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Monday, 29 August 2011

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

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

Three: Self and others

We all know that Hu Shih was an intellectual, and in some way a public figure. As a result, he must have paid much attention to the public communication effect of his photos and would not let photos that would harm his image be used in publication. The problem was, while he could request his friends and relatives not to make public photos of him that didn't look good, he had no control over the photos taken by reporters of newspapers and magazines. 

What I want to say is this: not all of the photos of Hu Shih passed on to this day were under control of Hu himself. He had no say over the source of the images, how they spread, or the way they were interpreted. Base on this premise we can say that all those photos of Hu Shih with a broad smile, looking cordial and restrained, dignified and peaceful were a result of his self-cultivation, namely: to speak and write with sincerity, be a serene person, and smile often. Some may accuse Hu of affectation. But when someone managed to maintain the same affectation all his life, that's remarkable. 

And certainly, in view of media ethic and the celebrity status Hu Shih enjoyed, the media at that time chose carefully the photos for publication. Thus the photos published were in line with how Hu Shih was as a person; as a result, Hu Shih left behind a positive image that was relatively stable.

Throughout his life, Hu Shih had done a lot of calligraphy, which can also be seen images he left behind. He was not a properly trained calligrapher, yet he wrote meticulously; his writing was dignified and beautiful. Among those spread far and wide were: “In pursuit of knowledge it is important to be skeptical; in getting along with others it is imperative to be confident and trusting,” “assume boldly, verify carefully”, “rather speak out and die than to remain quiet and live”, “tolerance is more important than freedom” These thoughts were themselves popular; with the crafty handwriting of Hu Shih, they spread even further, resulting in the re-transmission of his own image that was full of affinity, with a superposition effect.

Four: the signature smile 

We can say that smile is the signature of Hu Shih in his entire life; in good times or bad, he by and large managed not to show others a nasty face. This can be attributed to his personality, his upbringing, his understanding of life, his remarkable achievements, and–his incorrigible optimism. Speaking of incorrigible optimists, many would think these people have no understanding of the dark side of hearts. No, not for Hu Shih. On the contrary, optimists like Hu did have a deep understanding of the limitations of human. And it was because of this understanding that Hu became deeply compassionate, and exceptionally tolerant.

Included in the book by Sun Yu were seventy-three photos of Hu Shih himself alone, or taken with others. In most of those photos Hu Shih was smiling, either subtly or broadly. Yet life in his later years in 1950s was quite uncomfortable. The CCP mobilized huge manpower to criticize his ideas, among them were his family and longtime friends; intelligence system of Taiwan also criticized him at great length, it even published book for this purpose. On top of this, Hu didn't earn much in those days, it would be understandable that he felt somewhat disconsolate. Hu's student Tang Degang had a lively description of this. Yet Tang failed to see what set Hu Shih apart from others: the air of solemness resulted from enduring perseverance and that he remained as optimistic as always despite all these unhappiness.

To Hu Shih, concepts like “it’s too little, too late to seek three years of medicine after fallen ill for seven years (“七年之病、求三年之艾), “doing my utmost every day will not be for nothing” were not just abstract ideas, they were what propelled him to take actions.

Throughout his life Hu hadn’t seen his country achieve freedom and democracy, yet he believed that inevitably would happen. Now Taiwan has achieved freedom and democracy, this is the best way to commemorate him.

In 1954, reputed Chinese historian Chen Yinke, an old friend of Hu Shih, wrote a poem about how the Chinese Communist Party mobilized intellectuals to criticize Hu’s writings, as if they wouldn’t feel satisfied until the smiling Hu Shih was slain.
So it seems the signature smile and the thoughts of Hu Shih were to the totalitarian government a threat that wouldn’t go away easily. For those fighting for freedom and democracy, their smile and rationality are what scares the totalitarian regime the most. Dictators have no fear of people who are hateful and brutal like them, no one could surpass dictators on these. The timeless, resolute smile of Hu Shih are always the best impetus for people striving for freedom and democracy.
To understand better the power of smile, let me cite some recent examples.
On February 11, 1990, after a jail term of twenty-seven years, Nelson Mandela was released from prison. The smile on his face at the moment he stepped out of the gate touched the whole world.

"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison," Mandela said. 
Keep smiling; it is the greatest contempt for the totalitarian government. 
Not long ago Feng Zhenghu camped at Tokyo Narita Airport to fight for the right to return home. When in contact with the outside world, Feng paid close attention to his appearance; his manner was reasonable, and his mind peaceful. These made him very admirable. 
After ninety-two days of struggle, Feng Zhenghu could at last return home. The smile of his at the moment he was about to board the plane was unforgettable, it moved hundreds of thousands of Chinese people striving for freedom and democracy.

February 18-20, 2010 in Chengdu

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