Review: Chinese Sentiment by Shen Wei


Book Reviews, Photobooks


Once you’ve left you can never go home again. Going back you’ll realize that what you think should feel like home doesn’t. What you think you should be familiar with feels vague, if not outright strange. Inevitably, once enough time has passed, there will be a new home, a new sense of familiarity, even though it might never match what you had, or rather: what you think you had. Which, if you’re honest, really means: What you wish you had. Because maybe what you see when you go to the place you used to call home is what was always there, as disappointing as it might be. (more)

There’s no way reality can match your dreams, your thoughts of the place you left, your longing. That which you think you took with you when you left home eventually detached itself from the rest, which ended up growing and changing. You think you wrapped it nicely, to protect it, but maybe it’s more like it got wrapped so it wouldn’t harm everything else - much like a human body will grow hard tissue around a foreign object which for some reasons becomes embedded in it.

So you go back “home,” expecting to find that which you carry with you, embedded and thus becoming ever more fuzzy and unclear, and of course you find anything but that: You find that what you used to call home is a place that has very little mystery, often very little appeal, or maybe an appeal that is quite different from the one you seem to (want to) remember.

After a while, you realize that you speak a different language than the people who did not leave. You realize that the place and the people also changed while you were changing - how could they not? You expect to be visiting an unchanged home, but that doesn’t exist. You expect to be running into a space left over (and not filled) from you leaving, but that also doesn’t exist.

How can people do that: Not only continue with their lives and change everything, but also often not even really remembering you? Well, they just do it.

All that remains for you is to then come terms with the place you used to call “home.” You go, and you embed yourself in it, to see what’s happening, how you will be reacting to it and how it will be reacting to you, to discover that which is new, and that which you realize you never noticed even while still living there.

I don’t know whether this is what Chinese Sentiment by Shen Wei is about. What I know is that it is what I see in it.

Chinese Sentiment, photographs by Shen Wei, introduction by Peter Hessler, 124 pages, Charles Lane Press, 2011