Search This Blog

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Freedom and Smiles: image study of Hu Shih (II)

Hyperlink to source text in Chinese: 自由与微笑:胡适图像研究
An abbreviated translation by @krizcpec (Part 2 of 3)
Two: Self-expectation

In his book, Autobiographical account at forty (《四十自述》), Hu Shih wrote that since he was little, he had seen the hardship his mother had to withstand in running an extended family; the incompetent eldest sister-in-law and the competent second eldest sister-in-law both tended to show other a nasty face, showing no regards as to how others would feel. He slowly came to the understanding that “there is nothing more offensive than an angry face; nothing more indecent than showing others that angry face, which is harder to bear than being scolded or beaten.”

Hu Shih treated others with honesty, sincerity, generosity. He did not show others a nasty face. This wasn't the impression of just one person, but were how those who came into contact with him generally felt.

Historian Ho Ping-ti recounted in his memoirs (《阅世读史六十年》) that “one day at nine in the morning, as I was about to say goodbye to Hu and go into the city, the cook handed Hu a name card. Hu showed with noticeable anger his dissatisfaction with the personality and motive of that guest. Yet after a second thought, Hu decided to meet him nonetheless. As I walked out of the door I heard Hu greeted him loudly, 'Haven't heard from you for months, what are you up to now?' What followed was the sound of chat and laughter from both. Clearly, that was one of the characteristics of Hu Shih that was hard for others to learn from: to leave room for people you have doubt in and try best not to let others see an angry face – exactly what I can't do.”

Perhaps some would feel Hu Shih to be a man of affectation; but those with more experience in life would appreciate the difficulty involved in doing things that way. Because of his understanding of tolerance, his perception of liberty and his early experience, Hu very seldom showed others a nasty face. Therefore, you could hardly find any photo of Hu Shih with his face distorted by anger.

People who have some understanding of Hu Shih are aware that he aspired to bring about a new era, and had the self-expectation of becoming a great person. As a result he had strict requirements on himself: from studying, writing diary to getting along with others, none was done without discretion or order.

There are people who have strict or even rigid requirements not only on themselves, but also on others, which indicates that they do not realize others have the freedom of choosing what not to do. Without the understanding that people have the total freedom to choose to achieve greatness or live ordinary lives. Failing to recognize this shows a lack of understanding of what freedom really means.

It seems deceptively easy to follow the principle of being strict to oneself while showing leniency to others – the way how Hu Shih had lived. For most of the people, this is way too difficult. Renowned botanist Hu Hsien-Hsu, a cultural conservative who opposed vernacular Chinese, the exact antithesis of Hu Shih. In 1925 when Hu Shih met Hu Hsien-Hsu in Shanghai, they took a picture together. While Hu Hsien-Hsu put up a stern face, Hu Shih was smiling broadly, and on the back of that photo he wrote, “we are two friends opposing each other.” We can see from this how his tolerance of contrary points of view influenced the way he got along with others and his choice to show others a smiley face.

In one of my earlier articles (《一位微笑的反对者》) I devoted a section to deliberate the extraordinary friendship between Hu Shih and Chen Duxiu. After 1919, Chen became increasingly left-leaning; he established the Chinese Communist Party, and even took the road of violent revolution. It can't be more obvious how Chen's speeches and actions differed from that of Hu Shih, an advocate for gradual improvement; and in today's setting, the extraordinary friendship between them would be beyond comprehension for people who can't care less about rights and wrongs, paying attention only to the stance others take. Few are aware that people with difference in opinions, or in paths taken don't necessarily become enemies, they can still be friends so long as one another has moral principles.

Friends can be critical toward each other, too. In response to Chen's vigorous approval of the burn down of the office of an influential newspaper (北京晨报) which opposed the Soviet Union in 1925, Hu Shih wrote a letter to criticize Chen. In that letter there was a line that went, “You and I had jointly issued a declaration, 'fight for liberty'. The one principle to fight for liberty is: that which I disagree with isn't necessarily wrong; that which I agree with may not be right”, stressing the importance of tolerance of opposing viewpoints and beliefs.
At times when Chen Duxiu was in critical situation, or even after his death, Hu offered him help. Is it possible for such a friendship, as can be perceived in the pictures of Chen and Hu taken together, to exist now, a time when people easily break with others?

(End of Part Two)

No comments:

Post a Comment