Land of the morning calm, land of the rising sun: The East Asia travel writings of Isabella Bird and George Curzon
- Park, Jihang
- Issue Date
- Cambridge University Press
- Modern Asian Studies; Vol.36, No.3, pp.513-534
- The developments in East Asia in the late nineteenth century became a matter of great interest to Britain. The rise of Japan and the wrangles among the great powers over China and Korea were some of the issues that put East Asia in the spotlight. In China, Western powers had been contending fiercely for economic and political hegemony since the Opium War. Japan, after abandoning its national policy of seclusion in 1854, carried out the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and was driving towards rapid Westernization. Here modernization took place in a relatively smooth manner and there was no need to fear external threats, but domestic tensions were inevitable. Finally Korea, after being forced to open its doors in 1876, suffered from acute dissensions between conservatives and progressives, and fierce competition between China, Japan and Russia over hegemony in Korea complicated the situation further. In such a period, many Englishmen and women visited the region and wrote of their travels. Among these, this paper attempts to analyze the works by Isabella Bird1 and George N. Curzon-specifically, their travel writings of Japan and Korea. Bird and Curzon visited East Asia at about the same period in the early 1890s, Bird having previously published the account of her trip to Japan in 1880. Bird was one of the most celebrated women travelers and explorers along with Mary Kingsley, renowned for her African expedition. As for Curzon, he was an eminent politician who had served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for India just before his visit to East Asia, and was later to be appointed the Viceroy of India and the Foreign Secretary. If we agree with Mary Louise Pratt who prescribes travel writings as materials which show how Europe `produced the rest of the world` for European readerships at particular points in Europe`s expansionist trajectory, we may learn through Bird`s and Curzon`s texts how the British perceived and represented East Asia when the British empire reached its zenith.