When mother learned what had happened
she was outraged. “but this is the neighbor’s
daughter who came for a visit,” she said. “How
can he marry her?” Yun had made mother an
gry with her too.
in the spring of 1792, i was living at
Zhenzhou. My father fell ill at Hungjiang and
when i went to see him, i was taken sick, too.
at that time my younger brother Jidang was
working under my father.
While there i received a letter from Yun
saying, “Your younger brother Jidang once bor
rowed money from a lady neighbor and asked
me to be the guarantor. now she is anxious to
have the money back.”
i asked Jidang about it, but he only said
that Yun was meddling in his affairs. i merely
replied at the end of a letter, “Father and i are
both ill, and we have no money to repay the
loan. Wait until younger brother returns home,
and let him take care of it himself.”
Father and i recovered not long after
ward, and i returned to Zhenzhou. Yun’s reply
to my note arrived at Hungjiang after i had
left, and Father opened and read it. in her let
ter, Yun wrote of my younger brother’s bor
rowing from the neighbor, and also said, “Your
mother thinks the old man’s illness is all be
cause of the Yao girl. When he is a bit better,
you should secretly order Yao to write to her
parents saying she is homesick. i will tell her
parents to go to Yangzhou to fetch her home.
This way, both sides can disclaim responsibil
ity for her departure.”
When my father read this, he was furi
ous. He asked Jidang about the loan from the
neighbor, but Jidang said he knew nothing of it.
Father then wrote a letter reprimanding me, in
which he said, “Your wife has borrowed money
behind your back, and is now trying to say it
is all little uncle’s fault. Moreover, she called
her motherinlaw ‘your mother,’ and referred
to me as ‘old man.’ This is outrageous! i have
already sent a messenger with a letter back to
suzhou, ordering that she be expelled from the
house. if you have any shame at all, you will
recognize your errors!”
Receiving this letter was like hearing a
clap of thunder on a clear day. i wrote a letter
apologizing to Father and quickly rode home,
afraid that Yun would commit suicide. i had ar
rived home and was explaining the whole affair
when the servant arrived with Father’s letter,
detailing Yun’s errors in the harshest terms.
It is impossible to please all the world and one’s
father. —Jean de La Fontaine, 1668
it was suggested that Yun go back to her
home for a while, but her mother was dead and
her younger brother had run away—and she
did not want to go and depend on her other
relatives. Fortunately my friend lu banfang
heard about our situation and, sympathizing
with us, invited us to go and live at his home,
the Villa of serenity. after we had spent two
years there, Father gradually came to realize
what had happened. i had just returned from
southoftheMountains when Father himself
came to the Villa of serenity, told Yun he now
understood what had happened, and invited us
to return home.
This we did, happy at the reunion with our
flesh and blood. Who would have guessed that
the curse of Hanyuan still lay ahead?
Shen Fu, from six Records of a Floating life.
With its title presumably alluding to lines by the
poet Li Bai—“Ah, this floating life, like a dream…
True happiness is so rare!”—the book was published
for the first time in the 1870s and contains only four
of the six records. Shen was born in 1763, first met
Yun in 1775, married her in 1780, and embarked
one year later upon his career as a private secretary.
He was writing his autobiographical reflections at
the age of forty-six in 1809; nothing about him is
known after this year.