Refined and Vulgar by Wang Meng ~ 王蒙 《雅与俗》 with English Translations


王蒙 《雅与俗》





Refined and Vulgar
Wang Meng

Every day I eat three meals, sleep eight hours, and go to the toilet several times. But I have never thought whether these things are refined or vulgar.
I like to listen to symphonies by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mahler, and Schumann, simply because I enjoy them, not because they are refined or vulgar.
It is said that vegetarians are refined people while “meat eaters are vulgar”, but I am a vulgar person as I often eat meat except those years when meat was rationed and you could not buy meat unless you had meat coupons. So I would eulogize the canceling of meat coupons, no matter how vulgar it may sound.
I like to listen to Bangzi opera, comic dialogues, popular songs by Barbra Streisand and Feng Feifei, a famous popular singer star from Taiwan. I neither fear not evade them though some people say their songs are vulgar, because I like them and find much pleasure listening to them.
I am a writer and want to get paid for my writings, because I have this vulgar need, therefore, I am not afraid of this vulgarity. However, I do not care much about how much I am paid, not because I want to be a refined person, but for the best effect of my writings and the friendship between the editors, publishing institutions and me. In addition, as a writer, I have to retain my self-respect and self-dignity.
Only the most vulgar people have no self-confidence; only those who have no self-confidence will be afraid of being deemed vulgar; and only those who admire themselves need to profess they are not vulgar.
The most philistine vulgarity is putting on airs and making grand gestures; the most obsequious vulgarity is echoing the views of others, and the meanest vulgarity is looking at one’s own image in the mirror and pitying oneself.
What is vulgarity? It is manifested in different ways, such as being worldly profane, following popular ways, practicing philistinism, or acting meanly. But they do vary in a sense.
It is pitiful to cater to others. It is inevitable and sometimes even noble to take certain care of others. It is respectable to uphold truth and refuse to agree without giving serous thought. However, it is very hollow and worthless to avoid being obsequiously vulgar for the sake of not being vulgar.
It is the mark of a senseless life for a person to think whether one is refined or vulgar, or whether one is fawning on the vulgar, just like a person who endlessly looks at the coating on his own tongue when he suffers from indigestion.
It is surely no good to fawn on the vulgar, nor is it good to fawn on foreigners, scholars, critics, or on the trendy, the young, the middle-aged, or the old, because in these cases you must pretend to be obsequiously vulgar, that is, to fawn on the popular color from abroad that criticizes that obsequious vulgarity.
Only by remaining one’s true self and not trying to cover one’s true color can one get the prerequisite to assess one’s value.

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