BOOK REPORT: My Country and My People | Lin yutang

     Lin Yutang, born in 1895, was a world-renowned novelist, essayist, philosopher, philologist and lexicographer. The New York Times said at the time of his death,” Lin Yutang had no peer as an interpreter to western minds of the customs, aspirations, fears and thought of his people.” My Country and My People was finished in 1935. In the book, he surveyed the mental and moral constitution and ideals of the Chinese people, as well as society, literature and the art of living.

     The book was divided into two large parts, Bases and Life. In each part, he further divided it into several categories which then were analysed explicitly with several aspects.

     Part I, Bases, was constituted by four chapters, namely, the Chinese People, the Chinese Character, the Chinese Mind and Ideals of Life.

     In the first Chapter, Lin Yutang mainly focused on five aspects of Chinese People. Firstly, apart from the cultural unity which bind the Chinese people as a nation, the southern Chinese differ probably as much from the northerners, in temperament, physique and habits, and happily, within orbit of the Chinese culture there has not been a rise of nationalism, but only of provincialism. Second, man in China has adapted himself to a social and cultural environment that demands stamina, resistance power and negative strength, and he has lost a great part of mental and physical powers of conquest and adventure which characterized his forebears in the primeval forests. Third, today the Chinese people possesses a large extent the racial vigor which can be explained as the infusion of new blood. Fourth, the racial stamina and racial vitality enables the Chinese people to survive political disasters and regenerate itself through foreign blood, is party constitutional and partly cultural. Among thecultural forces making for social stability must be counted first of all the Chinese family system and the complete absence of established classes be another. Fifth, the Chinese are culturally old but racially young.

     In Chapter II, the Chinese Characters are discussed. Firstly, Lin Yutang began withmellowness which suggest the qualities of a civilization built for strength and endurance rather than the qualities for progress and conquest. Then comes the three worst and most striking characteristics, patience, indifference and old roguery. The quality of patience is the result of racial adjustment to a condition where over population and economic pressure leave very little room for people to move about and is, in particular, a result of family system, which is a miniature of Chinese society. Indifference is largely due to the lack of legal protection and constitutional guarantee for personal liberty. Old roguery is due, for lack of a better word, to the Taoistic view of life. All these qualities are products of the same environment. Chinese pacificism is largely a matter of temperament as well as of human understanding. The spirit of cheerfulness and contentment is found in both the literature and illiterate classes, for such is penetration of the Chinese racial tradition. A strong determination to get the best of our life, a keen desire to enjoy what one has, and no regrets if one fails: this is the secret of the Chinese genius for contentment. Chinese humor is more in deeds than in words. No portrait of the Chinese character would be complete without a mention of its conservation.

     In Chapter III, Lin Yutang leads us to know things concerned the Chinese Mind. He suggested that Chinese suffer from an overdose of intelligence. And in many respects the Chinese mind is akin to the feminine mind. According to the author, the certain characteristics of Chinese thinking enables us to appreciate the cause of our failure to develop natural science. Chinese logic is based on the Chinese conception of truth, which according to the Chinese, can never be proved: it can only be suggested. The Chinese have resorted largely on intuition. The world of imagination in China is not confined to the illiterate. And to Lin Yutang, the most characteristic creatures of the Chinese imagination are the lovely female ghosts.

     In Chapter IV, Lin Yutang explored the ideal of life in China. To understand the Chinese ideal of life, he put, one must try to understand Chinese humanism, which implies, first a just conception of the end of human life; secondly, a complete devotion to these end; thirdly the attainment of these ends by the spirit of human reasonableness of the Doctrine of the Golden Mean, which may also be called the Religion of Common Sense. It has been pointed out that the Confusion outlook on life is positive, while the Taoistic outlook is negative. Taoism is the Great Negation, as Confucianism is the Great Affirmation. Confucianism, thought its doctrine of propriety and social status, stands for human culture and restriant , while Taoism, with its emphasis on going back to nature, disbelieves in human restraint and culture.Buddhism is the only important foreign influence that has become part and parcel of Chinese life.

     In Part II, Life, Lin Yutang also observed it through five directions, that is Woman’s Life, Social and Political Life, Literary Life, the Artistic Life and the Art of Living.

     In the discussion of Woman’s Life, Lin Yutang examined eight aspects including the subjection of woman, home and marriage, ideal of womanhood, education of daughters,love and courtship, the courtesan and concubinage, footbinding and emancipation. And it is from nine aspects that Lin Yutang looked into social and political life in China, absence of the social mind, the family system, nepotism, corruption and manners, privilege and equality, social classes, the male triad, the female triad, the village system, and “government by gentleman”. The literary life and artistic life also have very much details that reveal the true meaning of Chinese culture. Finally comes the particular Chinese art of living.

     What impresses me most is Lin Yutang’s good command of English, which is not his mother tongue. The language is accurate and beautiful indeed. Clear structure has been delivered. It is not hard for me to follow him all the way to the end of the book. And he has also examined this country and the people in very details. He provided us a general content of the whole country and people, then cut it into pieces and deeply analysed it and then show us the connection among them which in turn helped us to build the general conception in whole. In this way, we could better understand it.

     He wrote,” China is too big a country, and her national life has too many facets for her not to be open to the most diverse interpretations. I can lay bare her troubles because I have not lost hope.” To be put as a “her”, China becomes a mother-like figure which is correspond with my mind. China born and China nerd, I couldn’t love her more. “When one is in China, one is compelled to think about her, with compassion always, with despair sometimes, and with discrimination and understanding very rarely.” This sentence in his prologue of Part I suddenly striked me with realizing that no completely understanding of China-my country-is in my mind. Then I follow the organized details in this book step by step along with the increasing understanding of my country and my people.

     In the very last Chapter, Lin Yutang showed us a new perspective of life. The human spirit, according to him, is used to beautify life, to extract its essence, perhaps to help it overcome ugliness and pain inevitable in the world of our senses, but never to escape from it and find its meaning in a life hereafter.

      “In every aspect of knowledge and art of living, the test of life holds. It accounts for our pleasures and our antipathies. The test of life was with a racial thought, wordless and needing no definition or giving of reasons. It was that test of life which, instinctively I think, guided us to distrust civic civilization and uphold the rural ideal in art, life and letters, to dislike religion in our rational moments, to play with Buddhism but never quite accept its logical conclusions, and to hate mechanical ingenuity. It was that instinctive trust in life that gave us a robust common sense in looking at life’s kaleidoscopic changes and the myriad vexatious problems of the intellect which we rudely ignored. It enables us to see life steadily and see life whole, with no great distortions of values. It taught us some simple wisdom, like respect for old age and the joys of domestic life, acceptance of life, of sex and of sorrow. It made us lay emphasis on certain common virtues like endurance, industry, thrift, moderation and pacifism. It prevented the development of freakish extreme theories and the enslaving of man by products of his own intelligence. It gave us a sense of values, and taught us to accept the material as well as the spiritual goods of life. It taught us that, after all is said and done, human happiness is the end of all knowledge. And we arrange ourselves to make our lives happy on this planet, under whatever vicissitudes of fortune.”

I love the way he expresses the test of life. Yes. Life is precious that when we know something truly satisfied us, we hold on to it tight, as a mother hugs her baby close to her breast in dark, stormy night. So much of life is merely a farce. It is sometimes just as well to stand by and look at it and smile, better perhaps than to take part in it. Like a dreamer awakened, we see life, not with the romantic coloring of yesternight’s dream but with a saner vision. We are more ready to give up the dubious, the glamorous and the unattainable, but at the same time to hold on to the few things that we know will give us happiness.

     He then compared the national life and human life to the year with four seasons.

“For we are now in the autumn of our national life. There comes a time in our lives, as nations and as individuals, when we are pervaded by the spirit of early autumn, in which green is mixed with gold and sadness is mixed with joy, and hope is mixed with reminiscence. There comes a time in our lives when the innocence of spring is a memory and the exuberance of summer a song whose echoes remain faintly in the air, when as we look out on life, the problem is not how to grow but how to live truly, not how to strive and labor but how to enjoy the precious moments we have, not to squander our energy but how to conserve it in preparation for the coming winter. A sense of having arrived somewhere, of having settled and having found out what we want. A sense of having achieved something also, precious little compared with its past exuberance, but still something, like an autumn forest shorn of its summer glory but retaining such of it as will endure.

I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So i like best of autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colors richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor of the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content. From a knowledge of those limitations and its richness of experience emerges a symphony of colors, richer than all, its green speaking of life and strength, its orange speaking of golden content and its purple of resignation and death.

I never mean to use these long paragraphs to make my report look sufficient in length. When I typed these words by single letters, I try to permeate it into my heart and my philosophy of life. I want to remember these words deeply in my heart.

 

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