Lin Jue Min’s “Letter of Farewell to My Wife” — My translation

Posted: November 14, 2009 in Joys of Reading
 

This famous letter written by 24 year old Lin Jue Min on a handkerchief three days before he died in Guangzhou uprising of 1919 (part of the revolution which eventually overthrew the last dynasty of China) as one of the "Seventy-two Martyrs of Yellow Flower Hill", has been called one of the most moving love letters in the Chinese language. Out of respect to the martyr, I’ve attempted to translate it the best I can here, though it is impossible to fully capture the inherent rhythm of the original text in old Chinese.

A Letter of Farewell to My Wife — by Lin Jue Min

Yi Ying dearest:

With this letter I now bid you farewell! When I’m writing this letter now, I’m still a man in the land of the living; When you read this letter, I’ll be a ghost in the netherworld. As I’m writing this letter, teardrops fall down on the page along with ink. I almost put down my pen, I can hardly go on if it were not for fear that you misunderstand me and accuse me of being so heartless as to leave you alone or not knowing you don’t want me to die, so I have to overcome my sorrow and write these words to you.

I love you very much, and this same love allows me to boldly give up my life. Ever since I met you, I often wish all the lovers in this world can follow their hearts and form happy couples. However, the reality is bloodshed is spreading all over the land, wild beasts are running in every street, how many families can claim true happiness? Just as the Tang poet Bai Ju Yi whose robe was wet with tears when he saw the suffering of the people, neither can I stay unaffected like the ancient saints. An old saying goes: A benevolent person "respect his own seniors, then extends to respect others’ seniors, cherish his own children, then extends to cherish others’ children". I extend my love for you to help others love whom they love, that’s why I dare to die before you without regard to you. If you understand what I believe in, then besides crying for me, think on behalf of everyone as well, you should also be happy to sacrifice the happiness of you and I in order to strive for the eternal happiness of all the people. Don’t you be sad!

Do you remember? One evening four or five years ago, I told you: "Instead of letting me die first, I’d rather have you die first." At first you were mad when you heard this, but after I gently explained it, although you did not agree, you could not refute me either. What I meant was knowing your frail health, you definitely can not withstand the sorrow of losing me. I don’t have the heart to die first and leave all the sadness to you. So I’d rather hope that you die first and let me bear the sorrow. Sigh! Who knew I would die before you after all? I can never ever forget about you! I remember our residence in the back street, enter the gate, through the hallways, pass front room and back room, make three or four more corners, there is a small living room. Next to the small living room is a bedroom, and that is where you and I lived. Three or four months after we got married, it was just around mid November, outside of our window sparse plum branches cast shadows under the moonlight, each reflecting on the other. You and I were walking side by side, holding hands, whispering our deepest thoughts. What subject was off limits? What feelings went untold? When I think of this today, only tearstains remain. I also recall six or seven years ago, when I ran from home and returned again, you told me while weeping: "Hope the next time you go on a long trip, you must let me know, I would like to go along with you." I also did promise you so. A little more than ten days ago when I returned home, I intended to take the opportunity to tell you about this trip. But when I was facing you, again I could not open my mouth. Especially since you were pregnant, I was even more afraid you would not be able to bear the sadness, so all I could do was to yell for drinks everyday hoping to get drunk. Sigh! This pen can never hope to do justice to the sorrow in my heart back then.

I certainly wish to stick together with you until we die, but based on the current state of affairs, natural disasters can kill us, robbers and burglars can kill us, invaders dividing the country can kill us, corrupt officials abusing the people can kill us. Our generation lives in present day China where anytime and any place we may die. By then either let me helplessly watch you die, or let you helplessly watch me die, can I allow that? Or can you allow that? Even if we can escape death, but if we are separated physically and can not see each other, hopeless even when our eyes have blinded from looking for one another and our bones have turned into stone, may I ask since olden times when you’ve ever seen a broken mirror turn into whole again? So this is worse than dying, what can we do then? Today you and I are fortunate to be both living, yet there are countless people in the world who died when they should not have died or separated when they did not wish to be separated. As people who cherish love, can we permit this to happen? This is why I can give up my life so easily without regard to you. I have no regrets when I die now, the success of the national movement will be left to my comrades. Yi Xin is already five years old, before long he will be grown up, I hope you raise him well, make him grow to be like me. The little one in your womb, I suspect is a girl, a girl will surely take after you, I feel very gratified. Or maybe it’s a boy, then also teach him to follow his father’s aspirations, so after I die there will still be two of me around. Rejoice! Rejoice! In the future our household will surely be stricken with poverty, but there is no sadness to being poor, only getting along quietly, that is all.

Now I have no more to say to you. If I hear your wails from far away in the nether world, I ought to answer with wails of my own. I don’t normally believe in ghosts, but now I wish they really exist. Nowadays people also claim there are ways of telepathy, I too wish this claim is true. Then when I die, my spirit, reluctant to leave, can still accompany you so you don’t feel sad from losing your spouse.

In this life I never told you about my aspirations, this is my fault; But if I tell you, I fear you will worry about me everyday. I can sacrifice my life for the country a hundred times without passing the chance, but causing you worries really isn’t something my heart can bear. I love you to the extreme, so I’m always afraid I have not thought of everything for you. You are fortunate to marry me, but why are you so unfortunate as to be living in today’s China! I am fortunate to marry you, but why am I so unfortunate as to be living in today’s China! In the end I can not bear to just perfect myself. Sigh! The handkerchief is short and the feelings are long, there are thousands of words left to say, you can come up with the rest by yourself based on what’s here. I can no longer see you now! You can not let me go, maybe you will see me in your dream from time to time! What great sorrow! March 26, 1911 past midnight, handwritten by Yi Dong

All our aunts at home are proficient in written words, if there are places where you are unclear, please ask them to explain, it’s best to understand fully what I meant.

Original text:

意映卿卿如晤:

吾今以此书与汝永别矣!吾作此书时,尚是世中一人;汝看此书时,吾已成为阴间一鬼。吾作此书,泪珠和笔墨齐下,不能竟书而欲搁笔,又恐汝不察吾衷,谓吾忍舍汝而死,谓吾不知汝之不欲吾死也,故遂忍悲为汝言之。

吾至爱汝,即此爱汝一念,使吾勇于就死也。吾自遇汝以来,常愿天下有情人都成眷属;然遍地腥云,满街狼犬,称心快意,几家能彀?司马春衫,吾不能学太上之忘情也。语云:仁者“老吾老,以及人之老;幼吾幼,以及人之幼”。吾充吾爱汝之心,助天下人爱其所爱,所以敢先汝而死,不顾汝也。汝体吾此心,于啼泣之余,亦以天下人为念,当亦乐牺牲吾身与汝身之福利,为天下人谋永福也。汝其勿悲!

汝忆否?四五年前某夕,吾尝语曰:“与使吾先死也,无宁汝先吾而死。”汝初闻言而怒,后经吾婉解,虽不谓吾言为是,而亦无词相答。吾之意盖谓以汝之弱,必不能禁失吾之悲,吾先死留苦与汝,吾心不忍,故宁请汝先死,吾担悲也。嗟夫 ! !谁知吾卒先汝而死乎?吾真真不能忘汝也!回忆后街之屋,入门穿廊,过前后厅,又三四折,有小厅,厅旁一室,为吾与汝双□之所。初婚三四个月,适冬之望日前后,窗外疏梅筛月影,依稀掩映;吾与(汝)并肩携手,低低切切,何事不语?何情不诉?及今思之,空余泪痕。又回忆六七年前,吾之逃家复归也,汝泣告我:“望今后有远行,必以告妾,妾愿随君行。”吾亦既许汝矣。前十余日回家,即欲乘便以此行之事语汝,及与汝相对,又不能启口,且以汝之有身也,更恐不胜悲,故惟日日呼酒买醉。嗟夫!当时余心之悲,盖不能以寸管形容之。

吾诚愿与汝相守以死,第以今日事势观之,天灾可以死,盗贼可以死,瓜分之日可以死,奸官污吏虐民可以死,吾辈处今日之中国,国中无地无时不可以死,到那时使吾眼睁睁看汝死,或使汝眼睁睁看我死,吾能之乎?抑汝能之乎?即可不死,而离散不相见,徒使两地眼成穿而骨化石,试问古来几曾见破镜能重圆?则较死为苦也,将奈之何?今日吾与汝幸双健。天下人之不当死而死与不愿离而离者,不可数计,钟情如我辈者,能忍之乎?此吾所以敢率性就死不顾汝也。吾今死无余憾,国事成不成自有同志者在。依新已五岁,转眼成人,汝其善抚之,使之肖我。汝腹中之物,吾疑其女也,女必像汝,吾心甚慰。或又是男,则亦教其以父志为志,则我死后尚有二意洞在也。甚幸,甚幸!吾家后日当甚贫,贫无所苦,清静过日而已。

吾今与汝无言矣。吾居九泉之下遥闻汝哭声,当哭相和也。吾平日不信有鬼,今则又望其真有。今人又言心电感应有道,吾亦望其言是实,则吾之死,吾灵尚依依旁汝也,汝不必以无侣悲。

吾平生未尝以吾所志语汝,是吾不是处;然语之,又恐汝日日为吾担忧。吾牺牲百死而不辞,而使汝担忧,的的非吾所忍。吾爱汝至,所以为汝谋者惟恐未尽。汝幸而偶我,又何不幸而生今日之中国!吾幸而得汝,又何不幸而生今日之中国!卒不忍独善其身。嗟夫!巾短情长,所未尽者,尚有万千,汝可以模拟得之。吾今不能见汝矣!汝不能舍吾,其时时于梦中得我乎!一恸!辛未三月念六夜四鼓,意洞手书。

家中诸母皆通文,有不解处,望请其指教,当尽吾意为幸。

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Comments
  1. LC says:

    Thanks for the great translation. I admire Mr. Lin deeply and I really like more people to know about him and his writing. Besides your translation, I also found another complete translation and a few partial translations. Would you like to incorporate their work and make yours even better, and perhaps, a “standard”?

  2. Benjamin Rossen says:

    The second uprising of Guangzhou was not in 1919, but in April of 1911. You can see a dramatic representation of this event in the film, 1911, featuring Jakie Chan as the General Huang Xing.

  3. Xin Leo Wang says:

    Good translation on this 1911 masterpiece.

  4. Amanda says:

    I know this was posted awhile ago, but I just wanted to thank you for translating it and posting it. I was reading about the revolutionary movement in China during his time and saw reference to his letter and could not easily find the text.

    Thank you for supporting those of us who speak English to be able to read his words and hear his voice.

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