Kanghui Zhang

The Makings of a Lion

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Year I

[Note: All content henceforth has been translated from Chaste-Inian.]

Until the lion learns how to write, every word shall glorify its hunter.


I am ready to die. I do not care who reads this. Auntie just died today, and I am ready to follow her.

I mean it — I want to leave this place. This terrible, foul, blind world shrouded in darkness. How can anyone ever feel happy when such misery exists? Stranger, understand that I live only with the hope of telling my story and being heard. I must continue typing before this all fades from my memory. Or rather, the burning need to tell this story fades — for I don’t believe the pain will ever go away. Even if my memory somehow blurs, and the sliced open flesh on my heart somehow scabs over with time, the wound will never heal. And I will breathe my last breath, knowing that someone I cherished so much had gone before me.

Oh, Auntie! Why must you leave like this? I wish she had wanted to leave, I wish it was her own doing that sent her to the heavens above! But of course it was not! A poor woman from the Ruralties, she had to suffer the “special treatment” of being sent to a newly established private hospital instead of the much more renowned Dashue University Affiliated Hospital after a car crash — by the 130! That’s the emergency hotline, the vehicle that is supposed to move the people of this country to safety and good health! My tears are staining the keyboard as I speak, slipping into the crevices of the blocky keys as surely as my cry of injustice has slipped past all the suffering. My mother is sleeping right now, as is my brother, his face surely still purple from my father’s tantrum last week. I am leaving my fingerprints on these condemning keys — and I am not afraid of him seeing this. Not anymore, because if he does I might just as well find the courage to kill myself. 

Auntie had been the light of my life. She would often prepare delicious food for me as I came home from school, and some extra to pack home for my mother and brother. She always smiled at me so lovingly when I helped her with household chores. She was more than a neighbor, she was a friend. That time when I ran from my house angry at myself, at my helplessness of defending my loved ones, she was the one who took my brother and me in. When I held my sleeping brother as I sat between her and Uncle, watching TV in the living room, I was able to live the mirage of a family. Once, I was too sick to visit her for many days. She visited me with broth and nursed me back to good health. She had taught me so much, everything from cooking to handling failure, with her patient, jolly ways. She had everything — everything! — but a good background and wealth. And that somehow simply outweighed all her benevolence. In the eyes of God, the heart of the ambulance driver, and in the conscience of society — if such things even exist — she was deemed unworthy of life. Tell me, Stranger, how you may understand this occurrence as normal! And how a woman, embodying goodness in every fiber of her being, is discarded thus!

The immenseness of this answer — again, if such a thing even exists — has made my blood hot since I received the news a half-hour ago. Even now I hear the rushing noise in my ears, and my hands shake from grief. Somehow her death makes everything so unbearable. The hardships I was used to facing now loom before me, and I fear I will be crushed by the one that reaches me the soonest. Of all the strange people I’ve seen on L.’s phone, I have never seen people strange enough to suffer as I do. I know life is good! I know I am lucky to have food and clothing! But I am deprived of the ability to enjoy them as I should, and I am suffering. Why must things be this way? Stranger, can you give me an answer? 

If I am to kill myself, I suppose I should take my time and not do it in the heat of passion. My mother and brother still need my help. I have a thousand thoughts spinning around my head right now and just less than half of them are in favor of me ending my pathetic life. So decide for me, Stranger. I imagine it would feel empowering to have a life at your disposal? Then help me. Write back. Something vulgar for a laugh, jesting remarks, one line of pity — I do not care. Please write back.



Dear A,

It has been two weeks since I received your letter. I do not check my typesender often, and for that, I apologize.

I genuinely hope you’re alive and well. You have my gratitude, admiration, and infinite respect for your strength in making it past one of the most difficult moments in life as I know it, the loss of a loved one. I lost my grandmother some eight years ago. She had cared for me since I was born, and it hurt like hell when she left. I by no means pretend to understand how you feel; I only wish to tell you that you are not alone. I am willing to listen and share your pain.

I am writing from Anica. I presume that you are from mainland Chaste-Ines? Which city do you live in, and what kind of place is it? I am from Xingdao, a beautiful seaside city. If you have the chance, I would encourage you to visit the place. I used to live very close to the beach, and when I missed my grandmother after her passing, I would often go there and feed the seagulls and tell them how much I missed her. I liked to imagine that they took my longing for her somehow. Silly, I know, but what else can one do when nothing in the world seems to suffer as one does for the loss of someone precious?

I must leave soon for school. But you must understand that even I, as a stranger, was touched by your words. There must be so many around you that care for you and love you much more dearly than I do. Please live on, if not to give yourself a chance to experience the beautiful thing that is youth, then for those who love you. Imagine their distress if you are to leave this world altogether! 

Love and kindness will guide you on this, I think. 




Thank you.

When I was writing earlier, all I had in mind was the immensity of my despair. I didn’t — and still don’t — feel sorry for myself so much as indignation for Auntie. How unfair it was! I am certain that a car accident like hers could have been saved by a good doctor. Yet they neglected her care and, after much delay, sent her to the worst hospital simply because they assumed she would not be able to pay the fares and would take up a bed that might need to be reserved for “worthier” patients. The morality behind this train of thought eludes me! 

I have been writing how I feel, pouring my thoughts into my typesender with my words all jumbled and my descriptions crude. But really, thank you for caring about a stranger, a mere kid. Not to mention that you’re abroad and could’ve ignored me, yet you didn’t. 

So your hometown is in Xingdao! Seeing how you wrote in the traditional script, I thought you must be from Jiawan or Long Ban. Your hometown is not too far from mine. I live in Chenyan. How is Anica? Is it better than our province? Do you speak Anglican? You must speak it very well.

I wish I were able to tell you that you need not worry, and that the terrible, suicidal thoughts I’d expressed before had been the fruit of a mere moment of despair. Yet they plague me even now, and I am still so, so sad. Of course you need not be concerned with my trifles, as I am of no relation to you. But losing a loved one hurts so, so much. Sorry for your sorrows, with your grandmother passing — may she rest in peace. I’m grateful that you are willing to share such an experience with me.

You do not have to answer this letter. I will understand. Please don’t think that you’re now entangled in some sort of troublesome relationship that you need to maintain or anything like that — I’m sure you’re busy, I am too. So, again, thank you for caring.

Because of you, I am willing to believe that there are still more good people in the world.



Year II

Had I not seen the sun

I could have borne the shade. 

But Light a newer Wilderness

My Wilderness has made—


Happy, HAPPY birthday to you, friend! I hope your day will be satisfying, restful, and filled with joy. Over here the day is almost over, but I know for you the happiness is only beginning. Do share your encounters and feelings — you’re an adult now!

It’s unbelievable how we were able to meet, by chance, over a year ago. I spammed a random ID in my typesender, and my grief-filled laments went to you. I am so happy it did! For if we had not met, I would not have had nearly as much fun living this past year, nor would I have learned so many things. So thank you, B., for being such an adorable person! I mean it, I really do.

Last year, I didn’t know when your birthday was until it passed, so I’m thrilled to be wishing you many happy returns this year. I wouldn’t want to take up too much of your special day with my pointless ramblings, but just to report on a few things:

1) I finished the Social Contract. What a read! I can’t believe the Enlightenment was never brushed upon in my class. But you know how history is here. We memorize dynasties and emperors, and over and over again recite the principles of our revolution and sing our praise to those same few men, and spend upwards of 30 minutes on developments outside of Chaste-Ines. I can’t wait to talk about the book with you. But not today, of course.

2) I’m a bit nervous about the “banned book” you were talking about. I didn’t dare to ask any adults for their opinion, but are you sure that it wouldn’t get me in trouble? Don’t get me wrong, I’m dying of curiosity, but if my father or someone should find out … I’m a little apprehensive, is all.

Do not write back today. Celebrate, have fun, and forget about me for a day or two. I will seriously be angry if I receive a reply today. I better not be carving time away from you to enjoy your special day.

I hear my brother now — he is awake. But before I go, HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!


Year 2018Month1Day10

P.S. check your mail


I can’t believe you actually SENT me a gift! Doesn’t that cost a lot of money? You know, transoceanic mailing? I wish I could give you a hug right now. Consider it delivered. I just hugged my typesender.

The bookmarks are beautiful. So is the pencil bag. I will be using them extensively. I hope you’re all right with that? I mean, my first thought was to put them up for display, but I feel like that might just defeat the point. Thank you so much! I love them. I really do.

I wish you had a phone or at least a computer, so we could see each others’ faces. But I guess there’s fun in not really knowing knowing you, too. After all, if you get caught with a banned book, you’ll never be able to confess my name or picture! Haha, I’m only joking. No one will be looking for an underage girl with stuff like this. As long as it’s not mainstream, the government doesn’t care.

I’ll send you the full copy of the book once I have time. There’s a speech-and-debate competition tomorrow, and I do have to prepare. Have I told you yet how bad I am at speech and debate? I probably have. Anyhow, let me just take this time to praise the book some more. 

Six Chapters on the Wuxu Year was written by professor Xu Zhangren. The depth and breadth of his literary, as well as political, knowledge is astounding. He writes in a rather formal, archaic style, so it may be a little dense at first, but I urge you to push through it. You will be amazed. He’s from Chingwa, and you don’t need me to tell you how prestigious a university it is. Anyhow, I believe he won a bunch of prestigious national and international awards a few years ago, but now he’s just gone. Poof. You can’t even find him anywhere on the internet. They charged him with soliciting a prostitute. The joke goes that people like him “get solicited” by the government all the time, and they just suddenly disappear on the same vague, hilariously untested charges. It’s quite sad. So try it out, I suppose. Feel free to send me any concerns or questions as you read; I would love to discuss them! People around me either don’t care about this sort of stuff, can’t read in Chaste-Inian, or still retain such a degree of propaganda in their brains that they automatically convulse when one simply points out the problems with the country one loves and wants to see improve, but I think you’ll enjoy it. There’s a chapter specifically about the rural-urban discrimination when it comes to wages, education, public health, and infrastructural investments. He invoked an anecdote of hospitals taking advantage of poor families that I think would really resonate with you.

I also want to recommend White Night. It’s a lighter read and immensely captivating. It’s a spectacular thriller, and I know you enjoy comedy or romance much better, but let me know if you want to try it out anyway. I might be able to acquire a copy from the library next week to photocopy for you by next month.

Hey, how’s your brother doing? Whenever I remember how hard you work every day just to keep food on your family’s table and to take care of him, I feel guilty. The world is so unfair sometimes; how can it decide who deserves a life filled with leisure and opportunity and who doesn’t? Hang in there, friend. With any luck I will be able to get into the school I want. They offer the choice of a gap year. My family is wholly against this, but I don’t care. They know I’ll keep myself busy. I’ll travel to Chaste-Ines with my grandparents, for I know how much they miss it there. I’ll spend the first half of the year with them. I would like to take in the beauty of my home country and leave satisfied, knowing that one of the nations I love is just as beautiful as I remembered it. Afterward, I will visit you! And then we shall talk. Oh, what conversations we will have! I will help you with your chores so you can finish early for the day, and we will go watch a movie together. Do you like superheroes? I wish Deadpool 2 would come out next year, so I can introduce you to my absolute favorite comic book character. I’ve burst out laughing just now at the thought of how you’ll react. It will be hilarious. Of course, we won’t be able to bring your brother, which’ll be a shame.

We’ll see what happens. Hoping for better days, right?

Lots and lots of love,



I am the one that must thank you. I have started Six Chapters, and you’re right — I love it. It scares me a little, just because I’m not used to such educated rhetoric against the government. To think that these words came from a Chingwa professor!

Maybe there really is something inherently wrong with this world. Just like you said once, how else would you explain the terrible fate that befalls most of the good people? If I asked my mother, she would say it’s none of my business and that if I had the time to babble such things, I should be off watching my brother so she can get some rest. I don’t blame her, she’s just so, so tired. And it’s strange. We work so hard every day, but we can’t even get regular medical check-ups. My teeth hurt really bad last week, and we had to wait five hours before our number was called in the hospital lobby. A boy at school says things I don’t like and gets too close to me on a regular basis, but when I tell the teacher, she rolls her eyes and accuses me of overexposing my body. We have uniforms! It’s the only thing I wear!

I can go on and on, but I shouldn’t. You’re making life unbearable for me, friend, but I do think it’s in a good way. Remember Black Swan, the first book you shared with me? The story of the three generations of women touched me in such a way that I stayed awake all night. What great trials the people, especially women, of our country have suffered! I know I should relish my privileges, but I can’t. Despite my mundane life, despite being part of the masses, I can’t help but wish that something better is coming, that it’s culminating in an effort to free us from this lawless land. Perhaps you know better, but as Dickinson so elaborately stated, hope is beautiful, and it is what keeps me going through each day. So yes, we are all hoping for better days.



Year III

Tell ’em time and time again — keep your mouth shut — but women, you know? They-just-don’t-listen!


Shocking that these things should happen! To think that young people such as you and are being shot in the streets, being subject to detention, torture, and more — their families, being murdered in cold blood, their relatives being affected as well! It’s like history all over again — except this time it’s all the more pathetic for us, the youth of Chaste-Ines. The older generation didn’t have anything back then. No newspapers, no books, no internet to inform them of all that’s going on. Children nowadays have ways to see the truth, yet they refuse to dig deeper into it, refuse to form their own conception of things, and instead take up the words of those around them and spit venom at those who don’t think as they think. 

Still, I do not believe it to be a good idea at all that you should participate in any risky actions, especially now. To travel to that sensitive place, now of all times! My heart seized up and threatened to stop beating when I heard that you were in the middle of Long Ban. In the house of an activist, no less! 

It is never advisable to lie to those who know better than you. Your parents deserve to know your well-being at the very least; what if you should be detained? Shot? They will have not the slightest idea of where you may be. What a situation you have trapped yourself in! You must distance yourself from this activist as soon as possible. I wish I could send you money, but you know how my situation is. Nevertheless, I must urge you to think of this logically. You can do much more and much better when you have more. You were accepted to one of the greatest universities in the world! Your parents are willing to support you in your higher education, too. Imagine what great things you will learn while studying there, and what great methods you will master to further your passions! What you are doing now is pointless. You must leave at once.

Do not dream of challenging men in power. This is their world. You have no idea what terrible things they’d do to you. Actually, I’m quite certain you do have an idea, and a much better idea than I. You’ve read 1984, you’ve read Black Swan, you’ve talked to survivors of their brutality! Haven’t you seen and heard enough to know that you are committing not just a crime but stupidity? I don’t mean to downplay your noble intentions, but please go home for your own sake! What more can I say?

You’re one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I have no intention of letting go.

Stay safe,



It is not the fault of those born into our generation to be cowardly. However, it is my fault to be a coward when bravery is an option. This fight is everything I have been waiting for. It’s a struggle against dictatorship, against authoritarianism, against the rotten, the parasitical, and the torturers of our people! 

Like you said, and like everyone either has told me or thought, it would be very easy to bend down to the ones in power. It’s so very easy to live complacently and love this regime and love the country under the rule, or at least pretend to do so until I am promised things that may actually come true. I can contribute my part to securing the coming true of those promises, of course, by contributing to the party. And the more I contribute, the more I will be promised. That is a good cycle for many, but to me it is a cycle of death. We DIE when we do not fight for something we believe in. We DIE more surely when we do not fight at all. Where is there to spend my riches, to exercise my power, when every step I take I will be heading in the direction of an ideology I loathe? When, even when I flee far away from this place, 80 percent of my daily expenditures will be put into a nation and subject to a party that exploits its own people so heartlessly? I do not have the power to right every wrong on earth, and I admit that. I do not have the ability to change every person on earth, I admit that, too. That is why I must start with the ones I love, the people and the wrongs of the place I love. I love you, my friend, and that is why I see it absolutely necessary you hear me out. You see, but you’re afraid to look. Open your eyes! No one can persecute you for peeking. They’re too busy dealing with the ones who sit up, who walk around and talk. Those who raise their voices yell and scream, those like me. I love my country, and that is why I must scream! I must cry out for all of us, sedated under the poison of propaganda, and jerk as many as I can from their sweet sleep. As weak as we may be, we stand a better chance against the oppressor awake!

Youth is wasted on the young when we hide behind our immaturity. I shall set out for my other friend’s house today. We need to fight for law and justice in this country, for what is a society without laws? They’ve trampled on our rights, your rights, for years. Who should speak up but us, the youth born of Chaste-Ines? Who should cry out for my people but me, who should risk their lives but me? To wait for a vigilante to show up is like waiting for Spiderman to avenge Long Ban. It will not happen! The big screens are busy shooting well-known pictures, portraying well-loved people. You’ve read the story of Yue Fei in class, no? You remember how his mother tattooed his back with black ink so he would not forget to “Repay Loyalty to His Country”? That’s what I’m doing! I will repay the land and the people that have nurtured me for 14 years with everything I have. Fate sent me to Anica, and I have learned there. Perhaps not enough, but sufficient to know that our brothers and sisters deserve to speak their mind without persecution and deserve to live without having their rights trampled on by aloof dictators. I will take the smallest step, do my most meager duty, toward making your home, and mine, a better place. 

So save your worries. I will return, and may love and kindness guide me as it had guided you all those years ago.




You have to listen, listen! I’m saying this for your own good, not to extend any ideology over you! You have long convinced me and showed me the light of reason. I am grateful. But that isn’t what the masses would feel. They will kill you. They will drown you in spit then beat you until the body that you need to express your ideologies is gone!

Take my advice, please. As a pen pal, a friend, and an acquaintance that has known you for three years, I beg you to leave. You must stop risking your life and get out of the country at once. You have a future ahead of you, a doctoral degree in international law from a prestigious college waiting for you to claim. When you have risen — when you have gathered money and perhaps thereby power — save as many as you can! Do it then and not before. Do NOT be stupid and go marching in the streets! Think of it! What do you have? Righteousness and wooden sticks? You will be facing an army. Their force will be gargantuan compared with what you protestors have. Please. Get out.

Your love for this country is admirable, and your good heart which generates that love even more so. But you will not be helping anyone, friend, if you just kill yourself like that. You will be robbing us of our chance for change all the same.

I must go now. I wish I had time to say more, for evermore do I have to say to you to convince you of your irrationality in the moment! You will be killed. Get out of the country at once. Heed my advice. I beg you to do so.

Please get out. Do it for me. It will be the only thing I ever ask of you.



Transcript of CCTV Report.txt
[intro music]
Male announcer: Dear audience, good evening.
Female announcer: Good evening.
Male announcer: Today is Month 12 Day 16, Monday, Month 11 Day 1 of the lunar calendar. Thank you for tuning in to the News Broadcast Program.
Female announcer: First, we will introduce to you the main content of today’s program.
Male announcer: Zi Jinping congratulates the second annual Elite Scientists’ Forum.
Female announcer: Zi Jinping congratulates the Cambodian King Siammoni on succeeding his throne for the 15th year. 
Male announcer: After approval by the Central Committee, Zi Jinping Talks Strong Army, Prosperous Army has been printed and distributed to all armed forces.
Female announcer: Lee Keke meets Kongo’s Vice President Mapja.
Male announcer: Rioters in Long Ban have been subdued by patriotic forces. Foreign influences seem apparent in the recent unrest.
Female announcer: British Lion Air finds that two Boeing 737NG aircrafts contain cracks along the wings.
Male announcer: Belarus increases border military deployment in response to NATO activity.
Female announcer: Southern Philippines was hit with a 6.6-degree earthquake.
Male announcer: Now for the detailed reports.
[The transcript is redacted.]
Male announcer: Yesterday, a large group of several hundred thousand gathered on the streets of southern Long Ban. They chanted slogans and demanded to meet with the District Administrator in an attempt to delay the passage of the National Security Law. The National Security Law is vital to the order and safety of everyone within Chaste-Ines. Many criminals were seen during the demonstration to be damaging civilian property as well as resisting the police. All violent rioters have been subdued. 
[people yelling, shots being fired]
Male announcer: Since May, increasing unrest has been plaguing the specially governed district of Long Ban. It is recommended that commercial travels be delayed to ensure the safety and efficiency of law enforcement in restoring peace. From the signs that the protestors are holding up, it can be inferred that foreign influence is prominent in this ill-intended attack against our nation.
Unidentified protestors: Long live freed-
Male announcer: Yesterday marked the swiftest and most decisive action against the protestors, who have been rallying for months. Authorities have detained and dealt accordingly with all violators of the law.
[intermission music plays]
[The broadcast transitioned to other topics from there.]

Kanghui Zhang is a junior at Los Osos High School. She is a human rights activist, a baker, and a poetry addict. Kanghui immigrated to the U.S. in 2014 from Qingdao, China. She greatly enjoys learning new things about the world around her and spending time with her family. She aspires to become a human rights lawyer to defend the common dignity of those who may not be able to speak up for themselves.