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R.P. BenDedek

R.P. BenDedek Book Review: "My Country and My People" by Lin Yutang
By R.P. Bendedek
Mar 4, 2014 - 12:03:18 AM

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My Country and My People by Lin Yutang 1935
More than a year ago someone passed to me "My Country and My People" written in 1935 by a Chinese scholar Lin Yutang. When the book was first published, The New York Times wrote that "The book burst like a shell over the Western world," and Fanny Butcher in the Chicago Daily Tribune described the book as "the clearest and most interesting dissection and synthesis of China past and present..." In 1976 at the time of his death, The New York Times recorded that "Lin Yutang had no peer as an interpreter to Western minds of the customs, aspirations, fears and thought of his people." The man was extremely accomplished and extremely well educated, having studied in China, America and Germany. He published more than thirty books and other writings and was sometimes criticized by fellow Chinese for the things he wrote.

In the Preface written in June 1935 in Shanghai he wrote:

I write only for the men of simple common sense, that simple common sense for which ancient China was so distinguished, but which is so rare today. My book can only be understood from this simple point of view. To these people who have not lost their sense of ultimate human values, to them alone I speak. For they alone will understand me.

A master of languages, Lin Yutang's writing is captivating and informative, but more than that it is inspirational. In one section he wrote about an event on the creek in front of the Confucius Temple in Nanjing. Having been there I had no trouble imagining the scene. For me personally, this is the beauty of the book - I know firsthand what Mr. Lin is talking about. When he writes "Chinese language is full of contractions which say more than what the words mean" (p.249) I understand exactly what he is saying. His observation that foreigners are unable to read between the lines of Chinese expression and miss the meaning beyond the actual words (p. 242), is a gem that many politically correct multiculturalists need to pick up and examine. Westerners no matter how well meaning, translate the messages of their senses according to their cultural if not totally ideological worldviews.

Lin Yutang's observations about the Chinese in Chapter Nine (The Art of Living - 1. The Pleasures of Life), we could apply to our own societies so eager to discard their traditions, religions and cultures.

"The spirit of man in the industrial age is ugly anyway, and the spirit of man in China, throwing overboard all that is best and finest in their social tradition in a mad rush for things Western without the Western tradition, is uglier still to look at."

"The great majority (of Chinese) still keep their geniality and their joviality, although the educated ones in modern China are usually bad-tempered and pessimistic, having lost all their sense of values." (p 329)

How much we admire those who are different to ourselves and how much we elevate their 'ethnicity' (as though we ourselves have none), without fully comprehending of what stuff such people are made. Mr. Lin however makes a point that it is not the public face or work related behavior by which we can determine the nature of a man, but by who and what he is when the pressures of life are removed.

  • "We do not know a nation until we know its pleasures of life, just as we do not know a man until we know how he spends his leisure. It is when a man ceases to do the things he has to do, and does the things he likes to do, that his character is revealed. (p. 328)"

Mr. Lin relates that Chinese have 'feminine emotional' thinking as opposed to 'masculine rational' thinking (p 249) and says that while they are well mannered to family, friends and acquaintances, "beyond that limit the Chinese as a social being is positively hostile toward his neighbor." He points out that the Chinese have a genius for contentment as well as a shrewd view of life derived from an old, mature, grown-up culture rather than the rash idealism to be found in self-important, young and foolish western cultures. And finally he points out the reason why many westerners cannot understand China, its people and its culture, is that the westerner tries to define according to language, what can only be understood from within social conventions.

Having spent the last few years writing an account of my life in China and being near the final page, I have wondered if some of the statements I have made about China and the West were merely personal perspective for which I might later be reprimanded. Having now read "My Country and My People" I know that I have truly understood the culture of China and its people.

Whilst the content of the book meant so much to me, I know that if you read this book without ever having been to China, that you will learn a great deal more than what you could in any travel brochure or PC manual. And as for the PC militants, I have no doubt that they would find much of what Lin Yutang has written to be utterly offensive and racist. But what would they know. They only know how to play with words for the sake of self-aggrandizement.

"My Country and My People" (1935)
by Lin Yutang (1895 - 1976)
Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press Beijing 2009.

R.P. BenDedek

R.P.BenDedek (pseudonym) is the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' ( ), and is a guest columnist and stand-in Editor at Magic City Morning Star News. He is also the Editor of the 'Writers Journal' at An Australian, he has been teaching Conversational English in China since 2003.

Writers Journal Kingscalendar

"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls

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