As the bleakness of summer goes on, I return to a book I have read early in my life, in the last years before the Polish transformation. It could be some time around 1988, just to give the idea. I suppose the Berlin Wall was still standing, but the wind of change was already blowing, bringing an unprecedented appetite for eroticism in Polish society. At the time, a little greyish book was printed on the cheapest paper: Wyznania chińskiej kurtyzany. Obviously, it was a best-seller, moving Polish imagination into hitherto unexplored horizons. A few years ago, I got a new edition of it, by nostalgia (W świecie wiatru i wierzb: Wyznania chińskiej kurtyzany, Warszawa: Świat Książki, 2012). Now, as I decided to pack it in my new transport of unwanted books destined to enrich the book room of Narol, or any other countryside library in Eastern Poland, I start to muse on this mysterious text, published without any indication of authorship - although there is a name of a supposed translator and editor: Jerzy Chociłowski. Checking his Wikipedia entrance, I see that Wyznania are mentioned as a translation from English, in 1987. Not unimportantly, a few years later, in 1994, Jerzy Chociłowski appears also as one of the translators of Kwiaty śliwy w złotym wazonie, which is obviously the famous Chinese classic (Jin Ping Mei, usually referred as The Plum in the Golden Vase). Nonetheless, Chociłowski is mentioned as one of the translators from Chinese(!). Could this journalist, who graduated in law at the University of Warsaw, know Chinese?
On the other hand, the presumable author of Wyznania, by the name Miao Sing, is absent from any source. Could the book be a forgery, just as the Wyznania chińskiej kurtyzany: Tortury miłości, in 1990, supposedly published/edited/translated/authored(?) by Witold Jabłoński, together with Maciej Świerkocki? The only books by Miao Sing (1926-...) on Amazon are these two texts in Polish. On the other hand, I find the indication that the original of Wyznania chińskiej kurtyzany is a text under the title Marvellous Pleasure, published in 1969. Nonetheless, I find no further notice of such a novel on Google.
One thing is certain, the book has nothing in common with the 1972 Hong Kong movie under the title Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan. The film focuses on martial arts as much as sex (lesbian and otherwise). In any case, the brothel of the Four Seasons was a scene of murder and the subsequent police action. In contrast, the Polish Wyznania chińskiej kurtyzany is as peaceful and harmonious a text as an imagination at peace with the patriarchal order could ever invent. There is the Japanese occupation in the background, and at a given moment the Japanese shoot two Chinese clients right there in the elegant brothel, only to die under the revengeful hairpin of one of the courtesans. But overall, the book is dedicated to sex, and sex alone, that becomes the target of systematic study, inspired by the Taoist search for immortality. A lot of attention is dedicated to the sources of yin and yang, in any case.
As my search for Miao Sing is vain, I try to make a close reading of the text looking for any hints. The confessions are supposedly produced by the old courtesan in various locations in and around London over endless cups of Chinese tea. Various kinds and types are mentioned, undoubtedly to enhance the attractiveness of the text; the female protagonists are connoisseurs in this as they are in sex. At a given moment, the interlocutors admire the Cutty Sark, presumably the fastest of ships bringing tea from China to England, which is now a tourist attraction in Greenwich. At least my new copy, published in 2012, mentions that the tea is a fair trade one. I wonder if such a mention also existed in the version published in 1987, when the idea was completely unknown in Poland (although the fair trade movement took shape in the 1960s). In 1987, in Poland, the tea that people used to appreciate was coming from Georgia, as far as I remember, and the trade, under the auspices of the Soviet regime, could only be fair. Most of those tea types mentioned in the text, even the Pu-erh tea, would be a mark of hardly understandable exoticism for most Polish readers. Is thus the book really a translation, and Miao Sing doesn't appear on Google simply because the literary value of the text is so low that it didn't open the gates of posterity to her/him? Somehow, I don't feel convinced. Perhaps because this text is so organically connected with my memory of the late communism in Poland, its specific longings and fascinations. The China Town of London could be just a valid object of it. And that the book, overall, is not as naïve as those of Zbigniew Nienacki, around the same time? Maybe the author(s) were simply more intelligent. This is why the old courtesan's interlocutor makes her shopping in Harrods and acquires Jeanne Lanvin's La Rose perfume, as well as Burberry trench for her husband. On sale, for a third of the price. And then... Gosh!
-- To pani nie wie, że Harrodsa kupił ten Arab z Egiptu?
-- Tak jest. Zgroza. Ale kiedy synek tego Araba...
-- Tak właśnie. Dodi. Kiedy się zabił w aucie razem z Dianą...
Well, definitely, this is not a translation of a novel published in 1969. Neither is this a faithful reprint of the late communist classic. Rather, Miao Sing was a sort of postmodern project, a work-in-progress (including also a next-generation novel, Uczennica chińskiej kurtyzany, by the presumable Liu Sing, written by the same tandem of authors, Witold Jabłoński and Maciej Świerkocki, in 1991). It was completely omitted, as far as I know, in Polish literary studies. The original courtesan of 1987 had the greatest repercussion, at least at the level of popular awareness concerning sexuality and eroticism; it contributed to change Poland and Polish provincial, obscurantist mentality; it opened new horizons upon things hitherto unspeakable and unimaginable (even if hardly anyone doubted that the book speaks of China, and its metaphorical way of approaching sex and speaking of it is profoundly and authentically Chinese). Nonetheless, the 2012 version with the death of Diana had no reception whatsoever; the book was nothing but the cheapest pornographic page-turner. The metadimension of postmodern mystification has been completely overlooked.