“It’s such a pity! I, too used to think of money and love as entirely separate things.”
So begins this popular autobiographical novel, written by litterateur, inventor, and business tycoon Chen Diexian (1879–1940), a remarkable intellectual whose life spanned the old China and the new. Chen’s novel is the story of his youth, and in it he chooses to focus on his amorous and erotic development—a rare subject in Chinese literature—revealing his passage from innocent boy, surrounded by females, to young man, armed with a new attitude toward money, business, and the women in his life.
Chen’s unusual narrative, intimately combining romance and exhibitionism, unfolds to us an intriguing material reality as well as a powerful emotional world and may well be the first extended account of Chinese childhood and youth. The novel is built on our narrator’s relationships with the central women in his life: his mother; an affectionate nanny; his devoted wife by an arranged marriage; a tragic peasant girl; and above all, the girl next door and his most enduring love, known—after the instrument she plays—as Koto.
Patrick Hanan’s graceful translation brings us Chen’s story at its disarming best, a popular romance that is at the same time original and distinctive in both voice and theme. First serialized in Shanghai in 1913, The Money Demon appears in English for the first time; included in an appendix is “The Koto Story,” a short epilogue to the novel.
Fiction from Modern China.