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Master Manshu

Su Manshu (1884-1918), whose original name was Su Jian and who styled himself as Zigu, was a famous writer, painter, poet and translator. He was called Yuanying (also Xuanying) at school. His religious name was Bojing while Yinchan and Sushi were two of his pseudonyms. He was usually called by Manshu. He was born in Yokohama, Japan, but his ancestors were from Zhonshan, Guangdong, a place what was then called Xiangshan. During the 14 years between 1903 and 1917, Manshu had been to Hangzhou for five times, living in Lingyin Temple to write the eight-volume Sanskrit Code prefaced by Zhang Taiyan, which served as an influential literature in the history of Chinese Buddhism.

Su Manshu’s father Su Jiesheng was a Cantonese tea merchant, and his mother a Japanese woman named Wakako, who left him three months after he was born and handed him over to the fourth wife of Su Jiesheng. At the age of five, Su Manshu was taken by his father back to China. Instead of growing up in a warm family, Su Manshu went through his childhood in an indifferent environment.

At the age of twelve, Su Manshu was stricken by a severe illness, during which he was thrown into a bavin room, left unnoticed. Miraculously he survived from the illness, but this experience gave the poor little child a blow so heavy that he was disillusioned with the mortal world and thus went to Changshou Temple in Guangzhou to receive tonsure by a Buddhist monk Zanchu. However, he was just a child, and one day when he was caught red-handed sneaking pigeon meat, he was kicked out from the temple.

When Su Manshu was at the age of fifteen, he went to Yokohama with his cousin for education, and fell in love with a Japanese girl called Kikuko at the first sight. But their love was confronted with strong opposition from Su’s family. Despaired, Kikuko committed suicide by jumping into the sea. Since then, Su Manshu felt extremely despaired and pessimistic, and upon his arrival in Guangzhou he became a Buddhist monk again in Pujian Temple. It is also since then he began his drifting life.

Su Manshu used to be famous by his Buddhist name at his time. His talent, courage and insight were also seldom paralleled by people of his time, but he braved the wind and waves with a Buddhist rope wrapped around his shoulder. Becoming a monk at the age of twelve was his own silent way to contend against his ill-fated life. As a half-secular and half-Buddhist figure, he joined the revolutionary party and therefore was considered a legend, which lay in the fact that hidden under his detached face was a colorful life.

Su Manshu was also a poet, leaving behind many well-written poems. He and Li Shutong (Master Hongyi) were both mystical masters in modern times, and both achieved high attainments in art and literature. They first met in Shanghai in 1907 when they were both members of Southern Society. It is said that Li Shutong became a Buddhist monk under the influence of Su Manshu.

Su Manshu was also a painter. His paintings were classy and rich in connotation. What he wanted by painting was not only expressing his own aspirations but also contributing to modern revolution. In 1907, Min Bao Newspaper, which was run in Tokyo by Zhang Taiyan et al, encountered financial problems, and it was Manshu who offered to sell his paintings to help out.

Su Manshu was in the meantime a patriotic revolutionary monk. He joined such revolutionary societies as Hsing Chung Hui (Society for Regenerating China) and Guang Fu hui (Restoration Society). In 1903, after joining the Anti-Russia Volunteer Squad to fight against Russian invasion in Northeastern China, he established a close relationship with Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who later allowed him to organize a volunteering unit consisting of over 20 students studying in Japan. This unit had cultivated some backbones for future armed uprising. Su Manshu also had connections with Chiang Kai-shek. It is said that their encounter was introduced by Chiang’s student, Chen Guofu. When Su Manshu was stricken by poverty and illness in Shanghai, it was Chiang Kai-shek who provided a shelter for him and during that time he was taken good care of by Chiang’s wife, Chen Jieru.

Su Manshu was versatile and proficient in English, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit. He translated Selected Poems of Byron by George Byron and Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. He accomplished eight volumes of Sanskrit Code, wrote and edited Siddha Alphabet and Chinese-English Dictionary, etc. They were all collected by later generations into Full Collections of Su Manshu comprising five volumes.

A poet, painter, revolutionist and Buddhist monk, Su Manshu was a symbol of literary and artist talents and courage. He died at Guangci Hospital in Shanghai on May 2nd, 1918, at the age of 35. His life came to an end when he breathed his last words that “Every being is sentient, and every sentient being is unimpeded”, which inspired later generations to explore the essence of life. Later Dr. Sun Yat-sen donated money and buried him in the north piedmont of Mountain Hushan near the West Lake in Hangzhou.

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