Extraordinary Chinese Sayings, 1840-1999 - Part 2
By popular demand, here is another set of selected translations from Extraordinary Sayings (非常道) by Yu Shicun (余世存).
Why was Part 1 so popular? I think that it was because it did not pretend to have a global structure for Chinese history and culture. Alternately, it asserts that Chinese history and culture consist of the sum total of individual persons and events for which there is no simple narrative.
When Zhang Jingjiang (张静江) first met the struggling Sun Yat-sen, he said that he was willing to donate money to the cause of the revolution. He gave Sun his business card: "My Paris address is printed here. I will do what I can. Whatever Mr. Sun needs, I will get it!" The two agreed on a special code. When Sun needs money, he can send Zhang a telegraph with one of the letters from "ABCDE." These letters represent ten, twenty, thirty, forty and fifty thousand francs respectively. In 1907, Sun was desperate in trying to raise funds for an uprising. He suddenly remembered this agreement and told Huang Qing (黄庆). Huang thought that this was crazy, but he had no options left and therefore asked Hu Hanmin (胡汉民) to send a telegraph with the letter "C" to that Paris address. The people in the Alliance heard about it and thought Sun was naive, or that the whole matter was hilarious and ridiculous, or told Sun: "If a 'C' can bring in 30,000 francs, then the sun will rise from the west." In less than 20 days, a bank draft for 30,000 francs arrived at the Tokyo headquarters of the Alliance from Paris. Sun and Huang were delighted beyond belief.
Lei Zhen (雷震) was allowed to read newspapers while in prison in Taiwan, but the newspapers were censored in many places by cutting out holes. Lei Zhen protested, but the prison authorities said: "You do not have the right to read about troublesome news." Lei Zhen said: "Let us suppose that you are right. But when you cut something out, you also cut out the piece on the back that was not a problem. I have the right to read that piece!" So the prison authorities changed the method and used black ink to cover up the censored sections without having to cut them out.
But this is like covering up one's ears and believing that the bell is not ringing anymore. The important news can still be filled in retroactively. "So the news about Li Zongren (李宗仁) defecting to the Communists was censored. But a few days later, I read the news about Bai Chongxi (白崇禧) condemning Li for defecting, and I can deduce what news had been censored the other day."
In the summer of 1959, Zhou Enlai (周恩来) spoke to Ma Yinchu (马寅初). Ma would not concede anything, so this conversation was not making any progress. Finally, Zhou used a tone that was akin to begging: "Old Ma, you are 16 years older than me. I respect your ethics and knowledge and I regard you as my teacher. In 1938, we got acquainted in Chongqing and we have been friends for more than 20 years. How many twenty years are there in a lifetime? This time, you must oblige my plea and go back to write a detailed self-criticism. After the criticism, you are okay, I am okay, we're all okay. We get past this socialism thing. How about it?" Ma Yinchu said to Zhou: "I love my friends, but I love the truth even more. For the sake of the nation and the truth, it is not Ma Yinchu who should be writing a self-criticism!"
In 1947, Long Yun (龙云)'s most loyal subordinate Zhang Chong (张冲) surrendered to the Communists. When the news was broadcast by Xinhua, Chiang Kai-shek was shocked. He immediately scolded Long Yun: "Zhang Chong was your subordinate. You must take responsibility." Long Yun said: "That's right. Zhang Chong was my subordinate. But I ask: Lin Piao (林彪) was one of your Huangpo Military Academy students, so why is Lin Piao opposing you? Who is going to take responsibility for that?"
Zhao Yuanren (赵元任) once told some westerners: "We the Chinese people must live like modern people at some point. We cannot keep wearing costumes from the Museum of Anthropology for you westerners to visit and gawk at."
Zhang Zongchang (张宗昌) had a quick mind. When he was working under Zhang Zuolin (张作霖), it happened that Zhang Zuolin had designated Guo Songlin (郭松龄) to reform the army. Guo was planning to stick it to Zhang Zongchang. One time, Guo came to inspect Zhang Zongchang's troops and they got into argument. Guo began to curse Zhang using the standard language about fucking his mother. Unexpectedly, Zhang Zongchang followed with: "You fuck my mother? Then you must be my dad!" Then Zhang got down on his knees in front of Guo to pay his respects and this thoroughly embarrassed the much younger Guo Songlin. So much for the army reform after this episode!
In 1958, the campaign to eradicate the four pests was spreading throughout China like wildfire with astonishing results. A British reporter wrote: "There are no flies in China." A Canadian recalled an astonishing scene that he saw on a Chinese railroad line. A little girl in her teens was running like mad along the railroad track, using a piece of cloth to beat the ground. "She was apparently trying to chase a fly in order to kill it." He wrote, "I have been in China for almost one month. I have not seen a single sparrow. I persist on counting the number of flies, and I must have seen one or two flies on exactly fifteen occasions. Just think about it -- that unlucky fly was being chased by a Chinese person."
The poet Bei Dao (北岛) recalled when his friend Zhao Yifan (赵一帆) was arrested, the police took away every scrap of paper including Bei Dai's poems and books. So Bei Dao began to move his own letters and drafts out for safekeeping and he also bid farewell to his friends. He was ready to go to jail anytime. When a car drove past his home in the middle of the night, he would awake in terror and could not sleep again. It was a long, long wait. But the worst case scenario never occurred. Later on, he found out that the police did not understand his poems. They brought in experts in literature, who did not understand them either. The experts concluded: "These must have been copied from the west." Thus, Bei Dao was spared.
In 1915, Sun Yat-sen and Song Qinglin (宋庆龄) fell in love with each other in Japan. Sun was opposed to the idea of a concubine and he believed that he must get the consent of his first wife Lu (卢) for a divorce first. So Sun wrote a letter to Lu to explain the reason why he wanted to get a divorce. In her reply, Lu put down a single word (可; meaning alright, okay, approved, accepted) in agreement. Lu would tell people: "I really cannot help Mr. Sun. I don't know anything. I don't know English. I have binded feet and I cannot go anywhere. How can I help Mr. Sun?"
On the afternoon of the Xian incident, the Chinese Communist Politburo held a meeting and decided to support Zhang Xueliang (张学良). On the next day, the Chinese Communists were still excited. Someone said, "Chiang Kai-shek deserves such a fate!" Someone else said: "Zhang Xueliang did the right thing!" Even the normally reserved and taciturn Zhu De (朱德) rushed to be among the first to say: "What else is there to talk about now? Shoot the guy already!" On the third day, a telegram from Moscow came via Song Qinglin (宋庆龄) (Mrs. Sun Yat-sen) in Shanghai and completely stunned them. Stalin personally wrote the telegraph: The Xian incident is a conspiracy between the Japanese and Zhang Xueliang; Chiang Kai-shek is the only qualified choice to lead China to resist Japan; the Chinese Communists must push for the incident to be resolved peacefully and Chiang to be released. The telegram further warned that if the Chinese Communists failed to work towards that end, Soviet Russia will announce to the world that they are breaking off relationships with the Chinese Communists and treating them like local bandits. According to reports, Mao Zedong (毛泽东) was stomping on his feet inside his cave dwelling and yelling: "This is really incomprehensible!"
When Liu Shikun (刘诗昆) played his concert in Hong Kong, all the luminaries came out for him. Liu had struggled all his life, and so his music did not soar until after all the trials and tribulations. The economist Stephen N.S. Cheung asked him afterwards: "I heard it clearly tonight that your piano tone and color are better than van Cliburne. So how come you lost to him in the 1958 Chopin Piano Competition?" Liu replied: "I was technically better than him back then, but I was not emotionally up to his level. I never understood what emotions were all about until after the Cultural Revolution!"
When Chen Yushan (陈禹山) wrote the report "A Report Written in Blood" about the Zhang Zhixin (张志新) case and submitted it to Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦) for approval. According to Yang Siguang (杨西光), Hu Yaobang did not change a word and approved it for publication. Well, actually, Hu did say one thing: "Remove the sentence about how her throat was cut before the execution." But after the report was published, many readers called up and asked: "She was held down on the ground and then inhumanely deprived of her right to express the truth" -- now what was that all about? Chen Yushan had no excuse and told the readers that the truth of the matter was that her throat had been slashed. After hearing that, one reader broke down and cried over the telephone to say: "When Mr. Lu Xun (鲁迅) wrote 'In memory of Liu Hezhen (刘和珍),' he said that a comrade of Liu Hezhen said that this was not just a murder because it was death by torture on account of the signs of beating by sticks on the body. If signs of beating on the body was called death by torture back then, what kind of death is it when we slashed someone's throat before executing her? If Lu Xun were alive today, would he be so subtle? How would he have written this?"
In December 1972, at the home of Yan Lihua (严立华), twenty peasants including Yan Hongchang (严宏昌), Yan Fuchang (严付昌), Yan Jiaqi (严家其) and Yan Guopin (严国品) applied their palm prints onto a contract of agreement in which they will guarantee to meet the production quotas as private entrepreneurs. The guarantee contract stated: "We have received our own land and each landholder has signed to that effect. Each landholder will guarantee meeting the annual quota of food as required by the state. We will never ask the government for money or food again. If we fail, we the cadres are willing to go to prison or even lose our heads. The community members have promised to look after our children until they reach the age of eighteen in that event." (Note: there were several spelling errors in the original document)
In 1973, Wang Hongwen (王洪文) was elected vice-chairman of the Chinese Communist Central Committee. Zhang Chunqiao (张春桥), who had more seniority, was unhappy. So Zhang Chunqiao directed Xu Jingxian (徐景贤) to write a letter to the Party Central to expose the various corrupt behaviors of Wang Hongwen. Apart from hunting, fishing and eating French meals, there was another major accusation: "Comrade Hongwen uses an imported black-colored device at home, with which he is able to control the television set from a distance." [Note: This is known as a television remote control device nowadays]