Ji Xianlin

Overall Rating: 7
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Author: Ji Xianlin (季羡林)
Title: Wandering Around The World (行走天下)
Time: Starts 1934, ends around 2002
Destination: Germany, India, Japan, China, Taiwan.
Length: individual articles from different places
Type: “educational tour”
Rating: 7/10

Trying to teach the people

The story: JXL is a promising student when he gets the chance to go to Göttingen, Germany, to pursue a PhD. Due to the political situation though, he has to stay much longer than anticipated, returning home only in 1946 to take up a professorship at the University of Beijing. JXL publishes about Indian and Central Asian cultures and gains international fame by the end of the century.

collection of Ji Xianlin’s essays

This book is a collection of essays and stories from his years in Germany, his visits in India, Japan and Taiwan, and his life in China. I found his style of writing a bit weird at first: here was an outstanding scientist, an intellectual, who seemed to be continuously talking about his „beloved motherland“, about its „glorious future“ and so on and so on.

an educated philanthropist

But then I started to recognize a pattern: JXL sees himself as a humanist and a philanthropist who must improve his society by writing about it – and thus, some of his messages come in a certain packaging. For example: in an article about his trip to India, he glorifies the friendship between India and China, tells us how the Indians love the Chinese, etc. etc. – only a few years after the war in the Himalayans. In another essay, he introduces Japan as China’s cultural offspring at first – only to go ahead and point out the many things that the Chinese could learn from the Japanese. In his evaluation of the situation in Shenzhen in the early eighties, he rejoices about the fact that the „iron rice bowls“ have finally been shattered and that efficiency might finally reign.

lengthy but charming

As you can see, I enjoyed reading this book, mainly because JXL seemed like a charming old guy who did not only value knowledge and intellect, but also tried to absorb the shock of some of the more radical ideas that he saw unfitting for Chinese society. His defense of Hu Shi (胡适) is a particularly charming one: according to JXL, nobody should be mad at an old scholar who didn’t appreciate Communism and fled to Taiwan. So what if Hu Shi could not be interested in radical political ideas – hadn’t he been just a bookworm in the first place?

All in all, this book can be a bit lengthy sometimes, and the continuous praise of the motherland can get a bit redundant to the modern European reader – but I still enjoyed it somehow.

A 7/10.

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