On the dark-green blackboard I write the character “兽” and its phonetic transcription shou. Then I turn to face a whole class of primary school students and begin explaining to them what it means. After a morning of painstaking effort, they still haven’t gotten my drift, staring at me blankly and driving me up the wall. The dark-green blackboard behind me is a jungle, and there—written on it in white chalk—crouches the character “beast” yowling at me. I pick up a duster and am just about to rub it out when it dashes off into the jungle. I head off in pursuit, chasing after it everywhere until the platform is covered in chalk dust.
I come running out of the blackboard and stand there, my clothes ripped to shreds by the beast’s claws, traces of blood on my fingernails, the buzz of insects in my ears. As I look at myself, I can’t believe what I see: I have turned into a four-legged vertebrate covered in fur. I snarl at the class: “This is what a beast is! This is what a beast is!” The students all burst into tears, terrified.