A Free Spirit with Principles自在随意不逾矩
Lyu Tongyu accepted our th interview on October 13 , th 2015, the day of the 111 birthday of his father Lyu Zhengcao. He didn’t look like a man of 73: though he was not dressed warmly in the bitingly frigid October air in Beijing, his face shone with the robustness of a man half his age. He doesn’t have a private car. Instead of taking a taxi, he got to the interview by subway and bus. As his usual transportation is a scooter, he does not go more than five miles from his house on a sunny day.
The journalist was surprised to see him coming by bus. He smiled and said: “My father could even play tennis when he was 90 years old. The simple life makes us healthy and comfortable. It also brings longevity.” He is right. His father Lyu Zhengcao died at 106 years old, making him the longest living general of the founding fathers of the People’s Republic of China.
Lyu Zhengcao had acted as General Zhang Xueliang’s lieutenant and secretary, and participated in the war against Japanese invaders and the War of Liberation. He served as the Minister of Railways after 1949, and made great contributions to the development of the railway systems in China. In spite of his great achievements and contributions to the country, Lyu Zhengcao always told his children modestly, “I only did three things in my life: fighting against Japanese invaders, building railways, and playing tennis. I like all three of those things, so I dedicated my life to them; I feel very good about my life. I have no regrets.”
Lyu Tongyu said that his father never interfered with their studies and work, and he would never seek any benefit for them by using his power. He didn’t care if his children would be rich or powerful. He just wanted his children to live a carefree life with principles, just like their father did.
“My father’s motto is ‘being freespirited with principles,’” said Lyu Tongyu. His father never forced them to do anything. Lyu Tongyu was naughty in his childhood. His father would never criticize him as long as he didn’t violate the rules. But if he violated them, his father would
Once when playing poker with friends, he found that a player had hidden cards up into his sleeve, so he used the same trick, feeling that he would never win otherwise. His father was very angry about it when he found out, and scolded him, “Why didn’t you learn good behavior? You just learned how to cheat. You will achieve nothing if you behave like this.”
Since then, Lyu Tongyu kept his father’s words in mind. No matter whether of a test at school or a research after graduation, he always worked diligently and earnestly, and never took any shortcuts or used any tricks to get ahead.
Lyu Tongyu once had an opportunity to be promoted as director general before he retired from the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, but he would not be able to do research if he took on the role of an administrative officer. He hesitated and then decided to ask for his father’s opinion. Lyu Zhengcao said, “Don’t think about the power. What matters is your ability.” His father’s words were a real eye-opener. Lyu Tongyu stopped worrying about the promotion and devoted his last years to scientific research before retirement.
Lyu Zhengcao never asked his children about their professional titles or salaries. He often told them, “Actual contributions to the country will bring you more peace and joy than to show off fame and wealth.” Therefore, Lyu Tongyu always went to parties and gatherings alone by his scooter, while other people drove luxury cars and wore designer clothes with bevies of beautiful secretaries and entourages of strong bodyguards following behind. He did not feel insecure about the conditions of his life, in fact he was perfectly comfortable with it, and didn’t feel that he lost face in front of his friends.
Lyu Tongyu believed that his father’s philosophy of “being freespirited” was established on the basis of continuous study, thinking, and exercising, which gave him a sound health both physically and mentally. Born to a poor farmer’s family, Lyu Zhengcao was very knowledgeable in a great many fields, and had a wide variety of interests. The fact that he had experienced life and death on the battlefields gave him perspective.
There were very few tennis courts in Beijing in the 1950s, and even less people who played tennis, but Lyu Zhengcao still managed to find tennis companions. China had its own national tennis team because of Mr. Lyu’s proposal, and players then had their own training facilities. Lyu Zhengcao became fascinated with the game of bridge in his old age and often played with professionals. Besides sports, he also read books and wrote in his diary every day. Lyu Tongyu said, “My father called himself a polymath. He read philosophy, economics, history, art, and other books. He always said that books were bought to read rather than for collection. When someone gave him a collection of classics with exquisite hard covers, he would often donate them to libraries.”
Lyu Zhengcao once wrote a poem, in which he said, “I most love the colorful kaleidoscope of radiant rose that paints the sky afire at dusk, how auspicious it is for the days to be full and fruitful, even at life’s sun sets.”
Lyu Zhengcao played tennis until 90 years old and played bridge until he was 97. He even swam at the age of 98. He kept the habit of writing diaries and reading until he passed away. Lyu Tongyu said that his father had suffered a lot during childhood and had been wounded on the battlefields, but the reason why he could live to over 100 years old was that he had maintained a positive attitude towards life. His father’s motto of “being free-spirited with principles” is the most valuable treasure left to him and his offsprings.
( From Marriage and Family, December 2015. Translation: Li Li.)