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The Silent Traveller in the People's Republic? Yes, the peripatetic Chinese gentleman-artist turns his benign gaze on the new China and the family he hasn't seen for 42 years, since his two daughters were small. Like the first Nixon-era returnees, he finds a wondrous change--well-fed, properly clothed and housed people, 90 percent literate, 100 percent productively employed. But the greatest marvel are Chiang Yee's grandchildren, who enthusiastically show him around Peking and always have lots to say, ""with not a bit of the shyness I had in my younger days."" His two-month stay is part reunion, part pilgrimage, part personal study-tour--all facilitated by the government (to the extent that his daughters and their husbands are given paid leave to accompany him). But Chiang is an apologist with a difference: as an elderly Chinese, he can remember when Shanghai's mighty industries were foreign-owned (hence his satisfaction in Chinese enterprise), peasants didn't paint pictures (ergo his sympathy for their ""realistic"" art), and women were chattel--""due to the inhuman precepts of the Confucian scholars."" Where he seems to be innocently serving his hosts' purposes is in attesting that, contrary to ""rumor"" abroad, monuments are being preserved and excavations pursued. But one doesn't read the gentle, accommodating Chiang for balanced documentation; his pleasure is evident from his word-pictures and illustrations--and just as evidently genuine.

Pub Date: Nov. 28th, 1977
Publisher: Norton