Snippets from Yin Shuguang’s time spent travelling and working in different cultures around half the globe have been compiled into a new book. A review by Li Zhonghai.
Looking out his workplace window in Aberdeen, Yin Shuguang thinks of the people and places to have crossed his life as landscapes. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
As a philosopher once said, the further and wider a person travels, the deeper and broader his range of vision gets. Veteran journalist Yin Shuguang’s new book, Views from the Window, bears testimony to such a saying. Yin’s book is a compilation of the logs he would keep during his travels across Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland and the ancient Silk Road over the past 20 years. These were published as a series in Wen Wei Po in 2014-15. Now China Academy of Culture Ltd has published them in book form. Taken together, these articles allow a glimpse into the ideas Yin’s mind is informed by.
The book covers a wide range of topics and various genres, all written in very elegant language. It is divided into four sections: Joy in Hong Kong, Resonance of Hometown, Camel Bells along the Silk Road and Strolling around in the World. Beginning with his take on Hong Kong society, the author keeps expanding the scope of the book, ultimately touching on the major themes and issues of global importance.
The Hong Kong section contains anecdotes from the author’s experiences of the city. These include incidents of the author’s brush with local customs and culture, including folk tales. The next section takes readers to an old village in the modern-day Yantai city, in Shandong province, where the author’s roots are and then to Harbin, a city in northeast China where he was born. In this chapter, readers get a vicarious feel of the rural heartland of China and its natural scenic beauty as well as the affection and humane touch such places are characterized by. The exotic touch in the descriptions of foreign countries — that of iron-willed horses galloping across the Silk Road, for example — might inspire the reader to visit these places. Each essay tells compelling and interesting stories, making the characters in it come alive. These are real stories that readers can relate to and each one touches on an aspect of history, encouraging the reader to contemplate on the evolving nature of civilization.
Yin celebrates New Year’s eve with a family in Kazakhstan in 1995. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
The very first essay, “Dr Patrick Ho Chi-ping and Hong Kong Club”, delineates the story of Ho, a former secretary for home affairs with the HKSAR Government. Yin reproduces the scenes of racial discrimination plaguing Hong Kong under British colonial rule in the 1960s and 1970s. As a young violinist Ho would be prohibited from entering Hong Kong Club through the front entrance, which was reserved for the British and the affluent members. Ho found himself sneaking into the club through the back door, meant to be used by the servants and chefs. Yin is good at writing nuanced stories with elaborate details that could help stimulate a reader’s imagination, encouraging them to get immersed in a deep reflection on history.
The article entitled “If Hong Kong Has a Deng Xiaoping Road” is particularly noteworthy. When he was based in Central Asia for four years, Yin had been to Deng Xiaoping Road in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Plus, he was aware of a Deng Xiaoping Road in Moscow, Russia’s capital. It made the author wonder why there’s no street named after Deng in Hong Kong. He finds it ironic that there’s no memorialization of Deng in a city that is governed by the “one country, two systems” principle which was originally Deng’s idea, when so many roads in Hong Kong are named after the city’s erstwhile British administrators.
Yin’s telling of the history of the Silk Road and its importance in our own times is a major highlight of the book. Yin worked as a Russian interpreter in Poland during the Cold War. After the Soviet Union collapsed, he was a correspondent for People’s Daily in five Central Asian countries, including the Republic of Kazakhstan. As a result, he came to be an expert on Central Asian issues and this book is informed by the wealth of experiences, distilled from his exposure to such diverse cultures.
Yin goes plucking cherries in his hometown in Yantai, Shandong province. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
In the early 1990s, Yin reported from the frontlines of the Civil War in Tajikistan. He interviewed many top leaders of Central Asian countries at that time, including the Kazakh president Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev, president of Kyrgyzstan Askar Akayev, and president of the Republic of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov. Yin’s stories from those years feature incidents that took place in the diplomatic circles, told in great details, shedding light on how China’s relationship with these Central Asian countries has evolved over time. This section of the book makes for valuable historical reference material, even as it helps readers better understand the art of diplomatic communication between nations.
According to the author, each experience and every person we come across in our lives is like a landscape by itself, complete with the minutest of details. In our lives there is no dearth of such sceneries. Their presence adds beauty to our lives. The author’s philosophy of life is to keep admiring the sceneries that he sees outside his window, hence the name of the book — “Views from the Window”.
If you read
Views from the Window
By Yin Shuguang
Published by China Academy of Culture Ltd
The reviewer is a research fellow of the Institute of Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and is the chief editor of the journal Russian, Central Asian & East European Studies.