141 Yangde road, Taipei, Lin Yutang House
First of all, this is not a place for tourist. It is small house of Lin Yutang, a famous writer who spent the last part of his life in here. It is located at the ridge of Yangmingshan, Taipei where not convenient to reach unless scooter driven locals nor big enough to attract sightseeing group, but display his books and inventions in simple and humble decoration.
Rather, it is a good place for whom admires Lin’s literature and see the first hand trace of his spirit. And relax in the cafe, a part of museum to find any new meaning on the living as he suggested. In 1938…
The only two tourists I’ve seen.
At Library. Portrait of Lin Yutang
I am not sure what the original purpose of this room was, but now it is study room (or simply gathering place) for Lin’s Literature Members. Looking at time table, they finished the book reading, ‘Moment in Peking’ and started new book ‘Importance of Living’.
Moment in Peking, First Edition
Published in 1939, it’ll be a 100th anniversary soon. This book is probably not famous as his earlier book, Importance of Living, but surely the most important work which nominated Lin Yutang to Nobel Prize literature award several times.
A writer and an inventor
To be honest, I could not mix these 2 aspects into one character well, but indeed he was. Below is Lin’s jaw dropping invention, mechanical typewriter of Chinese language.
What kind of mechanism has to be engineered for the Chinese typewriter? Unlike alphabet in English, Chinese is Hieroglyphic which contains hundred of thousand characters with its own meaning.
It is said that traditional classification of Chinese character did not work out due to sheer size of classification itself, he invented new method of classification system for keyboard and it becomes the foundation of ‘Modern Chinese – English Dictionary’ later. In other words, it was not just hardware development but software / firmware optimization.
Unfortunately there is no other data or sample remains except this note. So lost the track of the masterpiece and its mechanical configuration forever. The product (MingKai typewriter) has a sad story that cannot be seen without a tingling(!) & tearing …
Opening Investors meeting at Silicon Valley, with Mingkai typewriter
Lin Yutang published the book, Importance of Living, in USA at 1938 and it became America’s best-selling book next year. ‘Moment of Peking’ followed soon and successive books also record big hits, he eventually become a ‘famous and wealthy’ man.
At that time, 1930s and 40s, TV was not invented yet & ‘multimedia’ was unheard. People read newspapers for news and books for knowledge, that’s it. Imagine when a book is the only source of food for thought, knowledge & entertainment, becoming bestseller writer in America means much more than nowadays.
Then, he poured all the money, time he spared out of writing & passion to develop the Chinese typewriter. In the picture above, you can see engineering design (a piece of drawings) created by the writer. I think it was painstakingly difficult, at least 9000 characters should be squeezed into a typewriter. And the World War II outbreak….
The prototype finally finished in 1946 and ready to do presentation to American typewriter companies and investors. In modern day words, it is like : ‘Lin launched Startup of Artificial Intelligent in Chinese philosophy and gather investors in Silicon valley to raise a massive cloud funding…’
Alas, but it is not only the soap drama where the blue screen crashed the perfect moment in very right place purely by chance. On the day of the demonstration, the typewriter broke down. Yes, the tradition in Silicon Valley, the most critical moment the blue screen ruins as act of god, is already started from 1946.
Devastated, but the machine fixed following day, only found the excitement from investors are gone already. With such a twist and turn though, license contract made with a company that did not give up the dream to sell typewriters to China. By that time population in China already exceed hundred millions, counting one typewrite per 100 people hits multi million units, right?
But, the drama is not over yet, 1946 is the year in China, the civil war began. Before the contract paper got the ink dried, Chang Kai-Shek, National party declared the war against Communist party, Mao Zedong.
Holding back the dream couple of years is not a problem even though it was painful. Problem is in 1949 Chang Kai-Shek was defeated and transferred to Taiwan. Then mainland China completely cut off western society.
Lin Yutang in person invested all the money and materials to develop the typewriter, and the company that bought the patent with big dream, fall into such a twisted fate from then…. for a long time. Long enough to give up their dream finally and they scrap all the drawing, note, prototype, whatever information about the product. Now only 1 sheet of paper and 1 photo remains…
Importance of Living
English title of the book is ‘Importance of living’, and Chinese title is ‘Art of living’. But in Korea, it is published with title, ‘Discovery of living’. What’t’hack?
In the beginning, just not convinced how come Korean title is translated as ‘discovery’ or ‘finding..’ And indeed it is the same title found as a movie in Korea (contents of the movie is not related with this book at all). It is not likely the book copied the movie title because the book published at least one generation earlier.
Then guess the movie copied the book title? I have no clue at this moment, may be the book title changed over time, or somehow it influence to the movie maker to take the same title. Or just coincident? It is (interesting but useless anyway) fun question I think what was happening on Sang Soo Hong* in 2002. (*the movie director)
But reading the book, I found Korean title makes good sense than direct translation either from Chinese or English book titles. I think it is a metaphorical name, the translator really read through the book several times and digest meaning, humor and metaphor and then give new name. It does mean;
‘Discover (real meaning of ordinary days and matters) of life’.
Then it squeezed into ‘discovery of living’
Another invention by Lin Yutang, a toothbrush automatically dispensing toothpaste.
There is a tomb of the deceased in the yard of the house. Looking down on the Tianmu in splendid view, Gwanin mountain & Dansui river in front and Chisheng & Datun mountains where clouds scrawls at right side. But now the trees in front becomes too tall and thick…
It’s a good place to sit and talk about books … as long as you are a fan of Lin Yutang
Finally, here is the book I bought from the museum, Importance of living, English edition