Point of View and Setting
The point of view from which the story is told is an unusual one, since the narrator is not an individual voice but a collective one: the members of the town stretching over a period spanning many generations. This point of view effectively conveys a sense of community; the town is proud of its history of sending Great Papas to serve the imperial family, and it is through the money that the eunuchs send home that their brothers are enabled to marry and raise families. The townspeople believe that this is their great distinction in history. Were it not for the Great Papas, they would have nothing of value; after all, they are “small people born into this noname town.” The fact that not a single person in the story is given a name contributes to another effect conveyed by the collective point of view, the sense that the town is a single group and acts as a group; it does not value individuality. The people in the community all think in the same way. This is in part because the town is relatively isolated, not yet affected by modernity. In the 1950s, although the town does have at least one newspaper, it gets a lot of its information from loudspeakers placed on the roofs of the houses, which are used by the Party to disseminate news and propaganda. Even in the 1970s, when a car comes to take the young man away for his training, most of the townspeople have never seen a car before. During that period also, there is just one television set in the entire town.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Yiyun Li, Published by Gale Group, 2006