The Adams Gallery exhibit Chiang Yee: The Silent Traveller from the East was inspired by Suffolk University English Professor Da Zheng’s recently published cultural biography of the same title.
Like Yee, Zheng was born in China but moved to the West to pursue higher education. Though of different generations, the two educators shared a fascination with art, literature and education.
Zheng first learned of Chiang Yee when a friend sent him Yee’s English-language book on calligraphy, initially published in 1938. Zheng, then studying in Shanghai, worked with friends to translate the volume into Chinese.
After Zheng moved to the United States in 1986, he noticed a book on a friend’s coffee table. It was called The Silent Traveller in Boston, and on the cover was a watercolor of Park Street Church, a landmark Zheng had not yet seen.
“I saw the name Chiang Yee and was amazed,” said Zheng. “I didn't know that the author of Chinese Calligraphy was also a travel writer.”
The artist-author piqued Zheng’s interest, and he began to read more about him. Zheng’s research is focused on Chinese-American literature, and Yee, who covered art, travel, memoir, and children’s stories in more than 25 published books, made a fascinating subject.
In February Zheng published Chiang Yee: The Silent Traveller from the East, a cultural study of a man who spent more than half his life in the West writing and illustrating a series of travel books from the point of view of an outsider looking in.
“This is a book I really put my heart into,” said Zheng. “To a large extent I was writing about someone like myself.”
Yee was a close friend of historian and Boston Athenaeum Director Walter Muir Whitehill, and the illustrations for The Silent Traveller in Boston are now in the Athenaeum’s collection. The Athenaeum has allowed the University to reproduce them for the Adams Gallery exhibit.
The exhibit Chiang Yee: The Silent Traveller from the East, celebrating both the author of the Silent Traveller books and Zheng’s comprehensive study of his life and times, will run from March 26 through May 30 at Suffolk University's Adams Gallery.
Zheng will speak on “Chiang Yee, the Boston Athenaeum, and Cultural Understanding” at noon Thursday, April 15, at the Boston Athenaeum.