Su Manshu

Duan hong ling yan ji* (斷鴻零雁記), written by Su Man-shu (1884-1918), was translated by Liang She-qian (George Kin Leung) into English as The Lone Swan (1924). A Japanese translation is also available. An unfinished fiction serialised in 1912 in the newspaper Tai-ping-yang bao (Pacific Ocean Post), it depicts Man-shu being torn between two arranged betrothals, the first with the Chinese Xue-mei (meaning snow plum), the second with the Japanese Shizuko . Both affairs were not consummated, and he remained a vagabond Buddhist monk.

The following, my translation, are the opening lines of Chaper 11. On one of the first encounters with Shizuko, his aunt's adoped daughter living in scenic Hakone, Japan, in the Meiji era.

*The Chinese character (yan) in the Chinese title Duan hong ling yan ji is actually a "wild goose" in English. Probably intending to create a more literary mental association, George Kin Leung translated "yan" into "swan". Swans are different from wild geese, though they belong to the same zoological family.

I had been ill for four days and nights before I could do without medicine. Mother and Aunt's household all showed rejoicings on their faces. On this third day of the third Moon [or perhaps 3 March of the Western calendar] it was fine and fresh. Approaching the window I rolled up the curtain, gazing out. Scenic hills brightening my eyes, flowers and birds pleasing my spirit; my heart was thus soothed. At this instant I recalled something: it was the clear fragrance that came through my nose when I woke up in the past few days. There, in a wide-belly vase on the zitan-wood [explained below] bedside table, always a new bunch of fresh flowers was changed. Flowers glistening with energy, their stamens still carrying dew droplets. This morning when I discovered a jade brooch left under the bedside table, I came to realise that it was hers. Naturally, the flowers were the beauty's gift.

Excerpt from Chapter 11; translated by the Gardener

Link to Hakone sightseeing information

The Lone Swan: excerpts from Chapters 11 and 12

The Lone Swan: excerpt from Chapter 14

The Lone Swan: excerpt from Chapter 16

Notes on zitan furniture

Information from Tian Jia-qing's Qing dai jia ju (Ch‘ing dynasty furniture). Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1995.

(1) Zitan (red sandalwood) is the most superior wood for Chinese furniture. Originally growing in south China and countries like Vietnam, zitan trees became practically extinct by the end of the Ch‘ing (Qing) dynasty (1644-1912), because of over-exploitation by the Ch‘ing royalty.

(2) Zitan is dense, heavy, but with a high degree of plasticity. However, it is probably not the same as red sandalwood as usually so translated.

(3) Zitan furniture is valued for its corneous lustre that appears with age.

(4) In recent years some new variety of zitan wood has been discovered in Southeast Asia, begetting a contemporary generation of zitan furniture.


Manshu's poem

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From the Gardener: Louis Chor. Canada, August 1997. Enriched March 2021