Soul? What Soul? An alluring book title, I’m sure. What about a book called ‘The Soul of England?’ The Chinese soul, ancient or modern, like other souls, longs for freedom and wealth, material and artistic, I suppose.
Clichés like ‘quaint traditions’, ‘colourful oddities’ and the inescapable ‘enigma’ again show up in Amaury de Riencourt’s Soul of China. It irks me: the very same expressions can be used for any culture or civilisation by authors who do not try hard enough. The book, however, appears to be an honest effort to inspire an understanding of China. Reading it, I, a Chinese who have spent half of my adult years on non-Chinese soil, ended up understanding more of the author.
Unlike some sinologists who will surely go down in history in shame, Riencourt did not pretend to be a ‘China expert’, or more abominably, choose to believe what he wanted to believe, in the manner of John Fairbank and his disciples, who decided that the Communist Revolution was the best