My dear Kacvey,

You may wish to share this view with your students by of course respecting social distancing during the Wuhan virus pandemic, officially known as Covid-19.

It is about a particular character trait, among many others, written by Lin Yutang 林语堂 in his book “My Country and My People – 吾国与吾民”

In Chapter 2(4), Lin Yutang identified “old roguery – 老猾俏皮” as that particular character trait. Here are some extracts of what he wrote:

“… An old rogue is a man who has seen a lot of life, and who is materialistic, nonchalant, and skeptical of progress. At its best, this old roguery gives us mellowness and good temper, which in old men make many girls prefer them for husbands. For if life is worth anything, it is that it teaches a lesson of kindliness. The Chinese people have arrived at this point of view, not by having found any religious sanction for it, but from a profound observation and a knowledge of the vicissitudes of life. Typical of this extremely shrewd philosophy is the following famous dialogue of two poet-monks of the Tang Dynasty: “Once Hanshan asked Shihteh: “If one slanders me, sneers at me, despises me, injures me, hates me, and deceives me, what should I do?” Shihteh replied: “Only bear with him, yield to him, let him, avoid him, endure him, respect him, and ignore him. And after a few years, you just look at him.
寒山曾问拾得:”世间谤我,欺我,辱我,笑我,轻我,贱我,厌我,骗我, 如何处治乎?拾得云: “只是忍他,让他,由他,避他,耐他,不要理他,再待几年,你且看他。”

Lin Yutang continued:

“… At its worst, this old roguery, which is the highest product of Chinese intelligence, works against idealism and action. It shatters all desire for reform., laughs at the futility of of human effort. and renders the Chinese people incapable of idealism and action. It has a strange way of reducing all human activities to the level of the alimentary canal and other simple biological needs. Mencius 孟子 was a great rogue when he declared the chief desires of mankind to be food and women, or alimentation and reproduction. The late President Li Yunhong 黎云洪 was also a great rogue when he pronounced the healthily accepted dictum of Chinese political philosophy and formula for solving all Chinese party differences by saying “When there is rice, let everybody share it – 有饭大家吃.” President Li was a grim realist without knowing it , and he spoke wiser than he knew when he was thus giving an economic interpretation of current Chinese history…

Li Yutang went on:
… This nonchalant and materialistic attitude is based on the very shrewd view of life to which only old people and old nations can attain. It would be futile for young men under thirty to understand it , as it is futile for young nations of the West to try to appreciate it. Perhaps it was no mere accident that “Laozi, 老子” the very name of the author of Dao De Jing 道德经, the Bible of Taoism, means “the old boy.”

“… Taoism, in theory and practice … is a philosophy which counteracts the positivism of Confucius, and serves as a safety-valve for the imperfections of a Confucian society. For the Confucian outlook on life is positive, while the Taoistic outlook is negative, and out of the alchemy of these two strange elements emerges the immortal thing we called the Chinese character.

Hence all Chinese are Confucianists when successful, and Taoists when they are failures. The Confucianist in us builds and strives, while the Taoist in us watches and smiles. Therefore when a Chinese scholar is in office he moralizes, and when he is out of office he versifies, and usually it is good Taoist poetry. That explains why almost all Chinese scholars write poetry, and why in almost all collected works of Chinese writers, poetry occupies the better and greater half.

“… The Chinese are by nature greater Taoists than they are by culture Confucianists. As a people, we are great enough to draw up an imperial code, based on the conception of essential justice, but we are also great enough to distrust lawyers and law courts. Ninety-five per cent of legal troubles are settled out of court. We are great enough to make elaborate rules on ceremony, but we are also great enough to treat them as part of the great joke of life, which explains the great feasting and merry-making at Chinese funerals. We are great enough to denounce vice, but we are also great enough not to be surprised or disturbed by it. We are great enough to start successive waves of revolutions, but we are also great enough to compromise and to go back to the previous patterns of government. We are great enough to elaborate a perfect system of official impeachment and civil service and traffic regulations and library reading-rooms rules, but we are also great enough to break to break all systems, to ignore them, circumvent them, play with them, and become superior to them. We do not teach our young in the colleges a course of political political science, showing how a government is supposed to be run, but we teach them by daily example how our municipal, provincial and central governments are actually run. We have no use of impracticable idealism, as we have no patience for doctrinaire theology. We do not teach our young to become like the sons of God, but we teach them to behave like sane, normal human beings. That is why I believe that the Chinese are essentially humanists and Christianity must fail in China, or it must be altered beyond recognition before it can be accepted. The only part of Christian teachings which will be truly accepted by the Chinese people is Christ’s injunction to be “harmless as doves – 慈和如鸽” but “wise as serpents – 极敏如蛇.” For these two virtues, dove-like gentleness and serpent-like wisdom, are attributes of the old rogue.

In one word, we recognize the necessity of human effort but we also admit the futility of it. This general attitude of mind has a tendency to develop passive defense tactics. “Great things can be reduced into small things, and small things can be reduced to nothing – 大事化小事,小事化无事.” On this general principle, all Chinese disputes are patched up, all Chinese schemes are readjusted, and all reform programs are discounted until there are peace and rice for everybody. “One bid is not as as good as one pass – 多一事不如省一事,” so runs another of our proverbs, which means the same thing as “Let well enough alone – 勿生事,” and “Let sleeping dogs lie – 莫惹睡狗.”

In Chapter 3(3), “Lack of Science 缺乏科学精神,” Lin YuTang wrote:
Sufficient discussion of the characteristics of Chinese thinking has been made to enable us to appreciate the cause of their failure to develop natural science. The Greeks laid the foundation of natural science because the Greek mind was essentially an analytical mind, a fact which is proved by the striking modernity of Aristotle. The Egyptians developed geometry and astronomy, sciences which required an analytical mind; and the Hindus developed a grammar of their own. The Chinese, with all their native intelligence, never developed a science of grammar, and their mathematics and astronomical knowledge have largely been imported. For the Chinese mind delights only in moral platitude, and their abstract terms like “benevolence, ” “kindliness,” “propriety, ” and “loyalty ” are so general that in such discussions they are naturally lost in vague generalities…

It is easy to see why the Chinese mind cannot develop a scientific method, for the scientific method, besides being analytical, always involves an amount of stupid drudgery, while the Chinese believe in flashes of common sense and insight. And inductive reasoning, carried over to human relationships (in which the Chinese are primarily interested) often results in a form of stupidity not so rare in American universities …

This letter will be updated when and if other info are revealed in the book.