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The Question of Hu Paperback – October 23, 1989


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (October 23, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679725806
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679725800
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

To French Jesuit Jean-Francois Foucquet, John Hua Chinese widower from Canton and a convert to Catholicismseemed like the perfect choice to serve as the missionary's translator and assistant. So Foucquet took Hu back to Paris with him in 1722, but Hu acted bizarrely on the overseas crossing and was confined for two years in the lunatic asylum of Charenton. In this slim travelogue, historian Spence ( The Gate of Heavenly Peace ) narrates their tragic tale in the form of an imaginary log, reconstructed from French, British and Vatican archives. Hu's behavior was clearly irrational: he wielded a knife, made strange proclamations, slept outdoors. But was he insane, and if so, did his journey to the West somehow trigger the reaction? Father Doucquet acted badly (he ditched Hu, who became an embarrassment to him), but to what extent was the Jesuit responsible for Hu's fate? The available evidence can't answer these questions, and we are left with a fragmentary puzzle. Reader's Subscription Book Club selection.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
The Questions of Hu In 1989, Jonathan D. Spence published a historical novel entitled The Question of Hu. Spence includes a great deal of historical context while telling the story of Jesuit Jean-Frangois Foucquet. Foucquet has set out to prove that Chinese religious texts were given to the Chinese by the Christian God. To accomplish this task, he needs a Chinese person to help copy some of these texts and encounters a willing Chinese Catholic man by the name of John Hu. Foucquet takes Hu to France with him, and in France, Hu experiences a great deal of culture shock and oppression because of his social status. Hu is mischievous and exploratory in this new culture, which causes the Europeans to question his sanity. Throughout Foucquet and Hus experiences, Spence leaves the reader with issues of insanity, control, and class to think about.
Jonathan Spence provokes various questions in The Question of Hu. Hus original question is Why have I been locked up?, however, this question points to that of defining insanity. Was Hu clinically insane, or did Foucquet have another reason for keeping Hu incarcerated? Spence provides evidence for either side of the argument. Many of Hus actions were very rash and the European society did not receive them well. "Hu stole a horse today. Or borrowed, according to your point of view...The man [the owner of the horse] tethered his house and went off on his business in the household. Hurrying down stairs, Hu untied the horse, climbed on its back, and was off, around the town...Scolded, Hu is not contrite. He asks Foucquet why, if a horse is being left unused, may someone else not use it?
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David Graham on March 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Question of Hu is historian Jonathan Spence's reconstruction of the real-life saga concerning a Chinese man named Hu. In the 1720s, Hu traveled to France as an employed servant of his Jesuit master, Jean Francois Focquet, who later renders his accounts of Hu into writing. Hu began to exhibit strange behavior on the ship's voyage to France, demonstrating an alarming incorrigibility that escalated after his arrival in Europe. Becoming unmanageable, he was thrown into an insane asylum for two years. Why? What happened to put a previously normal appearing man in the madhouse? And why was he later released to return to China as a respectable man, compensated monetarily for what he perceived as a great injustice? Spence tells Hu's story with an engaging, entertaining, and intriguing touch. This fairly short book is easy to read, a good story that will hold a reader's interest.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jon R. Schlueter on May 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
If you enjoyed "The Professor and the Madman", this book might just be your cup of tea. In both books, the central character becomes schizophrenic. In "The Professor and the Madman", he's an American officer in London. In "The Question of Hu", he's an assistant to a Jesuit scholar in France. This is a comparatively thin book, but it contains many threads: infighting among Jesuits, the Catholic missionary strategy in China in the 18th century, culture shock, treatment of the mentally ill, fidelity, circumstances in 18th century Paris and Canton, and careerism, among others. This is an engaging story well told.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Leonard J. Elick III on January 31, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Question of Hu, written beautifully by Jonathan Spence, should be considered an important contribution to the broad field of humanities. However, the question remains if Spence's research fits within the strict confines of historical literature, or whether its narrative-driven style is more characteristic of a historical novel. Spence's tale about the travels of Jean-Francois Foucquet, a Jesuit priest, and his culture-shocked Chinese copyist, John Hu, blurs the line that arbitrarily divides the various fields that constitute the humanities. While The Question of Hu seemingly lacks the detached analysis that most historians infuse into their works, Spence's tale, nonetheless, has to be considered an imaginative and exciting contribution to historical literature, which in its own subtle style, provides a platform for criticizing European cultural chauvinism during the 18th century

Throughout his work, Spence efficiently uses proven literary devices to speed along the story and provide a sense of suspense for the reader. Spence begins in medias res with Hu- a Chinese copyist -being visited by a concerned Jesuit clergyman. The two years that Hu had spent within a French insane asylum, after being abandoned by his own employer, proved harsh; even leaving one clergyman to comment that Hu looked like an "exhumed corpse" (Spence, 6). From this literary hook, Spence expertly details how Hu, who faithfully traveled with his employer on a ship from China to France, had met this unfortunate end. Unlike most histories, where the author's thesis is clearly stated and the sequence of events is laid out completely within the introductory pages of a book, Spence merely explains that he didn't, "think Foucquet [Hu's French employer] was right in the way he treated Hu," (Spence, XX).
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