My Friendship with Mr. Shu Yi
I was sorting my books when I came across that calligraphy work presented by Mr. Shu Yi, reading “wen ji qi wu” (which literally means rising at cockcrow to practice swordplay and now means being diligent). Mr. Shu passed away last month. Having been friends with him for years, I decide to write down how I became acquainted with him as a memorial.
It was about 15 years ago that I first met Mr. Shu. He held a painting exhibition in Shanghai in 2006. At that time, he was also in charge of the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature. During an interview with him, we found us compatible with each other despite our age gap. This was probably because we both had studied science but moved up to writing. I invited him to write articles for the newspaper I was working for and he was quite interested in it. Though it was no longer a time when people wrote letters, writers and editors of older generations still communicated by letters. We also followed this tradition and kept up a correspondence during which I got to know him better.
Shu was very warmhearted. He helped me with many interviews when I was in Beijing. With his help, I was introduced to and interviewed such scholars as Lou Yulie, Wu Xiaoru, Bai Huawen and Wang Meng. Years after that, he left the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature and worked as a researcher of China Central Institute for Culture and History (CCICH). He wrote to me, saying that “there are too many duties to deal with”, and thus stopped writing for the newspaper column.
We kept in contact with each other mainly by letters, which showed propriety compared with making phone calls and texting, and was an example of the lifestyle of older generations who were implicit and considerate. That calligraphy work with the four characters “wen ji qi wu” was attached in the last letter I received from Shu. I thought he had written this letter to remind me of my work as he hadn’t heard from me for a long time and must be worrying that I was not spending enough time and energy on the newspaper. It brings me much grief when I think about it now.
Altogether see the lotus roots as big as boats, and enjoy jujubes the size of melons
I have a copy of Collections of Colors by Mr. Feng Yidai. I opened it by chance the other day and it suddenly struck me that the book was presented to me years ago by Mrs. Huang Zongying. On the title page there is her inscription, saying “altogether see the lotus roots as big as boats, and enjoy jujubes the size of melons.”
It has been almost one year since Mrs. Huang passed away. I knew her through Luo Yinsheng, a biographer, more than 20 years ago. Mrs. Huang had been hospitalized in Huadong Hospital ever since she fell down at home and her health thereupon became up and down. Zhu Dingcheng, a prestigious doctor of traditional Chinese medicine and also a friend of mine, happened to be one of her attending physicians. What a coincidence! There were years when I was in frequent contact with Mrs. Huang. We wrote letters almost every month. I would send her newspapers and books, and she would write some essays and short stories and send to me for later publication. I can still clearly remember her address—17-13 East Building, Huadong Hospital.
Huang must be very depressed those years. Confined to a small room in the east building of Huadong Hospital alone, she was not allowed to leave the house without permission. To get rid of the boredom, she was looking forward to the visits from old friends and talking about a wide range of topics, and we, of course, liked her talking about her learning and past events. Huang was experienced, and had lived an eventful life. She had been invited for many important occasions and knew many celebrated figures. I remember once Luo Yinsheng and I visited her. Pointing at a copy of Luo’s new book Pan Xulun, she said she was very close to Pan and wanted to write something about that. A few days later, I received her brilliant and polished writing, a total of 28 pages with 300 characters per page. In the article, she wrote about her friendship with Pan who is known as the founding father of modern accounting in China as well as the founder of Shanghai Lixin University of Accounting and Finance.
Huang liked reading, even popular novels. There was a time when mysteries and detective fictions prevailed, and she specially wrote to me, asking me to find some for her. Mystery writer Na Duo had just published his book Cursed then, so I asked him to send a copy to her. We were pleasantly surprised that she wrote a book review after reading the story.
I later learned that Huang’s falling at home had greatly damaged her health, especially her memory. Zhu told me that, to improve her memory, he would ask her to recite ancient Chinese poems, among which “altogether see the lotus roots as big as boats, and enjoy jujubes the size of melons” was her favorite. I was reading Mr. Feng’s book when his words, somehow, reminded me of Huang. She had been free and easy all her life. Zhu has a signed copy by Huang. I heard there was no seal or seal paste on hand when doing the book signing, so she used her lipstick as seal paste and made a fingerprint instead.
(The author is Vice Chairman of the Culture and Arts Committee of the China Association for Promoting Democracy Shanghai Committee, a member of the Shanghai Writers’ Association and a journalist of Xinmin Evening News)