> topics > Literature

Female characters defy Japanese aggression in Lin Yutang’s works

By Dong Yan | 2016-01-04 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Lin Yutang (1895-1976), the famous modern Chinese writer and linguist


The protagonists of famed writer Lin Yutang’s novels are mostly females. Their thoughts, personalities and emotions are delicately portrayed. Lin Yutang endows these females with sufficient power of discourse and feminine consciousness. In particular, the women involved in the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression depicted by him are a unique type of female group with profound cultural awareness and deserve attention from readers. In this article, a tentative effort is made to analyze Yao Mulan, Cui Meiling and Du Rouan, the three main female characters in Lin Yutang’s representative works Moment in Peking, A Leaf in the Storm and The Vermillion Gate, with the aim of outlining the basic contours of these three characters as well as their cultural inclinations and patriotic attitudes.


Dedication to war effort
The germination of Yao Mulan’s political awakening and the maturation of her patriotic ideology experienced progressive changes, which spurred a transformation in her thoughts and elevated her soul. Yao Mulan, unrestrained and detached, was always calm and unflappable when encountering frustrations in life, standing aloof from worldly affairs. But the war changed her life. After the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression broke out, she first lost her daughter, and later her adopted son joined the army, leaving home without saying goodbye. Mulan, at this juncture, on the one hand lived with the expectation that her son would return home, but on the other hand, no longer wished for a carefree life and began to bravely confront the war with her own strength.


Cui Meiling was a woman with a strong personality whose love and hatred were both intense. Independent and outspoken, on more than one occasion, she expressed her apathy toward politics and the desire to just be a bystander. However, she changed her indifferent attitude toward national affairs after finding out that her bedfellow was actually a traitor to the country. Having decided not to interfere and stay quiet about this, she changed her mind after she could no longer tolerate the discovery. She provided key intelligence to an anti-espionage organization, which was out of her instinctive patriotic consciousness. And as she fled, she saved refugees, together with another character, Mr. Peng. In the process of taking care of the wounded, she not only actively resisted the war but also spontaneously and finally “reaped unexpected happiness together with Mr. Peng in their shared commitment to the war.”

Du Rouan, in the initial pages of the book, reveals herself as a participant in anti-Japanese demonstrations. Though she harbored strong patriotic sentiments, she was overly meticulous and cautious at that time, afraid that the publication of her name in the newspaper might cause dissatisfaction toward her uncle. As the flames of war continued and her love affair with Li Fei persisted, Rouan bravely ruptured ties with her old family, represented by her uncle. At the cost of being expelled from home and losing all her property, Rouan, with a valiant spirit, pursued her own way of living and renewed her life among the currents of the war.

Apart from the patriotic sentiments and thoughts stimulated by the Japanese violence, the emotional impact caused by their sons or husbands were also what reshaped the three female characters’ notions of war. A Tong, Mulan’s son, influenced her; Mr. Peng reshaped Meiling; and Li Fei affected Rouan. Released from the control of males and remaining clear-headed in a society where men still enjoyed a superior position, the three women maintained their freedom of personality and modern spirit while trying hard to seek a balance between the authority of their fathers, husbands and sons, and finally guided themselves to the path of happiness.


The invisible power
Meanwhile, the fight and rebellion of women like Mulan against the Japanese invasion also meant that the tension of the war had reached its climax. Lin Yutang reveals that Chinese people definitely did not recoil from the war or make any compromise, and furthermore, the rage stirred by the aggression exacerbated their attitudes in a way that was extremely intense. The invisible power evoked by the spiritual awakening of the people would absolutely bring final victory. When the fight against the Janpanese invaders became the unanimous choice of the people, these female characters often displayed their courage and wisdom, and were equally as assertive and competitive as the men.

Suffering from the Japanese violence, Mulan not only defied personal danger when her daughter suffered from entanglements with Japanese soldiers, but also courageously expressed her anger to the Japanese military officers. During her escape, she adopted orphans and refugees—even though she had been reduced to a fugitive who was beset with difficulties and even risked her life, she kept strong-minded with the resolution that she would not stop participating in the war if the Japanese were not driven from the land of China, and she refused to be a slave of a foreign power. Between her ideals and the temptation of fame and fortune, Meiling, without any hesitation, chose the former one at the cost of being arrested and captured by both the Japanese and Chinese police. Rouan, who was pregnant during the war, had to run around from time to time in order to find Li Fei, who was out of touch during the chaos of the war. In this way, she supported the righteous acts of her beloved.


Maternal love, homeland defense
As the political consciouness consciousness of the three women gradually solidified, their identity as mothers also intensified. Mulan, even during her escape, was above all a mother. Meiling and Rouan transitioned from a single identity as a wife to the dual roles of both a wife and a mother. Their political attitudes were closely connected with the birth-giving experience.

This also reflects how Lin Yutang predicated the outcome of the war, which was either victory or defeat. To Lin Yutang, the war would end only with one consequence:  China would absolutely triumph over Japan. Even if China lost the war, such failure would be temporary and victory would ultimately belong to China. As he said: “Because of the war, she (China) will be afflicted with much torment. However, she will never be defeated.” “The modern barbarians (Japanese invaders) are doomed to be daydreaming an unattainable dream, in the process of which, they devastate themselves.”

It can be said that children are the future of a country, and a social group through whom the family, nation and country can keep their hopes anew. In this sense, Lin Yutang depicts these female characters not only as participants of the war, but also as mothers. With deep maternal love, they, together with their children, shoulder the responsibility of carrying forward national spirit, resisting aggression and rebuilding their homeland.

Lin Yutang is a writer of patriotism. Such patriotism is out of his intense love for his country and his nation. Deeply rooted in the social reality of China, he created his works with the mark of the times, and the solicitude for the national destiny running through all the pages and lines.


Dong Yan is from the School of Humanities at the China University of Political Science and Law.