Type / Thesis

The Civilizing Mission, Social Sympathy, and Self-Preservation: On Alicia Bewicke Little’s Trips in China and the Ethics of Travel

Eric K. W. Yu

Page / 121-146


Alicia Bewicke Little (1845-1926) was one of the earliest English writers who traveled deep into the interior of China during the late imperial period. She was also the most active feminist campaigning for the abolition of the old Chinese custom of footbinding. Her travelogue In the Land of the Blue Gown (1901) meticulously records such events as her sojourn in rural Sichuan, the anti-foreign riots in West China, and her anti-footbinding tours around China, offering us precious first-hand accounts of the early encounter between East and West. The ethics of travel is a promising new topic in travel literature studies, as yet little discussed in Taiwan. The present paper tries to find concrete examples from Little’s book for an engaging discussion of cross-cultural negotiations, focusing particularly on moments of unease when cultural alterity is intensely felt and exploring its ethical implications. In recent years, owing to the influence of postcolonial theory, Anglo-American travel writing scholarship has tended to adopt a more rigid approach to ethical issues, often sacrificing the more nuanced understanding of moral complexities and ambiguities for pointed ideological critiques. This paper seeks to redress the balance by attending to the more confusing and aporetic kinds of travel experience. The major themes to be discussed include the civilizing mission, social sympathy, self-preservation, tolerance, and the importance of intercultural communication.

Keywords : travel literature, the Victorian Age, the late Qing Dynasty, Alicia Bewicke Little, ethics, self-preservation, the anti-footbinding campaign
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