Three men and three women: a plant collector, a merchant and his novelist wife, a military officer, and two famous women travelers went to China between the Opium War and the formal end of the opium trade, 1842–1907. Their range of perspectives, their acquaintance with one another and their similar scope of travel to Hong Kong, the treaty ports, and Sichuan lend intensity to their picture of China and the Western presence there.
What the travelers record reveals is a continuity in the response of the West and China to each other. Susan Schoenbauer Thurin’s study of these writings presents a rich tapestry of impressions, biases, and cultural perspectives that inform our own understanding of the Victorians and their views of the world outside their own.
The strange mix of opium and missionaries, the aura of fabled “Cathay” and its valuable trade items, the attraction and repulsion of the exotic otherness the travelers experience, reflect the political, religious, and racial views of their era, and explain the allure of the Orient that, in part, characterized their age. Victorian Travelers and the Opening of China, 1842–1907 is a remarkable look into the cultural past.