I am writing you so much today because this is a very rare opportunity. I need to fully take advantage of it. Right now it is 11:20. Before writing this, I was reading your letter over and over again. I closely examined a picture of me that I’m going to send you. I was ordered to take the picture on my birthday when my head was shaved bare. I look terrible. Feeling inferior is not good though, so regardless of how bad I look, I’ll send it to you. Go ahead and poke fun at me. In the following lines I’m going to discuss my views on a number of questions; we can discuss them together. I’ve written it in the form of an eight-legged essay.
The question of image
From your letter I can tell that you are the kind of person who loves carving and refining images of people in your mind. This is very similar to Nasser. He frequently places a photograph on his desk and then spends half an hour just gazing at it. I’ve heard that by doing this one can obtain a basic impression of a person that is very accurate. I don’t think this is entirely false, and I find it very interesting. Perhaps you’ve been influenced by him, Nasser. Images of people actually objectively exist, and on some levels they reflect the peoples’ innermost worlds, including their thoughts, qualities, and personalities. Though some peoples’ actions do not match their words, I think this can be controlled. These people can hide their feelings. But hypocrites who perform as upright people aren’t very convincing.
In the end, the fakeness will be peeled off. No wonder Dzerzhinsky always loved attentively gazing at “images” with his pair of sharp eyes. In interactions with friends, we all care about examining each others’ images, and we carefully emphasize the images that we present to our friends. The closer one is with someone, the more we care about this. People never want to feel insignificant in the eyes of someone else, unless we despise this person and want them to quickly forget us. Concerning your image in my mind, sometimes I can recall you with perfect contentment. I particularly remember the two things you said to me as we parted. I was extremely moved. I can even clearly remember my exact expression and posture at the time. But at other times, your image is more indistinct – does this mean that my love for you is not true enough? Maybe not, because I always wish that I had a clear image of you. Images and emotions are related, but they are not directly proportional. It’s true that images are important, but they naturally fade. When one is carefree, images become more comfortable and relaxed. Though I may not have a lofty image in your mind, and there are some things about me that may even make you uncomfortable, if my image retains its true character, I will be content. I believe that day by day, in a natural manner, we can deepen our understandings of each other. We can establish a true image, one that is no longer subjective. If I conceive of your mind as a theater, perhaps all of the seats are already sold out. Maybe I’m arriving too late, because your mind is already full of medical terms like “coronary heart disease,” “arteriosclerosis,” “cholesterol,” or “electrocardiogram.” But all I need is patience, and I’m confident we will both find seats. Disappointment does not befall one with aspirations.
We don’t only depend on “images” to arouse passion and excitement in our lives. More importantly, we must have a rational spirit and help each other move forward. After all, “images” are just a means of getting one’s foot in the door.
Modesty and seeking truth
People always love expressing themselves, and they often pretend to be modest in their words, saying that they are no good at this or that. This is particularly common among friends. But even if people are actually modest, there is no benefit to their behavior. Friends, after all, are supposed to mutually help each other, mutually understand each other. Keeping one’s strengths secret doesn’t only prevent one’s friends from knowing you; it also prevents one’s friends from advancing and learning from your strengths. Many such good strengths have been destroyed by the vanity of the petty bourgeoisie. Things always have two sides to them. Knowing one’s flaws is necessary, but knowing one’s strengths and having courage to use them is also necessary. To talk about one’s weaknesses to friends is frank and honest, just as talking about one’s strengths should also be seen as frank. Modesty is an important virtue, but practicality should also be valued.
We should not be immeasurably satisfied with the qualities of a mediocre person, but we should also avoid artificial modesty. Since we are friends, we should understand each other completely, thoroughly. We do not need to have apprehensions about the so-called “face” that people talk about. What’s stopping us from praising ourselves? I was very moved when I heard about how you run in the whistling northern winds, how you bite your fingers to stay awake when you are too tired, how you only allow your tears to flow under the dark night sky. I really like how you talk about yourself, and I hope you can continue this way in the future. Even if you only talk to me about how “awesome” you are, I will still just use this as motivation to improve myself. Of course, I will abide by this rule as well.
Melancholy and sentimentality
Please don’t be upset about the melancholy that I imposed on you last time. Half of that was joking, and it does not represent my fixed judgment of you. Melancholy and sentimentality must be understood as two separate ideas. I don’t like melancholy, but I like sentimentality and emotion. I really like the sentiment that you expressed when you said: “The gentle breeze rustles the leaves, the blood-life red twilight of the setting sun, the rain beating on the window, and the quiet night in the stars...” One should not be inflexible or old-fashioned. Besides studies and work, one should take time to soul-search and think about other things. Life is better with a little romance. Thoughts are better with a bit of vigor. Feelings are better with a bit of depth. Many revolutionary leaps and achievements are accompanied by the colors of romance. Being able to remember the past with sentimentality is therefore a type of virtue. Regarding melancholy, I don’t like this emotion.
To speak completely honestly, I’m most worried that you will be afflicted with the common problem among intellectuals – that of worrying too much. Of course, the things you’ve encountered thus far in your life give good reason to worry. But worrying and melancholy are bound to harm you, and they will not produce a means of solving the problem. And because our two experiences are so similar, I’m even less willing to worry. I want to be positive and resolute – I want to be around people who are brimming with confidence. From the many angles through which I’ve gotten to know you, I see that you have all of these qualities, and it really excites me. All I’m hoping is that if you encounter unhappy times in the future, or if you think of things that hurt you, think of them with an open mind. “The sky allows birds to fly, the ocean allows fish to jump.” We must make an effort to follow Marx’s advice to oppose the dark past and push for the future.
Strictness and tolerance
This is my policy toward my friends, and I hope you can always be like this. I used to think that one always had to be strict with one’s friends. If a friend has a weakness, one must point it out immediately. “Say all you know, and say it without reserve.” Nothing should be reserved. When there is a contradiction, one must nip it while it is still in the bud. One should not blindly accommodate. At the same time, one must encourage one’s friends to strive to be their best, and one must watch over them to ensure that they put their plans into action. I am far from being a firm and resolute person, and I do not always abide by the rules, so I especially need this kind of “encouragement” from friends. No matter what you request of me, I will always be able to understand. (Take, for example, the car incident.)
On the other hand, one ought to have the moral character and tolerance to forgive people’s weaknesses. As the proverb says: “No person is perfect, just as no melon is round as a ball.” If one requests friends without weaknesses, one will end up with no friends at all. The logic is very simple, but in practice it is easy to lose sight of it. This is especially true concerning two people who are in love. They conceive of each other as perfect beings without peers, so when they discover even the slightest fault, they are likely to make a big fuss about nothing and brood over their unwelcome discoveries.
The result is that they will spoil the relationship. Nobody is pure in this world, and everybody has areas where they are insufficient. Even Marx loved to point out that all people are fallible. Only when we truly understand each other will we be able to cherish and forgive each other. We’ve already seen so much, so why would we make a big deal about nothing? I am determined to transform myself, to advance without fear, but I am not a perfect person, and I must make this fact clear to you. I want you to criticize any of my flaws (even if they touch on my basic character), yet I don’t want you to be sensitive and meticulous like most intellectuals. (I really don’t think you are like this; I am just taking precautions.) We must be open with many things; we cannot be reserved. We must not adopt common practices to understand each other. Our own personal experiences will determine the methods and thoughts that we adopt. I believe that we can teach each other and understand each other in the future, and I think that our fundamental views are in line with each other.
A couple of days ago I was copying the maxims that we had to learn, and I was very excited when I saw that you favored similar maxims. I reflected back on the words of our Chairman: “Smart people often begin with low social status, and they are looked down upon and humiliated by others. Socialist societies are no exception.” How insightful!
These days I have developed a habit – when I read something good, I need to highlight it so that I can remember it. Otherwise, in the future it will be lost. With time, as these things accumulate, they will become precious. A couple of months later, when I return to these things, they feel fresh, as if I’m meeting an old friend. I hope that I can see the things that you highlight in your life.
I never really liked keeping a diary, and I still don’t really like it now. But many events and impressions in life would be a pity if we just threw them away. So I’ve decided on a solution. I will write you letters at regular intervals, and I’ll have you preserve them. Starting today, you’ll have my complete diary, and I won’t have to waste ink on writing more. These will be notes on my thoughts and my life, a summary of my experiences and my actions. In any case, everything will be included, and it will be beneficial to put it all together. Of course, I will give you the same level of treatment in these letters. I am particularly fond of the maxim that you copied down: “If a person is not tenacious, decisive, and always advancing forward toward their goals, then their labor will never result in anything. I find the phrase “advancing forward” fabulous.
I’ll stop writing now, and maybe you are already thoroughly perplexed. But as long as you don’t respond with soft and mushy words, I’ll be fine. Whatever the case may be, what I’ve written is from the bottom of my heart. At this point, I’m so tired that I’m getting muddled.
I almost forgot to tell you – in order to have a better understanding of you, I expressly went to Xiao Hang to meet your “good people.” I gained a lot from the experience. She prepared everything into four sections, from work and study to life and exercise. The only problem was that she didn’t provide enough examples to fulfill my requests. Nonetheless, it was beneficial for me. For example, if I have a chance to leave work and return home early, I’ll remember how you used to work and study like Lei Feng, volunteering to take on shifts and working hard until your shift ended, ultimately receiving a positive evaluation from your boss. Naturally I also asked her whether you like to get angry. I was pleased with her response.
The three “presents” that she brought you this time are all little, trivial things, and do not think that I am making fun of you. They all have their respective meanings: the small metal box represents purity and honesty, the doll represents health, and the small panda represents thoughtfulness. I also bought a big envelope and included a small toy duck and elephant that you can play with. I hope that they will often make you feel happy!
I’ve spent much effort on this letter, but perhaps you will read it with a shaking head, thinking that it is full of fallacies. In such a case, I will not be nervous; I just hope we can discuss these matters. You may concede to my opinions, but have I not already surrendered to you on some matters? Your logic is very tight, and I think you are capable of convincing people. You don’t have much social experience though, otherwise one day your heart would start beating less than forty times per minute, and you might overtake me.
I bought a “Concise Electrocardiogram.” They only had the most select one, so I bought it. I am still very frugal in my approach to life.
Lastly, a warning – in the future, please do not waste too much time writing me; from 6:00 until 1:00, even though it was intermittent, it affected work. We’re not running a relay race, so we don’t have to be so fast, and our “frequency” can slow down a bit. Even though I’m only pretending to mean these words, I do seriously hope that you can take good care of yourself and your body. Don’t be stubborn in your pursuit of strength and self-reliance.
I will copy the first phrases on my notebook for you to read:
Study with tenacity,
Study with patience,
Study with depth!
Words aplenty on little paper, make it hard to fully relate,
My friend’s heart is dear, as if in my hut,
Fragrance Mountain regrets not being taller, what to fear of dangerous roads,
The future is long, aspire to take the long journey.
— — — — —
From the poem:
The Five Peaks majestic,
The Three Mountains imposing,
Memories cherished with fond hearts.
Mourning heroes and martyrs driven away,
Their blood a crimson spring.
They placed nation before family,
And brushed away hardship.
The Taihang range’s deep green pines,
Rolling river and tough grasses,
Awe-inspiring righteousness, proudly overlooking the central plain.
Reading the historical records, I ask China’s children,
Who will take over?
Two hegemons have fought for supremacy,
Rousing the four seas, black winds and violent waves.
Don’t waste your youth,
like a fire burning hot;
The people’s aspirations.
Intimate friend of common virtue,
Our hearts hot as flame,
As we grow gray, our longing will not fade.
Raise the army banner,
and laugh still more, gazing at the red cosmos,
spare no effort to move forward.
Translator’s note: The first name of Li Danyu means “red cosmos.”
The letter and poem were translated by The New York Times Beijing bureau and Eric Abrahamsen.Continue reading the main story
« Body-snatching, not socialising, drove the evolution of bigger-brained insectsTetris could prevent post-traumatic stress disorder flashbacks (but quiz games make them worse) »
A sticky case of eight-legged housework
By Ed Yong | November 10, 2010 1:26 pm
Tear off a piece of sticky tape press it down on a nearby surface and pull it off. You’ll find a thin layer of dirt comes off with it. Rinse, and repeat. Congratulations –you’ve just had a taste of housework, spider-mite-style. The spider mite Stigmaeopsis longus is a sociable critter that works together to build silken nests on the undersides of leaves. In these enclosed spaces, hygiene is paramount. For example, the colony’s members all use a toilet at the entrance of the nest, never defecating inside. They’re also fastidious cleaners and Miki Kanazawa from Hokkaido University has found that they scrub using the same substance that they build their homes with: silk.
She sprinkled small grains of red sand into one of the nests and filmed the females as they went about their chores. Each one pressed her mouths onto one side of the leaf, secreted a drop of silk and walked to the other side, dragging a thread in her steps. She repeated this again and again until, eventually, all the red grains were trapped in a sticky mass on the nest’s ceiling.
The females do exactly the same thing to build their nests in the first place, but Kanazawa found that they did it more often, the more grains she sprinkled into the nest. If the floor is dirtier, the mites weave more silk, confirming that this action is about cleaning as well as construction. It’s a necessary act because the floor of the nest is where the precious eggs sit. By keeping them clean, the females ensure that they will survive. To demonstrate how important this is, Kanazawa removed females from some wild nests. She found that the eggs were half as likely to survive, even if she prevented any predators for attacking them.
Reference: Proc Roy Soc B http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2010.1761
CATEGORIZED UNDER: Animal behaviour, Animals, Invertebrates