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Williamson's "Journeys in North China" (S195: 1871)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A book review printed on page 337 of the 1 July 1871 issue of The Academy. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S195.htm

Journeys in North China, Manchuria, and Eastern Mongolia; with some Account of Corea. By the Rev. Alexander Williamson, B.A., Agent of the National Bible Society of Scotland. With Illustrations and two Maps. Two vols. London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1870.

     Mr. Williamson travelled over an immense deal of ground, some of it quite new, and from his thorough knowledge of the Chinese language had great facilities for obtaining information. Yet for want of knowing how to sift and arrange his materials, and from a deficiency of literary taste and judgement, his book, though abounding in facts and containing much solid information, is very heavy reading. The first part of the work consists of a kind of gazetteer account of Northern China, bristling with statistics and topographical details. Afterwards we have the journal of travels, crowded with the unimportant daily occurrences of such journeys, but entirely wanting in all those picturesque details and vivid pictures of Chinese life and character which gave such a charm to the pages of the Abbé Huc.

     Our author has a high opinion of the Chinese nation, which he believes is destined to dominate the whole of Eastern Asia; and he altogether denies that they are less inclined than Europeans to advance and improve. Many of his readers will be astonished to learn what excellent work the English and American Protestant missionaries have done in making the Chinese acquainted with modern science and literature, by translating such works as Euclid, Newton's Principia, Loones' Analytical Geometry and Differential and Integral Calculus, Herschel's Astronomy, Whewell's Mechanics, Wheaton's International Law, and others on almost every branch of modern science and European knowledge. And these works are so appreciated, and are in such demand, that the greater portion of them have been reprinted by Chinese of rank and position. Fire-engines, life-boats, and vaccination have also been adopted in China; and the government have employed translators of works on engineering, metallurgy, chemistry, electricity, and all the arts connected with the manufacture of warlike implements.

     Mr. Williamson has evidently been much influenced by long association with an almost exclusively mercantile and naval European community, or he would hardly express the opinion (and support it on high moral grounds) that it is our duty to force a trade with Corea, even at the expense of a war. Notwithstanding the many defects of the book, the patient reader will find much curious information on the history, literature, and antiquities of China, and will obtain some notion of Chinese life, and of the scenery and agriculture of the northern provinces.

A. R. Wallace.

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