Voyage en Chine is J. Castera’s 1805 translation of John Barrow’s original book, Voyage in China, published one year prior. The French edition is split into three volumes with an accompanying atlas to the text. Special Collections has only this atlas portion containing twenty-two plates. These plates contain a collection of charts and illustrations of Chinese culture and society from Barrow’s journey through the Qing Empire. Unfortunately, the copy has been damaged and is missing a handful of pages.
Barrow was private secretary to English Ambassador of China, Lord Macartney, during their 1792 envoy to China. During this time period, Great Britain was attempting to establish trade relations with China, which the envoy failed to procure during its trip. Another part of the envoy’s mission, however, was to get more information about the Chinese empire, including their military strength. Simultaneously a survey of Chinese culture, and an assessment of Chinese capabilities, Voyage en Chine represents the deep fascination and suspicion Westerners held for the Far East, prior to imperialistic war campaigns that took place later on in the 1800s — these campaigns include the Opium Wars pursued by Great Britain during the 1840s and 1850s.
Voyage en Chine begins with illustrations of a rice mill, a handful of Chinese characters, and a depiction of Qing currency. A variety of instruments and even musical scores are also recorded. This book contains depictions of Chinese society and culture, but it also catalogues Chinese artillery weapons and architecture. It is regrettable that the text volumes are not available, but the detailed plates still indicate the seriousness with which these studies of the East were conducted.
We encourage anyone with an interest to drop by Special Collections and take a look at this book in person. Special Collections and Archives is open to the public 1:30-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and mornings by appointment.