When one is in China, one is compelled to think about her, with compassion always, with despair sometimes, and with discrimination and understanding rarely, for one either loves or hates China. Perhaps even when one does not live in China one sometimes thinks of her as an old, great, big country which remains aloof from the world and does not quite belong to it. The a1oofness has a certain fascination. But if one comes to China, one feels engulfed and soon stops thinking. One merely feels she is there, a tremendous existence somewhat too big for the human mind to encompass, a seemingly inconsequential chaos obeying its own laws of existence and enacting its own powerful life-drama, at times tragic, at times comical, but a1ways intensely and boisterously real; then after a while, one begins to think again, with wonder and amazement.
This time, the reaction will be temperamental; it merely indicates whether one is a romantic cosmopolitan individual or a conceited, self-satisfying prig. One either likes or dislikes China, and then proceeds to justify one’s likes or dislikes. That is just as well, for we must take some sort of attitude toward China to justify ourselves as intelligent beings. We grope for reasons, and begin to tell one another little anecdotes, trifles of everyday life, escaped or casual words of conversation, things of tremendous importance that make us philosophers and enable us to become, with great equanimity, either her implacable critics, allowing nothing good for her, or else her ardent, romantic admirers. Of course, these generalizations are rather silly. But that is how human opinions are formed all over the world, and it is unavoidable. Then we set about arguing with one another. Some always come out from the argument supremely satisfying their rightness, self-assured that they have an opinion of China and of the Chinese people. They are the happy people who rule the world and import merchandise from one part of it to another, and who are always in the right. Others found themselves beset with doubts and perplexities, with a feeling of awe and bewilderment, perhaps with awe or mystification and they end where they began. But all of us feel China is there, a great mystical Dasein£®
For China is the greatest mystifying and stupefying fact in the modern world, and that not only because of her age or her geographical greatness, She is the oldest living nation with a continuous culture; she gave the world some of its most important inventions; she has a literature, a philosophy, a wisdom of life entirely her own; and in the realm of art, she soared where others merely made an effort to flap their wings.
It surprised me when I learnt that this critique was written almost 80 years ago by Lin Yutang Nothing much seems to have changed regarding how the World and China regard the images of each other. Perhaps Europe should lead the world in renewing the Entente Cordiale.