Between Darkness and Light
A tragic accident that costs young Wang his right eye is the opening scene. To the dismay and anger of his father, he chooses a prosthetic eye with a blue iris in contrast to his own brown one.
He grows through adolescence as a joker, using his fake eye as a stage prop, but his father decides to give his son a more serious education by making him read the Western classics and hiring tutors for English and French lessons. The father gets left behind after discovering his son has a real talent for learning, causing more disruption in the family.
Finally, Wang decides to study at the university in Beijing. Alas, the academic dream is shattered when he falls foul of one of the high officials in the city. He hears that the British are hiring translators for the First World War in France, and, filled with the idea that he will be able to visit the great cities of Europe, he enlists.
His life in the Chinese Labour Corps is at times highly amusing, but often deeply tragic as he travels around France, helping to sort out problems with labour disputes and cultural misunderstandings. This part of the story is like an episode of M*A*S*H or Blackadder, as the lofty English officers try to deal with the unruly Chinese. He becomes involved with a rebel called Guo, and the two form an unlikely friendship that leads Wang into some amusing and dangerous situations. As the war ends, the Chinese are pressed into service clearing the battlefield of bodies, a truly awful task made highly dangerous because of all the live ammunition and mines. The end of this story is deeply moving, but fulfilling, as Wang has to come to terms with his future.