The Literature of Travel in the Japanese Rediscovery of China, 1862-1945

By Joshua A. Fogel | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

Travel Within the World of Chinese Characters and the Problem of Understanding China

The travel narratives of Japanese visitors to China, viewed as a relatively coherent genre, constitute an altogether new and almost entirely unused source for several communities of scholars. They provide an immense body of material for the continued study of changing Japanese attitudes toward China and the Chinese people. They allow us to make more generalized statements about the circumstances and cultural background that conditioned their responses to the China they visited. They also reveal these attitudes and views in many shades of many colors. For scholars interested in the continued Japanese conceptualizations of the "other," the value of the material contained in these travel narratives can hardly be overestimated. Yet, the important proviso should be made that, for Japanese travelers, China occupied the area of overlap between the "other" and the "self."

There is another community of scholars who might benefit immeasurably by attention to these materials. These travel accounts are fun of firsthand information that could be invaluable to scholars interested in local Chinese history, agriculture, and most other areas in the study of China over the same period covered here. The sharp focus on detail, while often detracting from the literary quality of the travel accounts, has nonetheless bequeathed an incomparable body of data, largely unknown to contemporary scholars even in China and Japan, on local customs, prices, crops, social life, religious practices, and business, along with numerous tidbits of information about well-known Chinese intellectuals, writers, and political and military figures who came into contact with Japanese visitors.

Its great value notwithstanding, this material must be viewed with the same critical eye the historian brings to any body of documents. A firsthand

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