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Jin Yuelin in my memory

CHEN DAISUN | 2021-08-05 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

FILE PHOTO: Jin Yuelin in a library in 1964 


My friendship with Professor Jin Yuelin (1895–1984) started from 1927. Jin graduated from Tsinghua Xuetang [the precursor of Tsinghua University, established in 1911 and originally served as a preparatory school for Chinese students before studying in the United States] in 1914. He was six grades higher than me. When I passed into the third grade of the senior school at Tsinghua Xuetang, Jin had been in the United States for four years. He returned to China in 1925 and started to teach at Tsinghua in 1926. I came back to China in 1927 and worked at Tsinghua, too. When working at Tsinghua, I lived with Professor Ye Qisun [one of the founders of modern physics in China, 1889–1977] in Apt. No. 7 at Tsinghua Beiyuan complex for a long time. We often gathered a few single teachers and one or two colleagues who lived in town to our apartment for dinner, thus gradually forming a “dinner party.” Jin was one of the earliest members of the “dinner party.” During the ten years before the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, he lived in town and went to the college three days a week. When staying on campus, he lived in a college dormitory and dined with us. This was the beginning of the time we spent together at Tsinghua University, the National Southwest Associated University (NSAU), and Peking University. 
 
Time at Tsinghua
Jin was very responsible with his work. He believed that teaching was his first duty as a teacher. During the three days on campus every week, he had to travel to the campus by bus from town early in the morning. Part of his morning time was spent on the journey, which means that he had only four mornings a week for his academic research, so he cherished them even more. He followed his morning routine of secluding himself to academic work in a strict way. His habit was to sit alone in meditation at first, and began to write when ideas came to mind. Knowing Jin’s habit, his friends never visited him those morning to avoid being shut out. 
 
Work in wartime China
During the time of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, Jin continued his habit even after he moved to Kunming, Yunnan Province. However, this habit almost brought him misfortune one time. In August 1938, the schools of liberal arts and law of the NSAU, which used to be based in Mengzi, Yunnan Province, moved back to Kunming. At that time, in order to escape air raids, many schools and colleges in Kunming had been evacuated to the countryside in spring. Their school buildings left in Kunming were therefore borrowed by the NSAU for the temporary use of classrooms and dormitories for the Faculty of Science. Teachers and students moved from Mengzi also lived in those buildings. Jin lived at the campus of Kunhua Normal College, and I lived at the campus of Kunhua Agricultural College, two to three hundred meters north of Kunhua Normal College. There were three dormitory buildings leased by the NSAU at Kunhua Normal College. The buildings in the north and south were used as student dormitories, and the one in the middle housed some of the NSAU staff. On September 28, 1938, Kunming was attacked by enemy aircraft for the first time. The area bombed in this air raid was the northwest of the city, where Kunhua Normal College was located. On hearing the air raid warnings, teachers and students living in these three buildings all left the campus immediately and fled to a barren hill outside the northern city to take refuge in accordance with the university’s previous regulations. However, Jin, who lived in the middle building, continued concentrating on his work at the time and ignored the alarm. Kunhua Normal College was at the center of this bombing. Of the three buildings leased by the NSAU, both the north and south buildings were directly bombarded. Fortunately, all the NSAU students in these two building had taken refuge, and no one was killed or injured. The middle building was not hit, but the sounds of bombing on the other two buildings awakened Jin from his thoughts. He came out of the building and saw the tragic scene of the bombing around him. He was at a loss, as he told us later. 
 
During the air raid, I hid on the hillside next to Kunhua Agricultural College, and saw the whole process of the attack. We noticed that Kunhua Normal College was bombarded and caught fire. As soon as the enemy planes left, Li Jitong [pioneer of Plant Physiology in China, 1897–1961], Fook-Tan Chen [a renowned scholar of foreign language and literature, 1897–1956], and I rushed to Kunhua Normal College. We found bomb marks everywhere, and met Jin and two other NSAU colleagues who didn’t evacuate. Jin was still standing at the door of the middle building, holding a pen in his hand. 
 
Later, Jin and a dozen of our colleagues rented a house next to Lake Cui in the city. After a short stay, however, our small yard was destroyed in another air strike. We cleaned up the embers and moved to a small theatre in the Tangjia Garden, living with ten other colleagues who were also homeless. Zhu Ziqing [a well-known Chinese writer, 1898–1948], Li Jitong, Fook-Tan Chen, Jin, and I lived together in the big box in the middle of the upper floor opposite the stage. Fortunately, we were able to live in this theatre for five or six years until the surrender of Japan—we were no longer homeless. During this long period of time, Jin regained his old habits. Except for class, every morning was still his time for study and writing—but he promised that he would “flee” with us when there was an air raid alert. We also cared for his habit. In the quietest corner of the big box, we marked out a small space as his “territory,” which accommodated his bed and a desk. We tried not to bother him. His masterpiece On Tao was written in that environment. 
 
This article was edited and translated from the book series titled Stories of Luminaries. Chen Daisun (1900–1997) was a famous Chinese economist and educator. 
 
 
Edited by REN GUANHONG