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A Century of Travels in China

Critical Essays on Travel Writing from the 1840s to the 1940s

Edited by Douglas Kerr, Julia Kuehn

Publication Year: 2007

This book represents the work of expert scholars, it is also accessible to non-specialists with an interest in travel writing and China, and care has been taken to explain the critical terms and ideas deployed in the essays from recent scholarship of the travel genre.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU


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pp. i-ii


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pp. vii


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pp. ix

Notes on Contributors

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pp. xi-xiii

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pp. 1-12

China to the Western traveler has always been characterized by excess. There is too much of China to travel to, to experience, to comprehend, to describe, and certainly too much of it to subdue or convert. To Archibald Little, traveling through “the illimitable western mountains” of China towards Tibet at the end of the nineteenth century, the apparently endless prospect of mountains beyond mountains was both sublime and disheartening; ...

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1 - Sketching China and the Self-Portrait of a Post-Romantic Traveler: John Francis Davis’s Rewriting of China in the 1840s

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pp. 13-26

When John Francis Davis published his Sketches of China in the early 1840s, he capitalized on a significant increase in China’s appeal to the imagination, yet even more importantly, his work spanned crucial shifts in Britain’s political, commercial, and cultural attitudes to China over the course of the nineteenth century. A contradictory as well as complex text, the book encapsulated most effectively changing responses to China that were propelled by Romantic literary legacies, on the one hand, and early Victorian imperialist commercialism, on the other. As such...

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2 - Converting Chinese Eyes: Rev. W. H. Medhurst, “Passing,” and the Victorian Vision of China

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pp. 27-38

The Reverend Walter H. Medhurst (1796–1857) begins his travel narrative A Glance at the Interior of China Obtained During a Journey to the Silk and Green Tea Countries (1850)1 with the following injunction: “In order to accomplish a journey into the interior of China,” Medhurst writes, “it is necessary, if the individual undertaking it be a foreigner, to assume the Chinese dress, to shave the front part of the head and temples, and to wear what is commonly called a tail. The traveller should also be able to converse readily in the Chinese language; and conform himself...

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3 - Traveling Imperialism: Lord Elgin’s Missions to China and the Limits of Victorian Liberalism

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pp. 39-52

James Bruce (1811–63), the Eighth Earl of Elgin, was a traveler, an imperial traveler. In his professional life over a period of about twenty years, he was sent by the British Empire on numerous “difficult and unwelcome” errands and traveled to different parts of the world as a colonial administrator — governor of Jamaica, governor-general of Canada, plenipotentiary to China and Japan, and viceroy of India.1 Elgin’s name and...

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4 - Mirror Images: John Thomson’s Photographs of East Asia

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pp. 53-62

A revealing verbal slip occurs in the preface to John Thomson’s Straits of Malacca, Indo- China, and China (1875), his summary of ten years’ travel with camera in East Asia. “It has been my care,” Thomson writes, “so to hold the mirror up to his [the reader’s] gaze, that it may present to him, if not always an agreeable, yet at least a faithful, impression of China and its inhabitants.”1 If what Thomson held up is a...

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5 - Eating out East: Representing Chinese Food in Victorian Travel Literature and Journalism

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pp. 63-74

Writing in her 1899 travelogue The Yangtze Valley and Beyond, inveterate globetrotter Isabella L. Bird proclaimed to her readers, “Our ideas as to Chinese food are, on the whole, considerably astray.”1 Echoing the sentiments of the periodical Temple Bar — which, in 1891, had declared, “It seems, however, impossible to disabuse people of the idea that dogs, rats, and snails frequently appear on the bill of fare” in Chinese establishments — Bird addressed head-on prevalent misconceptions about the exotic nature of the Chinese diet.2 These misconceptions...

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6 - Encounters with Otherness: Female Travelers in China, 1880–1920

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pp. 75-90

This essay looks at a number of female travelers in China between 1880 and 1920, and analyzes how these women experience and describe the country and its people.1 However, rather than propose a synchronic study of history, I focus on a selection of encounters, or events, during that period.

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7 - Travel Writing and the Humanitarian Impulse: Alicia Little in China

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pp. 91-104

Humanitarianism does not usually spring to mind as the subject of travel writing. In writings about nineteenth-century China, however, and in particular in the writing of Alicia Little, or Mrs. Archibald Little, to use the name under which she published her books and articles about China, it has a prominent position. By humanitarianism I mean efforts undertaken to alleviate the pain and suffering of others; subjects Little addresses ...

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8 - The “Sphere of Interest”: Framing Late Nineteenth-Century China in Words and Pictures with Isabella Bird

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pp. 105-118

By the early nineteenth century the prevailing political notion in England of what constituted British interest in the “East” was typically represented, in imaginative if not in literal terms, as an overarching purpose which could unite a whole range of British activities in the region. Everything was somehow connected. What the British did on the Indian subcontinent and in the Straits Settlements, the Malay Peninsula, the East Indies ...

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9 - China Upriver: Three Colonial Journeys between Hong Kong and Canton, 1905–11

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pp. 119-132

The first decade of the twentieth century up to the outbreak of the First World War has often been considered the height of the British empire. During this period, accounts of journeys by British travelers to different parts of the empire often display self-confidence in the racial and cultural superiority of Western, specifically Anglo-Saxon, imperial rule, and belief in the progress that such rule would bring to non-Western cultures. These cultures are often perceived in states of lack, variously inert, primitive, barbarous, or in decline, and their subjugation to Western imperial rule...

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10 - With Harry Franck in China

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pp. 133-146

If we want an American equivalent of Isabella Bird Bishop (not that we are likely to find one), Harry Alverson Franck might be a candidate. Like her, he roamed through much of the world, often alone, though sometimes with his family parked nearby; like her, he was a prolific writer, publishing some twenty-three books on his travels between 1910 and 1943; and, like hers, his books promise his readers a direct apprehension of the ...

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11 - Journeys to War: W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood and William Empson in China

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pp. 147-162

“Where does the journey look which the watcher upon the quay . . . so bitterly envies?” These are the opening words of “The Voyage,” the poem which launches Journey to a War, W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood’s account of their 1938 journey to China during the Sino-Japanese war. The poem, a partial response to Baudelaire’s “Le Voyage,” raises some of the fundamental questions of travel literature, setting up an opposition ...

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12 - Agnes Smedley: The Fellow-Traveler’s Tales

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pp. 163-176

A fellow-traveler is someone who travels along with another. In the 1930s, as the equivalent of the Russian word popútchik, the English phrase “fellow-traveler” acquired a more specialized meaning, indicating one who sympathizes with the Communist movement without actually being a party member. It seems an apt sign under which to think about the writings of Agnes Smedley about wartime China in the 1930s and ...


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pp. 177-208


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pp. 209-226


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pp. 227-232

Color Plates

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pp. 233-240

E-ISBN-13: 9789888052011
Print-ISBN-13: 9789622098459

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2007