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Reviews 109 Rabb, in The Several Worlds ofPearl S. Buck Essays Presented at a Centennial Symposium, ed. Elizabeth J. Lipscomb, Frances E. Webb, and Peter Conn [Greenwood Press, 1994), p. 104). 6.Harris' book reveals this fact in vivid detail. See his chapter "Dichotomy." 7.H. R. Lan, "Working toward a New Canon," Journal ofthe Chinese Language Teachers Association 26, no. 2 (May i99i):33-50. 8.Paul S. Ropp, The Heritage ofChina: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization (Berkeley: University ofCalifornia Press, 1990), p. 311. 9.Interestingly enough, Peter Conn is much more generous in his comments on Pearl Buck's Nobel Prize Lecture in his essay included in Lipscomb, The Several Worlds ofPearl S. Buck, p. 112. 10.My Several Worlds (New York: John Day Company, 1954), p. 3. 11.Maxine Hong Kingston: "Cultural Mis-reading by American Reviewers," in Asian and Western Writers in Dialogue: New Cultural Identities, ed. Guy Amirthanayagam (Macmillan, 1982). O. R. Dathorne. Asian Voyages: Two Thousand Years ofConstructing the Other. Westport and London: Bergin and Garvey, 1996. xiv, 313 pp. Hardcover $59.95, isbn 0-89789-469-3. All manuscripts represent a personal investment by the author in the time, effort, and energy expended in their production; they are labors oflove and reflections ofpersonal identity. Inevitably the author's sense ofworth is to some degree measured by the reception a manuscript receives. It is, therefore, a shame when the product is a major disappointment. Such, however, is the case with O. R. Dathorne's Asian Voyages, a book that in this reader's opinion should not have been written. Dathorne, whose professional background is in English literature, has attempted to explore a topic that is potentially very interesting and worthy: how major civilizations have perceived the "Other," a generic term by which he means remote peoples and cultures. He seeks to explore "otherness" through the eyes of the Chinese in regard to the mystical place called "Kunlun" and through European eyes regarding the island cultures ofthe Pacific. He explains his interest in terms ofhis own upbringing as a child in British Guyana: "I never suspected that my Indian friends and classmates ... or my Chinese schoolmates . . . were either 'exotic' or 'oriental.' They all seemed to be in the same position I was" (p. ix). by mversttyUnfortunately, Dathorne spends a major portion ofhis book attempting to unravel "otherness" in terms of a China that he understands only as "Other," and it is on this aspect, which constitutes more than halfofthe book's thirteen chapters , that I will focus my comments. All ofus whose heritage, if not ethnicity, is ofHawai'i Press no China Review International: Vol. 5, No. i, Spring 1998 Western must, of course, approach China to some degree as "Other." This has been at the heart of the orientalist critique that questions the ability ofWestern "Others" to understand the real functioning ofAsian, or any alien, culture. Confronted with this critique, most of us who pose as scholarly inquisitors of China or other similarly alien cultures have sought to deepen our understanding of the culture we study through years oflanguage work, more years of engagement with the texts on which the other culture rests, and, finally, a kind of hybrid understanding and appreciation of the culture we have grown to love and identify in a strange way as "ours." As "others" we cannot know "our" culture, be it Chinese, Arab, Hindu, or Bantu, as natives know it, but it is our shared belief, or perhaps conceit, that we bring a perspective to the "other" that is both unique and valid. The wellspring of our conceit, however, is the ability we have cultivated to read and appreciate "our" culture on its own terms, not filtered through some other's equally alien perspective. On this level, Dathorne fails completely. He does not read Chinese; he does not understand the rhythms of the language or of the culture except as "Other." He is forced to rely on the interpretations of intermediaries, on "others" who necessarily place their own interpretative framework on the product on which Dathorne relies. I do not intend to argue that only the dedicated specialist is capable of interpreting alien culture. One of the best...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 109-112
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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