Smoke and mist

After Kenko I was on a Japanese buzz – but I couldn’t find any other Japanese texts so I bought a Chinese one. Typical. A guy called Shen Fu. Nineteenth century. Teed up as an account of his love for his wife. Okay, I said.

But you can’t repeat the book you just read. I’m forever reliving that lesson.

This guy was nothing like Kenko. He’s writing about his wife, telling you he loved her, but at times he just comes across as a dick. He can say some lovely things, like when they’re reunited at one point and he says “our souls became smoke and mist”. That’s top class.

But then he reveals what he really likes about her: she takes out these unfinished poems of hers and says she never finished them because she didn’t have a decent teacher: she asks him to be her teacher and he basically gets a hard-on.

Another time he asks her about ancient literature and she gives him the perfect answer: “I fear a woman’s learning isn’t enough to master it.” Again, he gets a major wang.

After that, he asks her whether she thinks Li Pai or Tu Fu is a better poet. When she chooses Li Pai he badgers her about it, can’t get over it, until he can find a way of slyly belittling her choice.

On certain days she doesn’t eat meat; it’s a Buddhist practice. So he asks her to give up the practice because it’s not convenient to him. Being a submissive woman, she does.

Another time, he finds out that she loves pickled cucumbers, and loves a kind of beancurd, both of which he hates, so – he asks her never to eat them and she goes: “shut up and fucking try them, will you”, and she lashes a pickled cucumber into his gob. From then on, all of a sudden he’s fine with them. I think that’s the one moment in their 23 years together when she comes out on top.

So that’s Shen Fu.

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