A Slow Fire Makes Sweet Malt

慢火熬好粥

Special Focus - - Contents - Zhang Xiangyu张香玉

“Life is like a can­dle, if we burn it down with a blaz­ingly red flame, it will soon blow out and ex­tin­guish. Bet­ter to burn it in a slow and mod­er­ate fire, it will last longer and shine more light,” said Mr. Rao Zongyi, master of Chi­nese clas­sics.

A re­porter once asked Mr. Rao, “Have you ever felt dull in your schol­arly life of more than 80 years, ever since your first con­tact with Chi­nese cul­tural stud­ies at five years old?”

Mr. Rao replied: “I have done a lot of re­search... To find the ul­ti­mate root of one thing, I need to go back to the very orig­i­nal sen­tence. The process is long and takes pa­tience. That’s why I’ve spent more than ten years on some ques­tions.”

The re­porter then asked: “Many peo­ple con­sider you a per­son with a gift— that you are a quick and pro­lific writer, what do you think of it?”

Mr. Rao replied: “Ac­tu­ally, writ­ing is not an easy thing for me ei­ther. It’s all about pa­tience and ac­cu­mu­la­tion over a long time. The fact is I don’t rush to pub­lish any­thing, I tend to keep them on my shelf for a cer­tain pe­riod of time. Many ar­ti­cles I’m pub­lish­ing now were ac­tu­ally writ­ten sev­eral years ago, or even more than a decade or two ago in some cases. For ex­am­ple, Guo Ziqi’s Chron­i­cle, which was pub­lished a few years ago, was ac­tu­ally writ­ten in my 20s. I had it pub­lished 50 years later.”

One year, when Mr. Rao was vis­it­ing France, he heard there was a prim­i­tive cave in the south of the coun­try. On the wall of the cave was a rock paint­ing from 20,000 years ago, which pre­sented an authen­tic glimpse of Chi­nese Mon­go­lian horse, among other im­ages. Mr. Rao de­cided to visit the cave in per­son, so as to prove that the con­tact be­tween the Far East and the Near East had ex­isted as far back as 20,000 years ago. But the site was open to pub­lic only once a week and for one hour per open­ing—since the author­i­ties were con­cerned that hu­man ac­tiv­ity might dam­age the paint­ings in the cave. There was a quite long wait­ing list of vis­i­tors wish­ing to visit the cave. So, in or­der to wit­ness this Mon­go­lian horse paint­ing with his own eyes, Mr. Rao waited for a year. It re­flects how im­mense his pa­tience is in the pur­suit of knowl­edge.

With the rapid devel­op­ment of econ­omy and so­ci­ety in modern times, some schol­ars seem to be­come im­petu­ous and im­pa­tient in their aca­demic re­search. But as Mr. Rao said, “Schol­ar­ship is ac­tu­ally a process of ac­cu­mu­la­tion; it is the sum of bits and pieces of mer­its. So why rush?”

If we re­ally want to ac­com­plish some­thing in our life, we have to be pa­tient and per­sis­tent, like Mr. Rao. Seek­ing quick suc­cess and in­stance ben­e­fits with flight­i­ness and im­petu­ous­ness will not get us any­where. It takes a small but con­stant fire to make good por­ridge.

(From Thought­sandWis­dom , Is­sue 13, 2009. Trans­la­tion: Lu Qiongyao)

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