Excerpts... Moment in Peking

Mr Tseng’s deathbed speech

Mr Tseng survived the wedding barely two months. His urine trouble got worse again, and he steadily grew weaker and lay gasping in his bed.

Shortly before he died, he called his sons and daughters and daughters-in-law to his presence and said to them:

“I shall not live long now. After I die, you must continue to live in peace and harmony and obey your mother as you are doing now. Cut down the servants, marry off the older maidservants, and do not try to live on the old standard of luxury. Give me a proper, suitable burial, but do not be extravagant.

“Keep the house as long as your mother is living, but you can sell it afterward. Times have so changed. Nowadays, you have to hire servants and the wages alone of so many servants in such a house will come to over a hundred a month. And don’t forget the principle of ‘men attending to the outside and women attending to the inside’ of the house. Without cooperation and division of labor, no family can prosper.

Mannia, you are the oldest and should be the example; but, Mulan, you are the ablest and should help to shoulder the responsibility for all. Ailien, you are well-married and you give me no cause for worry. Lilien, you believe in free marriage and want to select your own husband. I warn you, do not make a mistake, as so many modern girls are doing by falling in love with charming fools or by not marrying at all. Listen to your mother and let us grown-ups make a choice for you, and you will have nothing to regret...

These are hard times and the country is in chaos, and you, my sons and daughters, should be very prudent and not get yourselves into trouble. We have had more wars in these ten years under the Republic than in the previous hundred years under the Empire. There will be worse chaos still…”

He wanted to say more, but stopped through sheer exhaustion and merely added, “Be careful in everything.”

Then he called for his grandsons and blessed Asuan and Atung, the boys, and Aman, the girl. He lay back, stretching out two fingers as if to say that there were only two grandsons after all these years. It was meager consolation for an old man departing from this world.

Then Cassia bent down and whispered to him that Dimfragrance had “happiness” in her body. And the old man smiled and drew his last breath.

Buried in mandarin pomp

The funeral was a grand affair. Elaborate preparations were made and long notices were given, for the children, out of the loyalty of their hearts, wished to spend a great deal in honor of their father in spite of what he had advised. He was a righteous man and true, self-controlled by discipline and culture.

The fact that he had made only a hundred thousand dollars after a life of distinguished career as vice-minister, vice-director, and in other offices, was generally taken as sufficient proof of his integrity, in contrast to some minor Republican officials who could have made that amount in six months.

Moreover, the children felt that he had been sad in the last part of his life and had made sacrifices all his life for the good of the family. Condolences from his old colleagues poured in from remote parts of the country, and the Shantung Guild went into great activity. All the old paraphernalia of mandarin authority and ceremony were brought out again and he was buried in his mandarin cap, beads, belt, boots, and gown.

Pages 590-591

Peking scenesLove is an immortal wound | Mr Tseng’s deathbed speech
Introduction | Contents Page

Lin Yutang 林語堂, 1895-1976
Lin Yutang 林語堂, 1895-1976