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Moment in Peking

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Wikipedia article

'Moment in Peking' ('also translated as' ) is an historical novel originally written in English by the Chinese American author Lin Yutang. The novel covers the turbulent events in China from 1900 to 1938, including the Boxer Uprising, the Republican Revolution of 1911, the Warlord Era, the rise of nationalism and communism, and the origins of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945.

The author tries not to be overly judgmental of the characters because he recognizes that too many issues were involved in the chaotic years of the early twentieth century China. There are no absolutely right or wrong characters. Each character held a piece of truth and reality and a piece of irrationality. In the preface, Lin writes that "[This novel] is merely a story of... how certain habits of living and ways of thinking are formed and how, above all, [men and women] adjust themselves to the circumstances in this earthly life where men strive but gods rule."

While the author does not display hatred toward the Japanese, he does let events and situations affecting the novel characters to let the reader clearly see the reason the Chinese are still bitter about Japan's military past. The novel ends with a cliffhanger, letting the readers hope that the major characters who fled from the coastal regions to the inland of China would survive the horrible war.

Lin wrote the book in English for a U.S. audience. He originally wanted the poet Yu Dafu to do the Chinese translation, but Yu had only completed the first section when he was killed by the Japanese in World War II. Lin did not particularly like the first complete Chinese translation, which was done by 1941.

In 1977 Zhang Zhenyu, a translator from Taiwan, created what is the most popular translation today. It was not available in mainland China until a publisher in Jilin issued a sanitized version in 1987. The current political climate permits Shaanxi Normal University Press to publish the full translation. Yu Dafu's son Yu Fei () finished his own translation in 1991, but his version is not widely read.

Main characters

Many characters in 'Moment in Peking' are from three wealthy families: Yao, Tseng (Zeng), and New (Niu). However, there are additional characters not from these families that play an integral part in the story, such as Lifu.

* 'Yao Mulan' ()

The protagonist of the story, Mulan, is from the wealthy Yao family. During the Boxer Rebellion she is kidnapped by bandits, and then rescued by the Tseng family; the two families thereafter become close friends. Mulan is lively, intelligent, and generous, as well as extremely responsible. Her father has always encouraged her interests, among them her intense interest in "oracle bones" (the study of ancient Chinese characters craved on bones) and the singing of Chinese opera. Her intelligence, along with her kindhearted nature, catch the interest of a young man named Kung Lifu. Mulan feels attracted to Lifu, but she honors her family's wish and advice that she marry Sunya. Her marriage to Sunya is mostly harmonious. Together they have three children: Aman, Atung and Amei.

* 'Tseng Sunya' (Zeng Sunya, )

Mulan's husband, Tseng Sunya, is affectionately called "Fatty" by Mulan. As the youngest son of his family, Sunya is arguably the least responsible one, but has what is called a "round character". He and Mulan had gotten to know each other well when Mulan was rescued from bandits by his parents when they were children. As the two families became increasingly close, their engagement was planned happily.

* 'Kung Lifu' (Kong Lifu, )

A scholar and Yao Mochow's husband, he married Mochow but he admires Mulan.

* 'Yao Mochow' (Yao Mochou, )

Yao Mulan's sister, she is also very clever and attractive. She married Lifu, when he was a poor scholar, engaged for their parents, so she accepted this happily. Mochow knows her sister's love for Lifu, but she is confident in their sisterly love.

* 'Yao Sze-an' (Yao Si'an) ()

He was a playboy when he was young. However, he became a great Taoist monk later. He influenced Lifu very much. Sze-an was also interested in "oracle bones"

* 'Mrs. Yao' ()

A traditional Chinese woman. She loved her oldest son, Tijen, best. She opposed Tijen and Silverscreen's love, and caused their death. She was sad and very unhealthy in her later life.

* 'Cassia' (Aunt Gui, )

She was the concubine or maid at the Tseng household. She had two daughters Ailien and Lilien, who became modern ladies and married doctors. However, she was very interested in the Tseng family, but she's not an ambitious woman.

* 'Tseng Wenpo' ()

He was a typical old Manchuria officer, honest and kind, but he hated everything about foreign countries.

* 'Mrs. Tseng' ()

The leader of the Tseng family. She held the family together, and she liked Mulan and Mannia, but Suyun's behavior disliked her. She had a very strong character trait.

* 'New Suyun' (Niu Suyun, )

Her parents thought Chinya was a man who had the right characters to be a successful officer, so Suyun married Chinya. During their marriage, she bossed and ordered him around like a busboy. Suyun later became a friend of Inging who was her second brother's concubine. She divorced Chinya, and became an officer's concubine and also the infamous Japanese-controlled heroin dealer known as the "White Flour Queen". Years later, she finally recognized her mistake. She was fusilled by the Japanese.

* 'Sun Mannia' ()

Married to the Tseng's eldest son, Pingya. She became a widow the week after her wedding. She adopt a child, Asuan, and had to stay in the Tseng family forever. She committed suicide during the Japanese war, and remained virgin till death.

* 'New Huaiyu' ()

The second son of the New family. He left his wife and four children, and married a singsong girl named Inging (). He became a betrayer of his country, and was nearly killed by his eldest son.

* 'Tseng Chinya' (Zeng Jinya, )

The second son of the Tseng family. He was a weak character and ask just to have a peaceful life. He was kind to everybody. He fell in love with Dimfragrance

* 'Tseng Pingya' ()

The eldest son of the Tseng family. He loved Mannia very much, however, he died the week after his wedding.

* 'Dimfragrance' ()

She was kidnapped when she was a child, and met Mulan. When Mulan was saved by Mr. Tseng, Dimfragrance was sold to other family. She became a nursery maid of Mulan's child some years later. She finally found her family, and became Jinya's second wife.

* 'Tsao Lihua' (Cao Lihua, )

A young art student. She met Sunya in Hangchou, and fell in love with him. Sunya lied to her that his wife was an old and fat country woman. When she met Mulan, she was surprised, and eventually became her friend.

*'Yao Tijen' (Yao Tiren, )

Mulan's older brother. He was a typical foppish man. His father sent him to England to study, but he spent all of the money in Hong Kong. He fell in love with his servant girl Silverscreen, and had a son with her. Their love was against by his mother. After Silverscreen's suicide, he died in an accident.

* 'Afei' ()

Mulan's younger brother. He was taught well by his father.

* 'Tung Paofen' (Dong Baofen,

A Manchurian princess. Her family once owned the garden plains which became Yao's later. Her family believed that there were a great treasure buried in the garden, and sent her to Yao family to work as a servant girl and to find the treasure. She married Afei after Redjade's death.

* 'Redjade' ()

Mulan, Mochow, and Afei's cousin. She was madly in love with Afei, and admired Lin Daiyu from the classic Dream of the Red Chamber (). When she misunderstood a conversation and thought that Afei didn't love her, she committed suicide by drowning herself.


The novel has been adapted twice into a television drama, including the most recent version in 2005, starring Zhao Wei.



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