This critical study of three intrepid travelers to Southeast Asia—Bird (1831–1904), Dauthendey (1867–1918), Wu (1904–1992)—combines detailed analysis of travel literature with carefully researched historical background and argues that any travel narrative is inevitably a product of the traveler’s own cultural and social background. Thus travel narrative is never an objective account—the reader must take into consideration the traveler’s own history. By juxtaposing the views of a Chinese with those of two Western travelers, this book shows that prejudice and racism can exist in both the West and the East.
In choosing a Victorian traveler, a German poet, and a Chinese writer, Ng’s study encompasses a geographical area that includes Britain, Germany, China, as well as Southeast Asia and an historical span from the Victorian era to the twentieth century. Three Exotic Views of Southeast Asia is theoretically informed by postcolonial and poststructural criticism. But it also details particular historical contexts, thus evoking the glamour and magic of traveling in a bygone era.
Apart from an examination of a broad range of literature by, among many others, Henry Mayhew, Somerset Maugham, Thomas Mann, and Ba Jin, this groundbreaking study also discusses architecture, fine arts, philanthropic culture, and the rise of mass tourism. Original translations from the German and the Chinese are by the author.