In the time of the war lords and of the Koumintang, it was not so hard for leftists, even Stalinists, to write something readable about China. Your leftist went there in person, and afterwards reported frankly what he had seen in Shanghai—or even here, there, or elsewhere in China during those happy years when the banking family which, joined with Chiang Kai-shek, still considered “the interior of the four seas,” that is to say, China, its private domain, and the five hundred million Chinese as its pre-destined slaves. Thus we had the Shanghai of Andree Viollis and the Secret China of Egon Erwin Kisch, two books which one can reread after twenty years without being forced to question the favorable judgment of them one formed when they appeared. One might inflect one’s judgment of certain details, at the most.
But ever since Mao Tse-tung became President Mao, and our Stalinists began making pilgrimages to Tien Ngan Men, the lucidity which enabled them to evaluate the old China at one glance is simply gone. How is it, for instance, that in illustrating his Open China, the fellow-traveler, Pierre Gascar, has set down (or allowed someone else to insert this for him) the legend represented by the photo on page 48: A grandmother holding a child in her arms: “Two faces of China: one lined with the fatigue of ages, the other, bursting with health and testifying to a new young life which, with clenched fists, affirms itself … ” Rather than the stigmata of the fatigue of ages, the lines I see on the face of the grandmother are precisely the ones one can expect on a woman her age; and I should like to know in what country of the world infants of this age do not curl their fingers into fists.
In defense of our travelers, in China, Stalinist or otherwise, it might be argued that they are simply at the mercy of their informers. Yet neither Andree Viollis, nor Egon Erwin Kisch spoke Chinese. But if only our new tourists would abstain from peddling their ideas about the Chinese language! For Mr. Adalbert de Segonzac, Chinese is the only language “which does not allow one to discover the general meaning of a conversation: because of its intonations, it is impossible, for anyone who does not understand it, to define the end of a phrase or to recognize an interrogaiton.” (Visa to Peking.) He concludes that one ought to Romanize this perverse tongue. From its surprising character, Mr. Gascar draws a subtle effect: “it is a language which phonetically often resembles hesitant speach, a stumbling speech which lacks the tone of affirmation and which is most discomforting to the traveler debarking in Peking in 1954.” What kind of whoring is this? Can anyone who knows the iron laws under which the Chinese lived in 1954 and the dogmatism then reigning everywhere, which tolerated nothing but certitudes (“we were beasts, robots” a scientist told me, when able to breathe two years la...
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