Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Childhood

By Qu Qiubai

One who lives a life without high aspirations will treasure all the more the memory of his own youth and childhood. As it is, the sentimental recollection marks his awareness of post-middle age decline rather than his discovery of anything truly remarkable in the bygone days. Life is of course precious to anyone because he will pass through it but once. But one will long remain fresh and vigorous, if he identifies himself with the broad masses of people and day in, day out does his bit for the good of the public. Although, being subject to the law of nature, he too will eventually become aged and die, yet his cause — the public cause — will be everlasting. He will enjoy perennial youth in spirit. Those who dream away their life without doing anything useful are taking from this world much more than they are giving to it until at last they are too enfeebled to take any more and die of weariness. Consequently, a sad feeling of getting senile weighs heavily on their mind like a lump of lead. All they do is bemoan the transience of youth!

Childhood is lovely in terms of our erstwhile childish ignorance. In those early days, everything was new to us. Every day we were something of a great scientist or philosopher. Every day we discovered something new — new phenomena or new truth. What about now? Now we know everything only too well. We are tired of seeing every familiar human face. The whole universe and society seem stale and boring to us though, in fact, they have a lot more new things now than when we were in our childhood. Hence I feel nostalgic for my childhood and pray for it.

When we cease to advance any more, we are inclined to fall back a few paces and indulge in reminiscences of the path we have already trodden. We pray for the return of “childish ignorance” so as to re-experience the joy of knowledge-seeking. O this cessation of life! How horrible it is!

What is gone is gone, and what is to come is to come. What are my innermost feelings of it?