Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Goodbye to New Year Cards!

◎ Ke Ling

I was born in January 1909. Time slipped by and I’ve been muddling along in this world for eighty-eight years. My illness in the autumn of last year left me in poor shape and so far I’ve not yet restored my former state of health. I cannot help feeling that longevity doesn’t necessarily mean happiness.

More than ten years has quickly passed away since I retired and began to stay away from public activities. I congratulate myself, however, on spending my declining years in peace and comfort, free from hunger and cold, and on happening to live in time of peace and tranquility, which is hard to come by even once in a century. Though I still cannot help feeling concerned about many aspects of the status quo, I am, nevertheless, spared from having to live in constant fear of being overtaken unawares by an unpredictable man-made storm[1]. In my retirement, I keep the old habit of wielding my clumsy pen. I regard it as one way of whiling away my remaining years, and also find pleasure in it, similar to an old farmer enjoying a chat while taking the sun during the slack winter season. But now I feel I’m not quite up to even this because of age.

The main problem is that my days are numbered and I’m going from bad to worse both physically and mentally. While busy attending to social relations, I’m meanwhile loath to cut off my devotion to writing. But I find it difficult to take care of both at the same time. As to interpersonal correspondence, I’ve long been unable to write letters in reply though it doesn’t mean I’ve clean forgotten the sender or I don’t feel apologetic for my silence. It certainly gives rise to a feeling of warmth and pleasure to send new year cards to relatives or friends at the end or beginning of a year, which not only offer messages of greetings but also serve as a substitute for correspondence. But much as I want to, it is now beyond my power to keep doing it. The exchange of a considerable number of such cards will take up much of my time and send me bustling around. Having difficulty getting about because of age, I have to ask somebody else to buy the cards or mail them out for me. The trendy cards in the market appear mostly in glittering de luxe editions and are very expensive. What is worse, the stylish new year messages printed therein in popular song fashion are incompatible with the status of an old man like me. Due to numerous frustrations, I many times even thought of having cards of my own design printed—cards which would be both simple and unaffected, and both expressive of my true feelings and in good taste, but unfortunately it never materialized. So all I have to do is wave goodbye to new year cards. From now on I no longer send them, either on my own initiative or in reply. Pray forgive me for lack of manners on my part.

Time is impartial and nobody can fail to bow to it and admit defeat. Another year has gone by and spring has returned after winter is over. Let me avail myself of this opportunity to tell what is on my mind and make known my sincere intentions to all my friends at home and abroad, old and new, and to all my readers, acquainted and unacquainted.

[1] Referring to the Cultural Revolution and other ultra-left political movements prior to it during the postliberation days.