Submitted by Dorothy Africa and Meredith McCulloch
Professor Da Zheng, director of the Asian Studies Program at Suffolk University, will speak on –“The Literary and Artistic Accomplishments of a Renowned Writer, Artist, and Worldwide Traveler: Chiang Yee” at The Bedford Lyceum on Sunday, November 3, at 9:30 a.m. The Lyceum meets most Sundays in Room 202 at First Parish on the Common. The program is free of charge and the public is invited. The building is totally accessible.
Chiang Yee is best known for his Silent Traveller series – stories of England, the United States, Ireland, France, Japan, and Australia – written and illustrated (during and after World War II) in his humorous, refreshing, and enlightening literary style. He was keenly aware of his role as unofficial ambassador to introduce and explain China’s ancient learning and culture to the western public. Ironically, this was at the very time that China itself was being transformed under Mao; but Chiang was not a reactionary and appreciated the improving economic conditions in China.
Dorothy Africa became interested in Chiang Yee after she discovered one of his books at a book sale; she was attracted to it by its traditional Chinese binding. The more she learned the more intrigued she became. She wrote:
Some people live in obscurity and become great long after their deaths; others enjoy fame and celebrity during their lives, but in time lapse into obscurity. Chiang Yee falls into the latter category. He was born in 1903 to good family in China which he left in 1933 after a brief career as a magistrate. His stand against bribery and family patronage left him without defenders when his nationalist party fell out of power, so he left to pursue further education in the west. For the next forty years he lived first in the United Kingdom and then the United States, teaching courses in Chinese language and art, but coming to prominence as the ‘Silent Traveller’, a writer of a series of travel books. These are not conventional travel guides, but essays on the ways and places of the West as seen by a Confucian gentleman and astute observer. Chiang Yee’s quiet vignettes held up to Westerners candid photo shots of themselves taken unaware. An accomplished artist and poet, Chiang enriched his books with his own drawings and poems. He also wrote and lectured extensively on Chinese art and calligraphy. Among his most popular art books, Chinese Calligraphy: An Introduction to its Aesthetic and Technique, first published in 1938, is still readily available in paper back several editions later.
Despite the tranquil charm of the ‘Silent Traveller’ books, Chiang Yee’s life in the west during the years of the Second World War, the Cold War, and the transformation of China under Mao, was often dark and bleak for this man raised in the traditional custom of family, and native place. The life and times of Chiang Yee are ably presented in a biography published in 2010 (Rutgers University Press) by Professor Da Zheng, a native of Shanghai, currently teaching English at Suffolk University in Boston. Professor Zheng has kindly accepted our invitation to speak about Chiang Yee at the Lyceum on November 3. Those interested in some advance reading will find that many of Chiang Yee’s books are available through the Minuteman Libraries Network, and available for purchase on Amazon.