Bet­ter an Empty Purse Than an Empty Head


Special Focus - - Contents - Yu Dan 于丹

In my child­hood, I was for­tu­nate enough to wit­ness many joy­ous and grace­ful mo­ments that had noth­ing to do with money. When I was about 12 or 13, the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion had just came to an end, and my dad went to work in He­fei. On one sum­mer va­ca­tion, Mom took me to visit him.

At the dor­mi­tory where we stayed, there was a boxy con­crete bal­cony on the out­side, with just a square ta­ble in the mid­dle, some big rat­tan chairs around it and noth­ing else. My dad and his friends, wear­ing loose T- shirts and wav­ing palm fans, were ly­ing on the chairs. Al­though their be­hav­iors were ex­actly the same as other or­di­nary peo­ple, these men of let­ters had a unique way of en­joy­ing a re­fined life.

When my dad and his friends at­tended their usual gath­er­ing, they al­ways brought a white pa­per hand­held fan. And then, one man be­gan to re­cite a poem im­promptu, and an­other per­son just wrote down the verses on the fan, and the third man drew a pic­ture on the back of the fan, and there was the fourth man who just sat aside silently and fo­cused on en­grav­ing a seal. When the cal­lig­ra­phy work was done, they would stamp the fan with the seal. In­ter­est­ingly, they al­ways took turns to change their role. The man who was ca­pa­ble of writ­ing good po­ems would often draw, the man who drew the best would carve the seal, and the ex­pert of seal carv­ing would re­cite a poem. Grad­u­ally, they made lots of pa­per fans to­gether. Later, when their group dis­banded and went their separate ways, each of them got one of the fans.

To­day, I still re­mem­ber Un­cle Lin, who taught me to re­cite in Shang­hai di­alect the verse “It breaks my heart to see bloom­ing trees near the tower. The coun­try torn apart, how could I ad­mire the flower?” He told me, “Dan, you should never for­get about the checked tone. Oth­er­wise, you will find it dif­fi­cult to sing Kun Opera, and nei­ther can you com­pose clas­si­cal Chi­nese po­ems. Al­though your dad is bet­ter ed­u­cated than me, I do bet­ter recita­tion than him, be­cause he is a north­erner. So you should learn how to re­cite from your Un­cle Lin.”

Even to this day, I still miss that bal­cony. The charm of that place and the at­mos­phere of the Chi­nese schol­ars are al­ways on my mind. Al­though my dad and his friends have passed away, I still keep some of their po­ems in my home.

Un­cle Zhang from Shang­hai had three sons and no daugh­ters, and he was very fond of me. Un­cle Zhang had per­fect hand­writ­ing, and he once wrote a five- char­ac­ter poem as a gift for



他们几个人经常拿一幅白扇面,第一个人吟一首诗,第二个人提笔把诗题在扇面上,第三个人在扇子的背面挥毫作画,而另外一个人则在一边静静地刻章。等到书画作好,再盖上闲章。他们经常反串,往往是最擅长作诗的去作画,最擅 长作画的人去治印,治印最好的人去吟诗。就这样,他们合作做了一把又一把扇子。等到他们各奔东西时,每个人手里都拿着几个人合作的扇子。




如今,一晃三十多年过去了。一路走来,我其实是在很多人的关爱、嘱托、提携、濡染下长大的。从这个意义上来讲,我很富有,从小就有很多特别奢侈的爱陪伴着长大。我有过没钱的时候,但没有觉得穷过。所以,没钱不可怕,可怕的是精神上的贫穷。只要心怀对生活的热爱和对梦想的追求,日子依然可以饶有情趣。 (摘自《此心光明万物生》长江文艺出版社)

my fa­ther, and the last two verses trans­lated roughly like this, “You are per­fectly en­vi­able for hav­ing a lovely daugh­ter in your home.” In Un­cle Zhang’s opin­ion, hav­ing a daugh­ter is just like own­ing the most valu­able trea­sure of the world.

How time flies! Thirty years have gone by. All along the way,

I have been brought up un­der the care, trust , guid­ance, and en­light­en­ment of many peo­ple. In this sense, I am rich. Al­though I was once hard up for money,

I never felt poor. As the say­ing goes, bet­ter an empty purse than an empty head. As long as you are pas­sion­ate about life and dreams, you can al­ways live a taste­ful life. ( From ABright Heart Nur­tures Ev­ery­thing , Changjiang Lit­er­a­ture & Art Press)

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