The scholar, Taoist, and modernist Lin Yutang wrote The Importance of Living to express his highly subjective, personal feelings and advocate a practical and enjoyable simple life – all part of an unorthodox approach to life and philosophy among contemporary Westerners. Among ancient teachings he drew inspiration from the Chuang Tzu, where it is said, “Only those who take leisurely what the people of the world are busy about can be busy about what the people of the world take leisurely.”
The Importance of Living is a witty precursor to the modern self-help book, filled with philosophical observations of life’s simple pleasures. He advocates a friendly, hearty enjoyment of life and derives many of his carrying attitudes from a Chinese philosophy of a wise disenchantment (Taoism). Thus, the ideal life for Lin Yutang is that of a lazy, wandering Taoist scholar.
Steeped in the ancient wisdom of his homeland, Lin Yutang, who had lived for a few years in France and Germany, and much longer in the United States, in typical Taoist fashion deliberately avoided fame because he considered it led to troubles.
What you get below is mostly annotated quotations and abstracts of passages from Lin Yutang’s book “The Importance of Living”.
Deprived of academic training in philosophy, I am less scared to write a book about it. Everything seems clearer and simpler for it.
I have always wandered outside the precincts of philosophy and that gives me courage.
I know there will be complaints that my words are not long enough.
Technically speaking, my method and my training are all wrong.
High-mindedness . . . enables one to go through life . . . and escape the temptations of fame and wealth and achievement . . . And from this detachment arise also his sense of freedom, his love of vagabondage and his pride.
The necessity for such common cries as “Wake up and live” is to me a good sign.
It is not when he is working in the office but when he is lying idly on the sand that his soul utters, “Life is beautiful”.
Where there is a national mind so racially different and historically isolated from the Western cultural world [as the Chinese], we have the right to expect new answers to the problems of life.
I distrust all dead and mechanical formulas for expressing anything connected with human affairs.
A vague, uncritical idealism . . . lends itself to ridicule and too much of it might be a danger to mankind, leading it round in a futile wild-goose chase for imaginary ideals.
I regard the Chinese as most closely allied to the French in their sense of humor and sensitivity.
Idealism must stand for different things in different countries, as the so-called sense of humor really comprises a very wide variety of things.
It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.
High sensitivity to the pleasures and pains and flux and change of the colors of life is the very basis that makes a light philosophy possible.
The Japanese and Germans are very much alike in their comparative lack of humour (such is the general impression of people) . . . and I intuitively feel that I am right.
There is a robust sense of reality, a . . . spirit of reasonableness which crushes reason itself.
When a friend of Confucius told him that he always thought three times before he acted, Confucius wittily replied, “To think twice is quite enough.”
My faith in human dignity consists in the belief that man is the greatest scamp on earth. Human dignity must be associated with the idea of a scamp and not with that of an obedient, disciplined and regimented soldier.
I am doing my best to glorify the scamp or vagabond. (Lin did not actually live like one, though. He was far behind the goal he held up for others.]
I do not think that any civilization can be called complete until it has . . . made a conscious return to simplicity.
I call no man wise until he has made the progress from the wisdom of knowledge to the wisdom of foolishness.
The world, I believe, is far too serious, and being far too serious, it has need of a wise and merry philosophy.
To me personally the only function of philosophy is to teach us to take life more lightly and gaily than the average businessman does, for no businessman who does not retire at fifty, if he can, is in my eyes a philosopher.
Examine what will make possible a whole-hearted enjoyment of this life and a more reasonable, more peaceful and less hot-headed temperament. Find thereby the philosophy of the Chinese people. It draws from Confucius and Laotse and other ancient philosophers; it draws from these fountain springs of thought and harmonizes them into a whole, and has created an art of living in the flesh, visible, palpable and understandable. It has become quite clear to me that the philosophy of a wise disenchantment and a hearty enjoyment of life is their common message and teaching.
The traditional, orthodox Christian view was that man was created perfect, innocent, foolish and happy, living naked.
The Genesis story of the reason why Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden was not that they had tasted of the Tree of Knowledge, as is popularly conceived, but the fear lest they should disobey a second time and eat of the Tree of Life and live forever.
You can’t make a man a Christian unless you first make him believe he is a sinner.
It is human to have thirst for knowledge and thirst for water . . . to admire a beautiful saying and a beautiful woman.
The Chinese go so far as to assume that Heaven or God Himself is quite a reasonable being . . . supervising the affairs of reasonable and some unreasonable beings.
One can learn such a lot and enjoy such a lot in seventy years, and three generations is a long, long time to see human follies and acquire human wisdom.
What a terrible punishment it would be . . . to see crumpets and have no teeth to chew them.
“Absence of work and pain and sorrow.” I admit such a heaven has a tremendous attraction to galley slaves.
In some souls, the discordant note becomes harsher and harsher . . . and the individual shoots himself . . . through the lack of a good self-education.
Human life can be lived like a poem.
Have wives ever complained that husbands don’t notice a good steak or a good omelet?
I feel that macaroni has done more for our appreciation of Italy than Mussolini.
One ought to imitate the French and sigh an “Ah!” when the waiter brings a good veal cutlet, and makes a sheer animal grunt like “Ummm!” after tasting the first mouthful.
I am afraid that when a Chinese surgeon cuts up my liver in search of a gall-stone, he may forget about the stone and put my liver in a frying pan.
Everybody must have food, which is not the case with the sexual instinct.
Our hearts go out to people in famine, but not to the cloistered nuns.
How many good, quiet herbivorous professors are totally lacking in rapacity and the ability to get ahead in competition with others, and yet how truly I admire them!
Had we all perfect brains, we shouldn’t have to make new resolutions every New Year.
Ants are a hard-working, sane, saving and thrifty lot. They are the socially regimented and individually disciplined beings.
The English have got bad logic, but very good tentacles . . .
The spirit of reasonableness, a sort of warm, glowing, emotional and intuitive thinking, joined with compassion, will insure us . . . the development of our life to bring it into harmony with our instincts can save us.
Human dignity . . . consists of four characteristics of the scamp . . . They are: a playful curiosity, a capacity for dreams, a sense of humor to correct those dreams, and finally a certain waywardness and incalculability of behavior.
This is the characteristic of all worthwhile human learning and human scholarship, an interest in things in themselves and a playful, idle desire to know them as they are, and not because that knowledge directly or immediately helps in feeding our stomach.
Only a monkey can look thoroughly bored with life. Great indeed is the monkey!
An imaginative child is always a more difficult child.
People fight for their dreams as much as they fight for their earthly possessions.
The desire for immortality is very much akin to the psychology of suicide, its exact opposite.
Where are the smiles of the European dictators?
Something must be wrong with dictatorships, if dictators have to look either angry or else vainglorious.
Humor necessarily goes with good sense and the reasonable spirit, plus some exceptionally subtle powers of the mind.
The only important thing [is] the arrival of a race of men imbued with a greater reasonable spirit, with greater prevalence of good sense, simple thinking, a peaceable temper and a cultured outlook.
Simplicity of life and thought is the highest and sanest ideal for civilization and culture.
Mankind, overburdened with . . . ideas and ambitions and social systems, seems unable to rise above them.
He who is master of his ideas is not enslaved by them.
It seems to me simplicity is about the most difficult thing to achieve in scholarship and writing.
No learned scholar can present to us his specialized knowledge in simple human terms until he has digested that knowledge himself and brought it into relation with his observations of life.
Simplicity presupposes digestion and also maturity . . . and we arrive at that true luminosity of knowledge which is called wisdom.
As we speak of the growing maturity of Su Tungp’o’s prose, we say that he has “gradually approached naturalness” – a style that has shed off its youthful love of pomposity, pedantry, virtuosity and literary showmanship.
The humorist . . . indulges in flashes of common sense or wit, which show up the contradictions of our ideas with reality with lightning speed.
The reason I think all dictatorships are wrong is a biological reason. Dictators and cows go well together.
Perhaps I don’t understand economics, but economics does not understand me, either.
A man without passion or sentiment . . . is a worm, a machine, an automaton, a blot upon this earth.
A man with a warm, generous and sentimental nature may be easily taken in by his cleverer fellowman.
Sometimes the generous man comes home disillusioned to write a poem of bitterness. That is the case of many a poet and scholar in China.
Emperor Ch’ienlung once went up a hill overlooking the sea during his trip to South China and saw a great number of sailing ships busily plying the China Sea to and fro. He asked his minister what the people in those hundreds of ships were doing, and his minister replied that he saw only two ships, and their names were “Fame” and “Wealth”.
How completely the great problems of labor, unemployment and tariffs leave the mind of a defeated presidential candidate even two weeks after an election!
The praise of folly has never been interrupted in Chinese literature.
Wise disenchantment with life receives a romantic or religious touch and enters the realm of poetic fantasy, when the poor, ragged and half-crazy monk becomes for us the symbol of highest wisdom and nobility of character.
I have always assumed that the end of living is the true enjoyment of it. Every man born into this world . . . should order his life so that he can find the greatest happiness in it.
What can be the end of human life except the enjoyment of it?
After all every girl feels happier when she is well-dressed.
“To cut with a sharp knife a bright green watermelon on a big scarlet plate of a summer afternoon. Ah, is this not happiness?”
My suspicion is, the reason why we shut our eyes willfully to this gorgeous world, vibrating with its own sensuality, is that the spiritualists have made us plain scared of them.
A philosophy that recognizes reality can lead us into true happiness, and . . . that kind of philosophy is sound and healthy.
How often people fail to see the essential kindness of spirit of a Stoic.
The love of mankind which requires reasons is no true love.
No man who loves the trees truly can be cruel to animals or to his fellowmen.
When the spirit has been properly nourished through the senses, he is able to retain a true mental and moral health.
But against evils born of pure vanity and self-deception, against the verbiage by which man persuades himself that he is the goal and acme of the universe, laughter is the proper defence.
I almost believe that optimism is a fluid.
It is through the cooperation of the senses, and of the heart with the head, that we can have intellectual warmth. Intellectual warmth, after all, is the thing.
What does literature do except to recreate a picture of life, to give us the atmosphere and color, the fragrant smell of the pastures or the stench of city gutters?
Art should be a . . . warning against our paralyzed emotions, our devitalized thinking and our denaturalized living [too].
Art . . . assemble the ruined parts of a dislocated life again into a whole.
Philosophy . . . is the exercise of the spirit for excellence.
The perception of a grand order in the universe . . . I would exchange it for a well prepared meal.
[There is] the delight of solving a crossword puzzle successfully.
Let us remind ourselves that millions of people can be happy without discovering this simple unity of design.
I prefer talking with a colored maid to talking with a mathematician; . . . I generally gain more in knowledge of human nature by talking with her.
At any time I would prefer pork to poetry, and would waive a piece of philosophy for a piece of fillet, brown and crisp and garnished with good sauce.
Any true philosopher ought to be ashamed of himself when he sees a child.
The philosopher ought to be ashamed . . . ashamed that he wears spectacles, has no appetite, is often distressed in mind and heart, and is entirely unconscious of the fun in life.
Any adequate philosophy of life must be based on the harmony of our given instincts.
The highest conception of human dignity, according to the Chinese Confucianists, is when man reaches ultimately his greatest height, an equal of heaven and earth, by living in accordance with nature.
To arrive at understanding from being one’s true self is called nature, and to arrive at being one’s true self from understanding is called culture.
Those who are their absolute selves in the world can fulfil their own nature.
While I am sitting here before my desk, a pigeon is flying about a church steeple . . . I know that my lunch is a more complicated affair than the pigeon’s, and that the few articles of food I take involve thousands of people at work and a highly complicated system of cultivation, merchandising, transportation, delivery and preparation.
We have this toiling humanity alone, caged and domesticated, but not fed, forced by this civilization and complex society to work and worry about the matter of feeding itself.
Civilization is largely a matter of seeking food, while progress is that development which makes food more and more difficult to get . . . This doesn’t seem to make very much sense.
The American is known as a great hustler.
I suspect that the American hustler admires the Chinese loafer.
The machine culture is rapidly bringing us nearer to the age of leisure.
American culture, cut short literally and figuratively by the gold rush, may blossom forth again.
Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise. The wisest man is therefore he who loafs most gracefully.
I could never see the beauty of skyscrapers in New York, and it was not until I went to Chicago that I realized that a skyscraper could be very imposing and very beautiful to look at, if it had a good frontage and at least half a mile of unused space around it.
Somehow the high-minded scholar who valued his character more than his achievements, his soul more than fame or wealth, became by common consent the highest ideal of Chinese literature.
Po Yüchien: “I’m too lazy to read the Taoist classics, for Tao doesn’t reside in the books; Too lazy to look over the sutras, Too lazy am I to read poetry, Too lazy to drink wine, Too lazy to play chess.” (Extracts from The Hall of Idleness)
If men fail to enjoy this earthly existence we have, it is because they do not love life sufficiently and allow it to be turned into a humdrum routine existence.
A vague hope of immortality detracts from our wholehearted enjoyment of this earthly existence.
“Today the sky is clear, the air is fresh and the kind breeze is mild. Truly enjoyable it is to watch the immense universe above and the myriad things below.” (Wang Hsichih, “The Orchid Pavilion,” CE 353)
We human beings have a limited span of life to live on this earth, . . . therefore we have to arrange our lives so that we may live as happily as we can under a given set of circumstances.
“How are we to live?” Philosophy in the Western sense seems to the Chinese eminently idle . . . it has forgotten to deal with the knowledge of life itself. That is so much tomfoolery and a kind of frivolity, like wooing and courtship without coming to marriage and the producing of children.
Liehtse gave the parable of the Old Man at the Fort:
“An old man was living with his son at an abandoned fort on the top of a hill, and one day he lost a horse. The neighbors came to express their sympathy for this misfortune, and the old man asked “How do you know this is bad luck?”
A few days afterwards, his horse returned with a number of wild horses, and his neighbors came again to congratulate him on this stroke of fortune, and the old man replied, “How do you know this is good luck?”
With so many horses around, his son began to take to riding, and one day he broke his leg. Again the neighbors came around to express their sympathy, and the old man replied, “How do you know this is bad luck?”
The next year, there was a war, and because the old man’s son was crippled, he did not have to go to the front.”
Evidently this kind of philosophy enables a man to stand a few hard knocks in life.
The illusive rewards of fame are pitched against the tremendous advantages of obscurity.
He who is not wanted by the public can be a carefree individual.
Is life really worth all the bother, to the extent of making our soul a slave to the body?
For a Chinese, nearly right is good enough.
Efficiency, punctuality and the desire for achievement and success . . . are . . . things that make . . . Americans . . . unhappy and so nervous.
Most of the letters are not worth answering.
American water-taps do not leak. That is a consolation.
A Chinese magazine can begin printing serial fiction and forget about it halfway.
The Chinese are extremely punctual, provided you give them plenty of time.
Americans have now come to such a sad state that they are booked up not only for the following day, or the following week, but even for the following month.
The American’s inability to loaf comes directly from his desire for doing things and in his placing action above being.
The desire of American old men and women for action, trying in this way to gain their self-respect and the respect of the younger generation, is what makes them look so ridiculous to an Oriental.
Character . . . takes time to grow.
The beauty of old men. I think an appreciation of that kind of beauty is essential to our life.
The final test of any civilization is, what type of husbands and wives and fathers and mothers does it turn out?
A civilization which ignores the home or relegates it to a minor position is apt to turn out poorer products.
We are all born as babies, suck at mothers’ breasts and marry and give birth to other babies.
No civilization has any excuse for depriving a man or woman of his or her right to have babies.
Man has not learned to live with woman, since history began. The strange thing is that no man has lived without a woman, in. spite of that fact.
Confucius says, “The young should learn to be filial in the home and respectful in society; they should be conscientious and honest, [and if] they still have energy left, let them read books”.
Philosophy . . . has gone far astray when it departs from nature’s own conception and “tries to make women happy without taking into account this maternal instinct.”
The rewards of political, literary and artistic achievement produce in their authors only a pale, intellectual chuckle, while the rewards of seeing one’s own children grow up big and strong are wordless and immensely real.
What real authority the American woman does exercise is still from her traditional old throne the hearth over which she presides as the happy ministering angel . . . she suffuses a radiance which would be unthinkable or out of place in an office.
American women are trying harder to please the men than, for instance, Chinese women, so far as attention to sex appeal is concerned.
Beauty aids and day creams, night creams, vanishing creams, foundation creams, face creams, hand creams, pore creams, lemon creams, sun-tan oils, wrinkle oils, turtle oils, and every conceivable variety of perfumed oil. Perhaps it is simply because American women have more time and more money to spend. Perhaps they dress to please men and undress to please themselves, or the other way round, or both.
Women as a whole, as seen in the parks and in the streets, have better figures and are better dressed, thanks to the continuous tremendous daily efforts of women to keep their figure to the great delight of men. But I imagine how it must wear on their nerves.
I . . . find it hard to understand how American women have submitted so sweetly to [commercial] exploitation of their bodies.
My view of woman is not due to a motherhood complex, but is due to the influence of the Chinese family ideal.
Chinese society and Chinese life are organized on the basis of the family system.
Why Confucius laid such emphasis on filial piety nobody knows, but it has been suggested . . . that the reason was that Confucius was born without a father.
In place of this individualism and nationalism of the West, there is then the family ideal in which man is not regarded as an individual but as a member of a family and an essential part of the great stream of family life.
This sense of family consciousness and family honor is probably the only form of team spirit or group consciousness in Chinese life.
Confucius wanted to be pretty sure that all our human instincts are satisfied, because only thus can we have moral peace through a satisfying life, and because only moral peace is truly peace.
In China, the first question a person asks the other on an official call, after asking about his name and surname is, “What is your glorious age?” . . . Enthusiasm grows in proportion as the gentleman is able to report a higher and higher age, and if the person is anywhere over fifty, the inquirer immediately drops his voice in humility and respect.
A man able to celebrate his eighty-first birthday is actually looked upon as one specially favored by heaven.
American people hate to be thought of as old.
The whole pattern of Western life places a premium on youth and therefore makes men and women shrink from telling people their age.
To enjoy health in old age, or to be “old and healthy,” is the greatest of human luck.
The Chinese . . . have always pictured an old man with “ruddy cheeks and white hair” as the symbol of ultimate earthly happiness.
I find grand old men with white beards missing in the American picture . . . Perhaps it is the safety razor that has done it, a process as deplorable and ignorant and stupid as the deforestation of the Chinese hills by ignorant fanners, who have deprived North China of its beautiful forests and left the hills as bald and ugly as the American old men’s chins.
Gone is Uncle Sam with his goatee, for he has taken a safety razor and shaved it off, to make himself look like a frivolous young fool with his chin sticking out instead of being drawn in gracefully, and a hard glint shining behind horn-rimmed spectacles.
Among the many human rights the American people have provided for in their Constitution, they have strangely forgotten about the right to be fed by their children . . . The Chinese idea supporting this personal service to old parents is expressly defended on the sole ground of gratitude.
It is amazing how few people are conscious of the importance of the art of lying in bed.
Nine tenths of the world’s most important discoveries, both scientific and philosophical, are come upon when the scientist or philosopher is curled up in bed at two or five o’clock in the morning.
Those people who agree with me in believing in lying in bed as one of the greatest pleasures of life are the honest men.
I am sorry I am not proficient in bird-lore, but I enjoyed them all the same.
Bird-songs stand out preeminently.
There are many lollers among my friends and acquaintances, but somehow I have acquired a special reputation for lolling.
A legend developed that I was a man doing nothing the whole day but lolling idly on a sofa smoking a cigar.
What are armchairs for anyway, except for people to loll in?
If we admit that comfort is not a sin, then we must also admit that the more comfortably a man arranges himself in an armchair in a friend’s drawing-room, the greater respect he is showing to his host.
Human life goes in cycles of work and play, of tension and relaxation.
When we . . . find a true conversationalist, the pleasure is equal to, if not above, that of reading a delightful author.
A good conversation is . . . like a good familiar essay.
When we hear a true conversation or read a good familiar essay, we feel that we have seen a plainly dressed country maiden washing clothes by the riverbank, with perhaps her hair a little disheveled and one button loose, but withal charming and intimate and likable.
Enjoyment . . . can . . . be developed in an atmosphere of leisure, friendship and sociability.
A broader view of house should include everything pertaining to living conditions.
It is the invariable test of a wise man whether he has good food at home or not.
It is a pretty crazy life when one eats in order to work and does not work in order to eat.
The Westerners go to see a doctor only when they are sick, and do not see him when they are well.
Tomato juice must be ranked as one of the greatest Western discoveries in the twentieth century.
Westerners shake each other’s hands, while we shake our own.
There is a great desire among housewives . . . to vary their interior arrangements.
The ideal of Chinese interiors seems to consist of the two ideas, simplicity and space. A well arranged room always has few pieces of furniture.
Modern astronomy, by exploring the entire visible universe, is forcing us to accept this earth itself as a very heaven.
There are the silent and dignified trees, giving us shade in summer and not shutting out the warm sunshine in winter . . . there are flowers blooming and fruits ripening by rotation in the different months . . . there are spring showers and summer thunderstorms and the dry crisp wind of autumn and the snow of winter . . . there are peacocks and parrots and skylarks and canaries singing inimitable songs . . . monkeys, tigers, bears, camels, elephants, rhinoceros, crocodiles, sea lions, cows, horses, dogs, cats, foxes, squirrels, woodchucks and more variety and ingenuity than we ever thought of . . . there are rainbow fish, sword fish, electric eels, whales, minnows, clams, abalones, lobsters, shrimps, turtles and more variety and ingenuity than we ever thought of . . . there are magnificent redwood trees, fire-spouting volcanoes, magnificent caves, majestic peaks, undulating hills, placid lakes, winding rivers and shady banks . . . go and partake of the feast and not complain about the monotony of life.
The enjoyment of Nature is an art, depending so much on one’s mood and personality.
What is good and what is bad taste in the art of love between husband and wife in the intimacy of their bedroom . . . can be prescribed by rules.
One who has the artistic temperament shows it wherever he goes.
I find the autobiographies of Rudyard Kipling and G. K. Chesterton disappointing. Why . . . are the unimportant anecdotes regarded as so important? Men, men, men, everywhere, and no mention of flowers and birds and hills and streams!
The reminiscences of Chinese literary men . . . The important thing is to tell a friend in one’s letter about a night on the lake.
“There are several cassia trees at the Hupao Spring, stretching low over some rocks. During blossom, its yellow flowers cover up the stone steps, its perfume making one feel like visiting the Kingdom of Divine Fragrance.” – Chu Chuchia.
The average building looks like wooden blocks built by a peevish or fickle child who is tired of the game before he finishes building, and leaves them unfinished and uncrowned. The spirit of Nature has left the modern civilized man.
We often plant flowers and lay them out on a plot so that they resemble either a circle, or a star, or different letters of the alphabet, and we are horrified when some of the flowers so planted get out of line, as we are horrified when we see a West Point cadet march out of step, and we proceed to cut them down with scissors.
There exists . . . the great problem of recovering nature and bringing nature back to the home . . . How is one going to have a plot of grass or a well or a bamboo grove even if he is rich enough to rent a penthouse? . . . Begin, therefore, by giving man land and plenty of it. No matter what the excuse, a civilization that deprives man of land is wrong. But suppose in a future civilization every man is able to own an acre of land, then he has got something to start with. He can have trees, his own trees, and rocks, his own rocks. He will be careful to choose a site where there are already full-grown trees . . . His children will then be able to study nature in Nature and not study nature in a glass case. At least his children . . . need not be woefully ignorant about sex and reproduction as the children of “good” Boston families.
The love of rocky peaks in Chinese landscape painting . . . The basic idea is that rocks are enormous, strong and suggest eternity. They are silent, unmovable and have strength of character . . . Above all, from the artistic point of view they have grandeur, majesty, ruggedness, and quaintness.
The artistic appreciation of artificial rock sceneries and that of mountain rocks in landscape painting are closely associated. (295)
Laotse, “The Old Boy,” always emphasized in his Taotehching the uncarved rock.
Houses without trees around them are naked, like men and women without clothing.
The enjoyment of the pine tree is probably most notable and of the greatest poetic significance. It typifies . . . nobility of manner.
There are so many kinds of beauty, beauty of tenderness, of gracefulness, of majesty, of austerity, of quaintness, of ruggedness, of sheer strength.
Li Liweng says that to sit in an orchard full of peach trees and flowers and willows without a pine nearby is like sitting in the company of young children and women without the presence of an austere master or old man.
The enjoyment of pine trees is artistically most significant, because it represents silence and majesty and detachment from life.
As one stands there beneath a pine tree, he looks up to it with a sense of its majesty and its old age, and its strange happiness in its own independence.
The old pine tree . . . Like wise, old men, it understands.
Female dancers, with their long sleeves and their flowing robe, try to simulate the movement of willow branches swaying and bowing in the wind . . . there are places in China where willows are planted for miles around and then when a wind blows over them, the effect of the combination is spoken of as “willow-waves”.
There is also great love of gigantic old creepers, two or three inches across at their roots, encircling old trees or rocks.
The enjoyment of trees is not only in and for themselves, but in association with other elements of nature, such as rocks, clouds, birds, insects and human beings.
“In regard to what I said about not keeping birds in cages, I wish to add that it isn’t that I don’t love birds, but there is a proper way of loving them. The best way of keeping birds is to plant hundreds of trees around the house, and let them find in their green shade a bird kingdom and bird homes. So then, at dawn, when we have waked up from sleep and are still tossing about in bed, we hear a chorus of chirping songs like a celestial symphony. When we have got up and put on our gowns and are washing our faces or gargling our mouths or sipping the morning tea, we see their gorgeous plumes flitting to and fro, and before we have time to look at one, our eyes are attracted by another an enjoyment that is not to be compared with looking at a single bird in a single cage. Generally the enjoyment of life should come from a view regarding the universe as a park and the rivers and lakes as a pond, so that all beings can live according to their nature, and great indeed is such happiness!” – Cheng Panch’iao (1693-1765) in a letter to a younger brother.
Flowers – there is the matter of fragrance, . . . of color and appearance and charm, [and] flowers are always associated with the outward surroundings and seasons of their bloom.
The cassia is naturally associated with the harvest moon and mid-autumn . . . it is the easiest of all things for lovers of flowers to make them stand in our mind for definite pictures of the different seasons, as the holly stands for Christmas.
The plum flower is probably most beloved by Chinese poets among all flowers . . . the plum flower is the poet’s flower.
I have seen people caring for their orchids like their own parents. An extremely valuable plant aroused as much jealousy as a particularly good piece of bronze or vase.
The chrysanthemum is the flower of the poet T’ao Yuanming.
The lotus or water lily is in a class by itself . . . if one does not have a house near a pond, he can grow them in big earthen jars.
The hait’ang pyrus, resembling apple-blossoms, enjoys as great a popularity among poets as any other flower.
Quite as important as the selection and grading of the flowers themselves is their arrangement in vases.
“When picking branches from flower trees for decoration in vases, it is important to know how to trim them before putting them in the vase.” – From “Six Chapters of a Floating Life”.
[According to Yüan Chungking,] enjoyment of vase flowers should never be regarded as normal, but at best only as a temporary substitute for people living in cities.
“The neatness of flowers lies exactly in their irregularity and naturalness of manner.” – Yüan Chungking.
“Generally the flowers should match with the vases.” – Yüan Chungking.
“The way of bathing flowers is to use fresh and sweet water from a spring and pour it down gently in small quantities.” -Yüan Chungking.
According to Yüan, certain flowers go with certain other flowers as their minors or “maids” in a vase.
“Ancient people who had a weakness for flowers . . . would travel across high mountain passes and deep ravines in search of (a remarkable variety) . . . These were the people who were true lovers of flowers.” – Yüan Chungking.
The enjoyment of nature does not lie merely in art and painting. Nature enters into our life as a whole.
From epigrams by Chang Ch’ao
“When the mirror meets with an ugly woman, when a rare ink-stone finds a vulgar owner, and when a good sword is in the hands of a common general, there is utterly nothing to be done about it . . . The reason why a looking-glass doesn’t become the enemy of ugly-looking women is because it has no feeling; if it had, it certainly would have been smashed to pieces.” – Chang Ch’ao (1600s)
“Beautiful women are better than flowers.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“The willow makes a man sentimental. – Chang Ch’ao.
“There are landscapes on earth, landscapes in painting, landscapes in dreams, and landscapes in one’s breast. – Chang Ch’ao.
“”One should discipline oneself in the spirit of autumn, and deal with others in the spirit of spring.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“One should listen to the sounds of birds in spring, to . . . the sounds of flute under the moonlight, the sounds of pine trees in the mountains, and the sounds of ripples on the waterside. Then he shall not have lived in vain. ” – Chang Ch’ao.
“The method of “playing” the moon is to look up at it from a low place when it is clear and bright, and to look down at it from a height when it is hazy and unclear.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“Those who take leisurely what the people of the world are busy about can be busy about what the people of the world take leisurely.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“Leisure enables one to read, to travel to famous places, to form beneficial friendships, to drink wine, and to write books. What greater pleasures can there be in the world than these?” – Chang Ch’ao.
“To talk with learned friends is like reading a rare book; to talk with poetic friends is like reading the poems and prose of distinguished writers; to talk with friends who are careful and proper in their conduct is like reading the classics of the sages; and to talk with witty friends is like reading a novel or romance.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“Bosom friends are those who, although separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, still have implicit faith in us and refuse to believe rumors against us.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“One soon gets tired of the peasants and woodcutters who know only how to distinguish the different kinds of grains and to forecast the weather.” – Chang Ch’ao. (324)
“Among the different kinds of friends, those who can write poems are the best, those who can talk or hold a conversation come second, those who can paint come next, those who can sing come fourth, and those who understand wine games come last.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“Reading books in old age is like looking at the moon on an open terrace . . . the depth of benefits of reading varies in proportion to the depth of one’s own experience.”- Chang Ch’ao.
“One who understands truth difficult to explain by words can grasp the highest Buddhist wisdom.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“One should read the classics in winter, because then one’s mind is more concentrated.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“An ancient writer said that he would like to have ten years devoted to reading, ten years devoted to travel and ten years devoted to preservation and arrangement of what he had got.”- Chang Ch’ao.
“Borrowing from the sorrows of other people, for the purpose of his own songs and sighs, one can write good poetry without waiting to be poor or unsuccessful.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“I cannot be a farmer myself, and all I can do is to water the garden.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“[Among] things that exasperate me, are . . . that pine trees are full of big ants . . . that porcupines are often poisonous to eat.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“To be born in times of peace in a district with hills and lakes when the magistrate is just and upright, and to live in a family of comfortable means, marry an understanding wife and have intelligent sons this is what I call a perfect life.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“One living in a city should regard paintings as his landscape, miniature sceneries in a pot as his garden, and books as his friends.” – Chang Ch’ao.
A monk . . . needs . . . abstain from vulgarity. – Chang Ch’ao.
“The moon can take the place of lamps, but lamps cannot take the place of the moon.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“A man servant cannot take the place of a maid.” – Chang Ch’ao.
“Want one day to give a grand nudist ball . . . to propitiate the spirits of the beautiful women of all ages.” – Chang Ch’ao.
Travel seems to have become a lost art.
Tourists are so busy with their cameras that they have no time to look at the places themselves.
False travelers . . . travel by schedule . . . still bound by the clock and run by the calendar while abroad.
A true traveler is always a vagabond, with the joys, temptations and sense of adventure of the vagabond . . . The essence of travel is to have no duties, no fixed hours, no mail, no inquisitive neighbors, no receiving delegations, and no destination.
A a perfect traveler does not know where he came from. He does not even know his own name and surname.
Observing the charms of people and their customs: This kind of benefit is entirely missed by those travelers on the sight-seeing buses, who stay in the hotel, converse with their fellow passengers from the home country, and in the case of many American travelers in Paris, make a point of eating at the favorite rendezvous of American tourists, where they can be sure of seeing all their fellow passengers who came over on the same ship all over again, and can eat American doughnuts which taste exactly as they taste at home . . . Such travelers never allow themselves the time and leisure for entering into the spirit of the people and thus forfeit one of the greatest benefits of traveling.
There is a different kind of travel, travel to see nothing and to see nobody, but the squirrels and muskrats and woodchucks and clouds and trees.
The point is whether one has got the heart to feel and the eyes to see. If he hasn’t, his visits to the mountains are a pure waste of time and money; on the other hand, if he has got “a special talent in his breast and a special vision below his eyebrows,” he can get the greatest joy of travel even without going to the mountains, by staying at home and watching and going about the field to watch a sailing cloud, or a dog, or a hedge, or a lonely tree.
It is not necessary to go to all the famous beauty spots of land and sea in order to explore nature’s wonder and mystery.
Those who fail to see the mystery and grandeur of a single hedge or a dog have seen only what is not grand and what is not mysterious.
Glimpses from The Travels of Mingliaotse by Tu Lung
“We put on our gowns and girdles, feeling like caged monkeys, so that even when a louse bites our body and our skin itches, we cannot scratch it. And when we are walking at leisure in the streets, we are afraid of disobeying the law.” – Tu Lung.
“The noblest and most chivalrous spirits . . . have a sense of wise disenchantment and are pleased with their own being.” – Tu Lung.
“He who has attained the Tao can go into water without becoming wet, jump into fire without being burned, walk upon reality as if it were a void and travel on a void as if it were reality.” – Tu Lung.
“One who travels does so in order to open his ears and eyes and relax his spirit. He explores . . . he comes back, shuts himself up and sits looking at the blank wall, and in this way ends his life . . .
Unable to find peace within myself, I made use of the external surroundings to calm my spirit, and being unable to find delight within my heart, I borrowed a landscape to please it. ” – Tu Lung.
“We travel without a destination and stop over wherever we find ourselves, and we go very slowly . . . We do not try to do too much, lest we feel tired . . .
“At a ferry, we wait to let other people get into the boat first. But if there is a storm we do not try to cross the water, or if a storm comes up when we are already halfway across, we calm our spirit, and leaving it to fate with an understanding of life, we say, ‘If we should be drowned while crossing, it is Heaven’s will.” – Tu Lung.
“If one of us falls ill, we stop to attend to the illness. . . .
“We are unable to defend ourselves against the tigers or wolves. . . .
“Above us there is the pure firmament. . . .
“Or a furious wind lashes upon the water and gigantic waves rise . . . Ah, how magnificent it is then!”
“When he is pleased with what he sees or hears, he stays at a place for ten days.” – Tu Lung.
“The Taoists or monks are seated in order on their straw cushions, drinking tea and eating fruit and perusing the classics. After a while, when they are tired, they control their respiration and enter the stage of quietude.” – Tu Lung.
Of two Taoists enjoying to travel: “People of the street wonder at the sight of these two ragged souls carrying themselves with such an air of charm and happiness.” – Tu Lung.
The ideal educated man is not necessarily one who is well-read or learned, but one who likes and dislikes the right things.
Erudition is a mere matter of cramming of facts or information, while taste or discernment is a matter of artistic judgment.
With taste comes charm.
A psychoanalyst tells us that the performing of the functions of the bowels during childhood has a definite connection with ambition and aggressiveness.
Independence of judgment, as we know, is such a rare virtue among mankind.
The moment a student gives up his right of personal judgment, he is in for accepting all the humbugs of life.
Why has the educational system twisted and distorted the pleasant pursuit of knowledge into a mechanical, measured, uniform and passive cramming of information?
With the necessity of grading come school marks, and in order to have school marks, there must be recitations, examinations, and tests . . . there is no escape from it. But the consequences of having mechanical examinations and tests are more fatal than we imagine. For it immediately throws the emphasis on memorization of facts rather than on the development of taste or judgment. [Cf. Bloom’s taxonomy of learning.]
Confucius said: “That scholarship which consists in the memorization of facts does not qualify one to be a teacher.”
I am pretty well educated, although I am in utter confusion about the capital of Spain.
The pursuit of knowledge . . . will remain a pleasure, instead of becoming a torture, if the spirit of exploration with an open, questioning, curious and adventurous mind is maintained.
The pursuit of knowledge should remain nobody else’s business but one’s own . . . then can education become a pleasure and become positive.
Art is both creation and recreation. Of the two ideas, I think art as recreation or as sheer play of the human spirit is more important.
It is characteristic of play that [play] is its own good reason.
Freedom is the very soul of art.
When a child has an over-supply of energy, his normal walking is transformed into hopping or skipping.
Art is very much broader than painting and music and dancing.
Every human activity has a form and expression, and all forms of expressions lie within the definition of art.
From the later Chin Dynasty (200s-300s CE): Men learned to wabble about clad in extremely loose gowns. The dress was so designed that there was no part of one’s body unreachable in case one wanted to scratch an itch. Everything was gracefully done.
Among the most beautiful amenities of life I have seen in the West are the clicking of heels of Prussian gentlemen bowing to a lady in a parlor.
One should hear how the Mandarin laughs or spits. It is positively delightful . . . I really don’t mind the germs thus let out into the air, if the spitting is aesthetically done.
Theater-goers always enjoy and applaud a perfectly executed laugh.
There are so many kinds of laughter: the laughter of happiness, the laughter at some one falling into one’s trap, the laughter of sneer or contempt, and most difficult of all, the laughter of despair.
Communists and Fascists make a false start at the very beginning by ignoring the role of the individual, both as the creating personality and the object of the creation.
Personality is the very soul of art. The Chinese have always accepted implicitly the belief that no painter can be great unless his own moral and aesthetic personality is great.
The problem of technique, which has to be mastered, but as art is also spirit, the vital element in all forms of creation is the personal expression.
Good form has a swing . . . a flow of expression, and that power of expression must not be hampered by the technique.
Without that highly individual thing called personality, beauty itself becomes banal. So many girls aspiring to be Hollywood stars do not know this.
We are able to see a whole category of aesthetic qualities or different types of beauty, and no one will be able to separate the beauty of the finished product and the beauty of the artist’s own soul. There may be beauty of whimsicality and waywardness, beauty of rugged strength, beauty of massive power, beauty of spiritual freedom, beauty of courage and dash, beauty of romantic charm, beauty of restraint, beauty of soft gracefulness, beauty of austerity, beauty of simplicity and “stupidity,” beauty of mere regularity, beauty of swiftness, and sometimes even beauty of affected ugliness. There is only one form of beauty that is impossible because it does not exist, and that is the beauty of strenuousness or of the strenuous life.
Enjoyment of books has always been regarded among the charms of a cultured life.
The man who has not the habit of reading is imprisoned in his immediate world . . . [but a good book] unburdens to him some of his personal regrets.
Reading gives a man a certain charm and flavor.
[One should] for the cultivation of personal charm of appearance and flavor in speech.
Confucius said, “When one is fifty, one may read the Book of Changes” . . . The extremely mild flavor of Confucius’ own sayings in the Analects and his mature wisdom cannot be appreciated until one becomes mature himself.
One has to be independent and search out his masters.
Scholars who are worth anything at all never know what is called “a hard grind” or what “bitter study” means. They merely love books and read on.
There is a good reason for not doing any reading in any of the seasons of the year, if one does not like reading:
To study in spring is treason;
And summer is sleep’s best reason;
If winter hurries the fall,
Then stop till next spring season.
What, then, is the true art of reading? . . . to just take up a book and read when the mood comes.
To be thoroughly enjoyed, reading must be entirely spontaneous.
A good cup of tea makes [the reading] still more perfect. Or perhaps on a snowy night, when one is sitting before the fireside, and there is a kettle singing on the hearth.
Ch’en Chiju (Meikung): “The best style of reading a book or opening an album is the leisurely style.”
From the autobiography of China’s greatest poetess, Li Ch’ingchao (Yi-an, 1081-1141). She and her husband would go to the temple, where secondhand books and rubbings from stone inscriptions were sold, on the day he got his monthly stipend as a student at the Imperial Academy. Then they would buy some fruit on the way back, and coming home, they began to pare the fruit and examine the newly bought rubbings together, or drink tea and compare the variants in different editions. As described in her autobiographical sketch known as Postscript to Chinshihlu [a book on bronze and stone inscriptions]:
“I have a power for memory, and sitting quietly after supper in the Homecoming Hall, we would boil a pot of tea and, pointing to the piles of books on the shelves, make a guess as to on what line of what page in what volume of a certain book a passage occurred and see who was right, the one making the correct guess having the privilege of drinking his cup of tea first. When a guess was correct, we would lift the cup high and break out into a loud laughter, so much so that sometimes the tea was spilled on our dress and we were not able to drink. We were then content to live and grow old in such a world! Therefore we held our heads high, although we were living in poverty and sorrow . . . In time our collection grew bigger and bigger and the books and art objects were piled up on tables and desks and beds, and we enjoyed them with our eyes and our minds and planned and discussed over them, tasting a happiness above those enjoying dogs and horses and music and dance . . .”
Who aspires to be a writer . . . tell him to stop trifling with . . . superficial matters and get down to the depths of his soul, to the end of developing a genuine literary personality . . . style follows as a natural consequence and the little points of technique will take care of themselves.
Style is not a method, a system or even a decoration for one’s writing; it is but the total impression that the reader gets of the quality of the writer’s mind, his depth or superficiality, his insight or lack of insight and other qualities like wit, humor, biting sarcasm, genial understanding, tenderness, delicacy of understanding, kindly cynicism or cynical kindliness, hardheadedness, practical common sense, and general attitude toward things.
The first rule of a student of literature is to learn to sample different flavors.
A good reader turns an author inside out.
There are two mines of language, a new one and an old one. The old mine is in the books, and the new one is in the language of common people . . . first-rate artists can get something out of the new mine.
A writer feels a maternal affection toward his literary product as a mother feels toward her baby.
When a writer hates a person and is thinking of taking up his pen to write a bitter invective against him, but has not yet seen his good side, he should lay down the pen again, because he is not yet qualified to write a bitter invective against the person.
“Divine afflatus” [the flow of the vital spirit, “being in the zone”] comes in the morning when one has had a good sleep with sweet dreams and wakes up by himself.
The best teacher . . . cannot change one’s type of personality.
“The sole goal of writing is expressiveness.” – Mencius.
“The lines and form of writing come quite accidentally, like the holes in wood eaten by insects.” – Huang Shanku.
I trust an indiscreet fool and suspect a lawyer.
The indiscreet fool is a nation’s best diplomat. He wins people’s hearts.
The pleasure we have in a small restaurant, eating and drinking and chatting and teasing each other and overturning cups and spilling wine on dresses is something which people at the grand dinners don’t understand and cannot even “miss.”
Of little lodges in the mountains: The atmosphere [there] is quite different from the rich men’s mansions with . . . a platoon of servants and maids standing around. When one enters the door, he does not hear the barking of faithful dogs and he does not see the face of snobbish butlers and gatekeepers, and when he leaves, he doesn’t see a pair of “unchaste stone lions”.
How can there be set rules for literature or writing, when we see that mountain cliffs and ravines and streams possess a beauty of waywardness and ruggedness far above that of canals, and yet they were formed without the calculations of an architect?
The wen or literary beauty of things arises from their nature, and those that fulfill their nature clothe themselves in wen or beautiful lines. Therefore wen, or beauty of line and form, is intrinsic.
[Various animals,] their bodily shapes are the result of their bodily functions, and this is also the secret of beauty in writing.
This thing we call shih is the beauty of movement, and not the beauty of static proportions. Everything that lives and moves has its shih and therefore has its beauty, force, and wen, or beauty of form and line.
If God loves me only half as much as my mother does, he will not send me to Hell.
Thinking is an art, and not a science.
The feeling of the average man, even of the educated person, is that philosophy is a “subject” which he can best afford to go without.
There is . . . a distinction between logical thinking and reasonable thinking, which may be also expressed as the difference between academic thinking and poetic thinking.
The Sage talks about life, as he is directly aware of it; the Talented Ones talk about the Sage’s words and the stupid ones argue about the words of the Talented Ones.
The more [man] analyzes, the more he has need to define.
In contrast to logic, there is common sense, or still better, the Spirit of Reasonableness.
We can . . . conceive of reasonable husbands and wives who quarrel reasonably and then patch up reasonably.
The Spirit of Reasonableness is the essence and best side of Chinese civilization.
To be ‘in accord with human nature’ [to be human], is a greater consideration than to be logical.
Humanized thinking is just reasonable thinking.
Try to maintain a sane balance in an ever-changing sea of conflicting impulses, feelings, and desires.
The opposite of the reasonable spirit is fanaticism and dogmatism of all sorts in thought and behavior.
I am less terrified by the theories of Fascism and Communism than by the fanatical spirit which infuses them.
Only an insane type of mind can erect the state into a god and make of it a fetish to swallow up the individual’s right of thinking, feeling and the pursuit of happiness.
edited by staff