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(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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

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