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Reviews 69 Helen Hsieh Chien, trans. The European Diary ofHsieh Fucheng: Envoy Extraordinary ofImperial China. Introduction by Douglas Howland. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993. xxi, 199 pp. Hardcover $49.95. Sometime in his third year of residence in Europe, Hsieh Fucheng, Qing ambassador to the courts ofGreat Britain, Belgium, and Italy and to the Republic of France, made this pithy diary entry: "The appearance of the dragon is clearly reported in the history of China, yet Westerners refute its existence. The Westerners require solid proofas evidence before they will believe in the existence of such a creature" (p. 122). In these two brief sentences, Hsieh appears to reference both the great cultural divide separating China from the West and, perhaps more interestingly , the perennial problem of the status of "traditional" knowledge in an age of"modern" scientific rationalism. At the same time, however, the very fact that he can enunciate this difference in measured tones marks him, it would seem, as one of those transitional figures about whom so much has been written over the past forty years in Chinese studies —the handful ofmodernizing, ifnot modern, scholar-official-intellectuals who attempted to move Qing China in new directions, only to be overwhelmed by forces far beyond their capacity to control. These were the men caught between tradition and modernity, fated to a background role in the grand narrative of the coming-into-being of the Chinese nation-state. At best tìiey are portrayed as tragic figures whose incapacity to make a more pronounced break with the past doomed their efforts to modernize Qing China. At worst, they are ridiculed as incompetent members of a corrupt and atavistic elite whose failures made them accomplices with foreign imperialism in the succession of debacles that eventually brought the dynasty down and opened China to a century ofhumiliation and suffering. Hsieh Fucheng's dairy ofhis European ambassadorship, translated in part here by his great-granddaughter Helen Hsieh Chien, provides quite another picture, particularly if one is willing to think against the grain of dominant narratives. Translation is often an unrewarding enterprise. Perhaps with the exception of those who labor in literature departments, it is seldom compensated in the same sort ofacademic currency that, for example, is bestowed upon the producer of the well-researched and factually sound historical monograph. Given these conditions of the academy, the translator ought to provide as much historical context© 1995 by University as p0ssiDie for me writings in question. This is perhaps all the more the case when ofHawai'iPressprojects comparable to Chien's alreadyexist. TheFirstChineseEmbassy to the West (1974), for example, not only covers similar terrain—Guo Sungtao's embassy 70 China Review International: Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1995 to Great Britain a decade and a halfbefore that of Hsieh Fucheng—but J. D. Frodsham introduces his translation with a lengthy historical and interpretative essay, extensive annotations, a comprehensive bibliography of state-of-the-field monographs and primary sources, and an index. There is also the study by Masao Miyoshi titled As We Saw Them: The First Japanese Embassy to the United States (1979), which interleaves extensive passages of translation with theoretical and interpretative insights. By most criteria of comparison, this translation falls short of the standards embodied in the two works just mentioned. Chien's technical expertise is selfadmittedly limited; she demonstrates little knowledge of the historiography of the era in question, nor does she seem to have any particular axe to grind beyond the rehabilitation ofher deceased ancestor. These limitations produce certain embarrassing moments—the well-known British minister to China in the 1870s appears once as Westheimer and twice as Westmore, but never as Wade, his actual name. In addition, although some annotation is provided, an index is absent and the bibliography extremely limited. Considering the wide range of topics the book covers, an index would certainly have been a tremendous research aid. Much the same could be said for a bibliography, especially one marshaling work since the 1970s on Sino-Western relations. It is also annoying that only Chinese lunar dates are given with each diary entry. On the other hand, how damaging are these shortcomings? If one considers the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 69-73
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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