A friend was saying one day that it was puzzling nowadays to talk to Americans. Ask a person how things are going, and you get "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." I, too, had problems of communication: I was writing this book. "I might as well be talking to the Chinese," I said by way of agreement. We recalled Baron de Montesquieu, whose ideas were so congenial to the founders of the United States. When he wanted to mock Louis XIV and speak hard reality to the French, he wrote The Persian Letters in the guise of a Persian in Paris.
I feared that what I would write might be either simpleminded or too abstract to be suffered by a reader. Also I should have to specify what was bad for my compatriots, and what was good, and what might be better still, because I detest the way in which writers about America tear the place to the ground and then walk off. "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem," as young Eldridge Cleaver once said. Yet who likes to be lectured to? Lectures are for others.
Very well. These are lectures to the Chinese. They are built around two favorite Chinese ideas: the idea of contradictions (from yin and yang to Mao Tse-tung); and the idea of numbered slogans of things to be sought after or avoided. The contradictory scheme of the eight bads and the eight goods emerged. The Chinese classics, written before the First Empire of 221 B.C., replace the Western philosophers as sources of illumination. Many Chinese have read them, but I wonder whether the Chinese will ever hear the lectures. It doesn't matter. They were really written to be read and for Americans as well as Chinese.
Alfred de Grazia
New York University
15 April 1974