The Stars We Raised |

We’re delighted to share “The Stars We Raised” by Xiu Xinyu, translated from Chinese by Judy Yi Zhou, reprinted from the groundbreaking anthology The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories, edited by Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang, now available in paperback!

“The Stars We Raised” was originally published as 逃跑星辰 in March 2017 by Master (大家).



All autumn long, we searched for baby stars. Our scavenged treasures would be carefully placed in gauze-sealed glass fishbowls. The tiny rocks were still soft, their glow a faint green. They couldn’t yet fly: all they could do was worm around at the bottom of the bowl.

We would make a clearing in the sea of endless leaves to claim our share of the hunt. The brightest and softest baby star always went to Captain Wang, our class president appointed by the head teacher. Even outside the classroom, he acted like our leader and enjoyed the perks fully. He would split the rest of the baby stars among us. I would usually receive a yolk-sized one, but Jiang Yang would only ever get nail-sized pieces—dull and fragmented. That was the way it should be: after all, he was the smallest of our group, and the quietest, trailing behind everywhere we went.

Only kids with nothing better to do and the most stubborn scientists had the patience for this: going to whatever lengths to train a star, and believing that they might succeed.

We would have about four months. We would wipe the baby stars with melted snow, hoping the pristine water would wash away the dullness and make them shine more brightly. Some thought the icy cold air would make their baby stars stronger, so they would swaddle them with wet gauze and set them outside their windows to freeze. Others, under the belief that their baby stars could learn to understand simple commands, would cup them in their palms, hold them up like offerings, and talk to them every day.

No matter what we did or did not do, however, the stars always grew up. They became larger and lighter, and by the following spring, when the fields came back to life, the stars’ translucent fluorescent green would turn an opaque grayish brown. That was when our parents would try to get us to grind them into dust and sell them.

Parents always seemed to know exactly what they wanted from the start, as if their plan had been for the stars to grow up then be turned into dust and sold for money all along. When baby stars grew up, they became clumsy, boring and ugly, looking like nothing more than an ordinary rock. What’s more, if we didn’t tie them up with rope, they would float around slowly, making a nuisance of themselves.


It was only many years later that I found out when it all started: one summer over a decade ago. Some people had seen stars circling about in midair. They seemed to only appear in a few small cities at the horse latitudes—about thirty degrees north and south of the equator—including several villages in the United States, Australia, and China. At first scientists were not aware of this phenomenon, and nobody told us what to do. So some folks took things into their own hands, before they could be stopped.

When the stars first descended upon villages in Anhui, herds of journalists swarmed and dug up every possible detail surrounding them. Some Taoist priests had swung dirt around in the air while chanting mantras at the stars, and some crackpots had thrown themselves to the ground and kowtowed repeatedly until their foreheads bled.

Yet nothing happened.

And that was the best way it could have turned out. People tried everything they could to communicate with the stars slowly drifting through the air, but nothing worked. Only after several years were the scientists willing to admit that the stars were completely harmless. A few years later, scientists found a use for these stars: after they were ground into powder, the stardust could be made into a superior cement additive. Most started to think of it as nothing more than an ordinary natural resource, save for one or two cities that thought it would be a good gimmick to build a theme park with stardust cement.

If these stars had a message, no one knew what it was. We didn’t know where they came from or what kind of force sustained their constant flying. Perhaps there was some kind of magnetic or energy field—we just didn’t know.

Growing up in such a village, we were used to seeing stars hovering in the mountains. We often gathered under a street lamp to show off our stars, each of us carefully reaching into our pockets to bring out the baby star we had been training. Unsurprisingly, Captain Wang’s baby star would always be bigger, brighter, rounder, smoother, and softer than the others. He was the class president, tall and handsome, the pride and joy of his family since birth. Why shouldn’t his baby star be the best too?

That was why we all kept our silence when he stamped down on Jiang Yang’s baby star, throwing all his weight on it. None of us tried to stop him.


That day had seemed pretty unusual from the start. We would often set up a small hurdle on the ground with tree branches and stones, then we would excitedly cheer on our stars as they squirmed, struggling to make their way across the hurdle. Jiang Yang normally wouldn’t participate in this game. And in our village, secrets didn’t exist. Everyone knew everyone else’s dirty laundry: Jiang Yang had no mother and his father found a city job long ago, so he had always lived with his grandmother. She was a scary old lady, twig-thin and dry like a raisin. When she looked at you, she stared with such menace. In winter, she would wrap Jiang Yang in thick cotton coats. No way would she let her darling grandson out at night.

But that evening, remarkably, Jiang Yang did come out, and he was even zipped up in a brand-new red jacket. He almost seemed happy, if a little shy.

“My baby star is super fast,” he promised, reaching into his pocket for it. It was still tiny, but it glowed with a dazzling light. Its light wasn’t even the usual fluorescent green—it looked kind of pale. Who would have known that a baby star could be this bright!

“How’d you do it?” Even Captain Wang couldn’t help but marvel. He squatted down and scooped up the baby, squeezing it in his hand.

Jiang Yang stuttered as he explained he didn’t know how this had happened, but he quickly realized that nobody cared. By then, we could all see that Captain Wang didn’t plan on giving back the star anyway.

At this, Jiang Yang lost his mind and started wailing, digging his nails into Captain Wang’s wrist, pinching him. Captain Wang spat, then tossed the little star on the ground and stomped on it, snapping, “Your star is sick, you know that?! It’s radioactive, that’s why it’s so bright. It’ll make you dumb. And it will never grow up. You know why? Because it’ll use up all its energy before that!”

Jiang Yang leapt to cover the star with his arms, forgetting all about his new jacket. Captain Wang’s foot had nowhere else to land, so he stepped on Jiang Yang’s torso, furnishing the new jacket with a few fresh boot prints. Jiang Yang didn’t flinch. He stayed on the ground until those of us watching got bored and started to leave. Then he quickly stood up, clutching his star. I vaguely remember Jiang Yang still crying when he left, while we went on playing amongst ourselves. The particular cruelty of children gave us the unique power to turn a blind eye to all the miseries thriving in our own lives.


Jiang Yang never joined our games again. Nor did he ever show us his star.

Come spring, when we were heading back to school, our parents would strike deals with star buyers to make our stars disappear once and for all. Of course, we were livid, and would get together to brain- storm ways to forestall this despicable act.

“But I don’t wanna!” the girl with the braids would cry. “I didn’t raise my star just to sell it off.”

Captain Wang didn’t think it was that big of a deal. “Look at these stars,” he would say, “they are so ugly. That means the training failed. Who cares if these failures got sold? We’ll get another chance next year.”

The cries usually died down in a few days, after we had filled our pockets with the candies our parents gave out to make up for our losses. Besides, it was spring, when the earth awakened with its streams of fish and trees of birds.

All the stars we had failed to train were sold. Except for Jiang Yang’s. But I only pieced this together later. Since I was younger than him and lived nearby, I would run into him often and sometimes we would speak.

That day after school, as I walked by Jiang Yang’s house, I saw him standing outside the door in his red jacket, which now appeared a bit worn. He was getting ready to say something, but shut his mouth right before words came out.

I stopped and looked back at him. He remained silent. Just as I put one foot up in the air to start walking again, I heard his shy yet crisp voice behind me. “You all sold your stars?”

Once I nodded, he continued, “Do you want to come see my star?”

Jiang Yang’s grandmother, practically coddling him, hadn’t let him climb trees or play in the farm fields with us. As a compromise, she had agreed to let him hold on to his star to keep him company. He kept the star at home and diligently tied it to one end of a strip of cloth. The other end of the cloth strip was knotted to his bed. The strip was long enough for the star to enjoy a little freedom, swaying and floating in the air. Jiang Yang even carved his name on the star, claiming ownership.

I didn’t know what there was to see about this star, but Jiang Yang kept inviting me over, and I felt bad turning him down, so I went a few more times. These visits seemed to greatly encourage him, so much so that he eventually decided to take the star out on a walk. At this point, the entire village learned that Jiang Yang was still raising a star.

Jiang Yang walked solemnly at a very slow pace. Adults were amused by this bizarre performance, and they gathered in small groups to point at him, laughing all the while. But Jiang Yang kept his gaze dead ahead, as if the whole world was muted and everything dimmed in his eyes except his star, which he would glance up at on occasion.

We tagged along behind him, waiting to see what would happen next. Captain Wang was the only one unmoved. He stood in front of his house with a puppy in his arms and looked at us like we were a bunch of fools. Then he sallied forth at Jiang Yang, “My dad told me all about it: your dad is lying to you. He’s got a new wife in the city and doesn’t want you anymore. Even your trained star won’t bring him back!” That was when we noticed Jiang Yang’s father indeed hadn’t come home for Lunar New Year.

Jiang Yang didn’t argue back. He just kept on walking, but his solemn parade became a dejected plod. His fingers clung to the strip like a drowning man clutching at a straw. The star dragged along behind him, as if it were depressed too.


That night I knocked on his door, asking to see the star. The scrawny old lady who answered stared at me for a very long time before letting me in.

Jiang Yang was ecstatic. That night, he had so much to say.

Jiang Yang told me that his father was making airplanes in the fac- tory. For kids like us, growing up in this stagnant, middle-of-nowhere village in the South, those airplanes were something we only saw on TV. Occasionally, we got to see the long white trails the airplanes traced across the sky. We looked up to Jiang Yang’s father, and our reverence even cast Jiang Yang in a certain light of awe in our eyes.

Jiang Yang said he wanted to become a pilot when he grew up, so that he could reach faraway lands and even the sky, where he would get real close to the clouds, the stars, and the moon. More importantly, pilots could probably make a lot of money, then his father wouldn’t have to work in the factory every day anymore, and he would be so proud of him.

“If I don’t make the cut as a pilot, I’m going to raise stars.”

“But what does that even mean?” I found it a little ridiculous. “These things can grow up on their own, even if nobody takes care of them.”

“It’s not the same,” Jiang Yang replied without looking at me, lowering his gaze to that little rock he had been fiddling with.

After a long pause, Jiang Yang revealed a secret: “My star has been successfully trained.”

Since he wasn’t allowed to play outside, he had been reading his textbook aloud to the star and talking to it, day after day. He truly believed that as long as he didn’t give up, one day the star would understand him.

Under the dim yellow light, he buried his head in a textbook with curled pages and painstakingly searched for quotes, particularly those with reference to stars.

“From the towering temple perched atop the mountain, I could pluck the stars.”

“Stars drape over vast open fields; the moon rushes on—and the wide river runs.”

He enunciated each word slowly, a syllable at a time, with a perfect accent.

Maybe because of my presence, his voice was louder than usual. His grandmother rushed in to check on us. Once she confirmed that I was not bullying her precious boy, she stomped off.

But Jiang Yang didn’t seem to have noticed anything; he kept on reading poems out loud, followed by an intent “hello” to the star. He said, “Did you see? The star jiggled! It always does when you say hello, try it yourself if you don’t believe me.”

So I also said, “Hello.” The star really did jiggle—it was obvious. But these stars were always jiggling and rocking, who knew if it actually worked?


Things appeared to be going well for Jiang Yang. Then one day, his star went missing.

No one knew what happened, but we all heard the cries from Jiang Yang’s house, which went late into the night until he lost his voice.

At first, it seemed he suspected his grandmother, who must have made a secret bargain and sold it. Then again, star buyers wouldn’t be here this time of the year. His next theory was that someone stole it, but who would bother stealing something that could be found every- where? It was true that this star had been trained. But only the two of us knew about that.

I hesitated for a long time before knocking on his door that night. I thought it would be good to comfort him. The door didn’t budge. Maybe he also found me suspicious, or maybe his grandmother didn’t want anyone near him.

I knew a line had been drawn, and I never tried again. Later, I heard that Jiang Yang had run to a cement plant in the neighboring village and started talking to piles of stardust at the top of his voice. Maybe it was more like yelling. He thought the powder of his star might be in there somewhere, and it might give him a sign. However, the piles of powder remained the same dreary grayish brown. Jiang Yang, on the other hand, was dragged home in tears by his grandmother after getting a beating.


After his star’s disappearance, Jiang Yang stopped raising baby stars. A few years later, the rest of us moved on as well. We were all in middle school now, and our days were flooded with homework. We were older, wiser.

Among the things we came to understand: No city kids had ever bothered to try raising stars. They had all sorts of toys, like transformers, dolls, and stuffed animals. City people had thought of stars as strange objects with a mysterious composition and unknown origins, so it would be best to keep the children as far away from the stuff as possible.

What we also came to understand was that these stars could never be trained. A star’s coming of age was the process of slowly getting uglier. Their brightness would gradually mute, their warmth vanished, and their softness charred. They would become coarse and dim, like snowballs sprinkled with coal dust, or ball-shaped wet sponges that have frozen. Eventually, they would manage to float up in the air and even fly, but they sure were hideous. And the same thing would happen to us too, as we grew up.

I started to get acne, and though I shot up in height, my limbs were flimsy and I would fumble as I moved. Jiang Yang was close to my height, but his face was paler, and he was quieter than me.

He used to be a year above me, but he had to repeat the year be- cause of his grades. He would always be tucked away in one of the back corners of the classroom. Perhaps Captain Wang had a point about the bright star having radiation; because Jiang Yang, who had raised a star for so long, looked sickly pale all the time. People in the village said that Jiang Yang’s father hadn’t been making airplanes in Shenzhen after all, but rather putting together cheap model planes in a toy factory, the crappy kind sold by street vendors. The pay was so low that he would have to work more than ten hours a day just to save a little bit of money to send home. In recent years, he might not even have managed that, because Jiang Yang never showed up in new clothes anymore.

Captain Wang was no longer the class president—he had been promoted to captain of the school basketball team. He was not only tall and good at studies, but he also managed to win every single fight he got into, and he would get into them often. Rumor had it that he had been passing snacks to his little girlfriend in seventh grade through the back window of her classroom. She was the prettiest girl in the whole school. Almost all the boys were obsessed with her.

I wasn’t in the same class as Captain Wang, and we wouldn’t hang out much. But the following spring, something big happened.

Captain Wang’s and his girlfriend’s parents showed up in school, and they were fighting right outside the front gate. It took us a while to figure out what had happened: Apparently, the young lovers had a stargazing date in the mountains. On their way back, Captain Wang fell, broke his leg, and cracked some ribs. He was going to have to lie in bed for six whole months.

“Your daughter insisted she saw a blue star and our boy went over to look, that was when he broke his leg!” Captain Wang’s overbearing mother barked. “Since when are there blue stars?!”

It was the seasoned village head who came up with the idea of getting a Taoist priest involved. The person that arrived was a bony, middle-aged man. He held a swishing sword, and right in front of the school gate, started a fire with sheet after sheet of paper covered with spells written in strange characters.

“Your boy is possessed,” concluded the Taoist priest. Then he muttered, “The guest star is shining extra brightly, while the host star wanes.”

He continued with conviction, “Someone in the village must be raising stars in secret and using them to cast an evil spell on your boy. It’s something I’ve only read about, using a baby star to curse some- one . . . People are capable of terrible things.” What he said had the chill of truth: when the stars first arrived over a decade ago, some villager’s eldest daughter killed herself by drinking pesticides, and the devastated mother followed by hanging herself.

We all knew that Captain Wang used to bully Jiang Yang. And that nobody was as good at raising stars as Jiang Yang.

“Jiang Yang? Sounds familiar, our kid probably received a love note from him at some point.” The girlfriend’s mother added, “Young people can be so jealous sometimes . . .”

The next thing we knew, Captain Wang’s father stormed into our classroom, yanked Jiang Yang out of his seat like he was picking up a chick from a brood, and roared, “Was it you, you wack job? Was it?”

Jiang Yang did not speak. He lowered his head and hunched over. How did a lanky guy like him shrink into something so small?

Furious, Captain Wang’s father rummaged through Jiang Yang’s desk drawer, shoving all his books on the floor, and even flipped his school bag upside down to empty it of everything. Who would have thought, a few shiny baby stars actually fell out. Only then did we realize that Jiang Yang was still raising stars without anyone knowing.

He was caught red-handed. The dean contacted Jiang Yang’s family, and the group waited in the dean’s office for a solution. Jiang Yang’s grandmother appeared. The old lady looked even more scraggly than I remembered, and her hair had turned completely gray. But her eyes were gleaming, and she wielded two butcher knives in her hands.

“Where is he?” his grandmother thundered. “Where did you hide those damn stars?”

Jiang Yang kept his head down and did not make a sound. Those of us who flooded the hall for the show kept quiet as well.

The dean instinctively shot a look at the office desk where the “criminal evidence” was spread out, sending the grandmother straight there, her knives flung high in the air. She was going to chop those baby stars into pieces.

It was common knowledge that baby stars were indestructible. Their makeup was different from grown-up stars, so they were not as dry or light. Instead, they were soft and resilient, but could not be penetrated by any hard or sharp objects.

Jiang Yang must have been scared out of his wits, because he lunged forward and blocked the knives with his own hand.

Blood dripped down the blade, splattering onto the floor. The old lady shuddered and tossed the knives aside.

At this point, the dean, who had been keeping out of the way, was propelled by a surge of courage to open his mouth for the first time. “Hurry to the nurse’s office,” he blurted, and he even gave Jiang Yang a nudge. Jiang Yang froze for an instant, then stumbled out.

We never found out whether he went to the nurse’s office.

I didn’t see Jiang Yang again for a long time after that. People said that he dropped out of school and went to Shenzhen to look for his father. Captain Wang eventually returned to school with a cast and crutches. A few months later, the crutches were gone, and he seemed to have fully recovered. His cockiness never fully recovered though, perhaps because of the fright. It was a good thing for the rest of us.


After I left for college, the only time I would come back was during Lunar New Year.

New stars had been appearing steadily in recent years, and the village had even developed an elaborate set of star-mining standards. The mountains were now blocked off all year, except in winter, when the government paid the village to hire a bunch of locals to collect grown-up stars all at once. For young people who came back once a year, it was a good seasonal job for extra cash. It worked out for every- body.

But my family had made a good enough living this year that my parents didn’t want me to go out to the mountains in the cold. One day, I set off a bundle of firecrackers in front of my house, and as the crackling and smoke died down, I found Jiang Yang watching me from his front door. He stood in a large gray sweater, a lot taller than the boy in my memory. His frame seemed more muscular too, less frail. Perhaps Shenzhen had toughened him up a bit. But he still wore that same hesitant look on his face. It was indecision that would incense an older relative and score him a round of insults like “How useless!” or “What a waste of space!”

I had heard many rumors. That his father never did come back, that his grandmother got gravely sick, and was wasting away at home with no money for treatment. Everyone in the village would say it was because of Jiang Yang’s stars. He had been raising stars for so long that he must have gotten too close to the evil spirits and pissed off a god somewhere, and now he was paying for it.

“Happy New Year,” I decided to say. He didn’t respond, of course. I did not expect him to. I turned around and got ready to go back into my house. Just as my foot stepped over the threshold, I heard a tapping sound.

It was Jiang Yang. He was looking down, but his finger was tapping off-beat on the doorframe.

“What is it?” These days, I no longer had the patience to wait.

“I’m a little tight on money lately. Thinking of going to the mountains to make some cash,” he said.

It was an indirect way of putting it, but I knew what he meant. He wanted to go hunt stars.

Over here, when people were coming up short, it was the first thing that came to mind. The mountain roads were difficult, and the government required labor forces to sign up in teams of two. People were supposed to find their own partner. I guess nobody wanted to team up with Jiang Yang.

I wanted to say no. But my eyes had a mind of their own—they found his hand on the doorframe, and the scar still distinctly visible on his finger. I didn’t know what got into me, because what came out of my mouth was yes.


I kept it from my parents, pretending that I was going to a classmate’s place in town. I went with Jiang Yang to pick up the supplies: plenty of sturdy bags, a portable star grinder, and face masks to protect our lungs from the bitter powder of ground-up stars.

We followed the narrow trail that led all the way into the mountains. Together, we fed all the stars we could find into the grinder.

There was so much I wanted to say to Jiang Yang, but the timing never seemed right. I wanted to ask him where on earth his father had gone. It had been the talk of town for so long at this point, and still no one had any idea. The way his father had vanished was just like his star, suddenly, without a trace. It unsettled us all.

Before I found the right moment for my question, Jiang Yang beat me to it with one of his own.

“There’s something I’ve wanted to ask you.” He kept his head down and his eyes focused on the trail as he spoke. “Back then, did you ever really believe that I managed to train that star?”

“Yes, really! I saw it with my own eyes, how it followed your commands,” I replied hastily, even though my actual memory of the event was quite blurry and there was no other witness.

“You would believe anything.” Jiang Yang turned around and looked at me for a second, a conspicuous smile spreading across his face.

Neither of us said anything more. Walking the trail became our sole focus.

The mountains were hushed. Once in a while, we heard a little crackling of dead leaves and branches getting crushed under our feet. When we came across fellow star hunters, we made some small talk and quickly went our separate ways. Enveloped by layers of ridges, we rarely caught a glimpse of others. The mountain range had no end in sight.

The stars in the mountains’ outer rings were mostly cleared out. We had no choice but to keep going deeper into the valleys. We went so far that we had to bring our backpacks and grinder to camp. Jiang Yang pulled out a sleeping bag, basic tent, and stacks of hand warmers from nowhere. I had no idea where he had gotten his hands on this stuff. We were looking for a spot where stars gathered, but did such a place even exist? That night, we slept in a shallow cave scattered with abandoned plastic bottles and ragged blankets. We weren’t the first star hunters to stay here.

“I mean, I don’t know,” Jiang Yang said, “but in the newspaper they mentioned that stars would often gather during the winter, maybe because they also feel cold and want to keep warm . . . The star I raised really enjoyed leaning on our light bulb at home. Maybe they like light.”

He switched on the flashlight and pointed the light away from us, toward the entrance of the cave. “Let’s leave it on like this and go to sleep. I’ve got quite a few batteries with me.”

But how far could a flashlight reach? The light beam barely shone three feet. The only thing it revealed was the withered grass on the ground. For several nights in a row, we fell into slumber and woke like any other day. There was nothing to speak of.


Throughout the third night, swallowed in the frigid belly of the mountain, our sleep was light. Even though we stuck hand-warmer patches all over our bodies, our faces were exposed to the cold air. That is to say, I was not entirely sure if I was dreaming that night, or if my memory was blurred by my overstretched nerves.

What I most clearly recalled was seeing a world bursting with clear light the color of an emerald. At the same time, someone might have been squeezing my hand.

“Look outside,” whispered Jiang Yang.

I turned to the mouth of the cave and discovered that the woods and sky were no more. Stars. There were only stars. Tens of thousands of stars. All of them not yet fully grown, still giving off a faint, misty glow.

No one had seen so many stars all at once. Had they come to avenge their lost ones? Or were we cursed as well? The stars were so light, moving sluggishly. Who would have thought that they could contain death?

Lit up by the starlight, Jiang Yang looked even more dazed.

“Hello,” he muttered, almost without realizing.

In that instant, I saw in him the stubborn child who spoke to his star time after time. I found the stars jiggling, in formation, as if they perfectly understood us.

Yet how could so many stars have been trained before?

As if they had received a command, the stars started to quiver rhythmically and spread out in an orderly manner, creating a space in the center. It was here that an even smaller star came into our view.

It was merely the size of a basketball. Stuck between being a baby and a grown-up, it was a “teenage” star. It could fly nimbly, but it still had the faint glow of a baby. Unlike the fluorescent green of the other stars, this star shone with a pale blue light, the color of a wintry moon.

The blue star. The ominous blue star that Captain Wang’s girlfriend saw in the mountains.

It hovered in midair hesitantly. Then, as if realizing something, it started to slowly draw closer to us.

Stars had never attacked humans before.

“Run,” Jiang Yang said in a low voice, as if afraid the stars would eavesdrop on us. “Run outside.” He squatted down to pick up the star grinder, clasping it tightly. Then, step by step, he inched toward the cave’s entrance.

The star followed behind. As if it were possessed. Or had fallen sick.

Perhaps Jiang Yang had done or said something he wasn’t supposed to. Perhaps there was something special about the clothes he was wearing. He stopped moving and stood there, frozen.

I came up to the star. And before I knew it, I reached out to touch it. It was softer and smoother than I had imagined. I could feel it trembling, as if a soundless hum had been set off. I could feel an engraving of some sort, like a symbol. Like a fragment of the words “Jiang Yang.”

From the towering temple perched atop the mountain, I could pluck the stars.

It jiggled almost imperceptibly, then reversed its course and slipped out of my hand.

“Jiang Yang.” I took a step back and said quietly, “It’s the star you trained.”

Jiang Yang turned to look at me. The light from the stars sparkled brightly in his eyes, and his face seemed so young. His expression was that of a youth awash in sadness.

“Jiang Yang?”

He jerked forward without warning. I thought he was about to col- lapse. To my surprise, he reached out and shoved past the stars blocking his path, and ran all the way outside the cave. His unsteady figure waded through the sea of stars and at last dissolved into the dreamy luster.

I tried to catch up while hollering, but nothing stopped him. My cries echoed back and forth among the shallow and deep folds of the mountain ranges—I had never heard such a lonely sound. It was as if the world had been stripped bare and only I remained. Me alone, with those slow-moving stars.

He was nowhere to be seen. Flashlight in hand, I started making my way back down the mountains. The night air up here was bone- piercingly icy, and the wuthering wind flapped between the rugged edges of mountain valleys. My hands and feet just about froze. For a while, that particular star followed me at a slow pace, but then it realized that I no longer paid it any attention, so it gradually, slowly, little by little, flew back into the valleys. When I said goodbye, it jiggled at me gently. My eyes might have been playing tricks on me because I was cold out of my mind, but I wanted to believe that it really did jiggle. That Jiang Yang had truly taught it to trust him. That his star would answer his call.

I found Jiang Yang shivering under a streetlight at the base of the mountains.

The trail was tough. Every year there were people who would get lost at night, some who would break a leg, and some who would never make it back. When Captain Wang broke his leg and ribs on this trail all those years ago, even he’d had a flashlight in his hand. It was a miracle that Jiang Yang had run down the trail in complete darkness and made his way out in one piece. He had wrapped his coat around himself and curled into a small ball on the ground. He was a rather tall and skinny man by then, no longer the young boy he once was, and yet he could still shrink into something that took up so little room.

He seemed relieved to see me, as he loosened his arms and stood up from the ground. He looked calmer than I would have imagined.

“Thank goodness! How did you get down from up there in the pitch-black night?” I waved my flashlight at him.

“I I sort of know the trail,” Jiang Yang replied with difficulty.

After spending so much time in the frosty wind, his voice was muted and his words slurred.

“Know the trail?”

“Not that well.” Jiang Yang hastily drew a sharp breath, then said, “They were following me back there.” His voice was leaden, and I felt a hole rip open in my heart. “They actually wanted to follow me ”

I interrupted him. “Jiang Yang, that was your star.”

He didn’t leap for joy or even seem amazed. He simply nodded and rubbed his hands together, hard.

“It could be,” he said. “Maybe.”

He didn’t waste any more time, picking up the star grinder and gesturing for me to follow him. Then he turned and started walking toward the village. There was still some stardust stuck on the grinder. Under the flickering lamppost, the stardust glowed a faint blue. I stared at the machine as I took each step, and more and more strongly I in- haled a sharp bitterness. The smell of freshly ground stars, like a field of crops rotting in a snow-covered land, lost in the capsule of time. The smell of dead stars.


That was the last time we went hunting for stars.

The next morning, Jiang Yang came over to say goodbye. Luggage in hand, he said he was heading back to Shenzhen. A day of extra work meant a day of pay. He had never planned to stay long at home for Lunar New Year, anyway. His grandmother seemed to have recovered at long last. On the fifteenth day of the New Year, she stepped out of the house and bragged about her grandson to the neighbors for several days straight: he had enough money saved to buy her all this delicious food, and even a new jacket.


I never saw Jiang Yang again. Once or twice, I wandered into the mountains and saw a few lone stars. They looked gray and dull, drooping in the air. Not a trace of light around them.

For a long time after that night, I kept revisiting the scene in my dreams.

I heard Jiang Yang say, “Run.” Those stars really seemed to have understood him, and they jiggled in the cold night. Countless stars arose from the horizon, the earth veiled in their radiant light. They flew toward the sky. It was the most wondrous winter I had ever seen.


The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories is available wherever books are sold.


“The Stars We Raised” copyright © 2017 by 修新羽 (Xiu Xinyu)
Reprinted from The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories ed. Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang
English translation © 2022 by Tom Doherty Associates
Translation by Judy Yi Zhou
Originally published as 逃跑星辰 in March 2017 by Master (大家)

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