At Long Last--Another Ebook No One Cares About!


The Scholars

Finally an e-edition of the famous complementary volume to Dream of the Red Chamber. Like Red Chamber The Scholars is an 18th century novel in the realist tradition.

A sample from the very beginning:

from The Scholars
Wu Ching-tzu

The idea expressed in this poem is the commonplace one that in human life riches, rank, success and fame are external things. Men will risk their lives in the search for them; yet once they have them within their grasp, the taste is no better than chewed tallow. But from ancient times till now, how many have accepted this?

However, at the end of the Yuan Dynasty 1 a really remarkable man was born. His name was Wang Mien, and he lived in a village in Chuchi County in Chekiang. When he was seven his father died, but his mother took in sewing so that he could study at the village school. Soon three years had passed and Wang Mien was ten. His mother called him to her and said, “Son, it's not that I want to stand in your way. But since your father died and left me a widow, I have had nothing coming in. Times are hard, and fuel and rice are expensive. Our old clothes and our few sticks of furniture have been pawned or sold. We have nothing to live on but what I make by my sewing. How can I pay for your schooling? There's nothing for it but to set you to work looking after our neighbour's buffalo. You'll be making a little money every month, and you'll get your meals there too. You start tomorrow.”

“Yes, mother,” said Wang Mien. “I find sitting in school boring anyway. I'd rather look after buffaloes. If I want to study, I can take a few books along to read.” So that very night the matter was decided.

The next morning his mother took him to the Chin family next door. Old Chin gave them some breakfast, and when they had finished he led out a water buffalo and made it over to Wang Mien.

“Two bow shots from my gate is the lake,” he said, pointing outside. “And by the lake is a belt of green where all the buffaloes of the village browse. There are a few dozen big willows there too, so that it is quiet, shady and cool; and if the buffalo is thirsty it can drink at the water's edge. You can play there, son; but don't wander off. I shall see that you get rice and vegetables twice a day; and each morning I shall give you a few coppers to buy a snack to eat while you're out. Only you must work well. I hope you'll find this satisfactory.”

Wang Mien's mother thanked Old Chin and turned to go home. Her son saw her to the gate, and there she straightened his clothes for him.

“Mind now, don't give them any reason to find fault with you,” she charged him. “Go out early and come back at dusk. I don't want to have to worry about you.”

Wang Mien nodded assent. Then, with tears in her eyes, she left him.

From this time onwards, Wang Mien looked after Old Chin's buffalo; and every evening he went home to sleep. Whenever the Chin family gave him salted fish or meat, he would wrap it up in a lotus leaf and take it to his mother. He also saved the coppers he was given each day to buy a snack with, and every month or so would seize an opportunity to go to the village school to buy some old books from the book-vendor making his rounds. Every day, when he had tethered the buffalo, he would sit down beneath the willows and read.

So three or four years quickly passed. Wang Mien studied and began to see things clearly. One sultry day in early summer, tired after leading the buffalo to graze, he sat down on the grass. Suddenly dense clouds gathered, and there was a heavy shower of rain. Then the black storm clouds fringed with fleecy white drifted apart, and the sun shone through, bathing the whole lake in crimson light. The hills by the lake were blue, violet and emerald. The trees, freshly washed by the rain, were a lovelier green than ever. Crystal drops were dripping from a dozen lotus buds in the lake, while beads of water rolled about the leaves.

As Wang Mien watched, he thought, “The ancients said, 'In a beautiful scene a man feels he is part of a picture.' How true! What a pity there is no painter here to paint these sprays of lotus. That would be good.” Then he reflected, “There's nothing a man can't learn. Why shouldn't I paint them myself?”

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 18, 2005 10:28 AM.

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