowed to work as a teacher in a school far from anywhere. I enclose a poem he wrote for you … to remind you.
My respectful regards,
Wu Li Ping”

I dropped the letter onto the sofa and closed my eyes, holding back tears – of loss, of anger, of guilt, of regret. How many times had I assumed that he’d simply changed his mind and renewed his life in China? How often had I blamed him?
“You look like you’ve had a shock … not bad news?” Janice was in front of me with the tea. “Let’s get you to bed. Oh …. There’s a piece of paper here, look. It must have fallen out.” I looked at the poem. Suddenly I am very, very tired.

“Exquisite Peony …
Most noble of all blooms, beyond value …
Adorning imperial palaces of the Sui and Tang Dynasties …
My betrayal is complete.”