Waiting on a Bright Moon, by JY Yang
Xin is an ansible, using her song magic to connect the originworld of the Imperial Authority and its far-flung colonies— a role that is forced upon magically-gifted women “of a certain closeness”. When a dead body comes through her portal at a time of growing rebellion, Xin is drawn deep into a station-wide conspiracy along with Ouyang Suqing, one of the station’s mysterious, high-ranking starmages.
Published Jul 12, 2017, on Tor.com
Discussion originally written in German on September 17, 2017, for an academic writing course at Freie Universität Berlin, translated and adapted for an English audience by myself.
The discussion contains spoilers.
Waiting on a Bright Moon was written by JY Yang in 2017 and is freely accessible on Tor.com’s website. The author lives in Singapur and is known for several short stories in magazines like Lightspeed and Uncanny. Through the story’s main theme it is proposed to take your life into your own hands no matter the circumstances. Other topics like social injustice, rebellion, and same-sex love are touched, and the story features both Chinese attributes as well as elements of the science fiction genre. Moreover, it will become apparent that Waiting on a Bright Moon shows differing nuances in meaning depending on the reader’s cultural background.
The story’s protagonist, ansible* Xin, works for the empire of the originworld and was placed on the eight’s moon’s colony in order to exchange information and objects via a magical connection with other ansible. The cruel empire’s methods and social injustice lead to a rebellion. Xin gets tangled up in it because she falls for the starmage Ouyang Suqing who had to hide her lesbian nature her whole life and is now actively involved in bringing down the leadership. While the empire falls in the end, Xin and Ouyang are played by a traitor, thus being prevented to have the happy life they were hoping to live together.
In the first paragraphs, the reader already notices that JY Yang uses both English language as well as Chinese characters on a small scale. Since those are mainly used in two poems or songs which appear to be irrelevant to understand what is going on in Waiting on a Bright Moon, the story is also accessible for readers without a Chinese background. In addition, Waiting on a Bright Moon is saturated with Chinese culture: for instance, the cover mirrors the yin-yang symbol through the position of the women’s faces, there are Chinese names, zodiac and color symbolism, as well as political parallels to feudal China.
Looking at the characters’ names, it is not surprising to readers with a Chinese background that they befit their characters very well. For instance, the protagonist Xin’s former name was Tian (田, meaning field), but she was forced to use a new name instead and work for the government when it became known that she was in a lesbian relationship. Her new name is Xin (辛) which means sorrow and as an ansible, she is now a member of the lowest social class. She has no rights and lives a shameful life.
Her former lover’s name was Mingyue (明月), and it is here that there is some information that remains hidden to the Western audience because they don’t know that mingyue means bright moon in Chinese, which is, surprisingly, also right there in the story’s title. Waiting on a Bright Moon can thus be read with two different meanings: to be waiting while being on the moon (here the eight’s moon colony), or to be waiting for a bright moon.
There are hints in the Chinese characters of the songs as to the meaning of the case of waiting for a bright moon. The text is originally from two very famous ancient Chinese poems, therefore, on the one hand, being hard to understand even for Chinese readers, but, on the other hand, so famous that they are part of everyone’s school education.
In this story, mingyue stands for the fond memory of a good time past (here her former lover) as well as the hope and expectancy of another such experience (明月几时有？, meaning, When will there be another bright moon?). Regarding the theme of a bright moon, there is an interesting difference in paradigms within the readership of this story: In the West, we usually have a linear worldview, but it is a cyclic one in Asia, which means that one does not wait for the bright moon in Asia but for a bright moon because there is more than, metaphorically spoken, one bright moon; there are many recurring events that have the potency to make us happy.
As follows from this difference in perception, the ending of the story also has a different connotation. From a Western point of view, the story ends on an open yet hopeful note, but for the Asian reader, the ending describes the natural course of life. Concerning the characters’ thoughts and decisions, they receive another nuance as well because of the cyclic worldview: Because it is natural for the moon to rise and wane, Xin and Ouyang Suqing rise to the challenges that life throws at them and they won’t be hindered by difficult circumstances like their gap in social class or the prohibition of same-sex love.
Since there is not the one right interpretation of any given text, there is no question of which interpretation is the correct one. Different explanations are absolutely valid since paradigms and individual backgrounds always influence our understanding of everything that we read and our reactions to a text are subjective in any case. The questions that the author raises in their story are universal: Who is in charge of your life? When are you ready to act and what are you willing to sacrifice? Additionally, by using both the rather unusual second person perspective and present tense, JY Yang accomplishes a closeness between the story and the reader without coming off as preaching or stilted. Their prose and storytelling is subtle and leaves much room for the reader’s thoughts and emotions.
Although JY Yang uses a Chinese context for Waiting on a Bright Moon, even going so far as adding Chinese characters and symbolism that mostly evade the Western reader’s understanding, by writing within the science fiction genre, they accomplish to make the story universally applicable and therefore relatable to a large and diverse readership. Waiting on a Bright Moon is an entertaining story to read. It is set in a fascinating world and has so many layers of depth that it engages every reader, no matter their cultural background.
* Name for the group of women who are forced into the empire’s service and are of low social class because of their same-sex attraction.
My three passions in life are my family, books, and China.
I’ve been married to my wonderful husband for nearly 16 years, have the loveliest 11 year-old daughter, and we live together in Berlin’s beautiful quarter Prenzlauer Berg. We spend as much time together as possible and enjoy a quiet life — well, next to a job and school…
Spending two years abroad in Macao SAR China made me want to change my profession, and so I’ve been studying Sinology since fall 2014. My focus, next to learning Chinese, lies in the field of gender and queer studies, and I am working on my thesis on the portrayal of homosexual sexual practices in Chinese literature and their relation to gender and class right now.
In my free time and on my long commute, I love to read and I like my books to be diverse, surprising, and genre-bending. I will read the occasional contemporary romance, but my heart actually beats faster for genre books like fantasy, science fiction, or steampunk. Since for me, love is love, I read stories about people of all gender and sexual identity.