On the Essay
'I Daren't Go to Hangchow'
Lin Yutang 林語堂
This essay appeared in The China Critic, VIII:13 (28 March 1935): 304-305. For more on the West Lake, its lyrical, as well as its political history, see China Heritage Quarterly, Issue 28 (December 2011).—The Editor.
Related Translations from The Critic
Spring always gives me a heartache. We have a saying very popular with the college students, that spring is not the time for study, and I know it is not the time for writing. Writing, writing, writing! What is writing compared with life? I was watching at a corner of my garden and marveling at the tiny sprouts of salad which, each like two little green eyes, were peeping above the ground, peeping at life itself. And I know they will stretch their little necks and grow in a week so that they can look comfortably at the universe all round. The plot of earth, which hardly two weeks ago was perfectly bare, is not covered with a rich, velvety green carpet of moss, and on it two young frogs are sprawling and enjoying themselves in the beautiful sunshine. And I must come in and write!
Fig.1 Lin Yutang's 'first sin': the cover of Analects Fortnightly 論語半月刊, no.3 (26 October 1932)
I want so much to go to Hangchow again. But I dare not because of the communists. Not the communists who kill with guns, but those that grill with their pens. It is somewhat difficult to understand. Let me tell you how that happens.
In the past year, I have committed three great sins, or rather four. My First Sin was that I introduced humour through the Analects Fortnightly, and they say it is a great sin to laugh when the imperialists are so oppressing the Chinese peasants. One great leftist writer said, 'You dare not face the reality, you dare not write satire, so you want only humour, and turn all the darkness and ubiquities of the imperialists and militarists into a laughter and be through with it.' It was no use for me to convince them that Confucius himself was humorous—in troublous times, too-for Confucius is not worth a bean in the eyes of the 'p'ulo' (short for 'proletariat writers,' which is translated as 'p'ulot'aliya' and very fashionable). So the only thing I could do was to point out to them that even Gorky and Dostoievsky and Lampoonisky and Wantonisky all had humour. And they quietly shut up. For I had found a Russian ancestor.
My Second Sin was, I advocated the familiar style through Jen Chien Shih ('This Human World'), also a fortnightly. 'The familiar style will ruin China', shouted again the communists, who raised such a hallybahoo in the literary supplement of The Shun Pao, that my magazine immediately went up to a circulation of 22,000 in the first numbers. For this, I had to thank them. But my opening editorial was torn to pieces. I happened to mention that the familiar style of writing could cover everything in life, 'from the big universe to the little flies.' 'What! you are going to talk about flies! You leisure class!' All this, unbelievable as it seems, when I put it in English, was strictly true, and sounded very nice in Chinese, too. It was no use for me to point out to them that Su Tungp'o and Po Chuyi and T'ao Yuanming all wrote very good familiar essays and they did not ruin China, for according to the communists, Su Tungp'o was feudalistic, Po Chuyi a leisure-class writer, and T'ao Yuanming a recluse who 'dared not face reality'. So the only thing I could do was to point out to them that Montaigne did non ruin France and Charles Lamb did not ruin England. I further added that if China can be so easily ruined by this or that, then why not let China go to the dogs? And they quietly shut up. For I had found a French and an English ancestor.
My Third Sin was, that I unearthed and reprinted some old authors of the Ming dynasty, which I loved so much, because it is to me the most interesting period in Chinese literature. 'The ghosts of the feudalistic period have come back again,' shouted the communists. I merely pointed out that the English, French and Germans love their old books too, and that Shakespeare is being enacted unmutilated in Moscow now. And they were greatly impressed.
Fig.2 Front cover of This Human World 人間世, no.13 (5 October 1934), a special issue celebrating half a year in print. Lin's 'second sin' was to advocate a revival of the xiaopin wen 小品文, or 'familiar essay', in the pages of this semi-monthly.
Lastly, I had the audacity to go to Hangchow last spring. This time it was the fascists. 'Hah! You want to visit famous mountains and be elegant.' I did not reply, reasons understood. But I could not help noting, in the same number of that Nanking monthly which denounced my visit to the mountains, a 'Note' to the effect that, 'owing to the spring season, many of the writers have been away, so that the previously announced special number has to be postponed.' 'Damn those hypocrites! They want to eat cold Confucian pork', I cursed in my heart. But in writing, I only confessed my sins, and promised like a good boy that when the time came, I would help them to write a manifesto in the old classical manner, denouncing firstly, the China Travel Service, and secondly the Chekiang Public Roads Department for ruining China by encouraging travel, so that young men and girls, clad in green and red, would be seen going up the mountains instead sitting in their rooms and thinking how to fight Japan. I wrote this in December, otherwise the words 'thinking how to fight Japan' might have been censored, which shows how fast we are progressing. In that brief sketch of the proposed denunciation, I taught them to point out how even visiting Hangchow was was enough to ruin a country, and the danger might be greatly increased by cisiting T'ient'ai, Yentang and T'ienmu. I also pointed out that I would say in that famous denunciation of the Chekiang Public Roads Department, 'To open a road between Hangchow and Huichow is perfectly justifiable, for it is for the purpose of communication. But the Chekiang Public Roads Department had the immorality to open a branch road from Tsaoch'I directly to the foot of the T'ienmu Mountains, for no other conceivable reason than to weaken the morale of the nation and encourage general depravity, etc.' I didn't hear any more from the Nanking editor.
I will merely tell an anecdote, showing how scared I was to be seen by communists traveling in Hangchow when I stealthily went there last winter. I had left Louwailou restaurant after lunch, and asked for the way to the Stork's Tomb (the stork belonging to Lin Hoching, the Sung poet). The waiter told me, 'Just go up by the Placid Lake Autumn Moon.' I was amazed by the poetry of place names, but I just couldn't tell the waiter he was helping to ruin China, too, by using such leisure-class expressions. I knew in my heart tat for these 'p'ulo' who believe that Gorky and Dostoievski are part of their 'literary heritage', but to Tu Fu or Li Po, they would infinitely prefer the name 'Gorky Avenue' or 'Stalin Road' to 'Placid Lake Autumn Moon.' Before coming to Placid Lake Autumn Moon, I passed the Central Park. A chrysanthemum exhibition was on. Having nothing to do, I went in, but I found I had gone in by the 'Exit' entrance, so I came out again, intending to enter by the sign 'In'. There I met two young men with long hair, long cravats and in foreign dress, smoking Russian cigarettes, and each hugging a volume of some Dummkopfsky under his arm. I was so frightened to be seen enjoying the chrysanthemums that I immediately pulled a long face and knitted my brow, pretending to be thinking energetically of the sorrows of my country. I was not enjoying the chrysanthemums, but had merely strayed past the place. But the two young men went in. It was all right for them. And I was left standing there, ashamed of myself, and staring at the carved 'scroll' in front of the gate which says,
and wondering to myself how such a depraved sentiment could be allowed to be shown in public by the revolutionary Municipal Government of Hangchow!