By the 1930s Western books about China were common. But a book
about the West, and particularly London, written by a Chinese
author, was a rarity -- and continues to be so.
Chiang Yee's account of London, first published in 1938, is
original in more ways than one. Not only one of the first widely
available books written by a Chinese author in English, it also
reverses the expected conventions of travel writing. For here the
"exotic" subject matter is none other than London and its people,
quizzically observed as an alien culture by a visiting foreigner.
Immersing himself in the strange rituals of London life, Chiang Yee
set out to learn about Londoners, their habits and their pleasures.
In pubs and cafes, cinemas and art galleries, he watched the locals
at work and at play. Fascinated by such social conventions as
afternoon tea and discussing the weather, he tried to make sense of
British society, treating his subjects with a mix of wonderment and
affection. As he lived through the capital's various seasons, and
endured the notorious London fogs, Chiang Yee's affinity with the
city and its people grew.
Illustrated with the author's own atmospheric sketches, The
Silent Traveller in London is also a book about China and a world
in transition. Comparing London with his native land, Chiang Yee
draws parallels and contrasts, seeking to rectify misunderstandings
and stereotypes regarding Chinese life.
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