Wu Renhua 吳仁華 (ed.), Lin Shu duben 林紓讀本, Fujian jiaoyu chubanshe, Fuzhou, 2014, x + 317 pp., 32 illustrations.


* This review was originally published in Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese 12.2 (2015).


dubenOnce ostracized and relegated to a mere marginal position in the history of Modern Chinese Literature, Lin Shu 林紓 (1852-1924) has now become an important and relatively well-known figure. Man of letters, translator and poet, but also editor, educator and painter, his many facets reflect the wide range of subjects that he treated in his writings, from art theory to politics, and from philosophy to economics.

Most of these particular fields of inquiry are utterly covered in Lin Shu duben 林紓讀本, a comprehensive reader which aims to provide scholars with a full overview of Lin Shu’s Weltanschauung through a compilation of seventy-six minor works, arranged in five well-structured sections which consist of rare items, such as essays, poems, short stories, letters, sketches and prologues, excerpted mostly from Lin Shu’s Wei Lu wenji 畏廬文集 (Prose Works from the Hut of Reverence, 1910) and Wei Lu shi cun 畏廬詩存 (Poetry Selections from the Hut of Reverence, 1923). These texts are also accompanied by an extensive number of explanatory notes, mostly philological in nature, and supplemented with a short commentary by reputable scholars like Su Jianxin 蘇建信, Zhang Lihua 張麗華 or Lin Huaiyu 林懷宇.

Following a brief prologue in which the editor acknowledges the authority of Lin Shu as a central figure among the intelligentsia of southern Fujian province, and as an innovator who tried to reform and save the country through his countless publications, the first section of this reader presents us with a passionate Lin Shu, imbued with nostalgia and longing, who misses in the distance of Beijing his former teachers, his relatives and friends, and who writes with yearning of the life he had in his native Fuzhou.

The second section embraces the inner world of Lin Shu, the human being, rather than the writer, offering a valuable insight into his personality. Thus, we get a sense of his loathing for freeloaders and loungers, usually through humorous stories which portray a less serious picture of Lin Shu. Likewise, he also attacks warlordism in general and Yuan Shikai 袁世凱 (1859-1916) in particular, a matter of great urgency for Lin Shu, who correctly saw how dangerous the Beiyang 北洋 Army could become. Besides emphasizing the importance of rescuing the country from slavery, both mental and physical, Lin Shu reiteratedly reminds the reader how necessary it is for us to be independent and self-reliant (zili 自立), both as individuals and as a society. This theme was further developed in a public letter Lin Shu sent to the Fujianese educational community[1], an item that, unfortunately, is not collected here.

Section three follows Lin Shu’s vision of politics and morality as reflected in his charismatic personality. Once an eager champion of moral integrity and honesty and a slanderer of hypocrites and corrupt officials, Lin Shu became disappointed in his later years with officialdom, as he wrote with weariness that “to become an official, these two words are just like a horrible infection” 做官兩字,如同惡病來侵[2]. Hence, when his first son Lin Gui林珪 became an official, he sent him a letter of advice, counseling him to be a honest public servant (p. 131). In addition to moral integrity, Lin Shu also pioneered in writing innovative creations defending the equality of women and their education, some of which were early published in his well-known collection Minzhong xin yuefu 閩中新樂府 (New Yuefu from Minzhong, 1897), as the beautifully composed, “Shui wuqing” 水無情 (“Water is Merciless”, p. 134). In addition, democracy and rule of law were prominent in some of the prologues he attached to his translations of Western Literature, but also in his short story “Chujiao” 黜驕 (“Eradicate Arrogance”), which ends with the following plea: “a country without government allows arrogant worthless people to do as they wish” 國無政而令驕暗者得行其志 (p. 126).

The fourth section focuses on the issue of patriotism, charging again at Yuan Shikai and the Beiyang Army, but covering also other important historical events such as the Opium Wars, the First Sino-Japanese War, and the incursions of Northern China, whose “forest and mountains were becoming rotten by foreign invaders” 松石被胡腥 (p. 180). This section includes the indispensable prologue to Heinü yu Tian lu 黑奴籲天錄 (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin), a novel used by Lin Shu as an allegory of Chinese servitude to foreign powers and the imperative necessity of self-determination (p. 177).

The last section deals with Lin Shu the artist, one of his most beloved passions. It collects poetry from his paintings, which include vivid descriptions of them, as well as short essays where Lin Shu discusses literary theory, poetry criticism and moral integrity as applied to art. This holistic conception of art stresses the value of feeling and naturalism over artificiality, as it is clearly illustrated by his use of Classical Chinese in his translations of Western Literature –an innovative and fresh style that broke with the classical tradition of the Tongcheng School 桐城派or the Wenxuan School 文選派. Lin Shu’s idea of literature can be summed up in one sentence: “inside poetry there is painting” 詩中有畫 (p. 271). Thus, some of his travelogues also included in this collection are not only small literary masterpieces, but also dazzling paintings in verse and prose of the places he visited.

The book ends with two appendices which collect opinions from different scholars, from the May Fourth Movement to Modern China and Japan, and a brief chronology of Lin Shu’s life.

Naturally, in an extensive work like this one, errors are likely to occur and some misprints have found its way into the text. For example, a note is missing in p. 66, and the work Chunjue Zhai lun hua 春覺齋論畫 (Painting Discussions from the Studio of Awakening Spring) is said to have been written by Lin Shu eleven years after his death, in 1935 (p. 272), that being in fact the date of publication by Gu Tinglong 顧廷龍 (1904-1998). Likewise, Lin Shu’s poem “Zi Xuzhou kan shan zhi Pukou” 自徐州看山至浦口 (“Looking at the Mountains from Xuzhou to Pukou”) has not been collated with its original source, for it has three misprints: the character ge 个 in the second verse should read ge 箇; qun 群 and jing 静 in the seventh verse should read zhong 眾 and zhi 止 (p. 78)[3]. The same can be said about the verses from a poem by Yan Fu 嚴復 (1854-1921), “Jiachen chu du cheng tongli zhugong” 甲辰出都呈同里諸公 (“To my Fellow Townsmen, When Leaving the Capital in 1904”), quoted in the Appendix I, which omits some words from the original publication (p. 277)[4].

On the whole, and despite these peccata minuta, this beautifully edited and illustrated reader offers and important insight into Lin Shu beyond the usual editorial vicissitudes and the notorious conflict between him and Beijing University. It also marks a step ahead in Lin Shu scholarship, for it advocates a wider and holistic understanding of his character and personality behind the prose, poetry and painting that made him a distinguished scholar.

César Guarde

[1] Lin Shu, “Lin Qinnan wei Minshi fuzhu tongzhi shu” 林琴南為閩事覆諸同志書, Dagong bao 大公報 (Tianjin edition), December 15, 1919, p. 6 (unpaginated).

[2] Lin Shu, Shu juanti chuanqi 蜀鵑啼傳奇, Shangwu yinshuguan, Shanghai, 1917, reed. 1928, Act I, p. 2.

[3] See Lin Shu, “Zi Xuzhou kan shan zhi pukou” 自徐州看山至浦口, Dongfang zazhi 東方雜誌, 13/1 (1916) , p. 131.

[4] The title of the poem is also misprinted, for it has been excerpted from the modern edition in 嚴復集 Yanfu ji, Zhonghua shuju, Beijing, 1986, vol. 2, p. 365, which contains 27 misprints and 21 omissions. The original title is “Jiachen san yue jiang chu du ji xicheng tongli zhu junzi” 甲辰三月將出都即席呈同里諸君子, as it was published in Dagong bao, April 21, 1904, pp. 4-5, under the name Taixi tanggao 太希堂稿.