A Slow Fire Makes Sweet Malt
“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)