Li Gui's record of his epic 1876 journey marks China's first officially sanctioned eyewitness account of people and places around the world.
A representative to the U.S. Centennial in Philadelphia, Li Gui went on to style himself as the first Chinese official to circle the globe, and his travel diary offers a revealing window into the Chinese view of the West in the late nineteenth century. As the first full-length English translation of this landmark excursion, A Journey to the East provides a welcome addition to primary source material on this time period.
Li Gui's experiences traveling through the United States offer a unique perspective on the newest technological and urban developments of the day in Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., and other major U.S. cities. In his day, these observations on Japan, the United States, Great Britain, France, and their colonial possessions helped the Chinese government construct a more accurate picture of imperial power and statecraft abroad. Later, the diary became required reading for reformers and revolutionaries from Li Hongzhang to Mao Zedong.
Li's journal also provides rich material for exploring a number of theoretical issues stemming from the Sino-foreign encounter. He devotes considerable space to debunking the views of his colleagues regarding the importance of technology, finance, and communication. Most striking of all are his thoughts on gender and education, which place him within the ranks of "progressive" thinkers in any nineteenth-century society.
Undoubtedly important to China specialists, A Journey to the East will also appeal to anyone with an interest in American history, Asian studies, world history and Asian-American studies.
Charles Desnoyers is Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of History and Director of Asian Studies at La Salle University.