Yutang Lin 1895-1976
Chinese novelist, linguist, essayist, and philosopher.
The following entry provides criticism on Lin's works from 1935 through 1999.
Lin achieved acclaim for revealing the history and culture of China to Americans through essays, nonfiction books, and novels. My Country and My People (1935) and The Importance of Living (1937) established his reputation as an Eastern voice for Western audiences. He also translated and edited several collections of Chinese wisdom teachings, and prepared the Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage in 1972.
Lin was born on October 10, 1895, in Changchow, China, and brought up as a Christian by his Presbyterian father, Lin Chi-seng, and mother, Lin (Yang) Sunmeng. He attended English-language schools and graduated from St. John's University, Shanghai, in 1919, the same year he married Tsuifeng Liao. He later studied at Harvard University and the University of Leipzig. During the 1920s he taught English at Beijing (Peking) National University. During this time he publicly supported the Kuomintang (National Peoples' Party) against independent warlords, and by 1926 he was forced to seek safety elsewhere. He returned to his native region and became dean of the college of arts and a professor of English at National Amoy University. Yutang remained in China until 1936, when he moved his family to New York. By this time My Country and My People, written with the encouragement of American author Pearl Buck, had become a bestseller in the United States. Throughout the next two-to-three decades, Lin spent most of his time in the United States. In 1959 Lin, who had rejected the religion of his parents as a young man, published a spiritual autobiography, From Pagan to Christian, tracing his religious journey from Christianity to Taoism and Buddhism and back. This volume solidified his reputation in some American circles as the ideal of a modern Chinese intellectual embracing Western values and standing in contrast to both modern Communism and traditional Buddhist culture. However, some observers suggest that later writings, including Pleasures of a Nonconformist (1962), indicate that Lin didn't fully embrace the mainstream Christian culture of the mid-twentieth century.
In 1965 Lin turned his attention to writing columns in Chinese for a news agency in the Republic of China (Taiwan). The next year he moved to Taipei, Taiwan, and a year after that he was invited by the Chinese University of Hong Kong to edit a reference volume which became the Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage. In 1967 The Chinese Theory of Art was published; this was the last of his works written specifically to explain Chinese culture to Western readers. In 1973 he wrote Eighty: An Autobiography, which was published in 1975, the same year he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Lin died in Hong Kong on March 26, 1976, and was buried in Taipei.
My Country and My People, The Importance of Living, and The Birth of a New China: A Personal Story of the Sino-Japanese War (1939) were written for American audiences, and they established Lin's reputation in the United States as a trustworthy authority on China and Chinese culture. Characterized by a gentle tone, sly sense of humor, and excellent command of idiomatic English, Lin's nonfiction provided Western audiences with descriptions of a distant and unfamiliar country in a language and voice they could relate to. Novels followed, including Moment in Peking: A Novel of Contemporary Chinese Life (1939) and A Leaf in the Storm: A Novel of War-Swept China (1941). These too met with approval from critics and the American public alike. Volumes of collected Oriental wisdom followed, including The Wisdom of China and India (1942) and The Wisdom of Confucius (1943). The 1948 novel, Chinatown Family, characterized as a lighthearted story about idealized Chinese family life set in the United States, is considered to be the first entry in the genre of Asian-American fiction. Although he continued to write prolifically, few of Lin's later works resonated with the American reading public or with critics the way his earlier works did. Both his residency and his writing career shifted to Asia during the 1960s. Lin, who once described himself as “thinking with the brush in Chinese and thinking with the typewriter in English,” was not only bilingual, but bicultural as well. He appeared to be as comfortable in the cities of the United States as he was in Beijing, and later Taipei, and his ease with both Eastern and Western cultures contributed greatly to his ability to explain the one to the other.
Lin enjoyed a warm critical reception to most of his earliest works. Nathaniel Peffer of the Saturday Review of Literature wrote about Lin's My Country and My People, “His book is therefore the best that has been written on China in English, and I recommend it to all those who want a true and sensitively perceived picture of China.” Other critics echoed this praise, establishing Lin as a popular and welcome representative of Chinese culture. By the early 1960s, critics were generally less effusive in their praise of Lin's efforts to enlighten Western readers about Oriental culture; a 1961 Times Literary Supplement review of Imperial Peking: Seven Centuries of China charged that “Dr. Lin's China has become something of a faded stereotype.”
According to scholar Xiao-huang Yin, Asian American critics more than two decades after Lin's death also note that the author's congenial English-language messages of the 1930s and 1940s contrast sharply with the Chinese-language articles he wrote during the same period, many of which contained criticism of American politics and culture. Some current Asian American scholars charge that Lin's English writings deliberately watered down Chinese civilization and culture—and perhaps misrepresented his own regard for Western culture—in order to reap the financial rewards that came with exploiting a Western hunger to understand the exotic and virtually unknown Orient.
Although most of Lin's English-language writings have been out of print since the early 1970s, his works command a modest following worldwide among loyal fans, including Chinese readers who once had no access to this Chinese writer's works. Under more relaxed cultural conditions than prevailed throughout most of the twentieth century, Lin's brand of Chinese philosophy, the collected volumes of traditional Confucian wisdom, and writings about centuries of Chinese culture have become more readily available to Chinese readers, who show some interest in knowing more about this native son and his perspective of their shared heritage.
War-Time Essays (essays) 1934
The Little Critic: Essays, Satires and Sketches on China (essays) 1935
My Country and My People (nonfiction) 1935
A History of the Press and Public Opinion in China (monograph) 1936
Confucius Saw Nancy and Essays about Nothing (essays) 1937
The Importance of Living (nonfiction) 1937
The Birth of a New China: A Personal Story of the Sino-Japanese War (nonfiction) 1939
Moment in Peking: A Novel of Contemporary Chinese Life (novel) 1939
With Love and Irony (nonfiction) 1940
A Leaf in the Storm: A Novel of War-Swept China (novel) 1941
The Wisdom of China and India [editor] (nonfiction) 1942
Between Tears and Laughter (nonfiction) 1943
The Wisdom of Confucius [editor and translator] (nonfiction) 1943
The Vigil of a Nation (nonfiction) 1944
Chinese Ideals of Life (nonfiction) 1944
The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo (novel) 1947
Chinatown Family (novel) 1948
On the Wisdom of America (nonfiction) 1950
Widow Chuan (novel) 1952
The Vermilion Gate: A...
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SOURCE: Lovett, Robert Morss. “Face, Fate and Favor.” New Republic 84, no. 1090 (23 October 1935): 308-09.
[In the following review, Lovett offers a positive assessment of Lin's My Country and My People, which reveals much about the Chinese character, mind, and way of life.]
My Country and My People is a book in which charm is touched with pathos. Mr. Lin sees the Chinese as an old people come to the autumn of its natural life, “in which green is mixed with gold and sadness is mixed with joy, and hope is mixed with reminiscence.” The tragedy is that this ancient people, repository of the richest experience, culture and art in the world, has become the prey of new forces and younger races, in the face of which its old philosophy of good nature, moderation and sweet reasonableness in the use of life becomes futile. The Chinese civilization was realistically humanistic, yet it never subscribed to the Greek and Renaissance ideal of the development of the full powers of the individual, preferring rather “the enjoyment of a simple rural life, together with the harmony of social relationships.” At the same time the effect of “the spirit of reasonableness and its consequent hatred of logical extremes has been that the Chinese as a race are unable to have any faith in a system.” Accordingly the Chinese have failed to develop the national strength that comes from hero worship on one...
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SOURCE: Fleming, Peter. “A Realist on China.” Spectator 156, no. 5618 (2 February 1936): 352.
[In the following review, Fleming finds My Country and My People to be a well written book filled with much knowledge and honest description of China's people and their culture.]
This book [My Country and My People], although its quality is uneven, is worth all the other modern books about China put together. There are places where the emphasis is wrong, passages where the writing is woolly, but on the whole the treatment is incisive, dispassionate, and above all honest. After all the nonsense written about China by foreigners, after all the special pleading of the Chinese intelligentsia, Mr. Lin Yutang's method of explaining China comes as a welcome relief. He does not apologise; he makes no use of statistics; he thumps no tub and grinds no axe; he simply tries to show what the Chinese are really like, as a people and as individuals. He succeeds as completely, I believe, as anyone can hope to succeed.
That he is the first of his countrymen to write a good book about China is less surprising than that any of his countrymen should have written a book about China at all. There is still, as Mr. Lin points out, no decent biography available of Sun Yat-sen, though he died a decade ago; the world's greatest opportunists fight shy of opportunities involving sustained intellectual...
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SOURCE: Quennell, Peter. “China.” New Statesman and Nation 11, no. 264 (14 March 1936): 403, 406.
[In the following review, Quennell finds My Country and My People to be a lively, readable, and amusing book which is designed for the general reader.]
From several points of view My Country and My People, Mr. Lin Yutang's contribution to the study of China and the Chinese temperament, is a remarkable and interesting book. For one thing, if we discount a certain naivety and redundancy, due to the fact that the author is employing a foreign language, it is unusually well written. Secondly, although Mr. Lin Yutang has been educated in Europe, the attitude he adopts is neither the defensive-aggressive nor the mystic-apologetic; he does not kowtow to Western “civilisation” and at the same time assert that the West is responsible for all the ills from which China is at present suffering, nor does he strike a pose on that singularly shaky pedestal—the superior wisdom of the ancient Orient. Mr. Lin Yutang is an uncommonly sensible man. He has a deep love for his own country and a warm admiration for the sterling qualities of his own people; but his feeling for Chinese virtues does not blind him to the existence of Chinese vices; and he would be the first to admit that the vices and virtues of the Chinese temperament are so closely connected that it is often quite impossible to draw an exact...
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SOURCE: Crow, Carl. “An Appreciation of Life.” Saturday Review of Literature 17, no. 5 (27 November 1937): 7.
[In the following review, Crow comments how The Importance of Living is a delightful book that details the beauties and joys of simple, homely things which anyone can read with pleasure and profit.]
It is appropriate that a book on the importance of living should be written by a Chinese, for no other people have given so much attention to the problem of living, nor, to my mind, have solved the problem so satisfactorily. In the midst of a struggle for existence they have managed not only to sustain life but to make that life beautiful, interesting, and full of simple happiness. They have learned to make the best of things, to find equal gusto in a bowl of noodles, a pot of hot rice wine, a poem, or a sunrise. They are not content that things shall be useful but also endow them with interest and beauty. A cup of tea does more than quench thirst. The details of its preparation form a simple ceremony, and enjoyment of the tea begins with the time the pot of water is put on to boil.
Most of them can and do work hard but, when opportunity comes, they enjoy to its fullest the privilege of loafing. A Chinese prefers loafing in company, or he can find complete contentment in idling away the hours watching the ripples of a brook or listening to the sound of the wind in the...
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SOURCE: Colum, Mary M. “Old Culture Patterns.” Forum and Century 99, no. 1 (January 1938): 24-5.
[In the following review, Colum finds The Importance of Living to be a delightful book and discusses how Westerners can learn much from the Chinese people in their understanding of life.]
It is interesting to note that, in Huxley's plea for the revival of the monastic spirit, the form of religion he offers, to give sanction to detachment, is a theism; and he would add to the Christian rule something that has always been in the Buddhist: awareness—an openness to impressions from nature, art, and personality that the Chinese poets and sages constantly display. A good deal of this awareness you will find in Lin Yutang's delightful book, The Importance of Living.
The extracts he gives from Chinese poets, philosophers, and diarists all denote this awareness. According to Lin Yutang, the Chinese people love and understand life incomparably better than the people of the West, and, because of this understanding, they take life more casually than we do. Their ideal figure on one level is the detached scholar and on the other level the vagabond. Perhaps as a comment on Lin Yutang's pages one could say that this is true to some extent of all old and mellow civilizations: one finds a good deal of this spirit in contemporary France. Still, something in us has to put the query: How do...
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SOURCE: Joad, C. E. M. “The East Admonishes the West.” Spectator 161, no. 5,741 (8 July 1938): 69.
[In the following review, Joad finds Lin to be a spokesman of a dying culture inThe Importance of Living.]
Lin Yutang's previous book, My Country and My People, was a study of the Chinese character and of the attitude to life in which it finds expression. The Importance of Living is a study of Western civilisation judged by the standards and in relation to the values established by the East. The judgement is not favourable. Broadly, it is to the effect that Western civilisation entails a continuous and gigantic sacrifice of ends to means. Having unprecedented command of the means to enjoyment, the Westerner does not know how to enjoy himself, and gives the impression of an athlete whose whole life is a training for a race which is never run.
In a series of rapid vignettes Lin Yutang exhibits the salient features of our civilisation for his amusement and our admonishment. The trouble about dictatorship is that dictators always look so cross. Obviously, they do not enjoy themselves or give enjoyment to others; if they did, they would not be so concerned for their own safety. “Show me a man of violence that came to a good end, and I will take him for my teacher,” says Lao Tse, which Lin Yutang adapts to “Show me a dictator that can dispense with the services of a...
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SOURCE: Fadiman, Clifton. “Forty Years of Cathay.” New Yorker 15, no. 40 (18 November 1939): 87-9.
[In the following review, Fadiman discusses how Moment in Peking is not a very interesting story, but is remarkable panorama of Chinese way of life.]
If you wish to enjoy Lin Yutang's Moment in Peking, a Chinese novel written in English, you must read it in a special way. Not in the Chinese way, whatever that is, but certainly in a manner very different from that with which we approach Western books. For the simpler conventions of the Western novel just do not seem to apply to Dr. Lin's book. There is no suspense as we understand it, no succession of climaxes; except superficially, it has no beginning, middle, or end; it is 800 pages long but might quite as well be 8,000; while it has a group of central characters, it has neither hero nor heroine.
Also, from our point of view, it appears to lack one emotional dimension: romantic love. The characters indulge in sensual amusement or have affection of varying intensities for one another, but of romantic love in our modern acceptance of the word, there is none, as there is none in Homer. In the same way, though many people die in the book, there is very little tragic feeling. There is sadness, but never Shakespearean woe. Though war and revolution occupy many of its pages, the net effect of Moment in Peking is one of...
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SOURCE: Cloete, Stuart. “Faith in A Mad World.” Saturday Review of Literature 23, no. 6 (30 November 1940): 6.
[In the following review, Cloete comments how With Love and Irony is a book that balances well the reality and mysticism of its' characters.]
This book [With Love and Irony] is something new. New, because the title expresses the book, which is written with love and irony. New, because out of China comes a work that is almost French in feeling, bearing the French stamp of delicate irony, of a beautiful and subtly disguised bitterness, of inverted insult, of compliments which contain not a thorn, like a rose, but a dagger that tears the veil from the false sophistication which we have been conditioned into accepting. Today a strange thing has happened. We suddenly see ourselves, American, British, and free Chinese, as brothers. We can see a new and true humanity. Or do I just imagine this? Where has our superiority based on the fiction of a material civilization, brought us? To what horrors? Very gently, Lin Yutang points his finger. Very gently, with the philosophy of old China, with its immense antiquity, with its arts and sciences, he speaks to us. So delicately, so beautifully, that it is like one of his own white cherry trees in flower against a blue, satin, china sky. At the foot of the tree are some fallen petals—a carpet. These are the petals of an old knowledge, of an...
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SOURCE: Lazarus, H. P. “War and the Writer.” Nation 154, no. 4 (24 January 1942): 97-8.
[In the following review, Lazarus finds A Leaf in the Storm to be a failure compared to Lin's other works.]
In time of war the writer suffers under the same forces of dislocation as the rest of us, but on him their effect is double, for he reacts both in his own person and in the persons and world of his creation. He is not only in the war, and thus disabled, but his guns are spiked, since he is deprived of his heritage as a writer. How a writer writes is, in every age and under whatever compulsion, more than half determined by the reservoir of past writing; and in time of war the stream of the tradition in which he must work is dammed up, its current cut off by the influx of new values that for the best of human reasons demand to be expressed only in terms of their own overriding urgency. In so far as it is capable of literary form, however, the writer's material cannot be expressed in its own terms; it must take its form from past writing. Consequently the old mode of expression persists while the new insists; and both are impoverished.
“Our task here,” writes Lin Yutang, “is to trace what the war did to one woman, one leaf among the millions.” Neither the task nor the tracing, neither the end nor the means, is as simple as the thesis, for the author is under a twofold...
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SOURCE: Das, Taraknath. “Dr. Lin's New Treasure Chest.” Saturday Review of Literature 25, no. 52 (26 December 1942): 5.
[In the following review, Das discusses how The Wisdom of China and India is helpful in understanding the “spirit governing the life of the vast majority of the peoples of the Orient.”]
Most of the political leaders and educators of the East, especially those of India and China, have a clear conception of the spirit of the West, because they are well acquainted with the contents of Western culture—history, literature, philosophy, political institutions, etc.—as students in Eastern and Western universities. The majority of the people of America, including political leaders and teachers, know very little about oriental culture. What little they know is often a distorted version of the teachings of so-called experts on oriental affairs and missionaries who are generally incapable of making the right appraisal of things oriental because they start with the belief that the people of the Orient are inferior and must be saved. Therefore, it is imperative that the West should know more about the cultural treasures of the East from original sources and trustworthy translations.
Sympathetic understanding and full appreciation of Eastern and Western cultures, leading to mutual respect and removal of the arrogance and hatred which prevail between the East and...
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SOURCE: Niebuhr, Reinhold. “Blind Anger.” Nation 157, no. 11 (11 September 1943): 300-02.
[In the following review, Niebuhr offers a negative assessment of Between Tears and Laughter.]
We have learned to respect and appreciate Lin Yutang as a kind of Wise Man from the East. Beginning with My Country and My People, in which he interpreted Chinese culture for the West, he expounded a philosophy which in our Western tradition would be called Epicurean but which he defined as a combination of Confucian and Taoist viewpoints. He gloried in the earth-bound and sober common sense of Confucianism and poured his scorn upon the heaven-storming fanaticisms of the West.
Perhaps he intended the same spirit to permeate his new book [Between Tears and Laughter], for we are told that the Chinese title, literally translated, means “weeping, laughter, both wrong.” But the tragedies of the war have long since drawn him out of his partly Epicurean and partly Stoic equanimity. There is little in this volume of the “law of measure” which the title betokens. The fact is that Mr. Lin is very, very angry. Anger may, on occasion, distil more wisdom than serenity does; the author's anger is therefore no explanation of the fact that this book will add nothing to his reputation or stature. It is strident in tone, sometimes cheap in expression, full of contradictory opinions, and lacking in...
(The entire section is 1016 words.)
SOURCE: Gull, E. M. “Chinese Undercurrents.” Spectator 176, no. 6135 (25 January 1946): 96, 98.
[In the following review, Gull comments how Lin sets out to see and describe the daily behavior of Chinese men and women during war in The Vigil of a Nation.]
A new book by Lin Yutang is an event of importance in the Far Eastern world, for he generally throws fresh lights on Chinese thought and life. When the American edition of this volume [The Vigil of a Nation] was published the light which attracted most attention was the one focused on the hostility between the Communists and the National People's Party, or Kuomintang. This was because the American Press had been showing a marked pro-Communist trend, whereas the author's views are decidedly pro-Government. Yet the writer had not set out to produce a political study. He had set out to see and describe the daily behaviour of Chinese men and women in war-time. Politics are not his métier. His views are interesting, of course; and his statements of fact and the retranslation of a book by the Communist leader, Mao Tse-tung, written in 1940 and published as an appendix, are important. But the Lin who has made a niche for himself in England is not associated with political polemics. He is associated with the gay spirit which, in this volume, pervades what the Chinese call langyu.
Literally, that means splashing-about...
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SOURCE: Strachan, Pearl. “One Writer Introduces Another.” Christian Science Monitor 39, no. 301 (18 November 1947): 18.
[In the following review, Strachan offers a positive assessment of Lin's biography of Su Shih inThe Gay Genius.]
This is a most enjoyable book [The Gay Genius] by a gifted and poetic Chinese writer about another Chinese writer whose greatness has kept him, in a way, a contemporary of all great Chinese writers for nearly a thousand years. In fact, his biographer has presented him, against the background of a period in China not unlike our own period, with such charm and vitality that it is hard to believe in the intervening centuries.
Su Tungpo, or Su Shih, as he is perhaps better known to the West, lived from 1036 to 1101 and wrote lively and enduring poetry and prose. He was no ivory-tower recluse. China has always shown an adult attitude toward poets, and the Chinese poet of stature has seldom been a hermit either by choice or by force of prejudice. From earliest times, poets in China, because they were poets and scholars, have been given high official positions.
The eleventh-century Su Tungpo, therefore, followed long-established tradition in his climb to positions of importance in civil affairs. He served as Minister of Education, and was given the title of Scholar of the Tuanming Palace and later that of Scholar of the Tsecheng Palace....
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SOURCE: Rothman, Nathan L. “Martian Among Us.” Saturday Review of Literature 31, no. 41 (9 October 1948): 38.
[In the following review, Rothman finds Chinatown Family to be a good description of the experience of a Chinese immigrant family in New York City.]
The life and hard times of a Chinese family in New York City would seem, in prospect, to be one more panel in the larger picture of immigrant struggle. The Czechs, the Swedes, the Jews, the Irish, and the Poles came in diverse ways to describe a series of homogeneous patterns on their way upward, into social solvency. But not so the Chinese.
The difference, very nicely illustrated in this novel [Chinatown Family], is one of equipment. They brought more of cultural ballast with them than any of the other peoples, and they regarded with wider and calmer eyes the gaucheries of a civilization younger than their own. More than any other foreigner, and certainly in a way that no European could experience (since the Europeans and ourselves share the one civilization), the sensitive Chinese is a man from Mars among us. Earnestly grateful though the poorest Chinese immigrant may be, he cannot help but weigh our knowledge and our instincts against his own. He is not so passionately anxious to disappear beneath the surface of America that he cannot pause to taste, and to roll critically upon his tongue, its characteristic...
(The entire section is 594 words.)
SOURCE: Angoff, Charles. “An Oriental Views America.” American Mercury 71, no. 320 (July-December 1950): 241-45.
[In the following essay, Angoff offers an unflattering assessment of On the Wisdom of America.]
The United States has puzzled the Old World almost from its very beginning. The English, in particular, for a long time could make little sense out of what Tennyson called the “Gigantic daughter of the West.” The poet laureate wished her well, and so did Coleridge, who looked upon the new nation as an “august conception … Great Britain in a state of glorious magnification.” But Macaulay was filled with foreboding. He predicted that some Caesar or Napoleon would seize the government, “or your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire was in the fifth,” with the difference that “your Huns and Vandals will have engendered within your own country by your own institutions.” Dr. Samuel Johnson, as is well known, looked upon us as “a race of convicts, [who] ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging,” and he told Boswell that he was “willing to love all mankind, except an American.” The poet W. S. Landor could only “detest the American character,” while Sidney Smith, in his celebrated article in the Edinburgh Review in 1820, asked, “In the four corners of the globe, who...
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SOURCE: Smith, Bradford. “Far Horizons, Nearby Heart.” New York Herald Tribune Book Review (19 July 1953): 6.
[In the following review, Smith finds The Vermilion Gate: A Novel of a Far Land to be a good book due to its “universal humanity.”]
Lin Yutang's tale of love and battle introduces a China little known to American readers. Chinese Turkestan (Sinkiang) and the part of China lying close to Inner Mongolia provide the locale for this interesting romance built around the struggle between Moslems and Nationalists in the thirties. Because Lin Yutang is not afraid of melodrama, his book [The Vermilion Gate: A Novel of a Far Land] is full of villainous officials, vendettes, hair's breadth escapes. Yet the calm detachment of this philosopher-novelist prevails over the violence of the action. We are confronted with murder, imprisonment, deprivation. Yet they are not driven home. It is as if the spirit of China, long inured to suffering, had entered into the reader, forcing him to view these things in the perspective of centuries.
O-yun, the girl storyteller, is abducted to meet the whim of a desirous warlord. Li Fei, the correspondent hero, is separated from his pregnant fiancée by the barrier of war. Jo-an is driven from the ancestral home by a grasping uncle. But the reader takes all this with a resigned acceptance, knowing somehow that the wheel of time and the...
(The entire section is 693 words.)
SOURCE: Fuller, Edmund. “2004 Sagacity.” Saturday Review 38, no. 33 (13 August 1955): 10.
[In the following review, Fuller offers a negative assessment of Looking Beyond, finding it to be “awkwardly wrought” novel.]
Dr. Lin Yutang has written a leisurely, fantastic novel called Looking Beyond to serve as a fresh medium for telling us some of the things that he has told us before in The Importance of Living. To this extent it is a philosophical novel. Also, he has many tart, critical comments to make about the way the human species is conducting its affairs today. In this respect it is a satirical novel.
Among the minor things Dr. Lin extols, in passing, are the pleasures and benefits of bare feet. It is a bare-footed kind of novel he has written—genially relaxed, soft-footed, and comfortable. He isn't rushing anywhere, he isn't trampling. He shows an amiable indifference toward his story, letting it move erratically, tacking it together by improvisation. All he demands of it is that it divert us mildly, storywise, and serve him as a vehicle for ideas. In these intentions it succeeds.
The time is the year 2004. As in Aldous Huxley's “Ape and Essence,” the world has passed through an atomic debacle. But Dr. Lin's mood is brighter than Huxley's was. Not only has there been a World War III, but a World War IV. Yet men have learned, after...
(The entire section is 571 words.)
SOURCE: Muller, Herbert J. “Dogmatic Double-Talk.” Saturday Review 41, no. 44 (1 November 1958): 38.
[In the following review, Muller discusses how the work of The Secret Name by Lin is “pretty shallow.”]
“Communism is the secret name of the dread antagonist,” wrote Heinrich Heine more than a century ago, in a remarkably prophetic passage about the “wild, gloomy time … roaring toward us.” Lin Yutang now has too easy, almost jolly a time exposing the dread antagonist; but it should first be said that the Communists have made it easy for him. As their secret is ideology, he asks a simple human question: “What have they actually done to the worker?” He has no trouble demonstrating that they have exploited and enslaved him. Making productivity their main goal, they have denounced as petite bourgois the principles of Socialistic equality and stripped workers of the rights and freedoms they enjoy in the capitalist countries.
Similarly the Russian dictatorship over the proletariat has made a farce of the whole Marxist vision: developing a powerful, privileged ruling class to prepare for the classless society, setting up the most despotic state in history so that the state may “wither away,” establishing by force a colonial empire to combat imperialism and unite the workers of the world. Dr. Lin is pleased to turn the ideological tables on the Communists,...
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SOURCE: Yutang, Lin. “Lin Yutang.” In Famous Conversions: The Christian Experience, edited by Hugh T. Kerr and John M. Mulder, pp. 205-09. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1983.
[In the following essay, Lin discusses his views on religion and why he came back to Christianity.]
Many people have asked me, some with great joy, some with great disappointment, why I, a self-declared pagan, have returned to Christianity. I have returned to Christianity and have rejoined the Christian church because I wish to re-enter that knowledge of God and love of God which Jesus revealed with such clarity and simplicity.
The question of paramount importance is, Can man survive without religion? For over thirty years, my only religion was humanism or the Confucian concept of the self-perfectibility of man through education—the belief that humanity is sufficient unto itself. I now believe that mankind cannot survive without religion; that humanity is not, and never has been, sufficient unto itself; that, for man's very survival, a religion of self-perfectibility is not religion enough. Man needs contact with a Power outside himself that is greater than himself. I believe that Christianity, because of what Christ revealed, offers man incomparably the best way to God. I have also been compelled to conclude that, as irreligion and materialism advance, the spirit of man decays and weakens, for I...
(The entire section is 2262 words.)
SOURCE: “Peking in the Past Tense.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 3122 (29 December 1961): 926.
[In the following review, the critic discusses how Imperial Peking: Seven Centuries of China is an excellent illustrated scrapbook of Peking, but cautions readers that Lin's descriptions are of out of date.]
This is a handsomely produced, excellently illustrated Chinese scrapbook [Imperial Peking: Seven Centuries of China] built round the kernel or theme of Peking and its court life. Some new and brilliant photographs of the city decorate the first pages of text and others are included that might have served to illustrate books on Peking published thirty years ago, but there are no general views, nothing to reveal the “breath-taking vistas” promised by the wrapper. The truth is that Peking's main streets are generally shabby and unimpressive; the most breath-taking view is the city seen from the air when the outer and inner walls, and the great axis marked by towers and gates from north to south, with the Forbidden City squarely in the centre, give it a unity that no other city of comparable size can still convey.
After this pictorial introduction to the city, the illustrations are arranged chronologically from the T'ang dynasty to the present day; paintings, sculpture, porcelain, cloisonné, lacquer, jade and calligraphy; many are in colour and none is hackneyed. As a...
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SOURCE: Chua, Chen Lok. “Two Chinese Versions of the American Dream: The Golden Mountain in Lin Yutang and Maxine Hong Kingston.” MELUS 8, no. 4 (winter 1981): 61-70.
[In the following essay, Chua compares the idea of an ‘American Dream’ in both Lin's Chinatown Family and Maxine Hon Kingston's Woman Warrior and China Men.]
Early Chinese immigrants shared a version of the American dream indicated by their colloquial (and still current) Chinese name for America which translates as “Golden Mountain”—Kum Sum. This name derives, of course, from the historical moment of Chinese immigration: the worldwide gold rush to California. Three Chinese immigrated to California in 1848; by 1851, there were 25,000; and in 1884, half of California's farm workers were Chinese.1 The phrase “Golden Mountain,” therefore, summarizes the dream of the first Chinese who came to America in the pursuit of frankly materialistic goals—to get rich quickly and to retire to their native villages. However, once on the land, and despite their homing instincts and the exclusionary laws erected by the United States against them, many Chinese settled in America, and the original dream of materialistic fulfillment underwent changes, taking on nuances and different ideals. Two Chinese-American authors, the sojourner Lin Yutang and the native-born Maxine Hong Kingston, illustrate how the...
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SOURCE: Karle, Katherine A. “Reconsideration: Flamingos and Bison—Balance in Chinatown Family.” MELUS 15, no. 2 (summer 1988): 93-9.
[In the following essay, Karle considers the Chinese and American cultural issues introduced in Chinatown Family.]
Lin Yutang's Chinatown Family may be read usefully on numerous levels: it is a story of Chinese immigrants in the U.S., a comparison of two cultures, and a Bildungsroman. Briefly, thirteen-year-old Tom, the novel's protagonist, immigrates to America with his mother and younger sister, Eva, to join his father and two older brothers who had preceded him in moving to America to make the family's fortune. Having for ten years been separated from his father and brothers, Tom literally begins a new life. Lin balances Tom's uneasiness over the old-world expectations of his “new” father with Tom's exuberance over American technology and its new ideas.
In addition, Lin contrasts Tom's gradual growth from Chinese to Chinese-American with the development of Tom's brothers. For example, Loy, Tom's oldest brother, immerses himself in a Confucianist Chinese tradition: he works alongside his father in the family's basement laundry, which is described at one point as a “rathole of a shop” (Lin 17), and marries only after receiving his father's consent. Tom admires Loy, but does not understand what seems to him to be Loy's placid,...
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SOURCE: Cravens, Gwyneth. “Past Present.” Nation 254, no. 4 (3 February 1992): 136-38.
[In the following essay, Cravens compares themes found in Lin's The Importance of Living with themes found in the works of Émile Chartier, who wrote under the name of Alain.]
After a long bout of chemotherapy, a friend of mine read Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. What struck him was that although Crusoe had suffered a shipwreck and been cast ashore upon an unknown island, he discovered that he had everything there that he required for survival; all he needed to do was to live simply and to make intelligent use of what he had been given. Crusoe's gratitude spilled over into the life of my friend and changed it.
I began to think of other pieces of literature—didactic, perhaps, but not annoyingly so—that shed a beneficial light upon the reader. The first one that came to mind begins:
It is a hot day in June when the sun hangs still in the sky and there is not a whiff of wind or air, nor a trace of clouds; the front and back yards are hot like an oven and not a single bird dares to fly about. Perspiration flows down my whole body in little rivulets. There is the noon-day meal before me, but I cannot take it for the sheer heat. I ask for a mat to spread on the ground and lie down, but the mat is wet with moisture and flies swarm about to rest on...
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SOURCE: Aldridge, A. Owen. “Irving Babbitt and Lin Yutang.” Modern Age 41, no. 4 (fall 1999): 318-27.
[In the following essay, Aldridge traces Irving Babbitt's influences on the life and career of Lin, who was enrolled in Babbitt's courses at Harvard University in 1919 and 1920.]
Although it is generally accepted that T. S. Eliot was the most illustrious of Irving Babbitt's students at Harvard, no agreement exists on who is next in line. The usual candidates are Walter Lippmann and Van Wyck Brooks. Judged from the perspective of international reputation, however, there can be no doubt that the most widely-known and perhaps the most influential of the great humanist's students was a native Chinese, Lin Yutang (1895-1976), who was enrolled in Babbitt's classes in 1919-1920. During a residence of nearly thirty years in the United States, Lin wrote in English a number of best-selling volumes of fiction and philosophy, some of which were distributed by the Book-of-the-Month Club, and most of which were translated into a dozen European and Asian languages. In 1975, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature.
Lin gave a short but vivid description of Babbitt as a teacher in his “Memoirs of an Octogenarian,” written in English in 1973, printed in 1974 in the Chinese Culture University Journal of Taiwan and reprinted in the following year as Eighty: An...
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Huang, Yunte. “The Multifarious Faces of the Chinese Language.” In Transpacific Displacement: Ethnography, Translation, and Intertextual Travel in Twentieth-Century American Literature, pp. 113-37. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002.
Lin is among the Chinese authors discussed in this chapter.
Xiao-huang, Yin. “Worlds of Difference: Lin Yutang, Lao She, and the Significance of Chinese-Language Writing in America.” In Multilingual America: Transnationalism, Ethnicity, and the Languages of American Literature, edited by Werner Sollors, pp. 176-87. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
Discusses Lin's contributions to Chinese-language literature in America.
Additional coverage of Lin's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Asian American Literature; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 45-48, 65-68; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 2; Literature Resource Center; and Reference Guide to American Literature, Ed. 4.
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