Study of Wang Tao’s (1828-1897) Manyou suilu and Fusang youji with reference to Late Qing Chinese foreign travels
Traditionally, Chinese regarded China as the centre of the world, displaying little interest in foreign lands. Before the 1840s, although there were records of a few brave pilgrims traveling to huge distances, Chinese travel literature was dominated by essays and diaries written about the natural scenery of China. In the late Qing, a period of transformation during which Chinese society was challenged by the West and later Japan, Chinese intellectuals, realizing China’s weakness, traveled to these countries in search of remedies for the state. The resulted burgeoning travel literature contains not only firsthand information of the West and Japan at the time, but also details about individual responses to the foreign lands they visited. Despite the relatively small amount of research done on these writings, they are, indeed, the most significant archival materials for the study of the early perceptions of the Chinese of the West in the modern period. Among these travelers, Wang Tao (1828-1897) is certainly worthy of discussion. Apart from being a reform pioneer, Wang Tao was also being pioneering to be the first intellectual to travel to Europe and Japan. His two travelogues, Manyou suilu and Fusang youji, however, have only been used as references in biographical research, neglecting the fact that they consist of not only unprecedented journeys of a Chinese intellectual, but also Wang’s constant evaluations of home politics, of which he carefully laid out in the form of travelogue. This dissertation aims to explore the two travelogues, and is particularly concerned of their relationship with the historic context, the author’s motives of writing and other foreign travel writings of the time. The two travelogues stand out both in subject maters and the subtle ways Wang (re)constructed Europe and Japan. They can be seen as a manifesto of Wang’s views on himself, China and the world. While many travelogues of the same period were written in a data or analysis-based style, Wang Tao embodied his observations abroad, his criticism and vision of the future China, his personalities, assumptions and expectations and the spirit of his time with a highly refined language in the two accounts, and had make them intriguing works of literature.