A Review of Chiang Yee’s The Silent Traveller in London
Chiang Yee’s work was written in English and capitalised on the increased Western interest in China and the East at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Silent Traveller in London describes London from an Oriental viewpoint and thus creates a double perspective as both insider and outsider that is of equal interest to the native Londoner and foreign reader alike. Chiang Yee is an author who is endearing in his modest humility, cheerful narrative and superior wisdom and whose style of writing allows him to be as enlightening as he is entertaining. Chiang embraces his identity as a foreigner and begins his book by defining himself as an Oriental, “One of those strange Chinese people who ‘belong to an age gone by’”(ix). He is not embarrassed by his race or ethnicity and does not attempt to hide his background as he travels. Chiang celebrates his Chinese upbringing and the alternative perspective that this experience brings to life in London by disputing the fundamental differences between nations and nationalities. Chiang negates the idea that the peoples of the world are capable of differing greatly from one another given our fundamental sameness; “They may be different superficially, but they eat, drink, sleep, dress, and shelter
themselves from wind and rain in the same way”(ix). The strangeness that Chiang feels as an outsider is not a product of human nature since similarities in taste and experience exist far beyond geographical borders; it is instead an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective and to share that perspective with the world. The Silent Traveller in London presents foreign identity or ‘otherness‘ as an opportunity to comment on Western culture by comparing it to home. For Chiang, great joy lies in the formation of this comparison and in the inter-cultural similarities and differences he finds. When Chiang talks to a...
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