Zhenhao Liu (trans. James Manteith)

Master Liu’s Judgment: This Grandfather’s Beard

Published in: 01. Apraksin Blues

I love table tennis. Once when I was teaching students this game, one of them asked, “The ball’s so tiny and flies so fast. How can you hit it?”
For some time after this, I kept missing the ball because I was constantly thinking about where it was. This reminded me of a story.
There once lived a old man who had a long mustache and beard. He had a wonderful appetite and slept soundly at night. One day his grandson asked him, “Grandfather, when you go to bed, where do you put your beard — under the blanket or on top of it?” The old man had never thought about this, so he couldn’t answer his grandson. But in the evening, lying in bed, he tried to decide how, indeed, it was better to sleep: with the beard under the blanket or on top? All night, he tossed and turned and couldn’t sleep.
Many things in our lives are like this grandfather’s beard. When you pay them no attention, they go well. But all it takes is to start thinking about them for problems to come up immediately. For example: Love between a man and a woman is a very natural thing. But nowadays many specialists in romantic relationships have appeared. Their job is to pose various questions about love, or to teach how to love properly. This makes love complicated, cold, difficult. When people love and value each other, that’s more than enough. There’s no sense in adding up and thinking through your love’s details. Too much worrying and rationalizing about it can cause the very loss of the natural capacity for loving.
In an earlier time, in China, many men only learned their bride’s appearance on their wedding day. And yet they knew their fate — to live happily together to the end of their days.
Today numerous experts endlessly analyze family problems and at their consultations (usually for wives) pronounce spouses haughty, egotistical, negligent toward their homes and families. They (the experts) exaggerate the importance of details. After having such consultations and reading similar books, many women reexamine their relationships with their husbands, and frequently a normal family sees problems appear. In my opinion, sometimes doing without these types of books and experts can simplify our lives, make them happier. Everything should be natural, like, say, my game of table tennis. The flying ball can be swatted away automatically without thinking too much about its flight path. Greater success is often won without rationalizing about how it’s done.
Occasionally a person will read any two books and immediately rush to calculate how much wiser he’s become. Or while making someone’s acquaintance, already will be trying to figure out exactly what personal advantage to cull from it.
A person’s spiritual growth results from prolonged, constant work — it isn’t fast food, where everything comes quickly and all at once.
A good woman is like a school, because every good woman can cultivate one good man. Whatever dreams and desires she can’t fulfill on her own, she brings to life through the man.
Yet a bad woman, too, can be a kind of school for a man. Egoism, prejudice and an unhealthy psyche also exert influence on a man, although he might not even suspect it.
To understand a woman, it’s most important to learn not what she likes, but what she dislikes, because a woman’s passions come and go, but her hostility to something always remains.
A woman’s beauty comes from her tenderness, and tenderness stems from goodness. Moreover, this is a natural goodness, fundamentally different than the artificial, mannered goodness of some women. I seem to see the feminine ideal in Kant’s formulation of beauty as a “purposiveness without purpose….”

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