John Barrow’s “Travels in China” takes readers on an engaging journey through the vibrant and mysterious land of China. In this book review, we will delve into the key aspects of Barrow’s travelogue, highlighting its insights, observations, and overall value.
General Overview of China
Barrow begins by providing a comprehensive view of “Travels in China,” what travelers are likely to encounter in China. He dispels mistaken notions surrounding the British Embassy and corrects them based on the reception and treatment of the subsequent Dutch Embassy. Barrow refutes the supposed points of failure in the former embassy, as stated by a French Missionary from Pekin. He also includes Kien Long’s letter to the King of Holland, shedding light on the difference in treatment experienced by the two embassies. Barrow discusses the intrigues of missionaries in foreign countries and highlights the pride and self-importance of the Chinese Court. Additionally, he presents a list of European embassies and their duration of stay in Pekin, offering valuable historical context.
Occurrences and Observations in Navigation
Barrow’s travelogue takes readers through the Yellow Sea and the passage up the Pei-ho, or White River. He examines different testimonies given about the Chinese character and compares China with Europe in the sixteenth century. Barrow explores the motives of the missionaries in their writings, providing insights into their perspectives. He describes the British Embassy’s journey, including their passage through the Straights of Formosa and encounters with the Ta-fang and Chu-san Islands. Barrow highlights instances of Chinese amplification and provides an overview of various Chinese vessels and their navigation systems. He discusses the possible Scythian origin of the Chinese compass and traces of Chinese voyages to America, the Tartarian Sea, and the Persian Gulf. Barrow also suggests a connection between the Chinese and the Hottentots, as well as other interesting cultural coincidences.
Challenges and Engagements
The author recounts the challenges faced in procuring pilots during their visit to Chu-san. He discusses the rapid currents among the islands and the difficulties encountered in securing proper guidance. Barrow narrates an arbitrary proceeding of the governor and highlights the pilots’ unfamiliarity with their compass. He provides a vivid account of their arrival in the Gulf of Pe-tchelee and the visit of two officers from the court, along with their generous presents. Barrow details the embarkation in convenient yachts and praises the accommodating conduct of the officers. He also notes the profusion of provisions and provisions during this stage of the journey.
Cultural Insights and Experiences
Throughout the travelogue, Barrow offers valuable cultural insights and experiences. He portrays the rich customs, traditions, and daily life of the Chinese people. From the bustling cities to the rural landscapes, Barrow captures the essence of China and its people with vivid descriptions. He engages with locals, gaining a deeper understanding of their beliefs, practices, and societal structures. Through his encounters, Barrow sheds light on the diversity within China and the complexities of its history and culture.
“Travels in China” by John Barrow is an exceptional travelogue that provides a detailed and immersive exploration of China during the time period. Barrow’s keen observations, historical context, and cultural insights make this book a valuable resource for anyone interested in China’s past and present. Whether it is the accounts of the embassies, the navigation challenges, or the vibrant cultural tapestry, Barrow’s narrative offers a captivating journey through the heart of China. This travelogue is a must-read for adventurers, historians, and those curious about the rich tapestry of Chinese civilization.