cover image The Question of Hu

The Question of Hu

Jonathan D. Spence / Author Alfred A. Knopf $18.95 (187p) ISBN

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. (October)