A Moment in Peking
Extract from the FOREWARD
“Study hard, so that you can go to one of those universities. Acquire and education and become a famous man."
My father (Lin Yutang) often repeated this story to me. As I sat in his study, surrounded by bookshelves of his works, I knew that Grandfather’s words were the inspiration of his life. In his 80 years, my father wrote and translated more that 50 books and became a world-renowned author. The New York Times said at the time of his death, ‘Lin Yutang had no peer as an interpreter to Western minds of the customs, aspirations, fears and thoughts of his people.’ Father was a novelist, essayist, philosopher, philologist and lexicographer. He also invented a Chinese typewriter. “But her was more,” wrote Prof. Nelson I. Wu of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. “He was a total man, stubbornly going his own way through the criticism of lesser minds to become a universal genius.”
I am very pleased that the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press is now publishing four of his most distinguished works. My Country and My People, the Importance of Living, A Moment in Peking and Six Chapters of a Floating Life in English.
Lin Tai yi
Extract from the Novel
Dedication from Lin Yutang
THE BRAVE SOLDIERS OF CHINA
WHO ARE LAYING DOWN THEIR LIVES
THAT OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN
SHALL BE FREE MEN AND WOMEN
THIS VOLUME WRITEN BETWEEN
AUGUST 1938 AND AUGUST 1939
IS HUMBLY DEDICATED
What is a novel but “a little talk,” as the name hsiaoshuo implies? So, reader, listen to this little talk awhile when you have nothing better to do.
This novel is neither an apology for contemporary Chinese life nor an expose of it, as so many recent Chinese “dark curtain” novels purport to be. It is merely a story of how men and women in the contemporary era grow up and learn to live with one another, how they love and hate and quarrel and forgive and suffer and enjoy, how certain habits of living and ways of thinking are formed, and how, above all, they adjust themselves to the circumstances in this earthly life where men must strive but the gods rule. Lin Yu Tang
BOOK ONE – The daughters of a Taoist
It was the morning of the twentieth of July, 1900. A party of mule carts were lined up at the western entrance of Matajen Hutung, a street in the East City of Peking, a part of the mules and carts extending to the alley running north and sough along the pink walls of the Big Buddha Temple. The cart drivers were early; they had come there at dawn, and there was quite a hubbub in that early morning, as was always the case with these noisy drivers.
Lot, an old man of about fifty and head servant of the family that had engaged the carts for a long journey, was smoking a pipe and watching the drivers feeding the mules; and the drivers were joking and quarrelling with each other. When they could not joke about each other’s animals and the animals’ ancestors, they joked about themselves.
“In such times,” said one, “who can tell whether one comes back dead or alive after this journey?”
“You are well paid for it, aren’t you?” said Lota. “You can buy a farm with a hundred taels of silver.”
“What is the use of silver when your are dead?” replied the driver. “Those bullets from foreign rifles don’t recognize persons. Peng-ten! It goes through you brain-cap and you are already a corpse with a crooked queue. Look at the belly of this mule! Can flesh stay bullets? But what can you do? One has to earn a living.”
“It’s difficult to say,” rejoined another. “Once the foreign soldiers come into the city, Peking won’t be such a good place to live in, either. For myself, I’m glad to get away.”
The sun rose from the east and shone upon the entrance to the house, making the leaves of the big colanut tree glisten with the dew. This was the Yao house, It was not an imposing entrance – a small black door with a red disc in the center. The colanut tree cast its shade over the entrance, and a driver was sitting on a law stone tablet sunk into the ground. The morning was delightful, and yet it promised to ba a hot day with a clear sky. A medium-sized earthen jar was standing near the tree, which provided tea in hot summer days for thirsty wayfarers. But is was still empty. Noticing the jar, a driver remarked, “Your master does good deeds.”
Lota replied there was not better man on earth than their master. He pointed to a slip of red paper pasted near the doorpost, which the driver could not read: but Lot explained to him that it said that medicines against cholera, colic and dysentery would be given free to anybody.
“That’s something important,” said the driver. “You’d better five us some of that medicine for the journey.”
“Why should you worry about medicine when you are travelling with our master?” said Lota. “Isn’t it the same whether you carry it or our master carries it?”
The rivers tried to pry out of Lota information about the family. Lota merely told them that his master was an owner of medicine shops.
Soon the master appeared to see that all was in order. He was a man of about forty, short, stumpy, with bushy eyebrows and pouches under the eyes, and not beard, but a very healthy complexion. His hair was still perfectly black. He walked with a young, steady gait, with slow but firm steps. It was obviously the gait of a trained Chinese athlete, in which the body preserved and absolute poise, ready for a surprise attack at any unsuspected moment from the front, the side, or behind. One foot was firmly planted on the ground, while the other leg was in a forward, slightly bend open, self-protective position, so that he could never be thrown out of his balance. He greeted the drivers and, noticing the jar, reminded Lota to keep it daily filled with tea as usual during his absence.
“You’re a good man,” chorused the drivers.
He went in, and soon appeared a beautiful young woman. She had small feet and exquisite jet-black hair done in a loose coiffure, and wore an old broad-sleeved pink jacket, trimmed around the collar and the sleeve ends with a thee-inch broad, very pale green satin. She talked freely with the drivers and showed none of the shyness usual among higher-class Chinese young women. She asked if all the mules had been fed, and disappeared again.
“What luck your master has!” exclaimed one young driver. Ä good man always is rewarded with good luck. Such a young and pretty concubine!”
“Rot your tongue!” said Lota. “Our master has no concubines. That young woman is his adopted daughter and a widow.”
The young driver slapped his own face in fun, and the other laughed.
Soon another servant and a number of pretty maids, from twelve or thirteen to eighteen in age, came out with bedding, packages, and little pots. The drivers were rather dazzled, but dared not pass further comments. A boy of thirteen followed, and Lota told the drivers it was the young master.
After half an hour of this confusion, the departing family cam out. The beautiful young woman appeared again with two girls, both dressed very simply in white cotton jackets, one with green, the other with violet trousers. You can always tell a daughter of a well-to-do family from a maidservant by her greater leisureliness and quietness of manner; and the fact that the young woman was holding their hands showed the drivers these two were the daughters of the family.
“Hsiaochieh, come into my cart,” said the young driver. “The other’s mule is bad.”
Mulan, the elder girl, thought and compared. The other cart had a smaller mule, but his driver had a more jovial appearance. On the other hand, this young driver had ugly sors on his head. Mulan chose by the driver rather than the mule.
So important are little things in our life, perfectly meaningless in themselves, but as we look back upon them in their chain of cause and effect, we realise they are sometimes fraught with momentous consequences. If the young driver had not had sores on his head, and Mulan had not got into the other cart with the small and sickly-looking mule, things would not have happened on this journey as they did, and the course of Mulan’s whole life would have been altered.
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