Invisible Books – Might Have Been Written But Never Were

The Italian writer Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities is a dreamy fabulation on cities that Marco Polo might have visited – if only they had existed. Of course, Marco calmly reported in detail to Kublai Khan on these “invisible” cities.
Last year we speculated about Five Things That Didn’t Happen (But Might Have), so in the same vein, let’s look at books that somehow never appeared.
Apologies for the quite different natures of these books, but maybe this will get you all thinking of nominations of your own.

1. Zhou Enlai’s Memoirs.

Mao’s thoughts might seem more alluring, but I doubt that he was as self-aware as his #2. Zhou, who I wrote briefly about last year, was in a dependent position, requiring him to watch and react rather than simply striking out without fear of consequence. And you thought that the memoirs of Mao’s doctor were a bombshell!
The memoirs of second level figures are sometimes more observant, partly because they had more time and had to observe and explain things to themselves. But beware the forged memoir. In 1913 China experts welcomed the Memoirs of Li Hung-chang, “edited” by William Mannix, which soon were exposed as complete forgeries (we could devote a separate post to this genre).

2. Archeological Report on Qin Shihuang’s Tomb.

There will be multiple volumes. Most of us realize that the “underground army” is guarding the approaches to the tomb rather than being in it, and that the tomb itself has not been opened. The reason for not opening the actual tomb is, we are told, that the authorities want to wait until the technology is available which will preserve the contents, and I have not seen a schedule. But this will be big.

3. Lloyd Eastman’s biography of Jiang Jieshi.

This is the saddest of my nominations. Lloyd was a friend and most helpful colleague, and it happens that I was his leave replacement the year he was diagnosed with the brain tumor which killed him (this was the year I met Alan Baumler). Lloyd’s project that year was to push forward his work on the biography he had been preparing for more than a decade. His honesty was obvious to archivists and scholars in both Taiwan and the PRC, and he had earned their confidence to the point where he could get access to documents and records which other scholars had not seen and perhaps still have not seen. He decided to use his remaining time to edit the memoirs of Jiang’s second wife, Chen Jieru: Chiang Kai-Shek’s Secret Past : The Memoir of His Second Wife (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993).

Jiang is in many ways harder to place historically than any other important modern political figure and more caught in political jousting. Jonathan Fenby’s Chiang Kai Shek: China’s Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost (Da Capo Press, 2005) is well done indeed, but Lloyd’s full bore political biography would have been a major change in the field.

4. The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge.

In “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” Jorge Luis Borges describes “a certain Chinese Encyclopedia,” in which it is written that animals are divided into:
1. those that belong to the Emperor, 2. embalmed ones, 3. those that are trained, 4. suckling pigs, 5. mermaids, 6. fabulous ones, 7. stray dogs, 8. those included in the present classification, 9. those that tremble as if they were mad, 10. innumerable ones, 11. those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, 12. others, 13. those that have just broken a flower vase, 14. those that from a long way off look like flies.

5. Everything I Know About China.

It is told that the wisest of the early twentieth century British China Hands, long time China resident and diplomat, had on his desk, bound in exquisite red Moroccan leather, a thickish volume entitled “Everything I Know About China.”
When the visitor opened it, of course, every page was blank.

1 Comment

  1. Charles,

    It’s particularly sad to think about Lloyd now that Jiang’s diaries are available, since knowing that they existed but also not being able to look at them was also one of the things that made him turn away from the project at the end.

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