Reading into the Past

Reading into the Past is a selection of English-language materials relevant to the China Story originally published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In reprinting these essays we intend to not only preserve them and make them more easily accessible, but also to augment the modern day China Story by providing perspectives from the past on critical issues that continue to be debated. More than mere curios, Reading into the Past illuminates and contextualises the present.

Opium and Narcotics in China

Arthur Sowerby begins his study of opium in China by discussing its cultivation and the physiological effects on users, before starkly condemning the drug for the individual and social harm it can bring.

Memories of Peking, the Northern Capital

The anonymous author of this essay recounts his experiences of travelling through Beijing. He describes the modes of transportation, the city scenes and visits to the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, a Lama temple and other sites.

The Tea of Immortality 僊茗

In this article, Australian archeologist James Huston Edgar (1872-1936) introduces the “Immortal Tea” of Meng Shan and quotes from the work of French historian Jean-Baptiste Du Halde to describe the tea’s medicinal properties.

China Tea

The anonymous author of ‘China Tea’ explores the history of Chinese tea trade and its decline. Possible reasons include inferior soil, the collapse of Russia (a big consumer of tea), labour, and China’s political turmoil.

The Study of Chinese Coins

In this article, Percy J. Smith introduces readers to the history of Chinese copper coins from the Zhou dynasty to Tang dynasty. Several illustrations of different types of coins are included.

Chinese Restaurants in America

In his 1925 account of Chinese restaurants in America, G.H. Danton introduces the reader to the cuisine, clientele and commercial considerations of the industry which had 'supplanted the Chinese laundryman in typifying for America where China is'.

Quaint Birth Customs in West China

In this anthropological account of the ‘quaint birth customs’ of the Miao in south-west China, W.H. Hudspeth gives us a glimpse of their beliefs and rituals surrounding pregnancy and early childhood. Hudspeth examines the time before and after birth, looking at the diets of mother and child and beliefs relating to hair cuts, the umbilical cord, gender and twins.

Chinese Pirates

This article focuses on piracy along the southern Chinese coast. It first introduces readers to the lives of Chinese adventurer Zheng Zhilong (1604-1661) and his son Zheng Chenggong (1624-1662), better known as Koxinga (‘Lord of the Imperial Surname’). Zheng Chenggong was a Ming loyalist who fought the Dutch to take Taiwan as a base for his campaign against the Manchu-ruled Qing dynasty. The second part of the article turns to the narratives of J. Turner, chief mate of the English country ship Tay and Richard Glasspoole of the Ship Marquis of Ely who were captured by Ladrones (‘the Portuguese name given to the fishing, thieving, and piratical Chinese who inhabit the coasts, and the islands in the vicinity of Macao’) in the early nineteenth century.

Count Benyowsky’s Arrival on the East Coast of Formosa

The anonymous authors of this article use ‘The Memoirs and Travels of Maurice Augustus, Count de Benyowsky’ (1790), a two-volume work by Maurice Benyowsky (1746-1786) to introduce readers to the eastern coast of Formosa (Taiwan) and the people that Benyowsky encountered when he travelled there in 1771. The first half of the article relates the conflicts that Benyowsky had with the natives while the second half focuses on observations of the island and its people.

Born near Trnava in present-day Slovakia, at the time part of Hungary and the Austrian Empire, Benyowsky served in the Austrian Army and was involved in the Polish nationalist movement against Russia. He subsequently travelled to France and Madagascar, where he was elected emperor by the local kings. He died in 1786, in a conflict with French authorities.