Henk Vynckier: ‘Men who loved books’ – The literary legacy of Robert Hart and the Chinese Maritime

Customs Service

link to the talk: http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/2013/02/henk-vynckier-men-who-loved-books-the-literary-legacy-ofrobert-hart-and-the-chinese-maritime-customs-service/

Event Date: 19 February 2013 
 Royal Asiatic Society Stephenson Way 
London NW1 2HD

The Royal Asiatic Society presents: Dr Henk Vynckier (Tunghai University, Taiwan) – ‘Men who loved books’ – The literary legacy of Robert Hart and the Chinese Maritime Customs Service Introduction by Alison Otha (Director, Royal Asiatic Society).

Summary of the Talk: The Chinese Maritime Customs Service, though admittedly not a literary concept, represents an effective angle to research the literary legacy of the foreign community in East Asia from 1860 to 1930. Robert Hart, the long-serving CMCS Inspector-General, and many of the Europeans and Americans he employed, were -- in the words of Customs Commissioner Paul King -“men who loved books”. H. B. Morse, J. O. P. Bland, Putnam Weale, Paul King, E. B. Drew, Augustine Henry, and others produced a voluminous body of writings, including memoirs, novels, historical studies, biographies, essays, collections of poetry, scientific papers, diaries and other texts. In consequence, over time the CMCS became an informal research and publishing power house with an output similar to that of a major modern academic institution. Efforts to bring into sharper view the CMCS literary legacy also make possible further reflections on Jürgen Osterhammel’s thesis in his Die Entzauberung Asiens(1998) that the exotic and mysterious China of the seventeenth century was thoroughly “disenchanted” in the West during the course of the eighteenth century. Although the image of the Middle Kingdom was not as glorious or mysterious as before, the passion for research into and writings about China/East Asia among the CMCS authors indicates that the fascination remained very much alive.

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