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On my way home through Hong Kong airport, I bought A case of two cities, one in a series of novels by Qiu Xiaolong about Shanghai poet and detective, Inspector Chen Cao.
Chen ends up leading a delegation of Chinese poets to the US, an activity that criss-crosses with the case he is working on. There is some concern among the Chinese poets that they are not as well known as in the US as they expected, and that this is a part of a general lack of mutuality of cultural awareness between the two countries. They think that folks in the US know less about them than they know about the US. And, wouldn’t you know it, this issue extends to library holdings:
‘Not just in the bookstore,’ Bao cut in. I cannot find my book even in the university library. I have asked Pearl to do a search for me during the lunch break. You have a Chinese department here, don’t you? That’s a matter of cultural hegemony. …… In the end, the Chinese writers were aggravated by the Americans’ ignorance of their works. They had checked again in the afternoon. Not a single translation of their works was available in either the bookstore or the library.
Now I know that your reaction to this is probably the same as mine was. You immediately thought about the study of non-US holdings in ARL libraries that I mentioned in these pages a short while ago! How relevant. That report noted a decline in recent years of holdings of overseas materials in ARL libraries.
Chen is a translator of T.S. Eliot, and the delegation ends up visiting St Louis, Missouri, Eliot’s home town. And on the library front, things take a turn for the better. They are in Washington University in St Louis …
Bao finds a copy of his poems in the East Asian Library, and discussed them with an old professor who had studied Chinese poetry in the sixties. … Peng started reading Chinese newspapers in the library. Some of the Taiwan and Hong Kong publications were not accessible on the mainland.
Of course, Bao should have checked out Worldcat to see which US universities held his poems … or Worldcat Collection Analysis to see where there were strong Chinese collections 😉
Aside: I am interested to see T.S. Eliot and Inspector Chen come up as related names for Qiu Xiaolong in Worldcat Identities.