The Chinese author of the nine carefully crafted stories in this collection, translator Susan Wilf Chen tells us, turned from painting to writing during the Cultural Revolution, when he came to feel that ""only words. . .could accommodate the range of feelings and ideas he wanted to express."" Stories like ""Plum Blossoms in the Snow"" and ""Chrysanthemums"" movingly express the dilemma of the Chinese artist, his creative integrity constantly threatened in a rapidly shifting political climate. Feng Jicai's concern is not so much social criticism--though ""The Letter"" and ""Numbskull"" forcefully document the struggles of fallible individuals to navigate the political minefields of daily life--as it is the portrayal of human relationships against a richly detailed social backdrop. And his characters are memorable, from the old gardener in ""Chrysanthemums,"" whose love of beauty and art, the narrator realizes only too late, is not naive but profound and genuine, to the small boy in ""The Hornet's Nest,"" who discovers a respect for nature with the help of his wise grandfather. Though uneven in quality--""Nectar"" simply describes an employee's drunken evening with his superiors, and the heavily ironic ""The Street Weeping Show"" depends too much on intricate bureaucratic detail to be readily accessible--these stories provide valuable insight into contemporary Chinese life. At their best, they are compelling mediatations on art and society, mildly satirical, occasionally humorous, and often moving.