An Ethnocentric View of Chinese Music

William H. Brewer, a Professor of Agriculture at Yale University, wrote about his impressions of early California from 1860 to 1864 in a journal which was published by Yale University in 1930. These observations provide a rare and detailed view of how life in California appeared to an educated traveller.

   In the preface by Russell H. Chittenden, Professor Brewer is praised in these glowing terms:

A close observer, a careful and sagacious thinker, slow to arrive at a conclusion until all the facts were available, he embodied all those attributes that contribute to success in the conduct of any investigation that calls for wise judgment and logical reasoning. As these letters show, even in his younger days, at the time when he became the “principal assistant” in this survey of California, he it was who had the knowledge and the power to take charge of and carry through a scientific enterprise, under conditions often far from favorable, and without doubt such success as the survey attained was due in no small measure to his resourceful leadership in the field.

During his visit to San Francisco, Brewer was curious to learn about the Chinese, and even attended a Chinese theatrical performance.  In the excerpt below where he describes his reaction to Chinese 'music,' he seems to have lost his objectivity in his appraisal.  He did not find much to his liking, and did not hesitate to mock that which he did not understand.

And these were the views of a man considered to have "wise judgment and logical reasoning." One shudders to think of what the common man in the street thought about the musicality of the Chinese.

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