Chiang Yee

Chiang Yee: The Silent Traveller from the East--A Cultural Biography

Da Zheng
FOREWORD BY ARTHUR C. DANTO
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 358
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj8w3
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  • Book Info
    Chiang Yee
    Book Description:

    A young man arrives in England in the 1930s, knowing few words of the English language. Yet, two years later he writes a successful English book on Chinese art, and within the following decade publishes more than a dozen others. This is the true story of Chiang Yee, a renowned writer, artist, and worldwide traveler, best known for theSilent Travellerseries--stories of England, the United States, Ireland, France, Japan, and Australia--all written in his humorous, delightfully refreshing, and enlightening literary style.

    This biography is more than a recounting of extraordinary accomplishments. It also embraces the transatlantic life experience of Yee who traveled from China to England and then on to the United States, where he taught at Columbia University, to his return to China in 1975, after a forty-two year absence. Interwoven is the history of the communist revolution in China; the battle to save England during World War II; the United States during the McCarthy red scare era; and, eventually, thawing Sino-American relations in the 1970s. Da Zheng uncovers Yee's encounters with racial exclusion and immigration laws, displacement, exile, and the pain and losses he endured hidden behind a popular public image.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4927-9
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD: CHIANG YEE AS I KNEW HIM
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Arthur C. Danto

    Chiang Yee—poet, painter, scholar, and exile—was a literary presence in the West during and after World War II, when, as “The Silent Traveller,” he wrote and illustrated a number of popular books, initially about picturesque sites in England, but ultimately about many of the great cities of the West as seen by a cultivated Chinese stranger, struck by objects and practices that the natives took for granted. The illustrations alone assured him a certain reputation—it was as though he painted western motifs without changing the style that identified the artist as Chinese. This even brought him to...

  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xxii)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  6. A NOTE ON ROMANIZATION
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
  7. CHAPTER 1 CHINESE CHILDHOOD
    (pp. 1-16)

    In Huangmei County, Hubei Province, there used to be a “Chiang Village” where approximately several hundred households lived, all sharing the same family name of Chiang.

    According to the family’s clan book, these were descendants of Chiang Xu, who served Emperor Ai during the Han dynasty as the governor of Yan State. After Emperor Ai’s death in 1 B.C., a new regime was initiated with a dramatically reorganized bureaucracy. Chiang, a man of high integrity and honesty, did not approve of imperial politics. He chose to retire instead and moved to Duling, not far from the capital city of Chang’an,...

  8. CHAPTER 2 REVOLUTIONARY ERA
    (pp. 17-30)

    Yuan Shi-kai, a shrewd and ambitious politician, proclaimed himself emperor and founder of the Hongxian Dynasty in 1916. His imperial dreams, however, lasted merely eighty-three days. His death in June marked the end of the attempt to revive the Chinese monarchy. With the familiar and established center of gravity gone, the nation drifted into a decade of confusion and anarchy.

    China was at a crossroads—reassessing, redefining, and relocating itself in the modern world. A cultural revolution stormed across the nation: civil examinations had been abolished and replaced by a new education system; the monarchy had given way to presidency...

  9. CHAPTER 3 CIVIL SERVANT
    (pp. 31-47)

    Wuhu, known as a land of rice and fish, was the most affluent county in southern Anhui Province. Located on the Yangtze River and only sixty miles from Nanjing, the capital of the country at that time, it became a commercial port in 1876. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was a flourishing business center and one of the four major rice markets in the whole country.

    On the day of Chiang Yee’s arrival, many local gentry waited in two lines, welcoming the new magistrate in front of the countyyamen,a compound where the magistrate resided and...

  10. CHAPTER 4 NO LONGER IN NEED OF A BENCH
    (pp. 48-64)

    The ocean voyage to Europe was long and rough and lasted thirty-three days. Chiang Yee saw many spectacular scenes, but nothing seemed to impress him more than the sunrise over the ocean. In China, he had various opportunities to enjoy viewing the sunrise from atop various mountains. As the penetrating sunbeam began to “lift the dark shroud from the earth,” he always felt “refreshed mentally,” able to see “more significance” in his life.¹ The sunrise on the ocean, however, offered an entirely new perspective because he was looking at the sun not from above but from its own level. The...

  11. CHAPTER 5 “ANOTHER C. Y.”
    (pp. 65-82)

    Chiang Yee wrote a New Year’s resolution in Chinese with a brush pen on absorbent rice paper. Though undated, it is probably from the late 1930s.

    From today on I will consistently work very hard on my English language skills for two years, learning to speak fluently and write quickly, and I will then go to America to live there for a few years. Above all, I should perfect my painting techniques. The world is so big that one can surely find a place to survive.

    New Year’s Resolution by Silent Man¹

    The signature “Silent Man” in its original Chinese...

  12. CHAPTER 6 “THE THING HAS COME AT LAST”
    (pp. 83-98)

    Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, which moved to its current location on Euston Road in 1932, was founded by Sir Henry S. Wellcome (1853–1936), a pharmacist and entrepreneur. Specializing in the history of medicine and science, this unique institute has been considered “the first and best medical museum in the world.”¹ Its Oriental Department has extensive Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese collections.

    In March 1938, Chiang Yee, whose teaching position at SOS was in jeopardy, came for a job interview with the director, P.J. Johnston-Saint. They talked about the Chinese and Japanese collections of the museum, and Johnston-Saint showed him...

  13. CHAPTER 7 “MY OWN WORLD”
    (pp. 99-108)

    On September 5, Chiang Yee went for a walk with a gas mask in hand. It was the third day of the war. The traffic appeared to move as usual, but there were fewer pedestrians on the street. No one seemed to care about the relaxing warmth of the sunlight. Men and women, at street corners or in front of shops, were busy filling sandbags to prepare for an air attack. On the Thames, there were no more steamers in sight, and the wharf appeared empty.

    Yee strolled to St. James’ Park where he noticed a man lying on the...

  14. CHAPTER 8 OXFORD YEARS
    (pp. 109-129)

    Southmoor Road, lined on both sides with row houses, was in a lower-middle-class neighborhood near Oxford University. As London had been continually battered with Luftwaffe raids, Oxford seemed relatively safe. In addition, there were some Chinese students lodging in the area, so Chiang Yee went to the neighborhood for a temporary place to stay overnight. He knocked on one door after another. Henry and Violet Keene, who lived at 28 Southmoor Road, graciously welcomed this Chinese stranger in to stay for the night. Yee returned the next day. His stay extended for two weeks, and it eventually lasted fifteen years!...

  15. CHAPTER 9 “MY ENGLISH CHRISTMAS”
    (pp. 130-146)

    Chiang Yee was getting ready for his voyage to the United States on February 5, 1946. Unexpectedly, he was notified of a transfer to theQueen Mary,which was set to sail two days earlier. It was very short notice, but he accepted the change of the schedule. Carrying two small suitcases, he went to Waterloo Station for the Southampton boat train on February 3.

    It was the first time that he had traveled outside Britain since 1939. Once again, he found himself on a big ocean liner. His voyage across the Pacific Ocean from China took place nearly thirteen...

  16. CHAPTER 10 TO AMERICA
    (pp. 147-169)

    In December 1951, Chiang Yee went to Paris. He was to stay there for six months to prepare a new book about that city.

    Among famous places in the West, Paris held a special meaning for Yee. It was the city where he spent his first night in Europe nearly two decades earlier. At age ten, he had read in a textbook about Napoleon, the legendary French hero. He later learned about Notre Dame cathedral from Victor Hugo’s novelThe Hunchback of Notre Dame.On June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, officially declaring peace at the end...

  17. CHAPTER 11 AMERICANIZED
    (pp. 170-189)

    Yee arrived in New York on September 15, 1955. After staying overnight in King’s Crown Hotel near Morningside Drive, he moved to an apartment on West 114th Street. A month later, he moved again to 165 West 91st Street, sharing an apartment with Chu Linsun, a Chinese medical doctor.

    The first letter he received upon arrival came from Whitehill, who invited him to a weekend stay with the Olivers at Mount Kisco, north of Manhattan, on September 23 and 24. In the letter, Whitehill implored Yee to consider writing a review ofThe Art of Beatrix Potterby Anne Carroll...

  18. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  19. CHAPTER 12 “INVISIBLE PAINS”
    (pp. 190-207)

    The year-long Emerson fellowship at Harvard supposedly offered Chiang Yee an opportunity to focus on his writing and painting with minimum disruptions, except for his weekly trips to New York to teach at Columbia. His Boston book was nearing completion, and the Zen poetry project finally got under way. He had done some primary research before the summer and had already made an outline of the book, estimated to be approximately two hundred pages, and he anticipated a completed draft by the end of 1958.

    He sent an inquiry to the University of London Senate Secretary on October 17 concerning...

  20. CHAPTER 13 HOME
    (pp. 208-224)

    China faced a wide range of global confrontations in the early 1960s while struggling with domestic issues. The Great Leap Forward plunged the whole country into a terrible economic and political ordeal. There was famine on a massive scale between 1959 and 1962. In the international arena, the country faced an American government that was committed to containing communism by enforcing an economic blockade, arming Taiwan with its latest weapons, and supporting the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause. The Chinese government condemned the Americans who would never “lay down their butcher knife and become Buddhas.” At the same time,...

  21. CHAPTER 14 FAMILY AND LOVE
    (pp. 225-238)

    The freighter S.S.Hong Kong Banner,after stopovers in Kobe, Yokohama, and Nagoya, sailed through the Panama Canal and docked in Boston Harbor. It was June 14, 1967. Workers’ strikes in Asia caused the ship’s multiple extended stopovers at various ports, and Chien-fei’s trip from Taiwan to New York lasted nearly twice as long as originally scheduled.

    Chien-fei and Chiao-wen had just cleared inspection at customs when the first mate approached with a woman who carried toys, baby food, and a stroller. She introduced herself as Jane and told them that she and her husband were Chiang Yee’s good friends....

  22. CHAPTER 15 CHINA REVISITED
    (pp. 239-251)

    “Ping Pong diplomacy” caught the world’s attention in April 1971 when the Chinese government gave a warm reception to the U.S. ping pong team, an unmistakable sign that Sino-American relationships were improving. Within a year, two historic events happened: China was granted a seat on the United Nations Security Council in October 1971, and President Richard Nixon visited China in February 1972. Also, with the Shanghai Communiqué, the United States and China normalized diplomatic relationships after twenty-two years of hostility.

    To overseas Chinese, these developments were especially significant. Yee was teaching in Hawaii in the summer of 1971 when President...

  23. CHAPTER 16 HOMEWARD BOUND
    (pp. 252-266)

    Beijing, an ancient capital city, is the very heart of China. It has a rich cultural history with numerous historic landmarks. Almost two decades earlier, Chiang Yee had expressed his love of this ancient city in a letter to Jianlan, after she moved to Beijing:

    Jianlan, you are lucky to be able to live in Beijing, a city rich in history and the most beautiful in the world, and enjoy the “most humanistic” Chinese cultural atmosphere every day. How I envy you! . . . For all these thirty years, it has been my wish to visit Beijing and to...

  24. NOTES
    (pp. 267-294)
  25. PRIMARY SOURCES
    (pp. 295-296)
  26. WRITINGS BY CHIANG YEE
    (pp. 297-300)
  27. INDEX
    (pp. 301-314)
  28. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-316)