China to MePosted: 2012/05/17
Hahn, Emily. China to Me: a Partial Autobiography. Philadelphia: The Blakiston Company, 1946.
I always love it when my own library has something from my Challenge list. I have to be honest. I didn’t think I would see China to Me on our shelves and I’m not sure why.
People pick up China to Me for different reasons. Some look for a travelog, something to give an accurate picture of the politics and society of mid-war China (it was published in 1944). Some look for a personal account of an outspoken feminist American living in Shanghai and Hong Kong and beyond. I picked it up because I heard Hahn was like Isabella Bird, a gutsy traveler who was not afraid to live outside the conformity of her time. After reading most of Hahn’s partial autobiography I have to disagree somewhat. Hahn’s autobiography has been criticized as being a little self-indulgent. I agree. She frequently drops the names of then-prominent Chinese society (most who mean nothing to us in the 21st century). Whereas Bird lingers over flower and fauna, Hahn belabors relationships she had. I was distracted by all the name references. I am sure in the 1940s the individuals were impressive to know but that society has long since lost its luster in the 60+ years since. Another complaint about Hahn is her apparent little regard for the welfare of her born-out-of-wedlock child. While in the Japanese prison camps she seemed more concerned with herself than the individuals around her. Despite Hahn’s apparent selfishness she writes with clever humor and keen insight. In addition her life as a concubine and mistress to a spy was interesting enough to write about!
Favorite quotes: “As long as I had a column that wasn’t news, so that our readers wouldn’t be distressed by having to think, it was all right” (p 11).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called ” Lady Travelers” (p 143). Also, from More Book Lust in the chapter called ” “Living Through War” (p 155). Mentioned a third time in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “China: The Middle Kingdom” (p 60).