Monday, July 21, 2008

The Journey of Herbert A. Giles from Swatow to Canton

This short volume is a reprint of a short travel diary of the famous Sinologist Wade Giles. He was employed by the British foreign services at the time, and was sent on the journey he describes to inspect the Yunnan Proclamation also known as the Margary Proclamation. On his 21 day journey through Guangdong province from Shantou (Swatow) to Guangzhou (Canton) he describes his experiences, the landscape and the sights.

This is a refreshing respite from the usual tone of contemporary travelogues written by visitors to China, mostly because Giles was an atheist, and treats Christianity with as much derision as the Local beliefs.

Giles faithfully recollects all of his experiences and did not fail to visit the sights along the road. He includes couplets and inscriptions from temples, monuments, and even a road sign. His observations are informative and humorous without condescension. His learning is obvious even through such a short text and he includes allusions in Latin and French, and even more in Chinese.

I will include only one quotation from the book, forgive the length, that was of particular interest to me. In the quotation below, Giles describes his entrance to the city of Jiaying Zhou (嘉鹰州), the reaction of the onlookers and also his own feelings about the surfeit of attention he experienced in the Kingdom of the Great Qing.

The crowd seems lost in astonishment at a human being wearing a different dress from their own, and with facial lineaments of other than Mongolian type. They stared and stared as if their eyes would drop out, but there was no excitement and not a word of questionable civility. Behind the crowd on the bank, the upper windows of one and two storyed houses were crammed to overflowing. The owners, if they had only the wit to think of it, must have let them at a good figure, and cleared perhaps the quarter's rent. For our own part, we now began fully to realize one of the immense discomforts of royalty. To be a mark for every eye, a bull's eye for every well or ill directed piece of vulgar criticism -- "See! See! He's moving. He's shutting his eyes! He's folding his arms! He's blowing his nose!" -- is indeed a high price to pay even for the luxury of a throne. And it is needless to call attention to the fact that we were paying the price without the luxury of the throne. But the babies -- as the mandarins call them -- were evidently enjoying themselves. We were to them an object of deep wonder if not of admiration. Perhaps there were not ten amongst them who had ever seen a foreigner before, and it may be some time before they see another. We mean bona fide foreigner, dressed in the full height of barbarian fashion; for there are a few French missionaries scattered about the hills no great distance from here, but they wear Chinese clothes and shave the head a la queue de cochon. And the conversations that will be held over the rice bowl and pipe when the crowd before us has separated and gathered again , each individual member at his own individual hearth! How they will tell the unlucky absent ones that the red-haired barbarian was bearded like the pard, and wore a queer-looking hat. That at the moment he did not appear to be drunk or engaged in knocking anyone's brains out, as reputed to be the usual occupations of foreigners in China. But perhaps he was, cat-like, watching his opportunity, reluctant pour mieux sater, (or as the Chinese put it, 屈以求伸也), and spying around in search of a rich harvest of Chinamen's eyes and hearts.

It has always been a matter of great curiosity to me what it would have been like to be a foreigner in China over a century ago. Although times have Changed I believe "paying the price without the throne" is still a valid description today.

This short diary was published by Fudan University Press (复旦大学出版社)and was edited with notes by Huang Bingwei (黄秉炜.)There is a short introduction by the editor, and a reproduction of the title page of the original publication. There are also several photographs throughout the text used to illustrate landscapes and points of interest, although they are contemporary and of questionable value. The editor's endnotes are useful and provide a gloss on Giles' allusions in other European languages as well as some of his Chinese ones. At the end of the work is an appendix of five poems by Huang Zunxian (黄遵憲)which are referred to in the text. Also included behind the back cover is a folding English map of Canton Province from the 1870's. All of the Chinese language text throughout the entire volume is rendered in Traditional Graphs.

From the Preface: "This volume... constitutes part seven of a series of publications presenting the compiler's research on the works and renderings of Herbert A. Giles." I haven't seen any of the others, but would certainly like to. If anyone has, or has any questions or comments, please communicate through the comments section, or send electronic mail.

ISBN 9787309057683

1 comment:

Pheb said...

I am interested in researching more on Herbert Giles, and was delighted to read ur blog. I am not aware of anybook written on him. The book u mentioned is the first one (authored by himself) that I encounterd. I think there is much relevance to understand him today. Would u like to talk more about Giles?