Lin Yutang (Traditional Chinese:林語堂; Simplified Chinese:林语堂, October 10, 1895 – March 26, 1976) was a Chinese writer, linguist, and essayist. His informal but polished style in both Chinese and English made him one of the most influential writers of his generation, and his compilations and translations of classic Chinese texts into English were bestsellers in the West.
Lin Yutang wrote extensively on Chinese social, cultural traditions and introduced them to the West. His witty, sharp analysis was a result of not only his literary talent but also his rigorous scholarly studies on the linguistic, religious, and spiritual roots of social, cultural traditions. He is a rare individual who had a profound understanding of Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism, which added a spiritual depth to his analysis. Lin Yutang is remembered as one of the few individuals who bridged the intellectual environments of the East and West.
Lin was born on October 10, 1895 in the town of Banzai in Zhangzhou (龍溪（漳州）縣), in southeastern China's Fujian province (福建省). The mountainous region made a deep impression on his consciousness, and thereafter he would constantly consider himself a child of the mountains (in one of his books he commented that his idea of hell was a city apartment). His father Lin ZhiCheng (林至誠) was a Christian minister. His mother was Yang ShunMing (楊順命) and Lin Yutang was the fifth son of eight children. His father, ZhiCheng worked as a farmer while serving as a local minister.
Lin went to Saint John's University (聖約翰大) in Shanghai, which was known for its excellent English program. He entered St. John's to become a minister following in the footsteps of his father. He noted that he had a number of questions about the meaning of life and read books at the University library, which had a small collection of 5000 books. However, although he went through almost every book, he could not find his answers. For example, though he believed in Christianity, he had a number of questions regarding Christian teachings: Jesus was said to be born from a virgin Mary, but it is incomprehensible and unreasonable, and yet no rational explanation is given; if God knows that human beings are born sinful, why does He condemn their sinfulness, and others.. He gave up his plan of becoming a Christian minister and changed his major to language studies. Lin Yutang's journey of faith from Christianity to Daoism and Buddhism, and back to Christianity is recorded in his book From Pagan to Christian: The Personal Account of a Distinguished Philosopher's Spiritual Pilgrimage (1959).
Lin Yutang met Chen JinDuan (陳錦端), a sister of his friend, and fell in love. However, they could not marry because of the difference in social ranks between two families.
While Li Yutang was studying at QinHua, he was frustrated with the Chinese dictionary available at that time. He wrote an article in the local student journals and suggested a change in the organization of the dictionary. The article received an attention of the school president and he was invited to join a committee to reform the organization of the Chinese dictionary.
Lin Yutang received a half-scholarship to continue study for a doctoral degree at Harvard University. He later wrote that in the Widener Library he first found himself and first came alive, but he never saw a Harvard-Yale football game. He left Harvard early however, moving to France and eventually to Germany, where he completed his requirements for a doctoral degree (in Chinese) at the University of Leipzig. From 1923 to 1926 he taught English literature at Peking University. On his return to the United States in 1931, he was briefly detained for inspection at Ellis Island.
From 1932, he published a number of essays on diverse issues such as literature, politics, education, language, art, and other social, cultural issues. He wrote with wit, social satire, and humor, and was known as the "great master of humor." In 1935, he published his critical analysis of Chinese people and its tradition in My Country and My People, and the work was well received and established his reputation. The book was long regarded as a standard textbook about Chinese culture and people.
From 1947 to 1950, he lived for three years in Paris as the director of Arts at UNESCO. In 1966, he returned to Taiwan and lived the rest of his life. Lin was buried at his home in Yangmingshan, Taipei, Taiwan. He continued writing while going back and forth between Taiwan and Hong Kong where his daughter is living. He passed way in Hong Kong in 1976.
His home in Taiwan has been turned into a museum, which is operated by Taipei-based Soochow University. The town of Lin's birth, Banzi, has also preserved the original Lin home and turned it into a museum.
His wife, Lin Tsui-feng was a cookbook author whose authentic recipes did a great deal to popularize the art of Chinese cookery in America. Lin wrote an introduction to one of her and their daughter Lin Hsiang Ju's (林相如) collections of Chinese recipes. His second daughter, Lin Tai-Yi (林太乙) was the general editor of Chinese Readers' Digest from 1965 until her retirement in 1988.
He was interested in mechanics. Since Chinese is a character-based rather than an alphabet-based language, with many thousands of separate characters, it has always been difficult to use modern printing technologies. For many years it was doubted that a Chinese typewriter could be invented. Lin, however, worked on this problem for decades and eventually came up with a workable typewriter—brought to market in the middle of the war with Japan.
He also invented and patented several lesser inventions.
Moment in Peking (Traditional Chinese: 京華煙雲; Simplified Chinese: 京华烟云; pinyin: jīng huá yān yún) (also translated as Traditional Chinese: 瞬息京華; Simplified Chinese: 瞬息京华; pinyin: shūn xī jīng huá) is a historical novel originally written in English by Lin Yutang. The novel covers the turbulent events in China from 1900 to 1938, including the Boxer Uprising, the Republican Revolution of 1911, the Warlord Era, the rise of nationalism and communism, and the origins of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945.
The author tries not to be overly judgmental of the characters and recognizes that many issues were involved in the chaotic years of the early twentieth century China. In the preface, Lin writes that "[This novel] is merely a story of… how certain habits of living and ways of thinking are formed and how, above all, [men and women] adjust themselves to the circumstances in this earthly life where men strive but gods rule."
While the author does not display hatred toward the Japanese, he does let events and situations affecting the novel characters to let the reader clearly see the reason the Chinese are still bitter about Japan's military past.
Lin wrote the book in English for a U.S. audience. He originally wanted the poet Yu Dafu to do the Chinese translation, but he had only completed the first section when he was killed by the Japanese in World War II. Lin didn't particularly like the first Chinese translation done in 1941.
In 1977 Zhang Zhenyu, a translator from Taiwan, created what is the most popular translation today. It was not available in mainland China until a publisher in Jilin issued a sanitized version in 1987. The current political climate permits Shaanxi Normal University Press to publish the full translation. Yu Dafu's son Yu Fei (郁飞) finished his own translation in 1991, but his version is not widely read.
After 1928 he lived mainly in the United States, where his translations of Chinese texts remained popular for many years. At the behest of Pearl Buck, he wrote My Country and My People (吾國与吾民，吾国与吾民) (1935) and The Importance of Living (生活的藝術，生活的艺术) (1937), written in English in a charming and witty style, which became bestsellers. Others include Between Tears and Laughter (啼笑皆非) (1943), The Importance of Understanding (1960, a book of translated Chinese literary passages and short pieces), The Chinese Theory of Art (1967), and the novels Moment in Peking (京華煙雲，京华烟云) (1939) and The Vermillion Gate (朱門，朱门) (1953), Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage (當代漢英辭典，当代汉英词典) (1973).
Lin Yutang was one of the best known Chinese writers of the twentieth century. He developed a witty writing style and his works are filled with deep insights, sharp analysis, and a sense of humor. He introduced the West to Chinese culture, tradition, life style, character, and ways of thinking.
His literary excellence was derived not only from his literary talent but also from his profound understanding of linguistic roots of tradition based upon years of scholarly research and studies.
While he was familiar with religious and spiritual traditions of Christianity, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism, he held throughout his life a keen critical and analytical perspective on those spiritual traditions. His spiritual journey from Christianity to Daoism, Buddhism, and back to Christianity illustrates his intellectual and spiritual pursuit for truth.
Lin was very active in the popularization of classical Chinese literature in the West, as well as the general Chinese attitude towards life. He worked to formulate Gwoyeu Romatzyh, a new method of romanizing the Chinese language, and created an indexing system for Chinese characters.
Lin Yutang was versed in a wide range of studies, including religion, morality, history, arts, politics as well as linguistics and literature. His many works represent an attempt to bridge the cultural gap between the East and the West. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times in the 1970s.
Works in English by Lin Yutang
Works in English by Lin Tsuifeng & Lin Hsiang Ju (wife & first daughter)
Works in English by Lin Tai-Yi (second daughter)
There are numerous works by and about Lin Yutang. Only some works are listed below.
All links retrieved July 23, 2018.
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