Editor’s Note: This handout is to be used with Juanjuan Peng, “Twentieth-Century Chinese Entrepreneuers before 1949: Literature Excerpts for the Classroom” from the winter 2019 issue of Education About Asia beginning on p.11.
Handout A: Excerpt from “The Shop of the Lin Family,” by Mao Dun, trans. Sidney Shapiro
Introduction: In September 1931, Japan invaded and soon acquired the Manchurian region of China. On January 18, 1932, five Japanese monks were beaten severely near Shanghai’s Sanyou Factory by agitated Chinese workers, causing the death of of one monk. Two days later, a group of Japanese burnt down the factory as revenge. One Chinese policeman was killed and several more were injured when they arrived to help put out the fire. The conflicts soon caused an upsurge of anti-Japanese protests calling for a boycott of Japanese-made goods. The situation continued to deteriorate over the next week and eventually led to a war between Japan and China at Shanghai that lasted slightly over a month. The incident had a devastating effect on small general stores in the lower Yangtze region that carried Japanese-made household products like umbrellas, wash basins, handkerchiefs, soap, and socks. Many of them went bankrupt during the crisis. In the following story, Mr. Lin is a fictional owner of such kind of general store.
But out in the shop, although Mr. Lin was devoting his whole being to business, though a smile never left his face, he felt as if his heart were bound with strings. Watching the satisfied customer going out with a package under his arm, Mr. Lin suffered a pang with every dollar he took in, as the abacus in his mind clicked a five percent loss off the cost price he had raised through sweat and blood. Several times he tried to estimate the loss as being three per cent, but no matter how he figured it, he still was losing five cents on the dollar. Although business was good, the more he sold the worse he felt. As he waited on the customers, the conflict raging within his breast at times made him nearly faint. When he stole glances at the shop across the street, he had the impression that the owner and salesmen were sneering at him from behind their counters. Look at that fool Lin! They seemed to be saying. He really is selling below cost! Wait and see! The more business he does, the more he loses! The sooner he’ll have to close down!
Mr. Lin gnawed his lips. He vowed he would raise his prices the next day. He would charge first-grade prices for second-rate merchandise.
The head of the Merchants Guild came by. It was he who had interceded with the Guomindang (China’s Nationalist Party) chieftains for Mr. Lin on the question of selling Japanese goods. Now he smiled and congratulated Mr. Lin, and clapped him on the shoulder.