Lin Yutang

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It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.

Lin Yutang (Traditional Chinese: 林語堂; Simplified Chinese: 林语堂; pinyin: Lín Yǔtāng, 10 October 189526 March 1976) was a Chinese writer and translator.

Sourced

When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set.
  • Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
    • As quoted in Pearls of Wisdom : A Harvest of Quotations From All Ages (1987) by Jerome Agel and Walter D. Glanze, p. 46
  • When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set.
    • As quoted in Hard-to-Solve Cryptograms (2001) by Derrick Niederman, p. 96
  • When there are too many policemen, there can be no liberty. When there are too many soldiers, there can be no peace. When there are too many lawyers, there can be no justice.
When there are too many policemen, there can be no liberty. When there are too many soldiers, there can be no peace. When there are too many lawyers, there can be no justice.

My Country and My People (1936)

  • I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colours richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor of the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content. From a knowledge of those limitations and its richness of experience emerges a symphony of colours, richer than all, its green speaking of life and strength, its orange speaking of golden content and its purple of resignation and death.
    • p.328 Epilogue

The Importance of Living (1937)

It is not when he is working in his office but when he is lying idly on the sand that his soul utters, "Life is beautiful."
The scamp will be the last and most formidable enemy of dictatorships. He will be the champion of human dignity and individual freedom, and will be the last to be conquered. All modern civilization depends entirely upon him.
  • This is a personal testimony, a testimony of my own experience of thought and life. It is not intended to be objective and makes no claim to establish eternal truths. In fact I rather despise claims to objectivity in philosophy; the point of view is the thing.
    • Preface
  • It is not when he is working in his office but when he is lying idly on the sand that his soul utters, "Life is beautiful."
    • Ch. I : The Awakening, p. 2
  • While in the West, the insane are so many that they are put in an asylum, in China the insane are so unusual that we worship them, as anybody who has a knowledge of Chinese literature will testify.
    • Ch. I : The Awakening, p. 3
  • A vague uncritical idealism always lends itself to ridicule and too much of it might be a danger to mankind, leading it round in a futile wild-goose chase for imaginary ideals.
    • Ch. I : The Awakening
  • I distrust all dead and mechanical formulas for expressing anything connected with human affairs and human personalities. Putting human affairs in exact formulas shows in itself a lack of the sense of humor and therefore a lack of wisdom.
    • Ch. I : The Awakening
  • It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.
    • Ch. I : The Awakening
  • My faith in human dignity consists in the belief that man is the greatest scamp on earth. Human dignity must be associated with the idea of a scamp and not with that of an obedient, disciplined and regimented soldier.
    • Ch. I : The Awakening
  • I am doing my best to glorify the scamp or vagabond. I hope I shall succeed. For things are not so simple as they sometimes seem. In this present age of threats to democracy and individual liberty, probably only the scamp and the spirit of the scamp alone will save us from being lost in serially numbered units in the masses of disciplined, obedient, regimented and uniformed coolies. The scamp will be the last and most formidable enemy of dictatorships. He will be the champion of human dignity and individual freedom, and will be the last to be conquered. All modern civilization depends entirely upon him.
    • Ch. I : The Awakening
  • The world I believe is far too serious, and being far too serious, is it has need of a wise and merry philosophy.
    • Ch. I : The Awakening
  • To me personally the only function of philosophy is to teach us to take life more lightly and gayly than the average businessman does, for no businessman who does not retire at fifty, if he can, is in my eyes a philosopher.
    • Ch. I : The Awakening
  • A reasonable naturalist then settles down to this life with a sort of animal satisfaction. As Chinese illiterate women put it, "Others gave birth to us and we give birth to others. What else are we to do?".... Life becomes a biological procession and the very question of immortality is sidetracked. For that is the exact feeling of a Chinese grandfather holding his grandchild by the hand and going to the shops to buy some candy, with the thought that in five or ten years he will be returning to his grave or to his ancestors. The best that we can hope for in this life is that we shall not have sons and grandsons of whom we need to be ashamed.
    • p. 23
  • One can learn such a lot and enjoy such a lot in seventy years, and three generations is a long, long time to see human follies and acquire human wisdom. Anyone who is wise and has lived long enough to witness the changes of fashion and morals and politics through the rise and fall of three generations should be perfectly satisfied to rise from his seat and go away saying, "It was a good show," when the curtain falls.
    • p. 23-24
  • Instead of holding on to the Biblical view that we are made in the image of God, we come to realize that we are made in the image of the monkey
    • p. 36
  • How many of us are able to distinguish between the odors of noon and midnight, or of winter and summer, or of a windy spell and a still one? If man is so generally less happy in the cities than in the country, it is because all these variations and nuances of sight and smell and sound are less clearly marked and lost in the general monotony of gray walls and cement pavements.
    • p. 129
When the mirror meets with an ugly woman, when a rare ink-stone finds a vulgar owner, and when a good sword is in the hands of a common general, there is utterly nothing to be done about it.
  • The three great American vices seem to be efficiency, punctuality, and the desire for achievement and success. They are the things that make the Americans so unhappy and so nervous.
    • p. 162
  • A man who has to be punctually at a certain place at five o'clock has the whole afternoon from one to five ruined for him already.
    • p. 163
  • If the early Chinese people had any chivalry, it was manifested not toward women and children, but toward old people. That feeling of chivalry found clear expression in Mencius in some such saying as, 'The people with gray hair should not be seen carrying burdens on the street,' which was expressed as the final goal of good government.
    • p. 193
  • By association with natures enormities, a man's heart may truly grow big also. There is a way of looking upon a landscape as a moving picture and being satisfied with nothing less big as a moving picture, a way of looking upon tropic clouds over the horizon as the backdrop of a stage and being satisfied with nothing less big as a backdrop, a way of looking upon the mountain forests as a private garden and being satisfied with nothing less as a private garden, a way of listening to the roaring waves as a concert and being satisfied with nothing less as a concert, and a way of looking upon the mountain breeze as an air-cooling system and being satisfied with nothing less as an air-cooling system. So do we become big, even as the earth and firmaments are big. Like the "Big Man" described by Yuan Tsi (A.D. 210-263), one of China's first romanticists, we "live in heaven and earth as our house."
    • p. 282-283)
  • When the mirror meets with an ugly woman, when a rare ink-stone finds a vulgar owner, and when a good sword is in the hands of a common general, there is utterly nothing to be done about it.
    • p. 317
  • Such religion as there can be in modern life, every individual will have to salvage from the churches for himself.
    • p. 397
  • I feel, like all modern Americans, no consciousness of sin and simply do not believe in it. All I know is that if God loves me only half as much as my mother does, he will not send me to Hell. That is a final fact of my inner consciousness, and for no religion could I deny its truth.
    • p. 407

Unsourced

  • If you spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.
  • What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?
  • Of all the rights of women, the greatest is to be a mother.
  • When you take a bath, you are civilized, when you don't take a bath, you are cultured.
  • I have a hankering to go back to the Orient and discard my necktie. Neckties strangle clear thinking.

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