Chiang Yee (simplified Chinese: 蒋彝; traditional Chinese: 蔣彝; pinyin: Jiǎng Yí; Wade–Giles: Chiang I; 19 May 1903 – 26 October 1977), self-styled as "The Silent Traveller" (哑行者), was a Chinese poet, author, painter and calligrapher. The success of The Silent Traveller in London (1938) was followed by a series of books in the same vein, all of which he illustrated himself.
Chiang Yee married Tseng Yun in 1924, with whom he was to have four children. In 1925 he graduated from Nanjing University (then named National Southeastern University), one of the world's oldest institutions of learning but also relaunched in 1920 as one of China's earlier modern universities; his degree was in chemistry. He served for over a year in the Chinese army during the Second Sino-Japanese War, then taught chemistry in middle schools, lectured at National Chengchi University, and worked as assistant editor of a Hangzhou newspaper. He subsequently served as magistrate of three counties (Jiujang in Jiangxi, and Dangtu and Wuhu in Anhui). Unhappy with the situation in China then (see Nanjing decade), he departed for England in 1933, to study for an MSc in Economics at the London School of Economics, focusing on English local government, leaving wife and family behind. He did not complete the MSc.
From 1935 to 1938 Chiang taught Chinese at the School of Oriental Studies (now School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London, and 1938 to 1940 worked at the Wellcome Museum of Anatomy and Pathology. During this period, he wrote and illustrated a well-received series of books entitled The Silent Traveller in..... His first was The Silent Traveller: a Chinese Artist in Lakeland, written from a journal of a fortnight in the English Lake District in August 1936). Others followed: The Silent Traveller in London, the Yorkshire Dales, and Oxford. Despite paper shortages and rationing, these books were kept in print. He wrote The Silent Traveller in Wartime, and, after World War II ended, the series gradually ventured further afield, to Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris, New York, San Francisco, and Boston, concluding in 1972 with Japan. He lived for a time with fellow expatriates Hsiung Shih-I, author of a West End hit, and Dymia Hsiung, the first Chinese woman to write a fictionalised autobiography in English.
After publication of the Silent Traveller books, Chiang became friends with a number of British intellectuals and people involved in the arts. Ninette de Valois commissioned him to design the costumes for a performance of the ballet The Birds.
Commentary on his writing: 1933–1955
The books bring a fresh 'sideways look' to places perhaps unfamiliar at the time to a Chinese national: the author was struck by things the locals might not notice, such as beards, or the fact that the so-called Lion's Haunch on Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh is actually far more like a sleeping elephant. In his wartime books, Chiang Yee made it plain that he was fervently opposed to Nazism. His writings exude a feeling of positive curiosity. Some of his books have been re-issued in recent decades, at times with fresh introductions. Godfrey Hodgson noted Chiang Yee's irony and his comments on British racism. In The Silent Traveller in Oxford (1944), Chiang points out that Chinese people are not allowed to enter Trinity College, Oxford. He describes feeling homesick for China. He writes about the natural world, particularly flowers.
1955–1975: United States
After living for some years in a small flat in London and being obliged, during the war, neither to travel nor to take part in the hostilities, on account of being classed as an 'alien', Chiang moved to the United States in 1955. He became a lecturer (and ultimately Emeritus Professor of Chinese) at Columbia University from 1955 to 1957, with an interlude in 1958 and 1959 during which he was Emerson Fellow in Poetry at Harvard University. He became a naturalized citizen in 1966. He illustrated all his books, including several for children, and he wrote a standard work on Chinese calligraphy.
Chiang died in his seventies in China after spending over forty years away from his homeland, on a day variously recorded as 7 or 26 October 1977. His tomb is on the slopes of Mount Lu nearby his home town Jiujiang.
In June 2019, 40 years after Chiang's death, a blue plaque was unveiled at 28 Southmoor Road, Oxford where he rented two rooms from 1940 to 1955. The plaque honours his contribution to British and Chinese life. He is thought to be only the third Chinese person to receive a blue plaque, i.e. a memorial created by English Heritage. (Writer Lao She has a blue plaque in Notting Hill and Sun Yat-sen, the first president of the Republic of China, is commemorated in the village of Cottered in Hertfordshire).
Chiang Yee's works
The Silent Traveller series
- The Silent Traveller: A Chinese Artist in Lakeland (London: Country Life, 1937 reprinted Mercat, 2004). ISBN 1-84183-067-4.
- The Silent Traveller in London (London: Country Life, 1938 reprinted Signal, 2001), six impressions by 1945.
- The Silent Traveller in War Time (London: Country Life, 1939).
- The Silent Traveller in the Yorkshire Dales (London: Methuen 1941), three editions by 1942. Not known if reprinted.
- The Silent Traveller in Oxford (London: Methuen, 1944, reprinted Signal, 2003), four editions by 1948.
- The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh (London: Methuen, 1948, reprinted Mercat, 2003). ISBN 1-84183-048-8.
- The Silent Traveller in New York (London: Methuen, 1950).
- The Silent Traveller in Dublin (London: Methuen, 1953).
- The Silent Traveller in Paris (London: Methuen, 1956; New York: W. W. Norton, 1956).
- The Silent Traveller in Boston (New York: W. W. Norton, 1959).
- The Silent Traveller in San Francisco (New York: W. W. Norton, 1963). ISBN 0-393-08422-1.
- The Silent Traveller in Japan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972). ISBN 0-393-08642-9.
- The Silent Traveller’s Hiong Kong Zhuzhi Poems (1972).
China: childhood and return
- A Chinese Childhood (London: Methuen, 1940 reprinted John Day, 1953).
- China Revisited: After Forty-two Years (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977). ISBN 0-393-08791-3.
Painting and calligraphy
- The Chinese Eye: An Interpretation of Chinese Painting, (London: Methuen, 1935).
- Chinese Calligraphy (London: Methuen, 1955).
- Chinese Calligraphy: An Introduction to Its Aesthetic and Technique (Harvard: University Press, 1973, 3rd edition). ISBN 0-674-12225-9.
- Chin-Pao and the Giant Pandas (London: Country Life, 1939).
- Chinpao at the Zoo (London: Methuen, 1941).
- The Men of the Burma Road (London: Methuen, 1942).
- Dabbitse (London: Transatlantic Arts, 1944), for children.
- Yebbin: a Guest from the Wild (London: Methuen, 1947). ISBN 0-908240-87-2.
- The Story of Ming (London: Puffin, c. 1945).
- Lo Cheng: The Boy Who Wouldn′t Keep Still (London: Puffin, c. 1945).
- Some Chinese Words to be learnt without a teacher (privately published; date unknown).
- Innes Herdan (tr.), 300 Tang Poems (Far East Book Co., 2000), illustrated by Chiang Yee. ISBN 957-612-471-9,
- Birds and Beasts, Chiang Yee (Country Life, 1939), a portfolio of illustrations of birds and animals.
- The Pool of Chien Lung; by Lady Hosie, 1944 (frontispiece).
- Chinese Cookery; by M. P. Lee – decorations (i.e., illustrations) by Chiang Yee.
An exhibition of original paintings and drawings by Chiang Yee - The silent traveller: Chiang Yee in Britain 1933-55 - was displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 23 April to 9 Nov 2012.
- Chiang, Yee; Hodgson, Godfrey (2003) [1st pub. 1944]. "Introduction". The Silent Traveller in Oxford. Signal Books. pp. vii–xii.
- Chiang, Yee (1944). The Silent Traveller in Oxford.
- Victoria and Albert Museum, Digital Media (8 August 2012). "The silent traveller: Chiang Yee in Britain 1933-55". www.vam.ac.uk. Retrieved 2 July 2019.
- Iqbal, Nosheen (29 June 2019). "Blue plaque for the Chinese travel writer who won the heart of 1930s Britain". The Guardian. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
- Victoria and Albert Museum, Digital Media (8 August 2012). "The silent traveller: Chiang Yee in Britain 1933-55". www.vam.ac.uk.
- Paul Bevan, Anne Witchard and Da Zheng (eds), Chiang Yee and His Circle. Chinese Artistic and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1930–1950. Hong Kong University Press, 2022.
- Huang, Shuchen S., "Chiang Yee", in Asian-American Autobiographers: a bio-bibliographical critical sourcebook, edited by Guiyou Huang, Greenwood Press, 2001. ISBN 0-313-31408-X.
- Da Zheng. “Chiang Yee.” Dictionary of Literary Biography, edited by Deborah Madsen. (MI: Thomson Gale, 2005) Vol. 312: 36–43.
- Da Zheng. “Let Us Remember Fengliu instead of Miseries: Dayou Poems and Chinese Diaspora.” Journal of Transnational American Studies, 4 (1) 2012. http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/2b9067vd
- Da Zheng. Chiang Yee, The Silent Traveller from the East: A Cultural Biography. NJ: Rutgers University, 2010.
- Da Zheng. “Chinese Calligraphy and Traditional Chinese Culture in America.” Journal of Chinese American Studies. 14 (August 2007) 31–47, In Chinese; “Chinese Calligraphy and Traditional Chinese Culture in America.” Journal of Chinese American Studies. 14 (August 2007) 48–77, In English.
- Da Zheng, 'The Traveling of Art and the Art of Traveling: Chiang Yee's Painting and Chinese Cultural Tradition'. Studies in the Literary Imagination. 37:1 (Spring 2004) 169–190.
- Da Zheng, 'Writing of Home and Home of Writing', Comparative American Studies, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 488–505 (2003).
- Da Zheng. “Double Perspective: The Silent Traveler in the Lake District.” Mosaic 31.1 (2003) 161-78.
- Janoff, Ronald, "Encountering Chiang Yee: A Western Insider Reading Response to Eastern Outsider Travel Writing" (Ann Arbor, MI, UMI Dissertation Services, 2002).
- Da Zheng. “Chinese Painting, Travel Literature, and Cultural Interpretation.” In Rudolphus Teeuwen and Shu-li Chang, eds., Crossings: Travel, Art, Literature, Politics (Taipei: Bookman Books, 2001) 217-37.
- Da Zheng. “Chinese Painting and Cultural Interpretation: Chiang Yee’s Travel Writing during the Cold War Era.” Prospects, 26 (2001) 477–504.
- Da Zheng. “Home Construction: Chinese Poetry and American Landscape in Chiang Yee’s Travel Writings.” The Journeys, 1:1–2 (2000) 59–85.