Wind-Water: Spirtual Profiteering and the Capitalist Cultural Exchange
Wang Chao had been working at a newsstand since graduating from art school and was carving a piece of pagoda tree on a slow Monday morning when his brother-in-law No Xin stopped by to check on him.
"You're looking well, Wang Chao. I always figured you for a lazy fool wasting your time whittling away at idols while there's money to be made. Maybe you had the right idea staying away from this ghastly finance business," he huffed.
"It does give me the opportunity to keep up with the news. Rough end of the week for you traders. Do you think the central bank cutting interest rates will help?"
"Bah, as if meddling didn't get us here in the first place. I guess if I was a pessimist I wouldn't be in this line of work."
"I'm sure you'll work it out. Here." Wang Chao pressed the stout figurine he’d been working on into No Xin's hand. "Tian Lu catches gold and wealth with his big mouth but never lets it go again. He only gets fatter and richer. Put it in your house and it will bring you prosperity."
"Brother, I’ve never been much for Feng Shui but I appreciate you trying."
* * *
Wang Chao gritted his teeth as he pressed the gouge into the cypress, wood spiraling out under the pressure. As the spirals sailed down to the sawdust covered floor of his apartment, the chimera's dragon head stared back at him. He took a sip of water and removed the shavings to examine the flowing lines. He'd carved the Tian Lu motif fifteen times in the two weeks since No Xin suggested he make one to sell to a friend and, these days, took his pleasures from the detail work for each specimen. He'd experimented with the shape of the lion's torso (the fatter the better from what No Xin told of the customers), tried a scaled texture for the traditionally feathered wings, and added elaborate curves to the animal’s singular antler. One optimistic client had even requested the two-horned Pi Ya variation associated with the prevention of disaster. "Too little, too late," No Xin, now his business partner, had scoffed, but they had taken the money anyways. Wang Chao had opened the roaring mouth of this version an extra few centimeters and added the length back to the creature's sharp fangs. He smiled at his latest creation; it was sure to fetch a good price.
* * *
A final coat of gold paint glistened on a fierce beast with hooked talons and piercing, raised eyes as it dried in the late July sun. No Xin had continued to provide a staggering amount of requests, mostly from financiers like himself looking for a way to stop the bleeding, for ever more intricate Tian Lu figures. Wang Chao had quit the newsstand and was working on the statues full time. He’d come into the small workshop they'd rented to fill the last of the outstanding orders. No Xin was supposed to check in with any new orders around two and he had still not heard anything. Wang Chao was flattered by the sums his work commanded, No Xin had a flair for expressing the necessity of a quality (expensive) piece for the Qi to flow properly to their clients. While he preferred to leave the business end to him, he’d enjoyed the recent pay raise and was growing impatient. He pulled another wood block from the shelf but couldn't get motivated to start outlining the familiar silhouette. Maybe his brief brush with fortune had ended. He'd have to try not to spend all of his earnings at once. A brand new iPhone rang in his pocket. It was No Xin.
"Have you heard the news?"
"No, I've been working all day. It's a good thing the orders slowed down a bit, I'm almost caught up."
"The market took a dive again."
"Oh no. How bad is it?”
"Bad? It's great!"
"Right. I just don't know if I'll be able to keep up."
"I'll be in tomorrow and we'll hire you an apprentice. Things keep going like they are you'll make a believer of me yet."
* * *
The sound of electric tools and employees chattering rang from the production floor into Wang Chao's office as Su Li, one of the first hires at the newly founded Pi Yao, Inc., slid through the door. Wang Chao looked up from the stock ticker he'd been brooding over.
"Everything on track for the August 25th shipment?" he demanded.
"We're finishing up a few 00033 models now but all the 00012s are packed and ready for pick up. The new models always take longer at first."
Wang Chao smiled and waved Su Li out of the door without another word. The 00033 was his newest creation and aimed at a lower income customer base. A simple design with a very traditional look, it had been a hit with retirees on a budget hoping to recover some of their savings. No Xin had suggested diversifying their customer base after he had exhausted his contacts. With over 30 models, including the original high-end designs, now in standardized production Wang Chao had risen to the challenge. He picked up the phone and speed dialed No Xin.
"Did you see the news?"
"No, I've been on factory tours all day. How do you feel about plastics?"
"Sure, why not. The market is sliding again. Should be a good day. Who do we know in Europe and the US?"
“I never thought I’d admit it but the Tian Lu you gave me really worked!”
"Please focus. We have business to discuss.”