All-round Wo­man Tack­led Marriage Cri­sis


Special Focus - - Contents - Su Jinse 苏锦瑟

In an­cient times, women who were tal­ented could hardly han­dle the chores of housewives. Can you pic­ture the scene of Lin Daiyu man­ag­ing the trivia in Jia’s man­sion? Can you imag­ine Li Qingzhao—who was al­ways ei­ther writ­ing or drink­ing—mind­ing the farm­land and count­ing the in­come of the shop? Vice versa, how can a house­wife who hosts the whole fam­ily—look­ing af­ter the old and young—spare time to sigh for the changes of sea­sons and con­vert emo­tions into lit­er­ary works?

Guan Daosheng man­aged to do it. Not only was she a tal­ented and in­tel­li­gent lady, she was also an able house­wife, per­form­ing well both in the kitchen and the hall.

Guan Daosheng was highly ver­sa­tile, mas­ter­ing writ­ing, paint­ing, and cal­lig­ra­phy. Her cal­lig­ra­phy en­joyed equal pop­u­lar­ity with that of Madam Wei, teacher of the em­i­nent cal­lig­ra­pher Wang Xizhi. There­fore, she was hon­ored as “Madam Guan.” Her paint­ings were also re­garded as na­tional treasures and show­cased at the Palace Mu­seum. Her hus­band, Zhao Mengfu was more renowned. As the eleventh grand­son of Em­peror Taizu of Song, Zhao Kuangyin, he was also a cal­lig­ra­pher, painter, and poet in the Yuan dynasty. The same hob­bies brought them to­gether. The sweet cou­ple led a happy life, hav­ing three sons and six daugh­ters.

Apart from the eldest who died young, the other eight offspring of Guan grew healthily in the years with­out an­tibi­otics, vac­ci­na­tions, and surgery. This shows how care­ful she was when tend­ing to her chil­dren. She had once writ­ten a poem about child rear­ing: “An­other sunny day in Spring, with the kids, off to the bam­boo for­est. Now that Spring is in the air, un­der the sun, bam­boo shoots sprout.” The poem not only ex­pressed the joy of hang­ing out with the youth, it also re­vealed a mother’s ex­pec­ta­tions for chil­dren to grow up healthily. Apart from tak­ing chil­dren to fam­ily trips, she also painted with the chil­dren. Ed­u­cated in this en­joy­able man­ner, her sons, Zhao Yong and Zhao Yi, both be­came masters of cal­lig­ra­phy and paint­ing.

Guan Daosheng was also an ef­fi­cient man­ager. Un­der her man­age­ment, the whole fam­ily was united and har­mo­nious. To the el­ders, she never ne­glected her fil­ial du­ties; to her hus­band and the younger, she of­fered them help and care. Be­sides, she was very kind to her kins­men. If she knew any­one was sold into slav­ery, she would buy him free­dom. If she found any­one in trou­ble, she would give a hand with­out hes­i­ta­tion. There­fore, she won the love and re­spect of all her kins. Nor­mally, it is an­noy­ing enough for an or­di­nary wo­man to deal with her mother and sis­ter in law. How­ever, Guan Daosheng was able to man­age the huge fam­ily of more than a hun­dred peo­ple. Surely, she was a “su­per­woman.” Also, her so­cial com­pe­tence was im­pres­sive. The col­leagues and friends of her hus­band all show­ered praise on her. Later, when her hus­band was pro­moted, she was hon­ored as “the Madam of Wei.” Af­ter that,

Guan of­ten ap­peared in the palace. In court, the lady again im­pressed peo­ple with her so­cial ca­pa­bil­ity, and be­came a close friend of the Queen.

How­ever, such a lady with high in­tel­li­gence and so­cia­bil­ity also en­coun­tered marriage cri­sis. In an­cient China, men were al­lowed to have con­cu­bines. Men who re­fused to have con­cu­bines would be called hen-pecked and his com­pan­ions would also send him con­cu­bines. For this rea­son, we can’t call Zhao Mengfu a bad man. He was just tired of his part­ner af­ter years of marriage.

In his for­ties, Zhao Mengfu was sent to work in the south Yangtze River re­gion and Guan Daosheng was left in the cap­i­tal city to look af­ter the fam­ily. The cou­ple was parted. Over the next two years, Zhao Mengfu didn’t re­turn home and he only wrote oc­ca­sion­ally to his wife. Im­me­di­ately, Guan Daosheng sensed that her hus­band must have been with an­other women. Com­pared with those sob­bing and rowdy women who were mad at their hus­bands’ af­fairs, Guan Daosheng was a notch above them. She knew that quar­relling with her hus­band would only give the mis­tress op­por­tu­nity to creep in. There­fore, she wrote a let­ter to her hus­band say­ing: “The bam­boos you cut when you left, they have grown into a for­est, but you have not re­turned. The with­ered flow­ers will bloom again, but the de­crepit ap­pear­ance of mine can never re­verse.” This let­ter ex­pressed her deep love for her hus­band and the melan­choly trig­gered by the pass­ing of time. There was not a sin­gle line of com­plaint. Zhao Mengfu came back home im­me­di­ately af­ter read­ing this let­ter.

In his fifties, Zhao Mengfu felt rest­less again. This time, he also obliquely ex­pressed his in­ten­tions. He wrote a let­ter to his wife say­ing: “I am the of­fi­cial, you are the wife. Haven’t

you heard that of­fi­cial Wang has Tao Ye and Tao Gen and of­fi­cial Su has Zhao Yun and Mu Yun? I am jus­ti­fied to have some Wu Ji and Yue Nv. Al­ready in your for­ties, mind­ing the house­hold is enough for you.” In this let­ter he tried to tell his wife that writer Su Shi and cal­lig­ra­pher Wang Xianzhi all had con­cu­bines, thus it was rea­son­able for him to have a few mistresses. He felt the main fo­cus of his faded wife should be the fam­ily and be­ing a re­spon­si­ble wife.

Guan Daosheng de­cided to im­press her hus­band with love, writ­ing a tune as a re­ply: “You have me in your heart, I have you in mine. We are in love, fiery love. Take the clay, model and mold me. Break us to­gether, mix us with wa­ter. Re­model you and me. You are in the clay of mine, I am in the clay of yours. In life, we are un­der the same quilt; af­ter death, we lie un­der the same plank.”

Af­ter read­ing this tune, Zhao Mengfu broke down. How could a con­cu­bine live and die with her man? Break­ing his wife’s heart for a tem­po­rary play­thing was not worth­while. From then on, he spent the rest of his life with just his wife.

At the age of 57, Guan Daosheng died of dis­ease. Zhao Mengfu was in­con­solable and sullen, dy­ing just three years later. The cou­ple was buried at the south foot of Dongheng Moun­tain, De­qing County, Huzhou City. Even­tu­ally, they brought the line “In life, we are un­der the same quilt; af­ter death, we lie un­der the same plank” into re­al­ity.

(From Mar­riage­andFam­ily Is­sue 3, 2017. Trans­la­tion: Yu Lan.)

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