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Chiang Yee

The Silent Traveller from the East -- A Cultural Biography

Da Zheng

Publication Year: 2010

This is the true story of Chiang Yee, a renowned writer, artist, and worldwide traveler, best known for the Silent Traveller seriesùstories of England, the United States, Ireland, France, Japan, and Australiaùall written in his humorous, delightfully refreshing, and enlightening literary style. This biography is more than a recounting of extraordinary accomplishments. 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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii

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Foreword: Chiang Yee as I Knew Him

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pp. ix-xii

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...

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pp. xiii-xxii

From a slope at the foot of the west side of Lu Mountain, one can see the Donglin Temple and the Thousand-Buddha Pagoda not far in the distance against a broad sweep of mountains. Beyond these mountains is the Yangtze River, and Jiujiang is nudged in between. The cemetery on this slope, according to geomancer...


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pp. xxiii-xxvi

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A Note on Romanization

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pp. xxvii

This book uses the pinyin system of Romanization for Chinese names of people from Mainland China and Taiwan, with a few exceptions, such as Chiang Kaishek, Sun Yat-sen, and Tseng Shih-yu. It uses the Wade-Giles Romanization system for other Chinese individuals in order to conform to the original spelling of their names...

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1. Chinese Childhood

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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...

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2. Revolutionary Era

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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...

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3. Civil Servant

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pp. 31-47

Wuhu, known as a land of rice and fi sh, 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...

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4. No Longer in Need of a Bench

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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...

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5. “Another C. Y.”

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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...

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6. “The Thing Has Come at Last”

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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 fi rst and best medical museum...

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7. “My Own World”

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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...

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8. Oxford Years

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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...

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9. “My English Christmas”

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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 the Queen 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...

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10. To America

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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...

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11. Americanized

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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...

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12. “Invisible Pains”

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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...

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13. Home

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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...

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14. Family and Love

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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...

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15. China Revisited

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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...

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16. Homeward Bound

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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...


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pp. 267-294

Primary Sources

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pp. 295-296

Writings by Chiang Yee

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pp. 297-300


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pp. 301-314

E-ISBN-13: 9780813549279
E-ISBN-10: 0813549272
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813546933
Print-ISBN-10: 0813546931

Page Count: 358
Illustrations: 18 photographs
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Exiles' writings, English -- History and criticism.
  • Travelers' writings, English -- History and criticism.
  • Chinese American artists -- Biography.
  • Chinese -- England -- Biography.
  • Chinese -- United States -- Biography.
  • Chiang, Yee, 1903-1977.
  • Chinese American authors -- Biography.
  • Asian diaspora.
  • Chinese in literature.
  • China -- In literature.
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