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Su Manshu: 文學因緣 (Lone Swan)

This autobiographical novel tells the story of Saburo, a young man who is unsure of whether he want to be a Buddhist monk or be married. At the start of the novel he is just finishing his thirty-day probation at the Sea Clouds monastery. On completion he goes to work for an abbot. He has to travel around, begging for rice. He sees much poverty and misery but he, in turn, is treated badly by others, who are suspicious of his motives. Finally he is helped by a young man, Ch’ao, who is out hunting crickets. The young man even invites him back to his house, where he is surprised to find that Ch’ao’s mother is his old nurse. We learn that Saburo’s father died young. He was brought up by his Japanese mother and she thought it would be a good idea to go back to China, the land of his father. She took him back and stayed there three years, with his father’s best friend becoming his foster father. After three years, his mother returned to Japan, leaving Saburo with his foster father and the nurse, Ch’ao’s mother. We also learn of the cruelty of the foster mother towards the nurse. As a young man, Saburo meets Snow-mei. She falls in love with him but her parents want her to marry someone who is better off. However, Snow-mei gives Saburo money so that he can go to Japan to find his mother.

Saburo sets off for Japan to finds his mother and, after a long journey, does so, though he finds her sick. He also meets his younger sister (his mother’s foster daughter) and later his aunt’s foster daughter, Kiyoko, and his own elder sister. Kiyoko is not only very beautiful but also very learned and well read in the Chinese classics. Both these things impress Saburo. His mother, now recovered, wants him to marry Kiyoko and she is upset when Saburo says that he plans to never marry. When his mother gets very upset, he reluctantly agree but always with the intention of not doing so, as he wants to be a monk and monks cannot marry. Kiyoko, however, is making plans to marry him.

Saburo is determined to be a monk and manages, eventually, to sneak away and resume his duties. He continues to meet people on the way whom he has known before – the Mei family, whose daughters he was at school with and Ch’ao now a monk. Like his creator, Saburo likes women, indeed, very much enjoys their company, but, deep at heart, his desire to be a monk prevails.

Publishing history

First published in Chinese in 1919 by Qun yi shu she (serialised in 1911)
First published in English in 1924 by Commercial Press