As A Chinaman Saw Us Passages from his Letters to a Friend at Home

Travel/
#Travel #United States
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Excerpt CHAPTER I THE AMERICAN—WHO HE IS Many of the great powers believe themselves to be passing through an evolutionary period leading to civic and national perfection. America, or the United States, has already reached this state; it is complete and finished. I have this from the Americans themselves, so there can be no question about it; hence it requires no little temerity to discuss, let alone criticize, them. Yet I am going to ask you to behold the American as he is, as I honestly found him—great, small, good, bad, self-glorious, egotistical, intellectual, supercilious, ignorant, superstitious, vain, and bombastic. In truth, so very remarkable, so contradictory, so incongruous have I found the American that I hesitate. Shall I give you a satire; shall I devote myself to eulogy; shall I tear what they call the "whitewash" aside and expose them to the winds of excoriation; or shall I devote myself to an introspective, analytical divertissement? But I do not wish to educate you on the Americans, but to entertain, to make you laugh by the recital of comical truths; so without system I am going to tell you of these Americans as I found them, day by day, month by month, officially, socially; in their homes, in politics, trade, sorrow, despair, and in their pleasures. You will remember when the Evil Spirit is asked by the modest Spirit of Good to indicate his possessions he tucks the earth under one arm, drops the sun into one pocket, the moon into another, and the stars into the folds of his garment. In a word, to use the saying of my friends, he "claims everything in sight"; and this is certainly a characteristic of the American: he is all-perspective, he claims to have all the virtues, and in his ancestry embraces the entire world. At a dinner at the —— in Washington during the egg stage of my experience I sat next to a charming lady; and having been told that it was a custom of the French to compliment women, I remarked that her cheeks bloomed like our poppy of the Orient. She laughed, and responded, "Yes, I get that from my English grandfather." "But your eyes are like black pearls," I continued, seeing that I was on what a general on my right called the "right trail." "I got them from my Italian grandmother," she replied. "And your hair?" I pressed. "Must be Irish," was the answer, "for my paternal grandmother was Irish and her husband Scotch." It is true that this charmingly beautiful and composite goddess (at least she would have been one had she not been naked like a geisha at a men's dinner) was the product of a dozen nations, and a typical American. The original Americans appear to have been English, despite the fact that the Spaniards discovered the country, though a high official, a Yankee whom I met at a reception, told me that this was untrue. His ancestor had discovered North America, and I believe he had written a book to prove it. (En passant, all Americans write books; those who have not, fully intend to write one.) I listened complacently, then said, "My dear ——, if I am not mistaken the Chinese discovered America." I recalled the fact to his mind that the northwestern Eskimos and the Indians were essentially Asiatic in type; and it is true that he had never heard of the ethnologic map at his National Museum, which shows the location of Chinese junks blown to American shores within a period of three hundred years. I explained that junks had been blown over to America for the last three thousand years, and that in my country there were many records of voyages to the Western land, ages before 1492....
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