Shi Nai'an

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A man should not marry after thirty years of age; should not enter the government service after the age of forty; should not have any more children after the age of fifty; and should not travel after the age of sixty. This is because the proper time for those things has passed.
How can I know what those who come after me and read my book will think of it? I do not even know if I myself afterwards can even read this book. Why therefore should I care?

Shi Nai'an (Chinese: 施耐庵, ca. 1296–1372) was a Chinese writer from Suzhou. Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, is attributed to him.

Quotes[edit]

Preface to Water Margin[edit]

The Preface to Water Margin, though attributed to Shi Nai'an, was, according to Lin Yutang, actually forged by the seventeenth-century critic Jin Shengtan (see Lin's My Country and My People, 1935; p. 325). The translations used in this section are by J. H. Jackson (Tuttle Classics, 2010), The Water Margin: Outlaws of the Marsh, ISBN 978-0804840958, unless otherwise noted.
  • A man should not marry after thirty years of age; should not enter the government service after the age of forty; should not have any more children after the age of fifty; and should not travel after the age of sixty. This is because the proper time for those things has passed. At sunrise the country is bright and fresh, and you dress, wash, and eat your breakfast, but before long it is noon. Then you realize how quickly time passes. I am always surprised when people talk about other people's ages, because what is a lifetime but a small part of much greater period? Why talk about insects when the whole world is before you? How can you count time by years? All that is clear is that time passes, and all the time there is a continual change going on. Some change has taken place ever since I began to write this. This continual change and decay fills me with sadness.
  • What excites pleasure in me is the meeting and conversing with old friends. But it is very galling when my friends do not visit me because there is a biting wind, or the roads are muddy through the rain, or perhaps because they are sick. Then I feel isolated. Although I myself do not drink, yet I provide spirits for my friends, [...]. In front of my house runs a great river, and there I can sit with my friends in the shadow of the lovely trees. [...] When they come they drink and chat, just as they please, but our pleasure is in the conversation and not in the liquor. We do not discuss politics because we are so isolated here that our news is simply composed of rumors, and it would only be a waste of time to talk with untrustworthy information. We also never talk about other people's faults, because in this world nobody is wrong, and we should beware of backbiting. We do not wish to injure anyone, and therefore our conversation is of no consequence to anyone. We discuss human nature about which people know so little because they are too busy to study it.
    • Variant translation by Lin Yutang: "When all my friends come together to my house, there are sixteen persons in all, but it is seldom that they all come. But except for rainy or stormy days, it is also seldom that none of them comes. Most of the days, we have six or seven persons in the house, and when they come, they do not immediately begin to think; they would take a sip when they feel like it and stop when they feel like it, for they regard the pleasure as consisting in the conversation, and not in the wine. We do not talk about court politics, not only because it lies outside our proper occupation, but also because at such a distance most of the news is based upon hearsay; hearsay news is mere rumour, and to discuss rumours would be a waste of our saliva. We also do not talk about people's faults, for people have no faults, and we should not malign them. We do not say things to shock people and no one is shocked; on the other hand, we do wish people to understand what we say, but people still don't understand what we say. For such things as we talk about lie in the depths of the human heart, and the people of the world are too busy to hear them." (The Importance of Living, 1937; pp. 218–219)
  • My friends are all broad-minded, and well educated, but we do not keep a record of our conversations. The reason for this is (1) we are too lazy, and do not aspire to fame; (2) to talk gives us pleasure, but to write would give trouble; (3) none of us would be able to read it again after our deaths, so why worry; (4) if we wrote something this year we should probably find it all wrong the next year.
  • I have only [written the Water Margin] to fill up my spare time, and give pleasure to myself; [...] I have written it so that the uneducated can read it as well as the educated [...]. Alas! Life is so short that I shall not even know what the reader thinks about it, but still I shall be satisfied if a few of my friends will read it and be interested. Also I do not know what I may think of it in my future life after death, because then I may not able to even read it. So why think anything further about it?
    • Variant translation by Pearl S. Buck: "Alas, I was born to die! How can I know what those who come after me and read my book will think of it? I cannot even know what I myself, born into another incarnation, will think of it. I do not even know if I myself afterwards can even read this book. Why therefore should I care?" (All Men are Brothers, 1933; p. xiii)

Water Margin (Shuihu Zhuan)[edit]

Outlaws of the Marsh (The Water Margin), trans. Sidney Shapiro
[Song Jiang] was known to all as the Timely Rain, for like the rain from the heavens he brought succor to every living thing.
三碗不過崗
"Three bowls and you can't cross the ridge."
Within the bounds of the four seas, all men are brothers.
  • 闻名不如见面,见面胜似闻名。
    • Meeting a man of fame is better than just hearing his name.
      • Chapter 3
  • 饥不择食,寒不择衣,惶不择路,贫不择妻。
    • Any food when you're hungry,
      When you're cold rags save life;
      Any road when you're frightened,
      When you're poor any wife.
      • Chapter 3
  • [Song Jiang] helped anyone, high or low, who sought his aid. [...] He was always making things easy for people, solving their difficulties, settling differences, saving lives. He provided the indigent with funds for coffins and medicines, gave charity to the poor, assisted in emergencies, helped in cases of hardship. And so he was famed throughout the provinces of Shandong and Hebei, and was known to all as the Timely Rain, for like the rain from the heavens he brought succor to every living thing.
    • Chapter 18
  • 水来土掩,兵到将迎。
    • Earth can stop the flow of water, generals can cope with enemy troops.
      • Chapter 20
  • 公人见钱,如蝇子见血。
    • Money to an official is like blood to a fly.
      • Chapter 21
  • 祸福无门,惟人自招;披麻救火,惹焰烧身。
    • Calamity and happiness have no volition. Man brings them on himself. Go in a flaxen cape to put out a fire and you'll be consumed by flames.
      • Chapter 21
  • 人命大如天。
    • The importance of human life is vast as the sky!
      • Chapter 22
  • 人无千日好,花无摘下红。
    • Friends don't last forever!
      • Chapter 22
  • 送君千里,终须一别。
    • Though you see a friend off a thousand li, sooner or later you must part.
      • Chapter 23
  • 三碗不过冈。
    • Three bowls [of our wine] and you can't cross the ridge.
      • Chapter 23: 'Wu Song Kills a Tiger on Jingyang Ridge'
  • 人无刚骨,安身不牢。
    • There's safety only in a stiff backbone.
      • Chapter 24
  • 花木瓜,空好看。
    • The prettiest papayas are emptiest inside.
      • Chapter 24
  • 表壮不如里壮。
    • Inner force counts more than outward strength.
      • Chapter 24
  • 篱牢犬不入。
    • When the fence is strong no dogs get in.
      • Chapter 24
  • 没巧不成话。
    • Without coincidence there would be no story.
      • Chapter 24
  • 骏马却驮痴汉走,美妻常伴拙夫眠。
    • A magnificent steed gets a dolt for a rider, a charming wife sleeps with an oaf of a husband.
      • Chapter 24
  • 入门休问荣枯事,观着容颜便得知。
    • One look at a man's face tells you whether he's prospering or suffering.
      • Chapter 24
  • 远亲不如近邻。
    • A close neighbor means more than a distant relative.
      • Chapter 24
  • 柔软是立身之本,刚强是惹祸之胎。
    • The pliant rise in the world, the hard invite disaster.
      • Chapter 24
  • 好事不出门,恶事传千里。
    • News of good behavior never gets past the door, but a scandal is heard of a thousand li away.
      • Chapter 24
  • 初嫁从亲,再嫁由身。
    • Parents pick the first husband, widows choose the second.
      • Chapter 25
  • 乐极生悲,否极泰来。
    • Ecstasy begets tragedy, from misery good fortune springs.
      • Chapter 26
  • 天有不测风云,人有暂时祸福。
    • The winds and clouds in the sky are unfathomable. A man's luck changes in an instant.
      • Chapter 26
  • 冤各有头,债各有主。
    • The culprit must pay for his wrong, the debtor for his debt.
      • Chapter 26
  • 捉奸见双,捉贼见赃,杀人见伤。
    • For adultery catch the pair, for robbery find the loot, for murder produce the body.
      • Chapter 26
  • 经目之事,犹恐未真。
    • Even what you see with your own eyes may not be true.
      • Chapter 26
  • 兔死狐悲。
    • When the rabbit dies, the fox mourns. All are of the same animal kingdom.
      • Chapter 28
  • 冤仇可解不可结。
    • The knot of hatred should be opened, not tightened.
      • Chapter 33
  • 有缘千里来相会,无缘对面不相逢。
    • If fated, men come together though a thousand li apart. If not, they miss each other though they meet face to face.
      • Chapter 35
  • 好人相逢,恶人远离。
    • When good folk meet, evil men keep their distance.
      • Chapter 37
  • 福无双至,祸不单行。
    • Luck comes but once, but trouble comes in droves.
      • Chapter 37
  • 不打不成相识。
    • You don't know a man till you've fought him.
      • Chapter 38
  • 打草惊蛇。
    • Disturbing the grass alerts the snake.
      • Chapter 39
  • 人无千日好,花无百日红。
    • Good times don't last forever, all flowers fade.
      • Chapter 44
  • 四海之内,皆兄弟也。
    • Within the bounds of the four seas, all men are brothers.
      • Chapter 44
  • 养兵千日,用在一朝!
    • Soldiers are trained for months for the sake of a few days of battle.
      • Chapter 61
  • 得之易,失之易;得之难,失之难。
    • Easily obtained, easily lost; arduously obtained, strongly held.
      • Chapter 96

Quotes about Shi Nai'an[edit]

  • Chinese novelists were afraid to let people know that they could condescend to such a thing as the writing of novels. [...] Because such literature was written for pleasure and self-satisfaction, its creation was determined by a true creative impulse and not by love of money or fame. And because it was ostracized literature in respectable circles, it escaped the banal influence of all classical, conventional standards. So far from giving the author money or fame, the authorship of a novel could endanger a scholar's personal safety. At Kiangyin, the home of Shih Nai-an, the author of All Men Are Brothers, there is still a legend about what Shih did in order to get himself out of trouble. In this legend, Shih was credited with the gift of foreknowledge of events. He had written this novel, and was living in retirement, having refused to serve the new Ming Dynasty. One day the Emperor came with Liu Powen, Shih's classmate and now the Emperor's right-hand man. Liu saw the manuscripts of this novel on his table, and recognizing Shih's superior talent, Liu plotted for his ruin. It was a time when the security of the new dynasty was not yet ensured, and Shih's novel, advocating as it did the common "brotherhood of all men," including the robbers, contained rather dangerous thoughts. So one day, on this basis, Liu petitioned the Emperor to have Shih summoned to the capital for trial. When the warrant came, Shih knew that his manuscripts had been stolen and realized that it would mean his death, so he borrowed five hundred taels from a friend with which to bribe the boatman and asked the latter to make the voyage as slowly as possible. Therefore on the way to Nanking he hurriedly composed a fantastic supernatural novel, the Fengshenpang, in order to convince the Emperor of his insanity. Under this cover of insanity, Shih saved his own life.
    • Lin Yutang, My Country and My People (1935), pp. 269–271

External links[edit]