Camel · Nietzschean and Woman

By Mu Shiying [1]

Translated by Sean Macdonald

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright April 2017)


The spirit will become a camel.

Many heavy things await the spirit over there, await that weight-bearing, strong, and awesome spirit: because the heavy and the heaviest things are able to increase its strength.

“What is heavy anyway?” So asks the weight-bearing spirit; thus it kneels down like a camel, preparing to be well laden again.

“What is the heaviest thing, you heroes?” asks the weight-bearing spirit. “Allow me to bear those things, so that I may rejoice in my strength.”

. . . all those heavy things, the weight-bearing spirit takes it all onto its back, like a laden camel galloping toward the desert, the spirit thus speeds toward its desert. (from “Of the Three Metamorphoses” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra)[2]

The spirit will become a camel, therefore:

He took a crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes out of his right pocket, rummaged a finger in the packet, put the empty packet to his lips, gave it a puff, and smacked it flat. He took a fat pack of Camels[3] out of his left pocket.

As soon as it was lit, the sand-colored Camel bore his heavy spirit and slowly plodded in the air.

“O bell-less camel!”

Teeth biting the end of the cigarette, slowly masticating bitter tobacco, hands in pockets, experiencing an ancient copper, pyramidal, numbed sense of taste, shshsh exhales silent smoke.

In the raging scarlet fever of a Jai alai court shshsh exhales a sand-colored Camel;

in an azure dream-suffused dancehall, shshsh exhales a sand-colored Camel;

in the gambling hall beside a roulette wheel spinning like an express train, shshsh exhales a sand-colored Camel;

in the city outskirts amongst luxurious tulips, shshsh exhales a sand-colored Camel;

in a bar above a long stem glass of green colored Crème de Menthe, shshsh exhales a sand-colored Camel;

in front of a flower shop saturated with Beauté Exotique,[4] shshsh exhales a sand-colored Camel there too;

even in Café Napoli with the yellow walls, shshsh exhales a sand-colored Camel there too.


It was a purplish evening sunset swooping down on the asphalt six p.m. From the end of the street an April breeze blows azure calm onto the two lines of brown trees along the street. The distant wings of white doves scatter and spread the solemn evening prayer bells of the Catholic Church, and the Mediterranean[5] Café Napoli takes yellow walls and casts lotus purple shadows onto the pavement.

The store has the burnt aroma of café seats, neon lights high in the sky gentle as a poem. Beneath the shade of the trees, throngs of fashionable bright early summer colors, fluttering skirts, leisurely dust, and the grape scent of lovers’ faces.

On just such a refined street commingled with commercial smells, he wore grey colored clothes, shshsh exhaled a heavy Camel.

Walking by Café Napoli, behind that enormous window, through that hazy yellow sandy screen, inside the white china cup on the green tablecloth, vapor like a sigh absently rising, with that significant chatting and laughing, those joyful faces. Under the table amongst the haphazard table legs, quiet display of feet of elegant and refined gentlemen, feet of dreamy young girls, like evergreens, the feet of bachelors in dark brown shoes, the feet of amorous young women . . . but over in that corner, beneath a light yellow skirt, a crossed pair of delicate, pretty, silky, dreamy feet in dark green shoes thinks life is set there like a boulevard made of chocolate tiles.

Ye Qianyu, Illustration to “Camel – Nietzsche and Woman” Wanxiang no. 1 (May 20, 1934).

“Again she’s here! This makes her fifth day.”

Shshsh exhales a heavy Camel. Taptap walked inside. Behind the yellow sandy screen stretched out weight-bearing, galloping-in-the-desert, unique feet with joints curved backwards.[6] Beside absently rising coffee vapor, a face like a wax figurine.

Sitting at the next table in front of him, it was none other than the one with those delicate, pretty, silky, dreamy feet in dark green shoes, that heretic.

She draws Garbo eyebrows, she has such soft-as-swan’s-down dark eyes, and red luscious lips, in a white silk blouse and light yellow skirt. She’s just like her feet!

She puts five sugar cubes into her white china cup and gulps her coffee like liqueur. For her, coffee is really a sweet tasting, nourishing drink. Could there be people who don’t know coffee is bitter? But she dissolves a large amount of sugar into the bitterness of coffee, tricking her own taste buds, and drinks it like Curaçao.[7]

But her erroneous smoking posture is far worse than the erroneous way she drinks! The dark red filter tip of a Red Lips Brand between glistening fingertips, lotus purple smoke exudes from between lips, smoke rings puff out one after another, disperse before her eyes. She stares, sweetly smiling at those smoke rings while savoring that pure, unadulterated, light, luxurious flavor, as if smoking wasn’t a form of suffering.

“Life isn’t a Red Lips cigarette held between fingertips, blowing lotus purple smoke rings. Life is chewing a Camel between the teeth, letting the secretions of the oral cavity filter the tobacco into a bitter juice that slowly seeps down the throat.” While thinking along this line, he grew disgusted as if he would puke because of her smoking posture.

So he moved the white china cup to the other side of the table, sat with his back to her, and shshsh exhaled the heavy Camel.

That pure, unadulterated Red Lips fragrance spurted straight out from behind, cut through the ancient copper Camel smell, irritated his nostrils, and caused his throat to start itching.

“Heretic!” He cursed to himself, and had no choice but to move back to his former position to face her.

Behind lotus purple smoke-rings, she smiled dazzlingly.

Abruptly he stood up, walked over to her and spoke:

“I can’t take it Miss, I want to tell you, the way you drink coffee and your smoking posture are completely, unforgivably erroneous.”

Smiling, she absently puffed out smoke and said:

“Mister, I find you really interesting. Please, have a seat, let’s chat. I’m afraid my friend isn’t coming. I’m so bored sitting here all by myself.”

He sat down across from her:

“Miss, life isn’t lotus purple colored smoke rings; rather, it is that burning tobacco.” He forced a real poker face and chided her.

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

“Life is a Camel, the camel is a silent, forbearing, indomitable animal, you’ll never see a camel cry, the camel will never grow tired, never heave a sigh, the camel will forever take steady steps . . .”

“Mister, I can’t understand what you’re talking about.”

“Can’t understand? Let me tell you, to conduct ourselves properly, we have to smoke Camel brand because the bitter juice of the sand-colored Camel can strengthen the spirit, make the internal organs cruel and ruthless, and dull the sensory organs.”

She shrugged her shoulders: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

He bitterly took a long drag on his cigarette and looked at her as he spoke: “Do you know the spirit will become a camel?”

She shook her head and said: “All I know is you’re an interesting person, and you seem very well-built. I’d like to have dinner with you and see how you cut into a steak . . .”

He laughed despite himself:

“What an interesting person!”


While they ate dinner, she introduced him to three hundred seventy-three brands of cigarette, twenty-eight names of coffee, five thousand kinds of mixed drinks and their recipes.

“Please try this drink!”

His eyebrows furrowed as he took a taste, then tilted his head back and finished the drink.

“This kind of mixed drink has a very special fragrance!”

“This wine is fermented with a secret method, just smell this fully aged bouquet!”

“This whiskey was the royal drink of Henry VIII, try some?”

“This brandy was given as a reward to the soldiers from the people of France when Napoleon entered St. Petersburg.”[8]

After eating, while drinking a digestif, he loosened his tie, blew some smoke from the sand-colored Camel in her direction, felt as if everyone’s face looked strange.

Sitting in the streetcar, he stared at her intently, felt as if her silk blouse grew thinner, came away from her body, congealed transparently in the air. A gust of primal urge welled-up from his lower half, he tossed away the sand-colored Camel, threw himself at her while hazily thinking:

“Maybe Nietzsche was impotent after all!”


[1] This translation is based on Mu Shiying 穆时英, “Luotuo·Nicai zhuyi zhe yu nüren” (骆驼 ·尼采主义者与女人) in Mu Shiying quanji 穆时英全集, eds. Yan Jiayan 严家炎 and Li Jin 李今, 3 vols. (Beijing: Beijing shiyue wenyi, 2008), vol. 2: 145-149. The story first appeared in Wanxiang 万象 no. 1 (May 20, 1934), n.p. I also consulted two translations, Mu Shiying, “Le camélo-nietzschéen et la femme,” in Le Fox-trot de Shanghai et autres nouvelles chinoises, trans. Isabelle Rabut and Angel Pino (Paris: Albin Michel, 1996), 207-213; and Mu Shiying, “Il cammello Nietzscheano e la donna,” trans. Maria Rita Masci in Adelphiana (Nov. 2004), 2-8. Thanks very much to Kirk Denton for editing the translation.

[2] The translations of the Nietzsche passages are adapted from Friedrich W. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1982), 54.

[3] Mu Shiying liked to use name brands in his writing. Indeed, the proliferation of brands verges on a sort of literary brand placement. Mu is punning here on the symbol of the camel in Thus Spake Zarathustra and Camel cigarettes. Chinese has no capitalization, but in my translation I use capitalized “Camel” for the cigarette brand and the uncapitalized “camel” for the Nietzschean symbol, although sometimes there is really no distinction between the two.

[4] Italicized words indicate European words in the original.

[5] For the reading of nanguo feng 南国风 as “Mediterranean,” see Mu Shiying, “Le camélo-nietzschéen et la femme,” in Le Fox-trot de Shanghai et autres nouvelles chinoises, trans. Isabelle Rabut and Angel Pino (Paris: Albin Michel, 1996), 209; also see Mu Shiying, “Il cammello Nietzscheano e la donna,” trans. Maria Rita Masci in Adelphiana (Nov. 2004), 4.

[6] For my reading here of what is a rather intricate description of a woman’s feet in high heels, I am indebted to the accompanying illustration to the original publication Ye Qianyu 葉浅予, see Wanxiang (“Van Jan”) no. 1 (20 May 1934), n.p., reproduced in Paul Bevan, A Modern Miscellany: Shanghai Cartoon Artists, Shao Xunmei’s Circle and the Travels of Jack Chen, 1926-1938 (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 24.

[7] See Mu Shiying, “Le camélo-nietzschéen et la femme,” in Le Fox-trot de Shanghai et autres nouvelles chinoises, trans. Isabelle Rabut and Angel Pino (Paris: Albin Michel, 1996), 210; also see Mu Shiying, “Il cammello Nietzscheano e la donna,” trans. Maria Rita Masci in Adelphiana (Nov. 2004), 5, for the translation of koulisuo蔻力梭 as Curaçao.

[8] Neither Napoleon nor his troops actually entered St. Petersburg.