CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
Nos. 30/31, June/September 2012


On Women | China Heritage Quarterly

On Women

I Like to Talk With Women

Lin Yutang 林語堂

This essay appeared in the pages of The China Critic in late 1932. See The China Critic, V:48 (1 December 1932): 1276-1277.—The Editor

I like to talk with women. They are delightful. They always remind me of the immortal lines of Byron:

What a strange thing is man! And what a stranger
Is woman!

Not it must not be inferred that I am a misogynist, like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer; nor do I entertain that high notion of the ladies which is embodied in Shakespeare's gentlemanly saying:

Frailty, thy name is woman.

I like women as they are, without any romanticizing and without any bitter disillusionment. With all their contradictions, light-mindedness and superficialities, I have an immense faith in their commonsense and their instinct for life—their so-called sixth sense. Beneath their superficiality, they live a deeper life and are closer to this business of living than men, and I respect them for it. They live life, while men talk about it. They understand men, while men never understand women. While men spend their lives smoking or hunting or inventing or composing music, they bear children and provide for them, and that is a great thing. I do not believe there is a single father in the world who can provide for his children, if left along. If there were no mothers in this world, all children would catch measles and die of it in their first three years or turn pickpockets in their tenth year. Children would go late to school and I doubt very much grown-ups would ever arrive in their office punctually. Handkerchiefs would remain unwashed, umbrellas would be lost and bus lines would run irregularly. There would be no birthday parties, much less funeral processions, and certainly no barbershops. Yes this great business of living and going on living until the tender flame of life flickers out is carried on by women and not by men. Through them and through them alone, do we preserve our racial continuity, our national homogeneity and our social solidarity. In a world without women, there would be no customs, no conventions, no churches, and no such things as respectability. Man is inherently respectable, but all women are by nature. Instead of respectable and fairly standardized apartment flats and villas, men would live in triangular houses with the most inventive designs, in which one would eat in the bedroom and sleep in the parlour, and the best attaches would not be able to conceive of the importance of distinguishing between a white and a black tie.

Fig.1 Maurice Dekobra (1885-1973) in 1932. The comments of this French writer about the beauty of Chinese women led to an altercation with Lin Yutang 林語堂.

Having made clear the superiority of women's instinct to men's logic, I may now explain why women are so delightful to men in their conversation. In fact, their conversation is part of their business of living. Instead of a colourless discussion of abstract terms, we have what is called gossip, in which persons are very real and everything either creeps or crawls or marries. A woman never introduces a professor of ichthyology in society as a professor of ichthyology, but as the brother-in-law of Colonel Harrison who died in India while she was lying in hospital in New York after an operation for appendicitis. From this standpoint, she could launch forth into what the Japanese statesmen call 'realities,' with immense possibilities for development.—Either Colonel Harrison used to take strolls with her in Kensington Gardens or the appendicitis reminded her of her 'dear, old Doctor Bucks, with his nice, long beard.' No matter how high-flown the discussion may be, a woman always sticks to facts. She knows what are living facts, and what are useless, idle suppositions. That is why any real woman would like the girl in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, when she visits Place Vendôme in Paris, prefer to turn her back on the monument and look up to the famous historical names like Coty and Cartier. Now what is the Vendôme, and what is Coty? With her sureness of instinct, she knows that Coty means something in life, while the Vendôme does not. In the same way, appendicitis is real, while ichthyology is not. Life is made up of births, deaths, appendicitis, measles, Coty's perfumes and birthday parties, and not of ichthyology or ontology. Of course, there are Madame Curies and Emma Goldmans and Beatrice Webbs. But I am speaking of Woman, with a capital letter. I will give a few instances.

I was talking with a lady on a transatlantic liner.

'Do you suppose the United States would have entered the war, had not J.P. Morgan and other New York bankers lent so much money to France and England?'

'Why?' asked my fair companion.

'Because if the Allies had lost, the bankers would have forfeited their loans. The people were hounded into the War without knowing why they entered into it.'

'We entered the War, because of the German atrocities against children and women.'

'Would you know of these atrocities had there not been systematic propaganda?'

'But we knew these atrocities, and that is the point, whether there was propaganda or not.'

'Would there be systematic propaganda if there had not been foreign loan investments?'

'But they did commit the atrocities, and that is why we went into the War, loans or no loans.'

'You admit, don't you, that you would not know of these atrocities, at least not so much of them, had the capitalistic press not dinned it into your ears days in and days out.'

'What difference does it make? We did know of these atrocities and I'm glad we knew of them in time to stop them. And we did stop them. Who won the war? America did.'

I gave up.

'— is a great poet,' I said once to a lady in a railway compartment. 'He has a great ear for music and his language seems to come so naturally.'

'Do you mean W—? His wife smokes opium.'

'Well, he did himself, occasionally. But I was talking about his language.'

'She led him into it. I think she spoiled his life for him.'

'Would you like your cook's pastry the less because he eloped with another man's wife?'

'Oh, that's different.'

'It is exactly the same, isn't it?'

'I feel it is different.'

When a woman appeals to her feeling, the wise man knows it is final, and should hand her the laurels.

'You cannot have a successful Disarmament Conference, so long as the big powers are not willing to disarm,' said I.

'That's it. What is the use of the Disarmament Conference, if the big powers are not unwilling to disarm?' replied a lady.

'I'm afraid I mean if the big powers are not willing to disarm, the Disarmament Conference cannot be successful.'

'Then what is the use of the Disarmament Conference?' said she. 'The Disarmament Conference can only be successful if the big powers are unwilling to disarm.'

'No, if they are not unwilling to disarm,' I corrected.

'No, unless the big powers are unwilling to disarm, the Disarmament Conference cannot be successful. Otherwise not. If they are not unwilling, the Disarmament cannot be successful.'

She was irresistible.