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A Silent Traveller in the Yorkshire Dales

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Chiang pictured himself at the top of the waterfall - so he drew himself there

Chiang pictured himself at the top of the waterfall - so he drew himself there

Close and personal

For a few years I thought that I must have been the only person in the world who owned this exquisite book by Chiang Yee. The Internet ruined this illusion for me, but also showed that this book, and the other books in this series are still to be found, and strangely enough, not too expensive.

Chiang Yee wrote this book during the 2nd World War, while he was confined to a flat in London, and the paintings are largely from memory.

I found this book in a 2nd hand book shop in Tzaneen, South Africa, in 1980, while I myself lived in the Cloud Mountains (Wolkberg) in a place called The Downs. The “Silent Traveller” became a very real person to me, as he walked through and described the Yorkshire Dales.

I think by “silent” he meant that he himself tried to be unobserved, and tried not to disturb or influence his surroundings in any way: whether it be rabbits, humans, sheep or horses.

That was also how I was trying to live, although I did not have the powerful gift of painting that he used so well. He portrayed the history of the different features of the Dales, including legends and stories, and depicted what he saw in magical paintings.

I thought of myself as a silent traveller in the The Downs and sometimes thought I could see through his eyes. In the forest, where it is often misty, the green moss are draped around the trees, and I could very well picture a Chinese painting of these scenes. I would have painted in the sound of the Lourie , even though I did not see these birds often. He painted himself in a place where he has not been before:

“Having the spirit of a hermit in me, though no scholar, I told myself that someday I must sit on that rock and meditate. Meanwhile, as a beginning, I made a painting of the Force with myself seated on the rock I have not yet reached”

“Having the spirit of a hermit in me, though no scholar, I told myself that someday I must sit on that rock and meditate. Meanwhile, as a beginning, I made a painting of the Force with myself seated on the rock I have not yet reached”

— Chiang Yee

Poem by Chiang Yee

This poem I almost knew by heart, so much did I associate with it:

Staying at Appletrewick

In the morning I go out with the clouds;

In the evening I bring back the rain.

Day after day I wander among the hills,

The lovely wind occasionally on me.

Flowers and birds compete for my acquaintance;

Cows and sheep become my old friends.

No one can live a hundred years-

To have such days is enough.

Involuntarily I think of the water in the stream;

Like it, al will pass

My own "dales"

My own "dales" in The Downs, Limpopo, South Africa

My own "dales" in The Downs, Limpopo, South Africa

His paintings and the Silent Traveller Series

I recently found that some of his paintings, sketches, calligraphy and watercolors were for sale for between $100 and $800. I would love to be surrounded by his paintings.

Other works in the Silent Traveller Series include:

  • The Silent Traveller: A Chinese Artist in Lakeland (London: Country Life, 1937 reprinted Mercat, 2004) ISBN 1-84183-067-4
  • The Silent Traveller in London (London: Country Life, 1938 reprinted Signal, 2001) 6 impressions by 1945.
  • The Silent Traveller in the Yorkshire Dales (London: Methuen 1941) at least 3 editions by 1942. Not known if re-printed
  • The Silent Traveller in Oxford (London: Methuen, 1944 reprinted Signal, 2003)
  • The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh (London: Methuen, 1948 reprinted Mercat, 2003) ISBN 1-84183-048-8
  • The Silent Traveller in New York, (London: Methuen, 1950)
  • The Silent Traveller in Dublin, (London: Methuen, 1953)
  • The Silent Traveller in Paris (New York: W. W. Norton, 1956)
  • The Silent Traveller in Boston (New York: W. W. Norton, 1959)
  • The Silent Traveller in San Francisco (New York: W. W. Norton, 1963) ISBN 0-393-08422-1
  • The Silent Traveller in Japan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972) ISBN 0-393-08642-9
  • The Silent Traveller’s Hong Kong Zhuzhi Poems (1972)

Chiang died in China after spending more than four decades away from his home, in October 1977. His grave is on the hill of Lu-Shan above his home town.

Recently the life and works of Chiang Yee received more attention from scholars and others and in June 2019, 40 years after his death, a blue plaque was unveiled at 28 Southmoor Road, Oxford where he rented two rooms from 1940 to 1955. The plaque honours his contribution to British and Chinese life.

The street in London where Chiang Lee lived for 15 years

a-silent-traveller-in-the-yorkshire-dales
a-silent-traveller-in-the-yorkshire-dales

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