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Lao She

The Towery-Lao She CollectionLAO SHE


There is nothing quite like walking into a used bookstore anywhere in the world but never has it been as exciting as on Fuzhou Street in Shanghai, China. I had just been to the Lu Xun (Lu Hsun) Museum in that city and was all primed to "discover" any piece of modern Chinese literature that might have weathered the difficult years China has been through the last two hundred years. I found some books about Protestant mission schools in the 1920s, a small Chinese Bible inscribed inside as a gift to a friend in 1935, but no first editons of Lao She's works. So the search goes on to find earlier editions of Lao She. Beijing bookstores and those in Harbin had more books about the nationalities and more books published in their areas. A real find in Urumqi (Wulumuqi) in far west China was a Uighur-Chinese dictionary long out of print. Books from afar, in the original language or translated, open whole new worlds for the reader. These web pages, that honor one of China's greatest twentieth century writers, Lao She (1899-1966), are a small attempt to broaden the Western people's appreciation of that great world beyond their own.

Becoming aware of foreign cultures must become a priority for the Western world. The American government as well as companies with connections abroad, must move from a "know it all" attitude to one of mutual respect. In the commercial world more joint-ventures fail than succeed in China. Much of this is due to Western ignorance of Chinese society and culture. It is vital to appreciate the social norms and mind-set of the peoples of China and Asia. Reading the literature, even in translation, helps smooth the road for the Western businessman, entrepreneur, missionary or educator. Knowing the language is ideal but working through translation is better than nothing.

A knowledge of modern Chinese literature (from 1919 to the present) is vital for anyone thinking of a career that relates to East and Southeast Asia. Being aware of the best fiction the Chinese read or have studied is a vital step toward knowing how the society has evolved to the present. So history can be found in literature. Society is revealed in a country's literature. Until we know where they have been there is no way to know where they are going.

I was privileged to be invited to bring a paper at the First International Lao She Symposium held at the Beijing Foreign Language University in August 1992. Leading Lao She scholars from Germany, Israel, United Kingdom, France, Japan, China and the United States shared through formal papers and small informal chats about the great writer. Lao She's son, Shu Yi, and widow, Hu Jieqing began the symposium. Shu Yi is the Deputy Director of the Modern Chinese Language Archives and Museum in Beijing. Hu Jieqing, produced beautiful paintings well into her 90s.

The 21st century will center around the Pacific rim that stretches from Seattle to Singapore (and beyond). Universities in the West are going to have to begin making the study of that area a priority. It is good to know our roots in Europe, Arabia or Africa, but there needs to be more emphasis given to Asia and the future.

Knowledge of Asian literature, language, music, customs, heritage, and history are vital for the businessman, politician, missionary or layman. Plus it is just good common sense to know something about the cultures so much older than ours and to learn from their experiences and writings and lives.

The day has long past when the East is "looked down" upon. (Sad to say the present Republican administration in Washington looks down on most every other country.)We only fear what we do not know. Through literature we can begin to know a little, be less afraid, and appreciate and respect the Asian peoples in a better way.

[Revised June 3, 2003]

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