BE. Witter Bynner

14. ‘Do We Know the Chinese?’ Saturday Review of Literature, 22 January 1949, pp. 9-10, 26, 28-29.

    Reprinted in Prose Pieces.  

Opens with Bynner’s most detailed account of his reactions to Japan during his 1917 visit, though surely recent events had shaped some of his comments. He traces his interest in the country to his days at Harvard, where he had seen a performance of Madame Butterfly, read Hearn (D9), and took an interest in ukiyoe. But it was not until his 1917 sojourn to East Asia that he began to see beyond the conventional images. At first, ‘Japan bore out all that the prints had mirrored and . . . Hearn had written’. It seemed ‘a beautiful garden, tended by a race of perfectionists’. But in Korea under Japanese occupation Bynner ‘became cognizant of the treatment Japanese accord people whom they do not consider their neighbors’; in contrast to the Chinese, he writes, the Japanese ‘regard themselves as a chosen people’, exhibit a ‘herd instinct’ and ‘blind obedience to discipline’, and ‘reserve their good behavior for use toward their own breed’. He notes that even Ficke, his travelling companion and by 1917 an expert on Japanese art, was more comfortable in China than in Japan. The Chinese ‘could laugh with him from kindred bowels of amusement’ but in Japan the ‘titter had been from a nervous cerebral guess’. Includes in closing unflattering reference to the Showa Emperor: by the outbreak of war ‘Hitler had not learned, nor had Hirohito, that without free individuals there cannot be an enduring state’. Reprinted in 19.





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