There were five sorts of “flames of war.” The sort that had a sharp tip and flared up straight was a beacon fire. The sort that had a diffused purplish light was the fire that burned possessions. The sort that was black in its upper part and red at the base was the fire that burned houses. The sort that gave off a white smoke like clouds and drifted about was the fire that burned grain. As for the sort with a congealed smoke and of a light green hue, that was the fire that burned corpses. I had tested this theory from the pinnacle of Snow Shadow Peak, and had never erred.
An extract from Zhang Daye's The World of A Tiny Insect, a memoir of of life as a child refugee during the Taiping war, excerpted at Frog in a Well.