Comparing China – a Flood of new Entries From Clem Atlee, JD Bernal, Hugh Casson (and more) in 1950s ChinaPosted: July 30th, 2012 | No Comments »
Well done to Patrick Wright, author of the book Passport to Peking, for spotting so many new dodgy China comparisons. I’ve listed a bunch of them before (here) – everyone from Somerset Maugham to Peter Fleming, Will Rogers to Jules Verne and others. Invariably it seems the Brits are the worst offenders at this silliness of comparing China to parts of England (or occasionally other places). Wright though has a stunning bunch that need to be added to the list:
Peking – ‘Just like Bedford’ – This is from the first Peking Broadcast Morgan Philips, secretary of the Labour Party and member of the 1954 delegation to China, sent a radio broadcast back to London claiming that Peking was “just like Bedford”. He told his listeners on the BBC eager to hear of a country so far away and so different, “As I saw the great mass of cycles on the road I was reminded of a day in Bedford during the last war. I had just started to drive. I was passing through the town at the time the workers were leaving the factories for the lunch hour break. All at once I seemed to be submerged in cycles. Peking is just like that.”
Phillips was then shown a new housing estate in Beijing which led him to say that he never expected to see Gorbals tenements built with a sense of pride – that’s right, Beijing housing estates reminded him of Glasgow!!
Rex Warner, the English classicist, writer and translator, visited Mongolia in the 1950s and commented that he thought the music on the local radio, “like Hebridean songs” – news to most Mongolians I expect! Warner moved on to Peking where he noted that the British Ambassador, Humphrey Trevelyan’s house in the embassy compound reminded him of Wimbledon Common.
Clement Atlee, Labour Party leader and winner of the 1945 General Election thought the views from the Hankow Bund over the Yangtze River (now largely idle) ‘rather like the Thames at Tilbury’ and told this to readers of the New York Times in 1954. Now while NY Times readers may be smart I’m not sure how many can conjure an image of the loveliness of Tilbury in their minds!!
J D Bernal, the controversial scientist, found ‘the endless rows of donkey carts’ in Peking ‘very reminiscent of Ireland’ and also noted the ‘infinite variety of houseboats in Canton some of which are like ‘very old and battered Oxford College barges’ and bicycles ‘shoaled like silver herrings – more even than in Cambridge’
And finally, a real corker – Hugh Casson, the architect describes Peking’s Maoist reconstruction as ‘the Croydon-esque silhouettes of the new public buildings’.
Below behold the China like vistas:
The Peking-like vista of Bedford High Street in the 1950s…
Sunset over Tilbury…
Bernal thought Canton barges resembled these Oxford College barges (the 1920s above) – some of the ones he saw must have been Flower Boats in a pre-Maoist life, basically barges full of old whores, not unlike what one imagines an Oxford barge contains quite honestly…
Honestly, why anyone ever went to China I do not know!!!