The Chinese view of the West came sharply into focus for me when at a railway station in Xinjiang I was shown an English language textbook by a student I had befriended. The booklet was entitled A Survey of Great Britain and its findings included the following: the five biggest mass organisations in this country are the TUC, the CBI, the NUS, CND, and the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding; to send a boy to public school costs ‘very much – about £90’; the Conservative and Labour parties both represent the landowning classes. London, apparently is a city beset by pollution problems. These are due, it says, to a combination of marsh mists sweeping in from the east and ‘the citizen’s love of open smoke fires’, the combination of which means that he can seldom see a yard in front of him.
This sort of thing makes one wonder about the accuracy of accounts written by our own travellers, those intrepid beatniks who spend three or four months in the East and then return with a suitcase full of photographs and recollections, which are duly puffed as ‘insights’. Even more prone to