Selected Modern Chinese Essays: On Men

By Liang Shiqiu

What strikes us first of all in men is their uncleanliness. There are of course no lack of men who always make a point of keeping themselves spick-and-span. And some of them even make up heavily and dress respectably. But, generally speaking, men consume a smaller quantity of soap and water than women. A certain boys’ school made it compulsory for its students to take a bath regularly. Every student had to sign his name before taking a bath so that the school authorities could conduct a weekly checkup. Those who violated the regulation for the first time would have their names published. The drastic measure for those who repeated the offence was to force them to take a bath regularly under surveillance. Nevertheless, abuses crept in with time. Forgery was often discovered among the signatures. Some men, although they wear smooth-ironed Western-style pants, leave much dirt behind their ears and around their necks — so much that it is good enough for growing wheat! Their unwashed socks and handkerchiefs accumulate and are left here and there in unseen corners. When no more clean ones are available, some of the less dirty ones are picked out from the filthy stock to meet an urgent need. Men’s handkerchiefs, curled up into blackened balls, look like fruit cakes made of wholemeal flour and have a very rich content of their own. Men’s feet, for the most part, seem to have a distinctive smell of their own, like that of pickles, dried vegetables and sweetened garlic all mixed together. There is some truth in the saying, “The running water of a long river is good for washing one’s feet.” Therefore, it goes without saying that a small basin of water will hardly suffice for the same purpose. But lots of men begrudge using even a mere basin of water to wash their feet — perhaps for fear of sapping their vitality and spirit! Dirty as their feet are, some men are so eccentric as to indulge in passing their fingers repeatedly among their stinking toes and then smelling their fingers with gusto. Some men, when they wash up, they concentrate only on the face proper, without touching the rest of the head and without wetting the back of the hand. Some do not brush their teeth until after they get married. The addiction to “chatting while cracking body lice with fingernails” is unique to men only. Probably, men’s uncleanliness is due to their laziness.

Indeed, men are lazy. You will find them lolling in a revolving chair, dumb like a wooden chicken, their five sense organs, their four limbs as well as their brain (if any) all at a complete standstill. What Confucius says about those who eat their fill all day without doing any work obviously refers to men exclusively. When men go shopping, their wives are seldom satisfied with their purchases because they never bother to shop around, never bother to do more walking and talking, never bother to bargain over prices. They hate to be bothered about anything except that which is to be done on their behalf by others. Like disabled persons, they will sit idle to enjoy the fruits of others’ labour. And they call all that “domestic bliss”!

Closely linked to men’s laziness is their gluttony. Men mostly have a good appetite. Their mouth is most of the time busy eating. They will brand their meal as a vegetarian one unless they can spot in the dishes a piece of meat at least one inch square and half an inch thick. They will complain like hell after a couple of meatless days. Men who have gone half a year without eating chicken will start drooling copiously at the sight of even a feather duster. A sumptuous dinner can change their outlook on life and make them sanguine about everything. During a good meal, genuine thankfulness to Heaven for its overflowing bounty will be written all over their faces. After the meal, sporting a toothpick between their teeth, they will be glowing with smug satisfaction. Women do the cooking, men are gourmets.

Men are mostly self-centered. It is the basic tenet of their philosophy of life that all universe should function to ensure their personal comfort. They always act like overlords except when, in working to earn money, they need to behave submissively and servilely towards others. They regard their homes as kingdoms under their rule. They are Epicureans obsessed with pleasure-seeking except when they have to toil strenuously for money. When they are in a cheerful mood, they can crawl about on all fours like dogs with their kids riding on their craned necks. When they are in a bad mood, they seem to find everybody at home an eyesore. When they feel they have been wronged by somebody, they will come home to take it out all on their own folks. They don’t know how hard their wives suffer. They take their wives’ tender care and submissiveness for granted and regard them as something very commonplace, like dogs guarding their homes and cocks crowing to herald the break of day. Instead of truly loving their wives as they claim, they simply make use of them. They try to squeeze as much as possible out of others without ever stopping to think how much they themselves have given. They think it is their greatest favour to their wives to bring back all or part of the money they have earned. But, when they produce from their pockets rolls upon rolls of banknotes, their faces reveal more pride than love, as if saying, “Look at me! Can you be as smart as I am? I’m treating you so well. How lucky you are!” When they think their homes are no longer their paradises, they invent many excuses for staying away. They will go here and there to seek new paradises: dinner parties, cocktail parties, painting and calligraphy exhibitions, chess games or night clubs. Failing all of them, they can at least find a tea house to while away their time. They have many ways to enjoy themselves. If transmigration were true so that they could be lucky enough to be reincarnated as humans, few of them would choose to be women in their next life. They would invariably feel they had not enjoyed enough as males in this life and therefore had to make up for it after they were reborn.

It is a common failing among human beings to engage in idle gossip. But men’s gossip is generally different from that of women in content. The topics of women’s chitchat are often like these, “Our little daughter is ill again!”, “What are your family expenses like?”. Men, however, are different in their own way. They, as a rule, will never call it a day until their conversation has covered something about women. Women constitute the most intriguing topic of men’s conversation. When a legal case involving a sex scandal crops up, they desire to see it go on indefinitely. They take pleasure in gossiping about other people’s private life and commenting on the character and appearance of other people’s wives. Gossipy men, known as “long-tongued men”, are found everywhere although the epithet is somehow none too popular yet.