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  • Writer's pictureDominika

The Importance of Living, by Lin Yutang

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

Lin Yutang (1895–1976), born in Fujian province, was a prominent Chinese poet, novelist, linguist, inventor and translator:

What is patriotism but love o the good things we ate in our childhood? I have said elsewhere that the loyalty to Uncle Sam is the loyalty to doughnuts and ham and sweet potatoes and the loyalty to the German Vaterland is the loyalty to Pfannkuchen and Christmas Stollen. As for international understanding, I feel that macaroni has done more for our appreciation of Italy than Mussolini. It is a pity that, in the minds of some people, at least, who are not in favor of the Mussolini regime, what macaroni has done Mussolini has undone in the cause of understanding between Italy and the outside world. That is because in food, as in death, we feel the essential brotherhood of mankind.

How a Chinese spirit glows over a good feast! How apt is he to cry out that life is beautiful when his stomach and his intestines are well-filled! From this well-filled stomach suffuses and radiates a happiness that is spiritual. The Chinese relies upon instinct and his instinct tells him that when the stomach is right, everything is right. That is why I claim for the Chinese a life closer to instinct and a philosophy that makes a more open acknowledgment of it possible. The Chinese idea of happiness is, as I have noted elsewhere, being "warm, well-filled, dark and sweet" -referring to the condition of going to bed after a good supper. It is for this reason that a Chinese poet says, "A well-filled stomach is indeed a great thing; all else is luxury."

With this philosophy, therefore, the Chinese have no prudery about food, or about eating it with gusto. When a Chinese drinks a mouthful of good soup, he gives a hearty smack. Of course, that would be bad table manners in the West. On the other hand, I strongly suspect that Western table manners, compelling us to sip our soup noiselessly and eat our food quietly with the least expression of enjoyment, are the true reason for the arrested development of the art of cuisine. Why do the Westerners talk so softly and look so miserable and decent and respectable at their meals? Most Americans haven't got the good sense to take a chicken drumstick in their hand and chew it clean, but continue to pretend to play at it with a knife and fork, feeling utterly miserable and afraid to say a thing, about it. This is criminal when the chicken is really good. As for the so-called table manners, I feel sure that the child gets his first initiation into the sorrows of this life when his mother forbids him to smack his lips. Such is human psychology that if we don't express our joy, we soon cease to feel it even, and then follow dyspepsia, melancholia, neurasthenia and all the mental ailments peculiar to the adult life. One ought to imitate the French and sigh an "Ah!" when the waiter brings a good veal cutlet, and makes a sheer animal grunt like "Ummm!" after tasting the first mouthful. What shame is there in enjoying one's food, what shame in having a normal, healthy appetite? No, the Chinese are different. They have bad table manners, but great enjoyment of a feast.

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