Thursday, June 14, 2007

Chinese isolationalism

I asked Chiao Yu [a Chinese poet and playwright], “Do you get to see much foreign literature?”

“Yes, a little.”

“Any American?”

“We have one book in the Writers Union translated from America.”

“Which is that?”

Jonathan Seagull. But so far it is only available to Union members, not the public.” ...

I was astounded by the ignorance of this writer facing me across the soda pop and the apples and candy on this lovely afternoon, until an old joke about the English passed through my mind, the one about the London headline: “Dense Fog—Continent Isolated.” How many Chinese writers did I know, free as I was to read anything? And had he not a better right than I to provincial sequestration when there were going on one billion Chinese, a quarter of the human race, while there were only two hundred million or so Americans? In fact, he had more compatriots than the populations of Europe, Russia, and half of India combined. Who was the provincial?

I thought about this a long time and decided that he was.
--Arthur Miller, March 1979 Atlantic Monthly, on who is really at the center of the world

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was really long time ago.