Moment in Peking

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Moment in Peking (1939) was Lin Yutang's first novel.


Without eccentricity, there would be no progress, and without centrality there would be no stability.
  • This novel is neither an apology for contemporary Chinese life nor an expose of it. ... It is neither a glorification of the old way of life nor a defense of the new. It is merely a story of how men and women in the contemporary era grow up and learn to live with one another, how they love and hate and quarrel and forgive and suffer and enjoy, how certain habits of living and ways of thinking are formed, and how, above all, they adjust themselves to the circumstances in this earthly life where men strive but the gods rule.
    • Preface
  • When you yourself are right, nothing that happens to you can ever be wrong.
    • Chapter 1
  • If any looters come, offer no resistance but ask them to help themselves. Do not risk your old life for these trash and rubbish! They are not worth it.
    • Chapter 1
  • [Mulan] asked [her father], "Why did you say last night that all the curios are trash and rubbish?"
    "If you consider them trash and rubbish, then they are trash and rubbish," he said.
    • Chapter 1
  • Everything has its destined owner. How many hundred owners do you think those Chou bronzes have had in the last three thousand years? No one ever permanently owns a thing in this world.
    • Chapter 1
  • When a family is in poverty it produces a filial son, and when a country is in danger it produces a patriot.
    • Chapter 13
  • All life was the result of two forces—centrality and eccentricity. Without eccentricity, there would be no progress, and without centrality there would be no stability. Man's life results from the harmonious complementing of these two opposite principles, like the inter-breeding of the yin and yang which produces the four seasons of the year.
    • Chapter 13
  • Mulan's father had begun to take a very light view of his wealth. There was no better way of squandering his money than for the wedding of his favorite daughter—to see happiness while it lasted. Wealth was to him like a fireworks display tracing lines of fire in the dark sky—with plenty of splutter and brilliance, and ending in smoke, ashes, and the charred ends on the ground.
    • Chapter 21
  • Better than all medicine is the ability to take things lightly.
    • Chapter 27
  • "Do you remember," said Lifu, "how the Chin Emperor was afraid of death and sent five hundred virgin boys to the Eastern Sea to seek the Pill of Immortality? And now the rock survives him."
    "The rock survives because it has no mortal passion," said Mulan enigmatically.
    Darkness was quickly enveloping them. What had been a sea of golden fleece was now only a sandy gray surface blanketing the earth; and wandering clouds, tired of their day's journey, came into the valleys before them and settled for the night, leaving the higher peaks like little gray islands in the sea of night. So does Nature herself labor by day and rest by night. It was peace with a terror in it.
    Five minutes ago Mulan's heart was excited. Now she was calm and strangely sad, the outward excitement having descended into rumbling depths in her belly, hardly perceptible by her head. Dragging her tired legs up the steps, she thought of life and death, of the life of passion and the life of the rocks without passion. She realized that this was but a passing moment in the eternity of time, but to her it was a memorable moment—a complete philosophy in itself, or rather a complete vision of the past and the present and the future, of the self and the non-self. That vision, too, was wordless.
    • Chapter 31
If they are right, they will do some good, and if they are wrong, they cannot do the Truth any harm.
  • "Do you believe in all the childish things they are advocating?" said Lifu. "They are striking even at ancestor worship. They want to sweep aside everything old. Why, they even denounce 'good mothers and helpful wives' as a degrading ideal hampering the woman's own development as an individual!"
    "Let them do it," said old Yao. "If they are right, they will do some good, and if they are wrong, they cannot do the Truth (Tao) any harm. As a matter of fact, they are often wrong, as in this individualism. Don't worry. Let them fight it out. When a thing is wrong, they will get tired of it themselves after a while. Have you forgotten Chuangtse? Nobody is right and nobody is wrong. Only one thing is right, and that is the Truth, but nobody knows what it is. It is a thing that changes all the time, and then comes back to the same thing."
    • Chapter 32
  • "You take this literary revolution, for instance," old Yao continued. "Many people think it is right. Why? Because there is something right in it. Any movement grows only when the time is ripe and it says something which many feel. Many feel that this Old China must be swept aside, or we shall never make any progress. People are wanting to change. You cannot help that, and you cannot stop them. There are excesses, but people cannot say what is wrong and maintain it for long. A falsehood is not argued out of court; it just rubs off, like bad paint, by itself."
    • Chapter 32
  • Life and death and growth and decay are the very law of nature. Luck and adversity are but the natural consequences of each one's personal character, and there is no avoiding them. So although parting in life or through death is sad according to normal human sentiments, I wish you to take these things and accept them as part of the Way.
    • Chapter 34
  • "Life and death are the very law of existence. A true Taoist merely triumphs over death. He dies more cheerfully than others. He is not afraid of it, because he is 'returning to the Tao,' as we say..."
    "So you do not believe in immortality," said Mulan.
    "I do, my child. I am immortal through you and your sister and Afei and all the children born of my children. I am living all over again in you, as you are living all over again in Atung and Amei. There is no death. You cannot defeat nature. Life goes on forever."
    • Chapter 41
  • [My father] always said that luck was something inside the character of a man. For one qualified for luck, jars of water will turn into silver; for one unqualified, jars of silver will turn into water.
    • Chapter 42
  • It seemed to them that their own story was but a moment in old, ageless Peking, a story written by the finger of Time itself.
    • Chapter 45
  • Below the temple tens of thousands of men, women, and children were moving across the beautiful country on that glorious New Year morning, shouting and cheering as the army trucks passed. The soldiers' song rose once again:

    Never to come back
    Until our hills and rivers are returned to us!

    Mulan, drawing near them, was seized with a new and strange emotion. A sense of happiness, a sense of glory, she thought it was. She was stirred as she had never been before, as one can be stirred only when losing oneself in a great movement. ... It was not only the soldiers, but this great moving column of which she was a part. She had a sense of her nation such as she had never had so vividly before, of a people united by a common loyalty and, though fleeing from a common enemy, still a people whose patience and strength were like the ten-thousand li Great Wall, and as enduring. She had heard of the flight of whole populations in North and Middle China, and how forty millions of her brothers and sisters from the "same womb" were marching westward in the greatest migration in the world's history, to build a new and modern state in the vast hinterland of China. She felt these forty million people moving in one fundamental rhythm. Amidst the stark privations and sufferings of the refugees, she had not heard one speak against the government for the policy of resistance to Japan. All these people, she saw, preferred war to slavery, like Mannia, even though it was a war that had destroyed their homes, killed their relatives, and left them nothing but the barest personal belongings, their rice bowls and their chopsticks. Such was the triumph of the human spirit. There was no catastrophe so great that the spirit could not rise above it and, out of its very magnitude, transform it into something great and glorious.

    • Chapter 45
In this moving mass of refugees, there was now neither rich nor poor. The war and its depredations had leveled them all.
  • And as the scene changed for Mulan, something inside her also changed. She lost all sense of space and direction, lost even the sense of her personal identity, and felt that she had become one of the great common people. She had so often wished to belong to the common people; now she was indeed one of them. The conquest of the ego which her father had achieved by sheer contemplation, she now achieved through human contact with this great company of men, women, and children. ... In this moving mass of refugees, there was now neither rich nor poor. The war and its depredations had leveled them all.
    • Chapter 45
  • The true people of China are rooted in the soil that they love. She stepped into her place among them.
    • Chapter 45

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