China, the Country of the Blind

13 Aug 2013
Old man in alley

Photo by Iris River on Flickr

I recently read H.G. Wells’ short story The Country of the Blind, and it immediately struck me how relevant this story is to western visitors of China in modern times. If you’re a China observer, and an observer of how westerners interact with China, it’s definitely worth a read.

If you’re too busy to read a short story (and it’s not overly sci-fi, for those of you not into the genre), you might check out the plot synopsis on Wikipedia.

Here’s an excerpt to give you a taste:

> “Why did you not come when I called you?” said the blind man. “Must you be led like a child? Cannot you hear the path as you walk?”

> Nunez laughed. “I can see it,” he said.

> “There is no such word as see,” said the blind man, after a pause. “Cease this folly and follow the sound of my feet.”

> Nunez followed, a little annoyed.

> “My time will come,” he said.

> “You’ll learn,” the blind man answered. “There is much to learn in the world.”

> “Has no one told you, ‘In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King?'”

> “What is blind?” asked the blind man, carelessly, over his shoulder.

> Four days passed and the fifth found the King of the Blind still incognito, as a clumsy and useless stranger among his subjects.

> It was, he found, much more difficult to proclaim himself than he had supposed, and in the meantime, while he meditated his coup d’etat, he did what he was told and learnt the manners and customs of the Country of the Blind. He found working and going about at night a particularly irksome thing, and he decided that that should be the first thing he would change.

There really is a lot there to appreciate. Read the original.


On a related note, Kaiser Kuo has recently stated:

> On my podcast not long ago, Evan Osnos suggested that the best way to understand China today is to read Mark Twain—specifically “The Gilded Age” and “Life on the Mississippi.” Paul Mozur from the WSJ did just that and concurs. I’m now reading “The Gilded Age.” Yep.

Evan Osnos also recommends The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells for the same reasons.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. Every writer is always looking for that magical metaphor or phrase that sums up a certain place in a certain time. Even Peter Hessler’s Country Driving had references to the old West and Mark Twain territory. For me, China seems to be a mixture of Dickens, Orwell and Philip K Dick.

  2. […] http://www.sinosplice.com/life/archives/2013/08/13/china-the-country-of-the-blindWhat I learned from this is that even the most venerated of China observes sometimes make weird claims. Yes, the story is an interesting attack on what it’s like to be a complete outsider, but really? He doesn’t see any of the problems in these metaphors? And doesn’t the idiotness (or, more charitably, lack of self-awareness) of the protagonist kind of undermine any extrapolations? Except, of course, if you’re extrapolating about idiots, which is what seems to be done pretty well here: […]

  3. […] the Blind:《盲人国》This graded reader is based on a classic H.G. Wells story, and I actually blogged about it not long ago, in conjunction with China. (Now you know why I was thinking about the story so hard!) […]

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