In a little while my side kicks and I will head over the mountain to experience all the wonders of the civilized world. Huh?
The beans in the featured photo — all but one — came from Pearl Buck but one from Tu Fu. If you ever doubt that nature is a clock, think about this. I ate the first beans from my plants last year on exactly the same date.
Among Pearl Buck’s achievements was the translation of one of the all time great novels written anywhere, Shui Hu Chuan or The Water Margin which she translated and titled All Men Are Brothers (she hoped…) The novel — written in the 14th century — is said to have been written by Shi Nai An, but as Pearl Buck writes in her introduction, “Like many of the Chinese novels it developed rather than was written, and to this day the final author is unknown.” About Shi Nai An, “…little is known…” It’s almost like Shakespeare, the debate about who really wrote this monumental work. Pearl Buck writes, “One Chinese scholar at least gives as authority for Lo Kuan Chung’s (author of the Three Kingdoms) the fact that Shui Hu Chuan is so evil a book that the curse was laid upon the author that for three generations his descendants were to be deaf and dumb and sine for three generations Lo Kuan Chung’s descendants were deaf and dub therefore he must be the author.”
Shui Hu Chuan was banned. Booksellers who sold it had their businesses destroyed. Moral education has always (apparently) been a “thing” in China.
But it’s an amazing story. Some people say it’s the “Chinese Robinhood,” but I only see a very superficial similarity there. There are “robbers” and they are better men than the so-called “good” guys. Chinese authors in the olden times wrote for different reasons than we usually think of authors writing. They often wrote to entertain themselves (I get that) and may have read their stories to friends for their entertainment. Since fiction was forbidden, it couldn’t really have another purpose. Shi Nai An wrote in his preface (we’ll just go along with the idea that he wrote the book):
“In this book are seventy chapters. When my friends were gone and I sat alone under the lamp, I wrote in idleness. At time when the wind blew and the rains fell and no one came then also did I write.”
These old Chinese novels don’t follow a linear structure, but tend to be episodic in nature which, personally, I like a lot. Sometimes that line Western literature seems compelled to follow seems arbitrary. I don’t see my life as having been linear, but a string of episodes, many of which really were/are pretty random. The “story” of Shui Hu Chuan is difficult to summarize but basically it’s the story of a rebellion against a corrupt government, but the rebels are a pretty sketchy bunch themselves, though extremely lovable. Song Jiang, their leader, is a true hero. Among his many gifts is the ability to write good poetry.
One of the stories in Shui Hu Chuan — the story of Wu Song who was an amazing hero and compelling character — was taken as the beginning of another long novel, Chin Ping Mei, Plum Blossom in a Golden Vase, written in the 16th century. This book was also banned, but for obscenity. Pearl Buck alludes to this book in one of her novels, Pavilion of Women.
Shui Hu Chuan is still a best seller in China. It’s been made into movies, cartoons, comic books and a video game. When I was in China, it was sold on the street in what I guess we’d call graphic novels and the little kids LOVED the stories. I do too. There are tigers, halberds, horses, mountains, cudgels, poetry, beautiful (but evil) women, cannibalism, inescapable destiny, and magic. It’s probably the perfect story. 😉