Lin Yutang Quotes

Lin Yutang, 1895 – 1976

Born: 10 October 1895, Banzai, Pinghe, Zhangzhou, Fujian, China
Died: 26 March 1976, Yangmingshan, Taipei, Taiwan

The eleventh of twelve children born to a Chinese Presbyterian minister in a small mountain town, Lin was educated in English at St John’s at Shanghai. He studied at Tsinghua University from 1916 to 1919, then entered Harvard. When his half tuition scholarship was cut off, he and his wife left for France where he worked for the YMCA teaching basic literacy to Chinese workers, then moved on to Leipzig where he earned his PhD in linguistics in 1923. He then returned to China as a professor at Peking National University through 1926. He was briefly involved politically, joining the Nationalist Government as SEcretary to the Foreign Ministry, but left to wrote for popular magazines and edit literary publications. He met Pearl S. Buck who suggested he write about China for the American audience, his My Country and My People (1935) was soon at the top of the New York Times best seller list, a first for a Chinese author. He followed that with The Importance of Living in 1938, but his Vigil of a Nation, a tour of China at war, led to an uproar and a break with Pearl Buck. As her husband had been the publisher of his books to that date, it meant finding a new outlet for his work as well. He continued to write but spent a significant amount of time and capital developing an ingenious Chinese typewriter with a 72-key keyboard. It was seen by experts as a great step forward, but as China was engulfed in civil war at the time it went nowhere and he was forced to sell his New York home to pay the debts from the venture. Ne took a job with UNESCO at Paris, which he found frustrating if placid, then was hired as Chancellor at Nanyang University at Singapore. He managed to cause enough upset there that he left after only six months, before the school actually opened its doors, and returned to Paris. The Lins moved to New York to be near their daughters, then in 1965 moved to Taiwan where he lived for the rest of his life.

Lin Yutang quotes:

A good traveller is one who does not know where he is going to, and a perfect traveller does not know where he came from.
    Lin Yutang

A man who has to be punctually at a certain place at five o’clock has the whole afternoon from one to five ruined for him already.
    Lin Yutang – The Importance of Living (1937)

A solemn funeral is inconceivable to the Chinese mind.
    Lin Yutang

A vague uncritical idealism always lends itself to ridicule and too much of it might be a danger to mankind, leading it round in a futile wild-goose chase for imaginary ideals.
    Lin Yutang – Chapter 1: The Awakening, The Importance of Living (1937)

All women’s dresses are merely variations on the eternal struggle between the admitted desire to dress and the unadmitted desire to undress.
    Lin Yutang

Any good practical philosophy must start out with the recognition of our having a body.
    Lin Yutang

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.
    Lin Yutang

By association with nature’s enormities, a man’s heart may truly grow big also.
    Lin Yutang – The Importance of Living (1937)

Everything that we think God has in his mind necessarily proceeds from our own mind; it is what we imagine to be in God’s mind, and it is really difficult for human intelligence to guess at a divine intelligence. What we usually end up with by this sort of reasoning is to make God the color-sergeant of our army and to make Him as chauvinistic as ourselves.
    Lin Yutang

Hope is like a road in the country; there never was a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.
    Lin Yutang

How many of us are able to distinguish between the odors of noon and midnight, or of winter and summer, or of a windy spell and a still one? If man is so generally less happy in the cities than in the country, it is because all these variations and nuances of sight and smell and sound are less clearly marked and lost in the general monotony of gray walls and cement pavements.
    Lin Yutang – The Importance of Living (1937)

However vague they are, dreams have a way of concealing themselves and leave us no peace until they are translated into reality, like seeds germinating underground, sure to sprout in their search for the sunlight.
    Lin Yutang

I distrust all dead and mechanical formulas for expressing anything connected with human affairs and human personalities. Putting human affairs in exact formulas shows in itself a lack of the sense of humor and therefore a lack of wisdom.
    Lin Yutang – Chapter 1: The Awakening, The Importance of Living (1937)

I feel, like all modern Americans, no consciousness of sin and simply do not believe in it. All I know is that if God loves me only half as much as my mother does, he will not send me to Hell. That is a final fact of my inner consciousness, and for no religion could I deny its truth.
    Lin Yutang – The Importance of Living (1937)

I have done my best. That is about all the philosophy of living one needs.
    Lin Yutang

I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colours richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor of the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content.
    Lin Yutang – My Country and My People (1936)

If there is anything we are serious about, it is neither religion nor learning, but food.
    Lin Yutang

If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.
    Lin Yutang

Instead of holding on to the Biblical view that we are made in the image of God, we come to realize that we are made in the image of the monkey.
    Lin Yutang – The Importance of Living (1937)

It is important that man dreams, but it is perhaps equally important that he can laugh at his own dreams.
    Lin Yutang

It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.
    Lin Yutang – Chapter 1: The Awakening, The Importance of Living (1937)

It is not when he is working in his office but when he is lying idly on the sand that his soul utters, “Life is beautiful.”
    Lin Yutang – Chapter 1: The Awakening, The Importance of Living (1937)

Let us face ourselves bravely as we are. For only a philosophy that recognizes reality can lead us into true happiness, and only that kind of philosophy is sound and healthy.
    Lin Yutang

Men resort to talking only when they haven’t the power to enforce their convictions upon others.
    Lin Yutang

My faith in human dignity consists in the belief that man is the greatest scamp on earth. Human dignity must be associated with the idea of a scamp and not with that of an obedient, disciplined and regimented soldier.
    Lin Yutang – Chapter 1: The Awakening, The Importance of Living (1937)

Neckties strangle clear thinking.
    Lin Yutang

No child is born with a really cold heart, and it is only in proportion as we lose that youthful heart that we lose the inner warmth in ourselves.
    Lin Yutang

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.
    Lin Yutang

One can learn such a lot and enjoy such a lot in seventy years, and three generations is a long, long time to see human follies and acquire human wisdom. Anyone who is wise and has lived long enough to witness the changes of fashion and morals and politics through the rise and fall of three generations should be perfectly satisfied to rise from his seat and go away saying, “It was a good show,” when the curtain falls.
    Lin Yutang – The Importance of Living (1937)

Only he who handles his ideas lightly is master of his ideas, and only he who is master of his ideas is not enslaved by them.
    Lin Yutang

Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks.
    Lin Yutang

Peace of mind is that mental condition in which you have accepted the worst.
    Lin Yutang

Probably the difference between man and the monkeys is that the monkeys are merely bored, while man has boredom plus imagination.
    Lin Yutang

Simplicity is the outward sign and symbol of depth of thought.
    Lin Yutang

Society can exist only on the basis that there is some amount of polished lying and that no one says exactly what he thinks.
    Lin Yutang

Sometimes it is more important to discover what one cannot do, than what one can do.
    Lin Yutang

Such is human psychology that if we don’t express our joy, we soon cease to feel it.
    Lin Yutang

Such religion as there can be in modern life, every individual will have to salvage from the churches for himself.
    Lin Yutang – The Importance of Living (1937)

The best that we can hope for in this life is that we shall not have sons and grandsons of whom we need to be ashamed.
    Lin Yutang – Chapter 1: The Awakening, The Importance of Living (1937)

The purpose of a short story is … that the reader shall come away with the satisfactory feeling that a particular insight into human character has been gained, or that his (or her) knowledge of life has been deepened, or that pity, love or sympathy for a human being is awakened.
    Lin Yutang

The question that faces every man born into this world is not what should be his purpose, which he should set about to achieve, but just what to do with life? The answer, that he should order his life so that he can find the greatest happiness in it, is more a practical question, similar to that of how a man should spend his weekend, then a metaphysical proposition as to what is the mystic purpose of his life in the scheme of the universe.
    Lin Yutang

The scamp will be the last and most formidable enemy of dictatorships. He will be the champion of human dignity and individual freedom, and will be the last to be conquered. All modern civilization depends entirely upon him.
    Lin Yutang – Chapter 1: The Awakening, The Importance of Living (1937)

The secret of contentment is knowing how to enjoy what you have, and to be able to lose all desire for things beyond your reach.
    Lin Yutang

The three great American vices seem to be efficiency, punctuality, and the desire for achievement and success. They are the things that make the Americans so unhappy and so nervous.
    Lin Yutang – The Importance of Living (1937)

The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.
    Lin Yutang

The wise man reads both books and life itself.
    Lin Yutang

The world I believe is far too serious, and being far too serious, is it has need of a wise and merry philosophy.
    Lin Yutang – Chapter 1: The Awakening, The Importance of Living (1937)

This I conceive to be the chemical function of humor: to change the character of our thought.
    Lin Yutang

Thoreau is the most Chinese of all American authors.
    Lin Yutang – The Importance of Living (1937)

To me personally the only function of philosophy is to teach us to take life more lightly and gayly than the average businessman does, for no businessman who does not retire at fifty, if he can, is in my eyes a philosopher.
    Lin Yutang – Chapter 1: The Awakening, The Importance of Living (1937)

Today we are afraid of simple words like goodness and mercy and kindness. We don’t believe in the good old words because we don’t believe in good old values anymore. And that’s why the world is sick.
    Lin Yutang

We [the Chinese] eat food for its texture, the elastic or crisp effect it has on our teeth, as well as for fragrance, flavor and color.
    Lin Yutang

What is patriotism but the love of the good things we ate in our childhood?
    Lin Yutang

When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set.
    Lin Yutang

When the mirror meets with an ugly woman, when a rare ink-stone finds a vulgar owner, and when a good sword is in the hands of a common general, there is utterly nothing to be done about it.
    Lin Yutang – The Importance of Living (1937)

When there are too many policemen, there can be no liberty. When there are too many soldiers, there can be no peace. When there are too many lawyers, there can be no justice.
    Lin Yutang

While in the West the insane are so many that they are put in an asylum, in China the insane are so unusual that we worship them, as anybody who has a knowledge of Chinese literature will testify.
    Lin Yutang – Chapter 1: The Awakening, The Importance of Living (1937)

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