The Woman Carrying a Corpse

We’re excited to reprint “The Woman Carrying a Corpse” by Chi Hui, translated from Chinese by Judith Huang, from the groundbreaking anthology The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories, edited by Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang, out now in paperback!

“The Woman Carrying a Corpse” was originally published as 背尸体的女人 in December 2019 by Flower City (花城).



The corpse-carrying woman came from the north.

She walked very slowly, stumbling and falling almost every other step, before dragging the corpse up again and walking on. Her ragged pants were stained with dust.

The woman’s hair was nearly all white, the skin on her face stretched with gullies of wrinkles, her face filled with untold anguish.

Perhaps due to her constant stumbling, her body was marred with cuts and marked with bruises large and small. Yet she seemed oblivious to them, mumbling unintelligibly to herself, two empty eyes staring, as though searching for the end of the road.

And yet, the corpse she carried looked polished and glamorous, its clothes made of crisp, luxurious fabric in gleaming colors, with gold-thread trimmings that shone in the sunlight.

The corpse was very much dead, but still it proclaimed its wealth.


The corpse-carrying woman walked on and on, the corpse on her back swaying from side to side, constantly on the brink of falling. Yet she persisted in carrying it.

By the roadside, she met an idler. The idler was horrified, and stopped her. “Oh my God! Is that a corpse you’re carrying?”

“Yes, it is,” the woman replied. “Look at this corpse. See how heavy it is? It has nearly crushed my spine.”

“Can you not cast it off?” asked the idler.

The woman shook her head again and again, saying, “I cannot, I cannot . . .”

The idler was perplexed. “But why not? It isn’t because they’re family, is it? Is that why you can’t leave them behind?”

“Yes, that’s it,” the woman said. “Yes, that’s it.”

The idler sighed, shed a few tears for the woman, and went his own way.

The corpse-carrying woman walked on.


A traveler saw the corpse-carrying woman and ran toward her, shouting, “Quick! Throw that filthy thing away! A wonderful life lies before you!”

“But this corpse is family,” said the woman. “In life, we lived together, and they brought me warmth and happiness, so now, though they’re dead, I cannot bear to throw them away.”

The traveler froze, then nodded. “Ah, that is a good point, that is a very good point.”

He comforted the woman for a while, then went on his way. The corpse-carrying woman walked on.


Not long after, she met a critic, who looked her up and down before pointing at her and passing snide remarks.

“Look at that woman,” said the critic. “To think she’s been carrying that heavy corpse around! Someone must have promised her a huge favor, or a paid her a handsome sum, or she would never do such a thing!”

The woman smiled defensively and said, “Yes, that’s it. That’s it.”

The critic was delighted to be proven right, and, with a self-satisfied sigh, went on his merry way.

The corpse-carrying woman lowered her head, and walked on.


After walking a while, a kindly person crested the hill ahead, nodding genially to the corpse-carrying woman as she came into view. When she realized it was a corpse the woman carried on her back, she blanched with fright and hurried toward her.

“Aiyah! Is that a corpse you’re carrying? Oh, how pitiful! Quick, put it down! Come with me to the house over there, where there’s hot food and hot water, so I can help you.”

The corpse-carrying woman shook her head. “Thank you, thank you, but I cannot put down this corpse. Someone promised me a handsome sum to bring it back to my village. If I put it down, there’ll be no money for me to collect.”

When the kindly woman heard this, she spat on her, and turned away.

The woman walked on.


The corpse she was carrying shook against her labored back, its terrible weight pulling her down. The woman walked one step, fell over, crawled up again, and took another. She took another step, and fell again.

At a fork in the road, an optimist saw her and couldn’t bear the sight. She pulled her up, saying, “Why won’t you just throw that corpse away?”

The woman shook her head, saying, “I cannot leave it.”

The optimist was baffled. She tried to reason with her. “Is this corpse not your good friend? Now, even if they were your soul mate, they still wouldn’t want to see you like this.”

At this, the woman said no more, only shaking her head.

The optimist sighed impatiently. “I don’t know who this corpse was to you, or what has happened to you, but look at yourself! You look worse than the corpse! Maybe you just need to look on the bright side: think about it, the corpse is already dead, but you’re alive! And carrying this magnificent corpse around, you’re bound to get noticed. Without it, you look pretty ordinary, and no one would spare you a second glance. So maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe carrying that corpse really is worthwhile.”

The corpse-carrying woman nodded, saying, “Yes, that’s it. That’s it.” So the optimist, satisfied with herself, went on her way.

The corpse-carrying woman walked on.


A pessimist saw the woman and ran over, saying, “Oh dear, could I end up like that?”

The woman shrugged to reposition the corpse on her back, raised her head, and said, “Actually, it’s a good thing I’m carrying this corpse. With this corpse, when I’m on the road, people actually treat me like I’m somebody!”

The pessimist said, “Ah, but they just think you’re entertaining. I, on the other hand, just see how pitiful you are, and I get depressed. If you can’t unburden yourself, I fear that I may end up just like you.”

“So why don’t you carry it for me?” the woman asked. The pessimist gave a terrified scream and ran off.

The woman watched his receding silhouette for a while. Then, she lowered her head and walked on, still carrying the corpse.


A hustler by the side of the road saw the woman, and started whispering, “Look at that idiot, it’s like she was born yesterday! Why doesn’t she strip off those beautiful garments and wear them herself? In those luxurious silks and brocades, she’d look wealthy and be warm and relaxed, and everyone would treat her like a human being.”

When the woman heard this, she raised her head and smiled. Her smile was ancient, her every wrinkle creasing and relaxing, and her eyes were cold, cold as black ice.

The hustler winced and walked away. He whispered to his companions, “That must be her lover, judging from the way she can’t bear to leave it.”

The woman looked at him, then lowered her head and walked on.


As she walked and walked, a madman spotted the woman, and, laughing wildly, ran toward her. “Hey, is that a corpse you’re carrying?”

“Yes, it is,” said the woman.

“Why are you carrying it?”

“Because they were once my lover, and though they’re now dead, I cannot bear to part with them,” said the woman.

And yet the madman wouldn’t leave, leaping and skipping along beside her. He began to talk to the corpse. “Hey, corpse, do you love this woman?”

The corpse, naturally, said nothing.


The woman walked on in silence as the madman followed her.

“Hey, is that a corpse you’re carrying?” he asked again.

“Yes, it is.”

“Why are you carrying it?”

“Because it gets me attention,” the woman replied. “With it, people take note of me.”

“Hey, corpse,” asked the madman, “do you take note of this woman?”

The corpse, naturally, said nothing.


The madman laughed, then cried. He cried, then laughed. Half-walking, half-dancing, he followed. The woman carried the corpse, taking one step, then falling, then stepping and falling again. They pressed onward, their motions synchronized to a single beat. After a while, the madman questioned her again.

“Hey . . . So, is that a corpse you’re carrying?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Why are you carrying it?”

“Because someone promised me a handsome sum, if I carry it on the road.”

“Hey, corpse, are you really worth a lot of money?”

The corpse, naturally, said nothing.


The madman started singing a tuneless song, and the birds on the roadside joined him and started chirping along. After a few songs, the madman started questioning her again.

“Hey . . . So, is that a corpse you’re carrying?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Why are you carrying it?”

“Because they were my family, who treated me well in the past. Now, I cannot bear to leave them.”

“Hey, corpse, do you love this woman?”

The corpse, naturally, said nothing.


The madman sang as he walked. Suddenly he clapped his hands and said, “I get it now, I get it now. That isn’t a corpse at all, is it? Look, they’re your family, and they’re also your lover. They can make you stand out in a crowd, and can bring you large sums of money. Obviously, they must be your god!”

The woman nodded and said, “Yes, that’s it. That’s it.”

The madman still would not leave her alone. He kept circling her, looking her over from every angle.

“Look! Your god has sprouted!” he said, suddenly.



She had carried the corpse for many months and years, and dust had fallen on its face. Seeds had fallen into the crevices of its wrinkles and the hollow holes of its eye sockets. Some had sprouted, whilst others had grown into young trees.

But because she had been carrying it on her back all this while, she couldn’t see, and she hadn’t known.

“Your god sprouted!” The madman clapped his hands, singing loudly. “Your god sprouted, your god grew grass, your god’s head has grown a shrub, your god has blossomed and borne fruit!”

As he said this, the madman reached up to pluck a tiny berry, in order to have a taste.

In her haste to turn to look, the woman accidentally straightened her back, and the corpse slid off and hit the ground.

The woman stared.


“Why are you carrying them?” asked the madman.

“I don’t know,” the woman said. “As far as I remember, this is how it has always been. I don’t even know how to walk down the road without such a burden. Now, what shall I do?”

“Perhaps you can carry me instead,” said the madman. “But I don’t wish to be a corpse.”

“Yes, that’s it.”

They looked at each other, and sat down. They sang a few songs, dug a hole by the side of the road, and buried the corpse in it. Yellow flowers and red berries sprouted, and tender green leaves unfurled. The plant grew strong and sure, swaying gently in the wind.

The sun sank languidly over the horizon as the clouds blazed like a long, narrow line of fire, lighting up one after another in the sky.

The madman lit a bonfire, and the woman shared her dried food supplies with him. Then they huddled by the fire, like two tiny commas, and fell asleep.

The earth was boundless beneath them, the road stretched like a compass in every direction, and the dust—the dust swirled, back and forth, back and forth, endlessly.



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


“The Woman Carrying a Corpse” copyright © 2019 by 迟卉 (Chi Hui)
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 Judith Huang
Originally published as 背尸体的女人 in December 2019 by Flower City (花城)


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