“The Ugly Chinaman and the Crisis of Chinese Culture” is the English translation of Bo Yang’s “The Ugly Chinaman” in Chinese. This Taiwanese essayist “targeted his fellow Chinese, especially those living in Taiwan, who at the time were still lulled in the belief that Chinese culture  was the best among all civilizations. While everyone acknowledged that the West was technologically superior, many felt that spiritually and culturally China still triumphed over the decadent West. No one disputed that Chinese society had severe problems. But prior to Bo Yang’s work, it was customary to blame these ills either on Westernization or a departure from China’s true values. Bo Yang turned the tables by arguing that the culture itself was the source of these ills. It is as earth-shattering as William Bennett coming out and identifying Judeo-Christian values as the source of much that is wrong with the West.”

“In so many ways Bo Yang assumes an intimate knowledge of Chinese matters, and uses satire to debunct many time-held notions. A Western reader certainly should not use this as a primer on Chinese culture, but it does offer a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a very influential writer in the Chinese speaking world. Nor should a Western reader use this book as “evidence” of the total failure of Chinese culture, any more than non-Westerners should understand America by reading only “The Ugly American”.”(Amazon Review)

Actually I haven’t read “The Ugly American” yet, so I hold my comments on “The Ugly Chinaman” only.

As a Chinese saying goes, “beat the dog with the door shut”. Bo Yang, like a Puritan whipping himself for his sins, or Arthur Dimmesdale wearing the “Scarlet Letter” under his minister’s cover,  is cruel to whip his fellow Chinese in his book with his pungent, cynical words. However, it is for our good, and not, as some critics oppose, to expose our own ugliness to outsiders.

As human beings, we all have our ugliness. It’s uncomfortable to be exposed or picked out, but it’s better than to pretend and to cover, or even to deceit. Of coures, it’s ugly to expose ugliness, but  it’s uglier to cover it at all costs.

I will read “The Ugly Chinaman” again (in Chinese, since the English version is somehow simplified), mourning the death of Bo Yang aka Guo Yidong (郭衣洞)on April 29, 2008.

Of course, I will also read “The Ugly American” to see how they whip themselves.