The Adams Gallery at Suffolk University presents artwork from an exiled 20th century Chinese artist-author in the exhibit Chiang Yee: The Silent Traveller from the East. The exhibit is focused on illustrations from Chiang Yee’s 1959 travel book about Boston.
Chiang Yee left China at age 30 for to study in England, but revolution, wars and a yearning for a meaningful life kept him away from home and family for four decades. During this time, Chiang Yee wrote more than 20 books, including the popular Silent Traveller series.
In a voice both philosophical and humorous, Chiang Yee’s Silent Traveller books offer an outsider’s observation of locations from London and Paris to Boston and Japan. They are generously illustrated with Yee’s watercolors and pen-and-ink drawings, which render scenes of the West in the Chinese manner.
The Adams Gallery presents original Chiang Yee drawings and watercolors, reproductions of illustrations from his Silent Traveller book on Boston from the Boston Athenaeum’s collection and photographs of the artist-author.
The Chiang Yee exhibit was inspired by Suffolk University English Professor Da Zheng’s cultural biography of the same title. Zheng, like Yee, 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 from the artist’s English-language book on calligraphy, initially published in 1938. Zheng, then studying in Shanghai, worked with friends to translate the volume into Chinese.
Zheng moved to the United States in 1986. He came upon a copy of The Silent Traveller in Boston, with a cover image of Park Street Church.
“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.”
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.
Outside looking in
Zheng’s book, Chiang Yee: The Silent Traveller from the East, is 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.”
The book was published in English and later in Chinese. Since its publication, several of Chiang Yee’s Silent Traveller books also have been translated into Chinese.
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 through March 22, 2015.
Chiang Yee: The Silent Traveller from the East
Feb. 13—March 22, 2015
David J. Sargent Hall
Suffolk University Law School
120 Tremont Street, Boston
Gallery hours: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily