Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 320
Writing at a time when China appeared weak and divided against itself, Lin Yutang, unable to resist adequately the brutally aggressive activity of the Japanese military, set out through his work to increase American understanding and support for China. Because China was considered the underdog in the struggle with Japan, many Americans were sympathetic to the Chinese, but few knew much about China. In his first major work, My Country and My People (1935), Lin described sources of strength in the life of the Chinese people that he believed would help the nation survive its problems. In The Importance of Living, he examined the ideas that permitted the Chinese people to maintain a sense of human dignity in the face of cynicism and totalitarian threats. Using his mastery of English prose style, Lin attempted to popularize the “wisdom of the Orient” and make it accessible to the general reader through the use of irony and gentle humor.
In his preface, Lin informed the reader that the book was a personal testimony based on his own experience of thought and life. He warned against judging any philosopher or poet solely on the basis of how he was presented in this work, since each individual would inevitably be incompletely revealed within it. Using gentle irony, Lin apologized for the fact that he was not a trained philosopher. He refused to claim any originality because the ideas he covered had been discussed by many before him.
The opening chapter asserted that the highest ideal of Chinese culture was a person with a sense of detachment, “which enables one to go through life with tolerant irony and escape the temptations of fame and wealth and achievement.” The sense of detachment provided a feeling of freedom that permitted a keen and intense joy of living. To illustrate this phenomenon, the book explained the philosophies and art of living that the Chinese had developed over the centuries.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 636
Unlike the traditional Christian theological approach stressing the doctrine of Original Sin, the Chinese view of life stressed the importance of living in harmony with nature. Recognizing that humans live on earth and not in heaven, Chinese poets and philosophers did not need to reject the human body. They could accommodate the recognition of personal mortality and the realization of life’s impermanence. The Daoist philosopher and poet Zhuangzi expressed this sense of evanescence poetically when he described awakening from a dream in which he was a butterfly and wondering whether he was truly Zhuangzi dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Confucius prosaically reduced the basic desires of human beings to two fundamental aspects: alimentation and reproduction, or more simply, food and drink and family. Lin argued that only the achievement of true harmony with nature could improve human beings, and therefore the education of one’s senses and emotions was even more important than the education of one’s mind.
Although there was much disagreement between Chinese philosophers on many points, they did concur that people must be both wise and unafraid to live a full and happy life. The positive Confucian approach and the quiet Daoist view could be combined into a philosophy that Lin considered to be that of the average Chinese. The apparent conflict between calls for action and inaction could be resolved; when they were merged together they became complementary and made for contentment with life on earth. Mixing these two outlooks created a harmonious personality, which was the acknowledged aim of all culture and education; this harmonious personality would experience a joyous love of life.
As an adherent of...
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