Lin Yutang:

Lin Yutang.
Born Lin Ho-lok
October 10, 1895
Amoy, Fujian Province, China
Died March 26, 1976
Hong Kong

Chinese writer. Author of The Importance of Living (1937) and Between Tears and Laughter (1943). Translated many works of classical Chinese literature into English.

The repository contains two quotes from Lin Yutang.


If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.


The good traveler is he who is ignorant about his destination. The perfect traveler is ignorant of his point of origin.


Lin Yutang

Chinese writer, philosopher, translator, and poet, Lin Yutang (1895 - 1976), wrote more than 35 books in English and Chinese, and brought the classics of Chinese literature to western readers.

In 1919, at the age of 23, he received a half - tuition scholarship to attend Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He married at this time and moved with his wife to the United States. At Harvard he worked toward his doctorate in comparative literature and counted literary scholar and editor Bliss Perry and humanist Irving Babbitt as his professors. Next to T.S. Eliot, Lin has been called the most influential of Babbitt's students. Lin was perhaps the only writer to feature Babbitt in one of his own poems, having mentioned him in "Autobiographical Poem of the Author at Forty," written in Chinese, and again forty years later in his Memoirs of an Octogenarian.

Lin did not finish his degree at Harvard; instead he moved to Le Creusot, France, to study with other Chinese and to work for the Young Men's Christian Academy (YMCA), teaching Chinese laborers to read and write. In 1921 he was accepted at the University of Jena in Leipzig, Germany, where he finally completed his doctorate. Lin returned to China to teach for thirteen years. He was a professor of English literature at the University of Beijing from 1923 - 1926, and served as Dean at Amoy University in 1926.

Participated in the Literary Revolution

The event known as the May Fourth Movement ushered in a new perspective on Chinese culture and literature. On May 4, 1919, students and intellectuals demonstrated in Beijing, calling for a sense of nationalism, anti - imperialism, and linguistic reform. Lin, part of the latter movement, favored abolishing the old, formal Chinese writing style in favor of everyday vernacular. He also supported expressionism and following one's own beliefs.

Two literary groups evolved during this time - those who maintained that literature was a vehicle for morality plays and government propaganda, and the likes of Lin, who believed literature should reflect personal experiences. He supported realism and humanitarianism in literature.

Lin's desire for literary reinvention carried through his academic life. Around 1924, he was one of the first writers to turn to the new, popular writing form of essays. Considered one the best known essayists, he contributed to the influential magazine Yü Ssu. Lin wrote satirical and critical essays filled with sarcasm about government inefficiency and corruption, and wrote rebellious essays that encouraged independent thinking.

Lin had written in an article that appeared in the publication, Random Talks. As quoted in Lai Ming's A History of Chinese Literature, he said, "All independent thinking persons who honestly hold their personal opinions will, at some time or other, become abusive. But this abusiveness is exactly what upholds the dignity of scholars. The scholar who never criticizes anything, only loses his self."

Eventually, those in power noticed Lin's writings, and warlord "Dog - Meat" General Zhang Zongchang chased him out of Beijing. In 1926, Lin fled with his family back to Amoy where he took a position at Amoy University, then served as a secretary to the foreign ministry with the Wuhan Nationalist Government at Hankou.

Established Popular Satirical Magazines

Lin did not lose his love of self - expression in his essay writing and delved into publishing journals and magazines that accepted new writers. In 1930, Lin and a few colleagues started the China Critic, written in English, that focused on political and social issues. This journal attracted western scholars, and commentaries in the New York Times discussed Lin's writings.

In 1932, Lin established The Analects Fortnightly, a western - style satirical magazine that encouraged individuality. It was an instant success, spurring Lin to start This Human World and Cosmic Wind in 1934 and 1936, respectively. These magazines featured contemporary writing that celebrated the human spirit and everyday pleasures.

Chinese peer Chou Tso - jen and western writers Benedetto Croce and Joel Elias Spingarn influenced Lin. He sometimes drew criticism for his lack of intellectual standards in creating serious modern literature, preferring instead to write about personal experiences and whimsical topics such as the joys of smoking a pipe. Nevertheless, in 1936, in the face of imminent Japanese aggression toward China during World War II, Lin joined others in issuing a Manifesto of the Literary Circle advocating for writers to stand together against suppression of free speech.

Published His First English Book

In China, Lin developed a friendship with American author Pearl S. Buck, who wrote the critically acclaimed novel, The Good Earth. At her encouragement, Lin decided to write a book in English about China specifically for western readers. In 1935, he published My Country and My People, an unashamed, and intimate portrayal of the Chinese people and mindset. The book was translated into numerous languages, and made Lin the first Chinese author to reach the top of the New York Times best - seller list.

Lin moved to the United States settling in New York after publishing My Country and My People. He followed in 1937 with his witty The Importance of Living, a precursor to the modern "self - help" book filled with philosophical observations, which also landed on the national best - seller list throughout 1938. Lin, who had become less influential among Chinese writers, had nonetheless become an international success, with his English translations of Chinese texts, historical accounts, and novels. He was a prolific writer for the next 30 years.

Lin saw himself as a "world citizen," an ambassador who brought Chinese culture to the west, and who encouraged communication between east and west. His Famous Chinese Short Stories Retold was a highly acclaimed translation of Chinese classical literature. Lin also gained notoriety for creating a new method of Romanizing the Chinese language and indexing Chinese characters.

Lin, forever an advocate for enjoyment of life, had a reputation for loafing, encouraging the pursuit of leisure, comfort, food, smoking, and relaxation. The Importance of Living contains observations of life's simple pleasures and spiritual happiness. His many philosophical quotes in the book include: "If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live," and "The most bewildering thing about man is his idea of work and the amount of work he imposes upon himself, or civilization has imposed upon him. All nature loafs, while man alone works for a living."

Visited China for the Last Time

In 1939, Lin published Moment in Peking, a novel that follows the lives of two Chinese families over 40 years. His 1942, The Wisdom of China and India, further explored Chinese humanism. Between Tears and Laughter, written during World War II, was Lin's bitter plea for the west to change its perspective of the world order. In that book he wrote: "The white man's mission has become a paradox and a boomerang. The white man gave the yellow man the Bible and guns. He should have given him the Bible, which he himself has no use for, and kept from him the guns that he himself used most expertly."

Lin returned to China for a few brief trips during the war. He and his family once survived a Japanese raid. He published Vigil of a Nation in 1944, an ambitious diary of war and societal upheaval he witnessed in his homeland. After another brief trip back to China in 1954, he returned to the United States, never to visit mainland China again.

Lin remained a staunch anticommunist, further alienating him from China. For his novel Looking Beyond, 1955, he presented a utopian view of life, emphasizing his themes of hedonistic pursuits such as wine, women, and food. Despite avowing the Taoism doctrine of pleasurable pursuits, in 1959, Lin publicly renounced his "paganism" and returned to the Christianity of his youth.

During the 1960s he translated and edited Chinese texts, and wrote several more novels. In 1973 he published a Chinese - English dictionary, and in 1975 he wrote his Memoirs of an Octogenarian. Lin was nominated in 1975 for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In his later years, he lived in Taiwan and in Hong Kong, where his daughters worked. Lin died at 80 in Hong Kong on March 26, 1976, of heart failure after suffering pneumonia. He is buried in Yangmingshan, Taipei, Taiwan.


Hsia, Chih - Tsing, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction: 1917 - 1957, Yale University Press, New York, 1961.

Ming, Lai A History of Chinese Literature, John Day Company, New York, 1964.


Modern Age, Fall 1999.


Murray, Ryan M., Thesis: "Lighting a Candle and Cursing the Darkness: A Brief Biography of Lin Yutang," December 10, 1999, (December 15, 2004).

Qian, Suoqiao, "The Two - Way Process in the Age of Globalization: Lin Yutang's Masterpiece," City University of Hong Kong, (December 15, 2004).

Warring States Sinology, Lin Yutang, (December 15, 2004).



Lin Yutang

10 Oct 1895 (Amoy) - 25 Mar 1976 (Hong Kong)

Lin Yutang was the next to last of twelve children of a Chinese Presbyterian minister in a small town in the mountains, sixty miles inland from Amoy. He was educated in English at St John's in Shanghai. He studied at Tsinghua University from 1916 to 1919, during which time he encountered his Chinese heritage at its most concentrated.

His later education began in America, specifically at Harvard, where he worked under Bliss Perry and Milton Babbitt in the Comparative Literature Department. His third-person description of himself at Harvard reminds one of Thomas Wolfe's experience in that same library:

In the Widener Library he first found himself, first came alive; never saw a Harvard-Yale football match.

Things became financially tight. Lin's half tuition scholarship had been cut off, he was subsisting on personal loans from back home, and his wife had required surgery for acute appendicitis. The two of them left for France (he received his MA in absentia, in 1920) and Lin went to work for the YMCA, teaching basic literacy to the Chinese workers who had been brought to France during WW1. He discovered in the process the difficulties of mass education, of which in his own way he was to become a master. In 1921, assisted by the devaluation of the mark, he shifted to Leipzig, where he earned a PhD in linguistics in 1923, under Conrady (whose grasp of modern Chinese he found deficient). He returned to China, now fully accredited, as a professor at Peking National University (1923-1926) and Dean of Women's Normal College (1926).

And he wrote. He wrote effectively. His particular blend of sophistication and casualness found a wide audience, and he became a major humorous and critical presence in warlord China. Of the two literary factions in Peking, he headed one, and the other, slightly less opposed to the government, was led by his previous benefactor Hu Shr. He annoyed the warlords. One of them, whom he had ridiculed as the Dogmeat General, put him on a target list of intellectuals. Lin left, taking with him Lu Sywn, one of the writers in his faction, to Amoy University, where Lin became Dean of Arts. Notwithstanding his earlier criticism of the government, he briefly joined the Nationalist Government at Wuhan in 1927 as Secretary to the Foreign Ministry, but, as he later put it,"liked the revolution but got tired of the revolutionists." From the summer of 1927, he abandoned politics and devoted himself to writing for the popular press and editing three literary fortnightlies in Shanghai between 1929 and 1935. His linguistic studies were also done during this relatively quiet period in his life. As a journalist, chiefly in his column The Little Critic from 1930 on, he became famous as the principal voice of independent criticism in China. He further polished an intimate style, "the secret of which is, take your reader into confidence," that was sensationally effective. Pearl Buck became interested, and encouraged him to write a book explaining China to the West. To do this, he retired to the mountains in the summer of 1934. What he brought back from the mountains was the publishing sensation My Country and My People (1935), which hit the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Following this new path, Lin and his family moved back to America, where he produced a stream of articles for the New York Times and various magazines, and another book, The Importance of Living, in 1937. It was Lin's major statement of personal philosophy, a subject with he had wrestled all his life, and which had come to a focus with his study of Emerson under Emerson expert Bliss Perry. However abrasive Lin might be in advocacy, Lin greatly esteemed charm, and he was sensitive to charm in his own tradition. He thus rendered a Li Yw paragraph on the rules for an ideal home:

"Inside the gate there is a footpath, and the footpath must be winding. At the turning of the footpath there is an outdoor screen, and the screen must be small. Behind the screen, there is a terrace, and the terrace must be level. On the banks of the terrace there are flowers, and the flowers must be fresh. Beyond the flowers is a wall, and the wall must be low. By the side of the wall there is a pine tree, and the pine tree must be old. At the foot of the pine tree there are rocks, and the rocks must be quaint. Over the rocks there is a pavilion, and the pavilion must be simple. Behind the pavilion are bamboos, and the bamboos must be thin and sparse. At the end of the bamboos there is a house, and the house must be secluded. By the side of the house there is a road, and the road must branch off. At the point where the several roads come together there is a bridge, and the bridge must be tantalizing to cross. At the end of the bridge there are trees, and the trees must be tall. In the shade of the trees there is grass, and the grass must be green. Above the grass plot there is a ditch, and the ditch must be slender. At the top of the ditch there is a spring, and the spring must gurgle. Above the spring there is a hill, and the hill must be deep. Below the hill there is a hall, and the hall must be square. At the corner of the hall there is a vegetable garden, and the vegetable garden must be big. In the vegetable garden there is a stork, and the stork must dance. The stork announces that there is a guest, and the guest must not be vulgar. When the guest arrives, there is wine, and wine must not be declined. During the service of the wine, there is drunkenness, and the drunken guest must not want to go home." (p267-268)

It will emerge that the purpose of the home is not for the owner, but for the guest. This fresh way of looking at things, not merely exotic but sophisticated in an unfamiliar way, and formatted as an example of ancient but applicable wisdom, was a revelation to the English general reader. The poet Carolyn Kizer, who was given a copy of The Importance of Living in June 1938, by which time it was in its eleventh printing, not only marked certain passages in the margin, but made her own index of other passages in the back inside cover. Such was its impact on the already literate portion of the public.

Between Tears and Laughter

WW2 began for China in July 1937, and Lin's subsequent publications sought to increase American support for China. His novel Moment in Peking (1939) gives a searing portrait of the Japanese invaders. With the American entry into the war in 1941, and foreseeing a Western victory, he became a critic of the West as the inevitable architect of the postwar world. This new posture did not sit well with his previous fans. The New York Times, long his friend and principal media channel, found Between Tears and Laughter (1943) to be "shrill, abusive, and vituperative." A return to China, intended to be for the duration of the war, ended after a month when his house in Chungking was destroyed by Japanese bombs. A second visit in late 1943 and early 1944 led to the book Vigil of a Nation, a tour of China at war, and a prediction that communism on the Russian model could never take root in China.

The book did not produce a negative reaction. It produced an uproar. It alienated everyone. It led to a break with Pearl Buck which in turn resulted in Lin's departure from his longtime publisher John Day (a firm owned by Buck's husband, Richard Walsh). For the period of the Chinese civil war that followed the end of WW2, Lin retreated from politics to the past.

The Wisdom of Laotse

In this new emphasis, he still remained a transmitter of the Chinese world to the West, a role which Lin shared with his contemporary Arthur Waley. Like Waley, he passed from extracts (including extracts from Confucius in 1938, plus Laudz and Jwangdz, which had made up several of his previous books) to full-length studies. He began with a biography of the brilliant and insouciant poet Su Dungpwo in 1947, a poet who was continually getting into trouble, in part through criticizing the government, and thus a congenial figure for Lin. He followed this, building on his earlier Laudz and Jwangdz extracts, with a complete Dau/Dv Jing in 1948, adding to its 81 chapters extracts from Jwangdz by way of commentary. Here for the first time he directly confronted Waley, whose complete DDJ had come out in 1934. Lin kept his independence, but he also kept his judgement. In a footnote to a line in DDJ 29, he says "I follow Waley's rendering, which conveys the meaning perfectly." And the first six lines of DDJ 30 conclude with this footnote:

These six lines are by Waley, for they cannot be improved upon.

It is the nod of one master to another. The rest of us get to stand by and watch.

Lin here reached something like his peak as an interpreter of China. He presented a vision of a complete philosophy of life that suited the personal and advocational needs of the moment, rendered with grace, but also accepting responsibility for the larger whole: every word of a major source text. We know of no evidence that Waley was paying attention from across the water. But was it entirely a coincidence that Waley published his full-length study of the circumspect poet Bwo Jyw-yi in 1949?

Concurrently with Lin's shift to antiquity came financial disaster, in a Mark Twain style and on a Mark Twain scale. Since his days in Peking in the 1920's, alert for ways to solve the communication problems which he perceived as keenly as anyone, Lin had envisioned a Chinese typewriter. In 1931 he had tried to have a model built in London. but it had come to nothing. In the middle 1940's, with his book profits to encourage him, he plunged into this project once more. He found a printer in New York to mold the types, and he found a small engineering firm to make the model. Bills mounted, and the antique dealer Loo Chin-tsai loaned Lin tens of thousands of dollars to finish the model. The thing was undeniably ingenious. Its 72-key input allowed the operator to search and combine in order to produce a total of 7,000 characters, on a machine no larger than a regular office typewriter. A press conference was held in August 1947, at Lin's New York apartment. The Times announced the success. George Kennedy of Yale, himself the inventor of a Mandarin shorthand, pronounced the finding system to be "the most efficient yet devised." Y R Chao was convinced. But with China in the midst of civil war, and with no other market available, the typewriter was a colossal failure. Lin's losses were in the neighborhood of $100,000. He was wiped out. At this dire juncture, Lin was offered the Directorship of the Arts and Letters Division of UNESCO. He and his wife sold their New York apartment to pay their debts, and moved to Paris. He found the work frustrating and exhausting, and within months he had left that position (though not before making some wry comments about those with and without administrative talent), and moved to the south of France, where the two of them lived in extreme simplicity, growing potatoes on their terrace, and putting Lin's pen to work to rebuild their fortunes.

Gate of
        Old Nanyang University

From this placid existence, Lin was called to Singapore in 1954 to be Chancellor of the newly founded but not yet operational Nanyang University. For all the warning implicit in his administrative experiences in Paris, the temptation was great. Lin thought big. Nanyang to him was a second chance at a noncommunist China, outside the reach of the regime in Peking; a place of civilized leisure and contemplation, where pipes might be smoked and quiet discussions held. He set out to build it. He offered his prospective faculty perquisites far beyond the ability of the University's budget to supply. In the process, he angered the ordinary Malaysians, from rickshaw pullers to businessmen, who were volunteering the funds for its establishment. He tried to recruit Han Suyin as a professor of English Literature. She wanted to make a new Asian literature, not teach Dickens. She offered to come on board as the school's physician. Lin announced her appointment the following day as a professor of English. It was separately alleged that communist students, masterminded from Peking, were intimidating all others, and poisoning the atmosphere. The situation rapidly dissolved, and Lin returned to France in 1955 after less than six months on the job, with the University not yet formally open.

Later the Lins were able to move back to New York, to be near their daughters. Lin was persuaded in 1959 by his wife, who unlike himself had remained a Christian through the intervening years, to attend her church, the Madison Avenue Presbyterian. He became interested. He rejoined the Church, and, convinced that this was a matter of public interest, published From Pagan To Christian in that same year. The move had its sympathizers, but it cemented forever the disdain in which Lin is still held by American academics.

But there were nice moments. One of them provided the opening scene for the Preface of Lin's next book, The Importance of Understanding (1960), in which he reverted to summarizing China for America:

"It was one of those evenings. We had invited the Langs and the Targs. My wife knew that Lang was a gourmet and that she could not get away with just a good home-cooked dinner. She produced a pike covered with seaweed and scallop sauce which even I had not tasted in my life. Targ, I knew, was a bibliophile, interested in the bouillabaisse of old editions. What I did not know was that Targ was also a gourmet and Lang also a bibliophile, a collector of medieval scripts. The latter had brought me a 1708 edition of an antique French volume instead of a box of chocolates. When this happens, conversation goes very fast. Targ and Lang started talking about the history of the sauce Béarnaise and How To Cook a Wolf by M F K Fisher. And Targ wanted to know if I could borrow or steal a copy of old Giles's Chinese Biographical Dictionary which he had read about in one of E V Lucas's novels and had been looking for all his life. I do now know what wine we had, but it was not Chablis." (The Importance of Understanding, 13)

Lin and his wife moved in 1965 to Taiwan, where Adet, the oldest of his three daughters, had a job with the Palace Museum. A residence, which he designed for himself, was built for him in Yangmingshan:

        Lin Yutang Library in Taiwan

Of it he once said, perhaps with Li Yw in mind:

"On the premises there is a garden. In the garden there is a house. In the house there is a courtyard. In the courtyard there is a tree. Above the tree there is sky. In the sky there is a moon. What a fortunate man I am!"

In 1969 he was made President of the Taibei Chinese Center of International PEN. His column in Chinese ("Wo swo Bu tan") had five million readers. But the sense of fortune was presently to be shattered. Adet, presumably in despair over a failed marriage, hanged herself on the Palace Museum grounds. Her note said, "Forgive me, I can't live on. My heart is spent. I love you so much." Lin thenceforth spent most of his time in Hong Kong, where his second daughter Anor was chief of the Hong Kong bureau of the Reader's Digest, and his third daughter, Meimei, was a biochemist at Queen Mary Hospital. He still continued, with his customary energy, his cultural bridgebuilding efforts, and in 1972, following years of support by the Chinese University of Hong Kong and years of work by a small editorial staff in Taibei, there appeared his Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage. He and the world considered it his crowning achievement.

His 80th birthday, 10 October 1975, was marked by celebrations in both Hong Kong and Taibei. His daughter Taiyi (Anor) recalls:

When I met my parents at the Hong Kong airport upon their return, Father's eyes shone with gladness. His cup was full. The only honor that he wanted and had not received was the Nobel Prize [for which he had been nominated in 1972 and again in 1973]. But he was his philosophical self about it. "Let us be reasonable," he said. "We must have an attitude of expecting neither too much nor too little from life."

Nearing the end, he wrote "Memoirs of an Octogenarian," a slight pamphlet published in Taibei in 1975. It contains his own valedictory address to the world:

"There comes a time in our lives, as nations and as individuals, when we are pervaded by the spirit of early autumn, in which green is mixed with gold and sadness is mixed with joy, and hope is mixed with reminiscence. There comes a time in our lives when the innocence of spring is a memory and the exuberance of summer a song whose echoes remain faintly in the air, when as we look out on life, the problem is not how to grow but how to live truly, not how to strive and labor but how to enjoy the precious moments we have, not how to squander our energy but how to conserve it in preparation for the coming winter. A sense of having arrived somewhere, of having settled and having found out what we want. A sense of having achieved something, precious little compared with its past exuberance, but still something, like an autumn forest shorn of its summer glory, but retaining such of it as will endure."

Something indeed endures. Lin's character input system, coming into its own as the computer age matured, was purchased in 1985 by the Mitac Automation Company of Taiwan. His English-language works explaining China, translated by others into Chinese, have a steady second public. His dictionary enjoys the esteem of some linguists. His house in Yangmingshan is now the Lin Yutang Memorial Library. But neither China nor the world, in his lifetime, ever quite found a home or a use for him. It is their loss.

E Bruce Brooks



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Lin Yutang

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lin Yutang (October 10, 1895 – March 26, 1976) was a Chinese writer, translator, linguist and inventor. 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. He also invented the Mingkwai "Clear and Quick" Chinese-language typewriter that played a pivotal role in the Cold War Machine Translation research (see Tsu, 2010).


Lin was born in the town of Banzai, Pinghe, Zhangzhou, Fujian. This 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 was a Christian minister. His journey of faith from Christianity to Taoism and Buddhism, and back to Christianity in his later life was recorded in his book From Pagan to Christian (1959).

Academic career and Shanghai intellectual world

Lin studied for his bachelor's degree at Saint John's University in Shanghai, then 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 game.[1] He left Harvard early however, moving to work with the Chinese Labor Corps in France and eventually to Germany, where he completed his requirements for a doctoral degree in Chinese philology at the University of Leipzig. From 1923 to 1926 he taught English literature at Peking University.

Enthusiastic about the success of the Northern Expedition, he briefly served in the new Nationalist government, but soon turned to teaching and writing. He found himself in the wake of the New Culture Movement which criticized China's tradition as feudal and harmful. Instead of accepting this charge, however, Lin immersed himself in the Confucian texts and literary culture which his Christian upbringing and English language education had denied him. His magazine Lun Yu (Analects) attracted essays and readership, and Lin maintained friendship and debate with Hu Shi, Lu Xun, and Zhou Zuoren, key figures in the Shanghai literary scene of the 1930s. He was a key figure in introducing the Western concept of humor, which he felt China had lacked. In 1933, however, Lu Xun attacked the journal Analects for being apolitcal and dismissed Lin's elegant xiaopin wen 小品文, or small essay as "bric a brac for the bourgeoisie." .[2]

Lin's writings in Chinese were critical of the Nationalist government, to the point that he feared for his life. Many of his essays from this time were later collected in With Love and Irony (1940). In 1933, he met Pearl Buck in Shanghai, and she introduced him and his writings to her publisher, Richard Walsh, head of John Day publishers, who published Lin's works for many years.[3]

Career after leaving China

After 1935 Lin lived mainly in the United States, where he became known as a "wise and witty" popularizer of Chinese philosophy and way of life. Lin's first best sellers were My Country and My People (simplified Chinese: 吾国与吾民; traditional Chinese: 吾國與吾民) (1935) and The Importance of Living (simplified Chinese: 生活的艺术; traditional Chinese: 生活的藝術) (1937), written in English in a charming style. 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). The novels Moment in Peking (simplified Chinese: 京华烟云; traditional Chinese: 京華煙雲) (1939), A Leaf in the Storm (1940), and The Vermillion Gate (simplified Chinese: 朱门; traditional Chinese: 朱門) (1953) were well received epics of China in turmoil, while Chinatown Family (1948) presented the lives of Chinese Americans in New York. Partly to avoid controversial contemporary issues, Lin in 1947 published The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo which presented the struggle between Su Dongpo and Wang Anshi as parallel to the struggle between Chinese liberals and totalitarian communists.

Lin's political writings in English sold fewer copies and were more controversial. Between Tears and Laughter (1943) broke with the genial tone of his earlier English writings to criticize Western racism and imperialism. After Pearl Harbor, Lin traveled in China and wrote favorably of the war effort and Chiang Kai-shek in Vigil of a Nation (1944), and was criticized by American China Hands such as Edgar Snow.[4]

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 employ modern printing technologies. For many years it was doubted that a Chinese typewriter could be invented (Tsu 2010). 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 such as a toothbrush with toothpaste dispensing.

He was nominated and served briefly as president (or chancellor) of the Nanyang University created in Singapore specifically for Chinese studies complementary to the English-oriented University of Singapore. He did not, however, choose to continue in that role when Nanyang (South Seas) University became a focus of the struggle for control of Singapore between the Communist-directed left and the liberal, social democratic right. He felt he was too old for the conflict.

With his unique facility for both Chinese and English idiom, Lin presided over the compilation of an outstanding Chinese-English dictionary, Lin Yutang's Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage (simplified Chinese: 林语堂当代汉英词典; traditional Chinese: 林語堂當代漢英詞典) (1972), which contains a massive English index to definitions of Chinese terms. The work was undertaken in Hong Kong, where Lin served for a time at the newly founded Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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.[1]

Dr. Lin was buried at his home in Yangmingshan, Taipei, Taiwan. His home has been turned into a museum, which is operated by Taipei-based Soochow University. The town of Lin's birth, Banzai, has also preserved the original Lin home and turned it into a museum.

Lin's reputation and scholarship on Lin

Although his major books have remained in print, Lin is a thinker whose place in modern Chinese intellectual history has been overlooked until recently.[5] Lin themed conventions have been organized in Taiwan and Lin's native Fujian, and in December 2011, the International Conference on the Cross-cultural Legacy of Lin Yutang in China and America was held at City University of Hong Kong, with professional and private scholars from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, the United States, Germany and Slovakia. The organizer of the conference was Dr. Qian Suoqiao, whose book, Liberal Cosmopolitan: Lin Yutang and Middling Chinese Modernity (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2010) was the first (and still only) full length academic study of Lin in any language.[6] Jing Tsu's Sound and Script in Chinese Diaspora (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010) gives a detailed account of Lin Yutang's typewriter and its role in the context of late 19th century script reform, Chinese national language reform in the early twentieth century, and the fascinating story of his typewriting keyboard and Machine Translation research during the Cold War.


His wife, Liao TsuiFeng (廖翠鳳), was an author, who, along with her daughter Lin Hsiang Ju, wrote three cookery books which popularized Chinese cuisine in the English speaking world. Dr. Lin wrote introductions which explained the historical background and relevance for American life.

His first daughter Adet Lin (林鳳如; also known as Lin Rusi 林如斯) (1923–1971) was an author who also used the pseudonym Tan Yun.

His second daughter Lin TaiYi (林太乙) (1926–2003) was also known as Anor Lin in her earliest writing, and had the Chinese name 玉如. She was an author and the general editor of Chinese Reader's Digest from 1965 until her retirement in 1988. She also wrote a biography of her father in Chinese (林語堂傳), which shows some signs of her father's literary flair.

His third daughter Lin HsiangJu (林相如) (1931-), was referred to as MeiMei in childhood. She was co-author of cookbooks with her mother, and was a biochemist at Queen Mary hospital in Hong Kong.

The daughters all had names containing the character 如 (Ju): Adet 鳳如, Anor 玉如, and HsiangJu 相如.

Works in Chinese or published in China to 1935

(courtesy Lin Yutang House [3])

Works in English by Lin Yutang

This page was last modified on 23 May 2013 at 14:29.


Reinhold Niebuhr (review date 11 September 1943

SOURCE: Niebuhr, Reinhold. “Blind Anger.” Nation 157, no. 11 (11 September 1943): 300-02.

[In the following review, Niebuhr offers a negative assessment of Between Tears and Laughter.]

We have learned to respect and appreciate Lin Yutang as a kind of Wise Man from the East. Beginning with My Country and My People, in which he interpreted Chinese culture for the West, he expounded a philosophy which in our Western tradition would be called Epicurean but which he defined as a combination of Confucian and Taoist viewpoints. He gloried in the earth-bound and sober common sense of Confucianism and poured his scorn upon the heaven-storming fanaticisms of the West.

Perhaps he intended the same spirit to permeate his new book [Between Tears and Laughter], for we are told that the Chinese title, literally translated, means “weeping, laughter, both wrong.” But the tragedies of the war have long since drawn him out of his partly Epicurean and partly Stoic equanimity. There is little in this volume of the “law of measure” which the title betokens. The fact is that Mr. Lin is very, very angry. Anger may, on occasion, distil more wisdom than serenity does; the author's anger is therefore no explanation of the fact that this book will add nothing to his reputation or stature. It is strident in tone, sometimes cheap in expression, full of contradictory opinions,...


Between Tears and Laughter

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