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