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America, through the spectacles of an Oriental diplomat   By: (1842-1922)

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Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat

[Note on text: Italicized sections are capitalized. A few obvious errors have been corrected. Some footnotes have been added, and are clearly marked.]


While this book is by no means famous, it is a remarkable chance to look at America of 1914 through the eyes of an outsider. Wu Tingfang shows evidence of having thought through many issues of relevance to the United States, and while some of his thoughts are rather odd such as his suggestion that the title of President be replaced by the title of Emperor; and others are unfortunately wrong such as his hopes for peace, written on the eve of the First World War; they are all well considered and sometimes show remarkable insight into American culture.

Even so, it should be remarked that he makes some errors, including some misunderstandings of American and Western ideas and an idealization of Chinese culture, and humanity in general, in some points while I do not wish to refute his claims about China, I would simply point out that many of the things he praises have been seen differently by many outside observers, just as Wu Tingfang sometimes looks critically at things in America which he does not fully understand (and, unfortunately, he is sometimes all too correct) in all these cases (on both sides) some leeway must be given to account for mutual misunderstandings. Still, his observations allow us to see ourselves as others see us and regardless of accuracy those observations are useful, if only because they will allow us to better communicate.

The range of topics covered is also of particular interest. Wu Tingfang wrote this book at an interesting juncture in history airplanes and motion pictures had recently been invented, (and his expectations for both these inventions have proven correct), and while he did not know it, a tremendous cultural shift was about to take place in the West due to the First World War and other factors. I will leave it to the reader to see which ideas have caught on and which have not. The topics include:

Immigration; the Arms Race and changes in technology; one time six year terms for the office of President; religion and/or ethics in the classroom; women's equality; fashion; violence in the theatre (violence on television); vegetarianism; and, cruelty to animals.

I will also note that a few passages seem satiric in nature, though I am not certain that it isn't merely a clash of cultures.

Alan R. Light. Birmingham, Alabama. May, 1996.


Through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat

by Wu Tingfang, LL.D.

Late Chinese Minister to the United States of America, Spain, Peru, Mexico and Cuba; recently Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Justice for the Provincial Government of the Republic of China, etc.


Of all nations in the world, America is the most interesting to the Chinese. A handful of people left England to explore this country: gradually their number increased, and, in course of time, emigrants from other lands swelled the population. They were governed by officials from the home of the first settlers, but when it appeared to them that they were being treated unjustly, they rebelled and declared war against their rulers, the strongest nation on the face of the earth. After seven years of strenuous, perilous, and bloody warfare, during which thousands of lives were sacrificed on both sides, the younger race shook off the yoke of the older, and England was compelled to recognize the independence of the American States. Since then, in the comparatively short space of one hundred and thirty years, those revolutionists and their descendants, have not only made the commonwealth the richest in the world, but have founded a nation whose word now carries weight with all the other great powers... Continue reading book >>

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