Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Preface to the Torrent Trilogy

◎ Ba Jin

Several years ago, after I finished reading Leo Tolstoy’s Resurrection with tears in my eyes, I wrote on its title page, “Life itself is a tragedy”.

However, that is not how things are, for life is not a tragedy, but a “struggle”. What do we live for? Or why do we live this life at all? The answer given by Romain Rolland is “to conquer life”. I think he is right.

Ever since I was born, I have passed no more than twenty odd summers in this world, but this short period of time has not been spent for nothing at all. I have since seen a lot of things and come to know a lot of things. Though it is all darkness around me, I have never felt lonely, nor have I ever given up hope. Everywhere I go, I always see the torrent of life tumbling along to open up its way through a confused mass of mountains and rocks.

This torrent is always surging ahead; it has never stopped for a single moment and will never stop. Nothing whatever can hold it up. While on its way, it sometimes throws clouds of spray into the air embodying love and hate, and happiness and sorrow. All that makes up the tumultuous torrent rushing with terrific force towards the only sea. No one knows for sure what that only sea is and when the torrent is going to empty into it.

Like everybody else, I live in this world for the purpose of conquering life. I have also taken part in the “struggle”. I have my own love and hate, and happiness and sorrow. But I have never lost my faith — a faith in life. There is still some way to go before my life runs out, and I do not know what the future has in store for me. Nevertheless, I am not without some idea of what the future is like because the past, being no silent mute, will give me some hint.

What I unfold here in the Trilogy before my readers is a picture of life of the past ten odd years. Of course it reflects only a small section of life, but enough, however, to afford a glimpse of the turbulent torrent of life with its love and hate, happiness and sorrow. I am no religious preacher, so I cannot point out a definite way out. Readers may here find a way out for themselves.

Some say that there is at first no road at all and that a road is created simply by the treading of passers-by. Others say that there is at first already a road available before more and more people come to walk on it. I do not want to judge who are right or who are wrong. I am still young, I want to live on, I want to conquer life. I know the torrent of life will never stop. Let’s see where it is going to carry me!