“Mourning Dr. Du Bois” by Bing Xin

The following is a translation of a tribute to Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois written by the prominent 20th century Chinese writer Bing Xin (冰心) upon news of his passing on August 27, 1963. Bing Xin was a part of the New Culture Movement, a group of writers and scholars in the 1910’s who saw their struggle as against the corrupt Qing dynasty and imperialist powers supporting it. The New Culture Movement strived to progress language and art closer to the poor masses of China, eventually leading to the May Fourth Movement, led by Sun Yat-sen, which birthed a new China free of feudalism and imperialism. 

By the end of his lifetime, Du Bois had made three trips to China: in 1939 while traveling to the Soviet Union, in 1959 for his 91st birthday, and lastly in 1962, the year before his death. One of many tributes to Du Bois published in China, Bing Xin’s eulogy honoring Du Bois’s lifelong commitment to the human struggle for freedom, peace, and justice is a testament to Du Bois’s enduring mark on and importance to the Chinese people and the world’s darker peoples. Long live Dr. Du Bois!

Bing Xin | Du Bois’s 91st birthday celebration in Beijing, 1959.

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Mourning Dr. Du Bois

Bing Xin

The first time I saw Dr. Du Bois was in the early spring of 1959, above the Beijing Hotel, in the birthday hall where Dr. Du Bois had his 91st birthday. In the joyous and lively atmosphere—walls covered with congratulatory scrolls, red candles flaming high—this dignified and charming, steady and kind, brown-skinned old man who looked only sixty or so. One wouldn’t have thought of his dedication to his dear people, the black freedom movement, which already had a history of more than sixty years. During the evening celebration of this day, while Dr. Du Bois and his wife conversed cheerfully with the Chinese friends around them, I sat aside in silence, heart and mind swelling with the many things I’d seen and heard about the life and struggle of the American Negroes.

I remember when I was only five years old, my uncle would tell me the story of Uncle Tom’s Cabin* every night. The cruel and inhuman brutality inflicted by those known as civilized Americans upon Negroes left an extremely deep and bitter impression in my mind. Every night, I would always hold my tear-soaked handkerchief tightly, tossing and turning, unable to go to sleep soundly.

When I was in my twenties studying abroad in the American North, I encountered many injustices which infuriated me. Although I didn’t meet many Negroes in the North, I knew these acts of injustice were common in America.

We had a Negro classmate in our college dorm who was an outstanding student and Honor Society member, but no one ever talked to her. I once had a conversation with her during breakfast and found her to be so lovely. I visited her that evening. She was so happy and thanked me over and over again for coming. She said, “You know, our college still allows a few Negroes with excellent grades to come and study here. In the South, don’t even dream about it… I’m lonely, holding in tears of isolation, but when I think about what I can do to help my people after I gain knowledge here and graduate, I feel a sense of comfort.” Her words made me feel immense sympathy, resonating deeply with me. Thereafter I would visit her often to talk. Some of my white classmates disapproved, and others who knew me better told me frankly, “Don’t waste your time and feelings on a Negro!”

Once, a pastor invited me to his house for a weekend. The female chef in his family was a Negro and only in her twenties. After dinner, I went to the kitchen to help her wash the dishes and chatted with her. It turned out that in her spare time, she was studying and had even joined a drama club. We had a lively conversation about their rehearsal of Shakespeare’s plays. The next morning, when the pastor and his wife invited me to the church for worship, I also ran to invite her. With a very surprised and thankful look, she shook her head repeatedly and said, “Thank you, I can’t go. The pastor and his wife never let me worship with them. We have our own church…” I was shocked. I remembered when I attended “Sunday School” in Beijing Missionary Middle School. In our lecture hall, there was a picture of Jesus with children of all skin colors: a Chinese child was wrapped in Jesus’s arms, a Negro child was leaning on Jesus’s shoulder, and rather, the white child was farthest away, sitting at the front of Jesus’s feet on the floor. It turns out that this painting was painted for Chinese children to see! If racial segregation could be practiced in the place where God was worshipped, could it still be a religion that promoted freedom, equality, and brotherhood? At that moment, she pushed me from behind, “Go by yourself, they are waiting for you. You are too naive. You have seen too little. You do not understand!”

On another occasion I visited Washington D.C. and stayed with the National Women’s Party. After returning one evening, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution approached me to chat. I brought up how whites and Negroes were segregated on the D.C. trolley, a fact which shocked me. Flushed with sudden emotion she said, “This isn’t at all surprising. If you were to go south, you’d see much harsher things. You should know, Negroes are simply not human. They lack human reason and human emotion. In short, they should all leave America.” And these words coming from a “revolutionary daughter”! The snow-white dome of the Capitol, brightly illuminated by piercing lights, suddenly became bleak and dismal in my eyes. Seeing her teeth gritted like a vicious dog, I suddenly remembered the famous Negro singer Paul Robeson’s singing in the auditorium of our school some days ago: “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen.” His voice was so impassioned, so throbbing to the heart and soul. The discrimination and abuse faced by American Negroes was so wretched and ruthless, yet all that I’d heard and witnessed was only a fraction. 

However it was around this time when I discovered that the birthplace of W.E.B Du Bois, leader of the black freedom movement, was in the same state as my college—Massachusetts. He was a warrior who charged forward fearlessly against imperialism and defended world peace. As early as during the First World War, he understood imperialism as the root cause of war, and that peace could only be ensured when imperialism was eradicated. He was an even more fearless spokesperson for American Negroes fighting for freedom and equality.

He researched history and the social sciences in order to write many academic works about Africa and Negroes. At the same time, he endlessly wrote many works that reflected the black struggle and inspired the will of Negroes. At the university, he taught, edited publications, and started and participated in many black liberation activities… He constantly struggled for the liberation of American Negroes… 

It was not until forty years later, in Beijing, the capital of New China, that I paid tribute to this African American writer, poet, and warrior. I felt an indescribable excitement and honor!

My second meeting with Dr. Du Bois was even more memorable. It was a winter night in 1962 in a small, warm restaurant of the Beijing International Club, where we gave Dr. Du Bois and his wife a farewell dinner. They had spent a few months in China and were about to return to Ghana. He underwent two prostatitis surgery operations in London not too long ago, so I assumed he would look tired. To one’s surprise, this 94 year old warrior, apart from needing someone to help him walk in and out of the room, was cheerfully talking and laughing, the crinkles of his eyes brimming with kindness and humor, and his appetite undiminished. He said he enjoyed the Chinese food, Beijing, and loved everything about New China. He spoke of how he was currently writing an encyclopedia of Africa in Ghana, and how Africa in the European and American mind is smeared and distorted. It was not the truth of Africa. He intended to dedicate the remaining years of his life to the cause of introducing African civilization and culture to the world. Watching him talk with such animation and joy, we felt comforted by his good health and fearless spirit. 

This year, on August 29th, the bad news came that Dr. Du Bois passed away this month on the 27th in Accra, the capital of Ghana!

A black giant has fallen! Before his death, the late U.S. Communist Party leader William Foster once gave him the following praise: “The new and brilliant leader of the Negro people, Du Bois, for at least a generation largely shaped the main line of struggle along which the Negro people have made splendid progress … For decades, many of the very best fighters and thinkers produced by the American Negro people have been actively grouped around Du Bois.”

A black giant has fallen! However, the big flag—under which he fought for black liberation, opposed imperialism, and defended world peace—and which he held high, will now at the insistence of his fellow comrades and the vast majority of people of all races of the world continue to be held high. The sound of his bell-like call to the Negroes of the United States and Africa to fight for their own liberation will be like that of the far-reaching sounds of the African drums traveling through the forest wilderness, reaching over rivers and oceans, and spreading across Africa and other continents. 

With grief yet comfort we read about Dr. Du Bois’s lover and comrade, Shirley Graham, who after reading Chairman Mao’s statement in support of the struggle for African Americans, spoke excitedly to our Xinhua News Agency report in Accra, “Never has the leader of a powerful country issued such a call to the world”, “My husband Dr. Du Bois and I express our gratitude to the great leader and friend of humanity, Chairman Mao.” We all remembered that the last time he came to China, Dr. Du Bois himself said enthusiastically, “The dark continent can depend on the friendship and sympathy of China.” The Chinese people will always remember their words of gratitude, and will double their efforts to oppose imperialism and support the cause of the black struggle, forever pushing forward. 

Yet, we are happy for Dr. Du Bois. As Shirley Graham said in her reply to Premier Zhou’s message of condolences, “During his life, he witnessed American Negroes rise up and rebel against the unbearable conditions of America in which they lived. When he was on his deathbed, his ears were filled with the resounding sound of marching footsteps.”

The struggle of American Negroes is vibrantly unfolding. Dr. Du Bois’s decades of hard work have budded and blossomed. We would like to be with Shirley Graham, American Negroes, as well as the people of the world to continue the struggle with the same perseverance and determination until we achieve the final victory. 

“Victory is our final tribute to him”!

Dr. Du Bois lives forever in our hearts!

(This article was originally published in the September 1963 issue of World Literature.)

*Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Chinese is literally translated as ‘Black Slaves Call to the Heavenly Roads’

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Original Chinese

悼杜波依斯博士

冰心

我第一次看见杜波依斯博士,是在1959年的早春,北京饭店的楼上,杜波依斯博士九十晋一大寿的寿堂里。在贺轴满壁、红烛高烧的欢腾热闹的气氛之中,这位端严而风趣,稳健而和蔼的褐色皮肤的、看去只有六十上下的老人,谁也想不到他献身于他的亲爱的同胞——美国黑人的解放运动,已经有了六十多年的历史了!在这一天的晚会上,当杜波依斯博士夫妇和他们周围的中国朋友们谈笑风生的时候,我默默地坐在一边,心头涌起许许多多我所见所闻的关于美国黑人生活和斗争的事情。

我记得,我还只有五岁的时候,我的舅舅每天晚上给我讲《黑奴吁天录》,号称文明的美国人,对美国黑人所做的那些惨无人道的暴行,在我的脑海中留下了极其深刻沉痛的印象。每天夜里,我总是紧握着眼泪湿透的手绢,在枕上翻来覆去,久久不能入寐。

到了我二十几岁,在美国北部留学的时候,又遇见过几件使我十分不平、十分气愤的事情,虽然我在美国北部很少遇见黑人,而这些事情,据说还是极其普通的。

在我们学校的宿舍里,有一位黑人同学,她是名誉学会的会员,学习十分出色,但是从来也没有一个同学去找她谈天。我在早餐桌上和她谈了一次,觉得她很可爱,晚上就去拜访了她,她十分高兴,再三感谢我的“光临”。她说:“你知道,我们这个学校还是允许极少数的成绩优异的黑人来读书的。若在南方,是做梦也休想……在这里,我是寂寞的,我吞咽着孤立的眼泪,但是我一想到我得到知识之后,能为我的同胞做些工作,我就得了安慰了!”这些话引起我的无限同情和共鸣,因此我常去找她谈话,我的那些白人同学,有的就不以为然,和我熟一点的就直率地说:“别把你的时间和感情,浪费在一个黑人身上!”

有一次,有一个牧师,请我到他家去过周末。他家的女厨师是个黑人,也只有二十几岁。吃过晚饭,我到厨房去帮她洗碗,和她闲谈,原来她业余还在学习,还加入一个业余演剧俱乐部。她同我谈到她们在排演莎士比亚戏剧的情形,我们谈得十分热闹。第二天早晨,牧师夫妇邀我到礼拜堂去做礼拜的时候,我也跑去邀她。她脸上显出十分惊讶和感谢的神色,连连地摇首,说:“谢谢你,我不能去,牧师和夫人从来不让我和他们一起做礼拜的。我们另有自己的礼拜堂……”我当时就呆住了。记得我在北京教会中学参加“主日学”的时候,我们的讲堂里,就挂着一幅耶稣和各种肤色的孩子在一起的画片:中国孩子倚在耶稣的怀里,一个黑人孩子伏在耶稣肩上,白人孩子反倒靠远些,坐在耶稣脚前的地上。原来这幅画是画给中国孩子看的!如果在礼拜上帝的会堂里,也奉行“种族隔离”的话,那还算是宣传自由、平等、博爱的宗教吗?这时她在身后推着我说:“你自己去吧,他们在等你呢。你太天真了,你看得太少了,你不懂得!”

还有一次,我在美京华盛顿游览,住在国家妇女会所。傍晚归来,在会所的客厅里,有一个“革命者女儿协会”的会员,过来和我攀谈。我谈到在华盛顿的电车上,白人和黑人分坐,这个使我惊异的事实,她忽然大动感情,面红耳赤地说:“这个,一点都不奇怪,你到南方看看,还有比这个严格的事情呢。你不晓得,黑人根本不是人,他们没有人的理智,没有人的感觉,总而言之,他们都应该滚出美国去!”说这话的还是一个“革命者的女儿”!这时,窗外被强烈的电灯所逼射的美国国会大楼雪白的圆顶,在我眼中,顿然黯淡无光。看她这种咬牙切齿的恶犬般的形象,我忽然想起前些日子在我们学校大礼堂里听到的、著名黑人歌唱家保罗·罗伯逊的演唱:“没有人知道我所看到的苦难”,他的声音是那样地激昂,那样地使人心魂悸动!美国黑人所受到的歧视和摧残,是多么惨酷呵,我所耳闻目击的不过是微乎其微的一小部分而已。

但是,就在这时候,我也知道,有一位黑人解放运动领袖名字叫做W.E.B.杜波依斯,他的出生地,就在我学校所在的那一州——马萨诸塞州。他是一个勇往直前的反对帝国主义保卫世界和平的战士。早在第一次世界大战的时候,他就认为帝国主义是战争的根源,只有铲除帝国主义才能确保和平。他更是一位大无畏的美国黑人争取自由平等的代言人。

他研究历史,研究社会科学,为的是要写出许多有关非洲和黑人的学术著作,同时他还不断地写着许多反映黑人斗争鼓舞黑人斗志的作品。他在大学里教过书,编着刊物,同时还发起和参加过许多黑人解放的运动……他不断地在为美国黑人解放而奋斗……

直到四十年之后,我才在新中国的首都北京,瞻仰到这位美国黑人作家、诗人和战士,我感到有说不出的兴奋和荣幸!

我和杜波依斯博士的第二次会晤,是更使人永志不忘的。那是在1962年冬天的一个夜晚,在北京国际俱乐部的一间小小而温暖的餐厅里,我们给杜波依斯博士夫妇饯行,他们在中国休养了几个月,正要回到加纳去。不久以前他在伦敦动了两次前列腺炎的手术,我以为他一定会显得疲弱不堪,不料这位九十四高龄的战士,除了进出有人扶掖之外,依旧是谈笑风生,眉梢眼角充满了慈祥和幽默,饭量也没有减退。他说他喜欢中国饭,喜欢北京,喜爱新中国的一切。他说他正在加纳编写非洲的百科全书。他说欧美人心目中和笔下的非洲都是经过涂抹的,经过歪曲的,不是非洲的真相,他要以他的余年,来做这个把非洲的文化文明介绍给世界的事业。他说着,豪爽地笑了,我们都为他的健康和勇气感到快慰。

今年八月二十九日,噩耗传来,杜波依斯博士于本月二十七日,在加纳首都阿克拉逝世了!

一颗黑色的巨星陨落了!在他生前,已故的美共领袖威廉·福斯特曾给他作出如下的评价:“作为黑人新的杰出领袖,杜波依斯至少用了三十年大体确定了黑人总的斗争路线,它引导黑人取得了辉煌进展。……几十年来,美国黑人中间许多最优秀的战士和思想家都积极地团结在杜波依斯的周围。”

一颗黑色的巨星陨落了!但是他在艰难曲折的漫长的斗争路上,所高举的争取黑人解放,反对帝国主义,保卫世界和平的大旗,将由他的同胞和全世界各色人种中的绝大多数的人民坚持着高举起来。他的洪钟般的号召美国和非洲的黑人为自己的解放而斗争的声音,将像蓬蓬远达的非洲鼓声,穿过森林原野,越过江河海洋,传遍非洲和其它大陆。

我们哀伤而又安慰地读着杜波依斯博士的爱人和战友,歇莉·格雷姆在读到毛主席支持美国黑人斗争声明以后对我们在阿克拉的新华社记者所说的欢欣鼓舞的话语,她说:“从来还没有一个强大的国家的领袖向全世界发出过这样的号召”,“我的丈夫杜波依斯博士和我对伟大的领袖和人类的朋友毛主席表示感谢”。我们都记得,杜波依斯博士自己,在他上次来到中国的时候,也曾热情地说过:“黑色大陆可以从中国得到最多的友谊和同情。”中国人民将永远记住他们的感谢的话,而加倍地在反对帝国主义,支持黑人斗争的事业上,鞭策自己永远前进!

我们还为杜波依斯博士高兴,也正如歇莉·格雷姆答复周总理的唁电里所说的,“他在世时看到了美国黑人揭竿而起,反抗他们生活在其中的美国的那种令人不能忍受的景况。他临死的时候,在他的耳旁震荡着进军的脚步声。”

美国黑人的斗争,正在蓬蓬勃勃地开展,杜波依斯博士几十年的辛勤努力,已在萌茁,已在开花,我们愿同歇莉·格雷姆和美国黑人以及全世界人民在一起,以同样坚毅不拔的意志和决心来继续进行斗争,直到取得最后胜利。

“胜利就是对他的纪念”!

杜波依斯博士永垂不朽!

(本篇最初发表于《世界文学》1963年9月号。)

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