Tag Archives: China

Timo Koivurova, QIN Tianbao, Sébastien Duyck & Tapio Nykänen (eds.), Arctic Law and Governance: The Role of China and Finland (London: Hart Publishing, 2017)

This edited collection of essays is the product of a two-year project to assess and compare Chinese approaches to the Arctic with Finnish and/or EU approaches. These three entities are quite distinctive in population, politics and power and hence are not an obvious triumvirate. Nevertheless, the books’ chapters draw out interesting points of comparison. China is a relative newcomer to international relations and economic development in the Arctic. Backed by both military and economic clout, it triggers concerns amongst Arctic inhabitants and other stakeholders regarding its ambitions. Such worries are not helped by China’s closed political decision-making and limited official statements on its Arctic policies. This project, therefore, aims at increasing knowledge and understanding of China’s interests and expectations in the region.

The introduction to the book provides a good summary of the analyses that follow in the self-standing chapters which are themselves grouped into three Parts: Chinese Perspectives; Comparison between Finland and China; and Comparison between the EU and China. As a collection of essays, the book does not have a single or overarching thesis as such but a number of common themes are identified in the introductory and concluding chapters (by the 4 editors). One repeated them is climate change and pollution. Climate change is not coming to the Arctic: it is already here. China is the World’s biggest fossil fuel consumer and responsible for 29% of global greenhouse gas emissions (the EU, 11%). However, black carbon – a short term climate forcer – in the Arctic comes mostly from Europe. Europe is also a more significant source of the persistent organic pollutants (POPS) that end up in the Arctic (7). Another theme is economic development: even if the rights to exploit natural resources lie with the Arctic States and the peoples within them, the viability of doing so pivots on demand – and that demand is predominantly Chinese and European (8.)

The chapters go a long way to making up for China’s decision not to publish a comprehensive Arctic strategy or make regular and clear statements about its Arctic plans. China is not necessarily to be blamed for this: China is a lot more significant in the Arctic than the Arctic is for China, even if the book demonstrates that Chinese interest (and interests) in the Arctic have grown swiftly in recent years.

QIN Tianbao and LI Miaomiao’s chapter, “Strengthening China’s Role in the Arctic Council” calls for an official Chinese Arctic strategy but is itself rather more candid than an official State policy document is likely to be and as a result, probably more useful. The two authors make a rather bold proposal that China become a fully-fledged member of the Arctic Council (42), which will raise a few eyebrows amongst the more territorially sensitive of the Arctic States. Let’s just say that an official, published Chinese Arctic strategy is the more likely of the two scenarios in the near-term!

Ren Shidan turns to Chinese Arctic research and points to, amongst other things, frustration with Russia regarding access (53). She argues for freedom of research in the Arctic and rejects arguments that Chinese research is a foil for long-term plans to strip the region of resources. However, her concerns regarding Norway’s interpretation of the Svalbard Treaty (concerns shared by a number of European states) turn the chapter back to resource development (55-57).

Julia Jalo and Tapio Nykänen identify Chinese priorities in the Arctic based on World Affairs (a government-controlled magazine and unofficial mouthpiece). Only nine articles on the Arctic have been published since 2004 (indicating that the Arctic is still a relatively peripheral zone in Chinese politics). However, eight of these articles were published in 2008 or later, peaking when Chinese sought and accepted its seat as an observer at the Arctic Council in 2013, suggesting that interest is growing. The authors recognise that China is often viewed as a ‘threat’ in the Arctic, especially by those taking a classical realist approach, but they conclude that either China is indeed playing down its real intentions or that (more likely in their view) China is genuinely concerned about climate change and other environmental problems in the Arctic. In either case, they agree with QIN Tianbao and LI Miaomiao that a published strategy would help to clarify the situation.

Xiaoyi Jiang and Xiaoguang Zhou then consider maritime sovereignty and rights in the Arctic, looking in particular at the potential of the Northern Sea Route as an alternative to (or at least a supplement to) the Malacca route – even if they also note that Chinese shipping companies are adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach (96). They comment that China “has virtually no influence on the decision-making process at ministerial meetings” (of the Arctic Council)(90) and, like the other Chinese contributors, note that China is trying to be viewed as a partner in the Arctic rather than a threat (95).

Part II brings us to Finland with Lassi Heininen’s assessment of Finland, the EU and China and the asymmetry between them. Climate change – and China’s potential to take a lead role – is once again a key theme (107). Heininen sees common interests in shipping (Finland builds; China ships) (109); scientific research; resource governance and international cooperation (129). However, Finland and China also have shared interests in resource development in the Arctic (Finland produces; China buys) (118-120).

Tapio Nykänen presents the other chapter in this Part, using critical geopolitics to explore how the Arctic is framed in Chinese and Finnish Discourses. He agrees with the other writers that China is trying to build trust in the Arctic, seeking to present itself as a constructive partner (137). He analyses China’s position as a self-declared ‘near-Arctic state’, pointing out that geographically, it is extremely far from the Arctic Circle but arguing that instead it is geocritically close (140). Nykänen recognises China’s contributions to Arctic science but sees a political undercurrent to this: science is a ‘door’ through which China can claim a legitimate interest in Arctic governance (140).

Chapter Eight (Timo Koivurova, Waliul Hasanat, Piotr Graczyk and Tuuli Kuusama) is based on interviews with participants in the Arctic Council system, Chinese officials and scholars. It produces original, qualitative research on China’s position within the Arctic Council and identifies issues that would be unlikely to be uncovered by looking only at official publications. For example, the authors report that some Chinese officials are unhappy with the Nuuk criteria on observers (169)). They also identify a problem in the delegations which both lack continuity and do not always match the mandates of the working groups (175-177).

On fisheries, Sébastien Duyck sees shared interests in China and the EU – both being major fisheries jurisdictions and being outsiders seeking to ensure that their industries are considered in any new regime for the Central Arctic Ocean (Chapter IX). China, Duyck points out, is a ‘developing country’ and positions itself as a ‘leader’ of the G77 (196). Its policies on fisheries differ from the EU, being more defensive of High Seas freedoms and rational use, compared to a more conservationist (or even preservationist) orientated EU (197-198).

Adam Stepien considers China’s and the EU’s respective engagement with indigenous peoples. China maintains the questionable position that it has no indigenous peoples inside of China (222).  On the one hand, this means that China is not unnecessarily concerned with establishing precedents that could complicate matters at home (cf its position on international straits and Arctic shipping) but on the other hand, means that it has no experience and limited understanding of the stakes for indigenous people. China talks the talk (for example supporting indigenous rights in the UN – as long as it is clear that they don’t apply to or in China! (223)) but its engagement is uncoordinated and inconsistent (216). Environmental impacts are once more brought to the fore as Stepien explains that European and Chinese emissions are a major threat to indigenous communities (210-211). The EU, recognising the Sámi as the only indigenous people within the EU itself, has a more proactive stance on Arctic indigenous peoples and is, in theory, supportive of indigenous rights (218). That does not mean, however, that the EU always gets things right.

Nengye Liu and Kamrul Hossain address navigation in the Arctic and highlight the dependence of China’s economic strategy on shipping (243). The Northern Sea Route (less so the Northwest Passage) holds the promise of faster, cheaper shipping untroubled by the politics of alternative routes but, for now, this is still only a promise. While the shipping companies take things cautiously, the government has published the first Chinese guidelines on Arctic shipping (244). Like Xiaoyi Jiang and Xiaoguang Zhou, they note that China did not get involved in the development of the Polar Code and wonder if Chinese delegates to the IMO could take a more active role (247). They also suggest that China work alongside Japan and South Korea to promote (and defend) its shipping interests at the Arctic Council (249).

The concluding chapter by the four editors draws together the main findings of the contributions, reiterating the centrality of climate change and the consequent expectations of a natural resources boom (253-254). They note the resistance of the Arctic Eight to (too much) non-Arctic State involvement and how the Arctic Council system keeps the most powerful outsiders – like the EU and China – relatively subdued (261). Like most recent academic work on the Arctic, the final conclusion is that the answers are there and can be reached peacefully. International law has the answer to most questions; and for the others, it has processes by which to find, peacefully, those answers.

Although a number of writers call for a Chinese Arctic policy or strategy, this book gives us much more than any state policy every could. The original research and analysis by both Chinese and European scholars helps readers understand the dragon and, hopefully, fear it less. Nevertheless, there are subtle differences in approaches, with the Chinese authors tending to play down China’s resource ambitions and emphasise science and environmental concerns with some of the European contributors implying that China’s scientific contributions are driven by those very resource ambitions. I would wholeheartedly recommend this collection to anyone working on international law, international relations or economic development in the Arctic. Well edited, it is an accessible read for students as well as more seasoned academics. Even were the Chinese government to respond to the call to publish a formal strategy, it will not replace the excellent scholarship in this book.

Transcultural Mediterranean in the History of Chinese Travelogues: Oumei manyou riji as a Case Study


The Mediterranean[1] is commonly perceived not only as the cradle of Europe, but also as a conceptual region that cannot be enclosed by the traditional idea of national borders;[2] the region may be indeed better defined by its natural delimitations.[3] Even though its symbolic meaning for European societies is well acknowledged, very few studies have attempted to investigate the perception of the Mediterranean by the Chinese people, exploring its formation, development, and relevance. More specifically, this article aims to assess if and to what extent the Mediterranean came to be described and perceived as a transcultural space in China, taking as a case study a fundamental but unknown travelogue, Oumei manyou riji 歐美漫遊日記 [Diary of a journey in Europe and the United States]. Given that the Mediterranean has been defined not as “un passage, mais d’innombrables paysages. Non pas une mer, mais une succession de mers. Non pas une civilisation, mais des civilisations entassées les unes sur les autres,”[4] it would be difficult to aim for an all-encompassing representation in the limited span of an article. For this reason, I decided to focus on the description in Oumei manyou riji of relics both as cultural finds and comparison examples. In fact, as brilliantly described by Predrag Matvejević, “Mediteran nije samo zemljopis”[5] [the Mediterranean is not only geography] and should be described adopting other perspectives than mere geographical ones. Even though descriptions of people might work as well for the purpose of this article, I decided not to concentrate on those provided by Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou, since they are one of the most difficult themes when dealing with the Mediterranean.[6]

The choice of both Oumei manyou riji and the Mediterranean as a focus is not a coincidence. The former is a fundamental milestone in the late Qing and Republican era odeporic production. The authors of this travelogue, almost unknown in present secondary literature, are Chen Yifu 陳一甫 (1869–1948) and his son Chen Dayou 陳達有 (exact dates unknown); they were not literati or diplomats, as were most of the authors of previous travelogues of this period, but were known in the first place as entrepreneurs. They were, however, well integrated into the scholarly milieu of the epoch: famous personalities, such as Yang Shounan 楊壽枏 (1868–1948), Jin Liang 金梁 (1878–1962), and Zhao Yuanli 趙元禮 (1868–1939), wrote the prefaces and annotations for Oumei manyou riji. Both this integration in the world of scholars and the entrepreneurial formation account for the specific role of Oumei manyou riji. As evidenced in secondary literature,[7] Chen Yifu’s background was strongly linked to his historic era, and consequently this was true also of his (and his son’s) travelogue: he was a renowned patriotic entrepreneur in a semi-colonial China and dedicated his life to revitalising his country mainly through industrial development.

The Mediterranean, on the other hand, has always been intimately linked to China. It was Marco Polo, a Mediterranean, who discovered and presented China to his Western contemporaries;[8] we shall see further on in this article the connection between Polo’s city of birth, Venice, and China. Furthermore, previous research has already drawn a fruitful comparison between the historical layers of the Mediterranean and those of China.[9]

  1. The first steps toward Europe

According to research by the anthropologist David Tomas,[10] cross-cultural contact contributes to the formation of spatial zones between opposing cultures, particularly “when cultural elements, such as material artefacts and human bodies, are deployed against or are projected into alien territories.” These zones between cultures can be indeed described as transcultural spaces; even though such spaces are difficult to perceive, given their transitory nature, and are the “ephemera of cultural contact,” they are worth studying for a variety of reasons. In fact, they penetrated the Chinese cultural layers, also thanks to the contribution of the first explorers of the Song and Yuan dynasties, continuing with the Jesuit and Protestant missionaries, until the production of travel diaries, especially after the first Chinese diplomatic mission to the West in 1866.

As for the transcultural representation in Oumei manyou riji, before switching to artefacts and cultural relics, we shall start the analysis of the representations of Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou’s trip with one of the most noteworthy relevant topics: food. Food is indeed considered a transcultural commonplace par excellence and “has long been used as a powerful means to establish and maintain relationships with individuals and groups.”[11] Chinese people travelling with the Chens felt the necessity to bring their own chef, since there were many Chinese on the ship from Shanghai to Europe (Chen 1937, p. 9B:[12] “此外有華廚一人專作華餐蓋我國旅客甚多也”). Even though in Oumei manyou riji we can read different descriptions of travellers from China integrating well with others on board the ship, they all felt the need of keeping food as a connection with their motherland; indeed, cookbooks were an instrument used in European colonies to retain ties with the motherland, as well as for group solidarity,[13] and this was no exception.[14]

As hinted above, one of the peculiarities of the diary is the distinct cultural and working background of the Chens when compared to authors of previous travelogues;[15] this discrepancy is projected in many representations of foreign cultural and material landscapes within Oumei manyou riji. For example, Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou’s entrepreneurial experience is mirrored in the descriptions of the ship they were travelling on, with numerous data and technical terminology about engineering aspects of their travel, such as fuel consumption and boat parts, or details about the speed of different means of transport they were moving with. This information was provided by the authors in brackets in English.

Oumei manyou riji is also representative of the social stratification and the view that Chinese travellers thought Westerners had on the topic. The Chens, in fact, describe in detail the classes in which the ship was divided, focusing in particular on the presence of many Indians (“印人”). Among them, they reflect Chinese people’s surprise at the fact that men wore earrings and women had rings or pearls on their noses. Also, according to the author of Oumei manyou riji, as the section close to the infirmary was extremely dirty, all passengers passing near it had to hold their noses, given that “Westerners pay utmost attention to hygiene” (Chen 1937, p. 9B: “有統艙均下等社會人士其中印人甚夥男多帶耳環女有穿鼻孔以環或珠者艙內污穢最奇者船上醫室即在其旁旅客莫不掩鼻而過西人最重衛生”).

Oumei manyou riji can be read as a source of historical information, provided by Chen Yifu and his son through the prism of their travel account. They mention (Chen 1937, p. 10A) a picture taken by a certain “賀公使,” conceivably a reference to the general He Yaozu 賀耀組 (Ho Yao-tsu, 1889–1961), who was ambassador to Turkey between 1934 and 1936. Allusions to other political figures are scattered throughout the travelogue: “張賀二公使” includes a reference to perhaps Zhang Jingjiang 張靜江 (Chang Ching-chiang, 1877–1950) or most likely to Zhang Huichang 張惠長 (Chang Wai-jung 1899–1980), ambassador to Cuba from 1935 to 1937.

Of course, as on a modern cruise, the authors of the travelogue also enjoyed moments of leisure: they focus in particular on a night-time dance party (Chen 1937, p. 10B) in which we read about a wonderful Asian woman and an Italian man dressed as an Arabian dancer moving on the stage (“某華女士飾旗裝甚華麗盧夏二女士亦均參加九時奏音樂舞者登場紙條紛飛亟形熱鬧尤以一意國男子作阿拉伯舞者最為出色”). “Transcultural masquerades” as well are “characterized by mimicry, alterity, and the tensions and pleasures,” which are associated with the cultural diversity of the age of colonialism.[16] The Chens thought this masquerade was worth recording in their travelogue, perhaps because it could convey a feeling of exoticism to attract more readers.

  1. The Mediterranean as a cultural landscape

The real immersion in the atmosphere of what we commonly perceive as the Mediterranean starts after their arrival in Cairo. The Chens focus on the climate of the capital city and its Egyptian museum (Chen 1937, p. 11A), where a lot of relics on display strike the Chinese travellers’ attention. The authors carefully describe the rationale behind the idea of mummies (“古物多種陳列門前多石棺石像均極龐大樓上有木乃伊[Mummy]多具埃及人信靈魂不滅之說”), including notes on the process of preservation of bodies and of sarcophagi. The Chinese travellers are particularly struck by the sarcophagus of “Tutan Khamen.” We find in this passage for the first time a storytelling technique often used in Oumei manyou riji: the analogous products back in the Chens’ motherland, China, would pale in comparison with the exquisiteness of the techniques of Egyptian objects and artefacts (“製造之巧妙雕刻之精緻直使我東方古國退避三舍”).[17] At times, as shown later in the article, this technique is applied instead to point out weaknesses of Western artefacts or values, providing examples of transcultural comparisons and highlighting the Chens’ mixture of pride and confrontation towards their own culture.

The Chens complain about the lack of time to properly appreciate the museum and its contents in Cairo. After a short break in the hotel, the convoy proceeds to visit other relics, including the pyramids and the Sphinx. On the journey from their hotel to their destination, the travellers had to pass through a portion of desert and change cars for camels; Oumei manyou riji adopts this break from the cultural immersion in the Egyptian landscape—both natural and cultural—to provide a description (Chen 1937, p. 12A) of the temperament of camels and linguistic considerations as to why in Chinese pyramids are called jinzita 金字塔, also furnishing detailed information on their measurements, as was typical with the Chens’ entrepreneur background.

According to the traditional vision that pyramids were essentially either the embodiment of Egyptians’ mathematical knowledge or the representation of historical authority,[18] the Chens analyse them as products that were built so the power of the Pharaoh could be perceived concretely by his subjects (“小民望而生畏其君主威權可見一斑”).

The stay in Egypt is distinguished by the insistent mention of the unfavourable weather conditions, for example when travellers had to step off the camels and strongly felt the heat. After paying a gratuity, they were allowed into the pyramid, where they finally found refreshment from the scorching temperature while the guide, who could speak English, explained the interiors (Chen 1937, p. 12A).

Once the convoy finished visiting Cairo, it headed for a boat to Port Said, in which we read a description of men wearing hats and women with black veils on their heads, similar to Chinese Buddhist nuns; the Chens compare them to Western sisters (“此處男子多著土耳其式帽穿寬大長袍類我國僧侶女多頭披黑紗由後觀之略似西洋女教士”).

An important portion of the convoy’s passage in Egypt is significantly devoted to the description of the Suez Canal, which passengers learnt about through a small booklet they purchased (“散步波賽街中購得運河略圖一冊附有簡短說明對混合之歷史略得梗概”). Even though the Suez Canal cannot be considered a relic, it is indeed a fundamental leg for Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou as Chinese travellers: the Suez Canal is one of the two doors to the Mediterranean and also served as privileged access to the sea for many Chinese travellers to Europe after 1869.[19] As reported in detail in Oumei manyou riji, the booklet narrated the history of the canal: after conquering Egypt, Napoleon once planned to excavate the canal in order to connect the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. However, given a mistake in the measurement,[20] the feat could not be accomplished. It was the French diplomat and entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805–1894) who would promote and complete the construction, which the authors provide specific information on, including depth, width, and measurement. Before that, communications between Europe and Asia could pass only through the Cape of Good Hope. As was typical with their practical backgrounds, the Chens detail the shortened distances between various cities in the two continents before and after 1869 and, most of all, the cost of the construction. According to the Oumei manyou riji, half of the financial capital was provided by the French and half by “Mohommed Said” (sic.: in Chinese 賽氏, Chen 1937, 12B), a reference to the Egyptian political figure Mohamed Sa’id Pasha (1822–1863). Control, however, was soon gained by England; in fact, by December 1875, the British government became a large shareholder of the Suez Canal Company, owning forty-four percent of the shares, only one percentage point less than France.[21]

According to Chen, most of the boats crossing the canal were consequently those of France and England, but some were also from the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Norway, Japan, the USA, and even the extremely small Free City of Danzig. Compared to the number of foreign vessels, Chinese boats were never seen crossing the Suez Canal, as supposedly confirmed to the Chens by a long-standing local worker (“於一八六九年所過船舶以英法為多荷德意挪日美次之即蕞爾坦澤自由市亦有船隻通過獨具有萬餘里海岸之我國竟付缺如無怪有工作於該河數十年者竟以未見我國船隻為異也”). As seen in other examples throughout this article, complaints by the authors on China’s attitude compared to other visited countries are not uncommon in Oumei manyou riji. At times, therefore, not only the Mediterranean, but more generally the West, is used both as a transcultural paradigm and a cross-cultural comparison example to point out the weakness of their native land. The opposite is also true: instances where Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou’s commitment and pride for their native country point to deficiencies in the places they visited are not uncommon (see, among others, Chen 1937, 27B: 廣場之東舊時城垣猶存惟甚矮小無我國城垣之雄壯: “Ancient bastions are located East of the square, but rather short and small; they cannot compare to the magnificence of bastions in my country”).[22]

  1. Italy as the main Mediterranean goal, between cultural relics and comparisons

Other than Egypt, the main representative of the Mediterranean in Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou’s Oumei manyou riji is Italy; a substantial portion of the diary is devoted to the peninsula for a variety of personal and historical reasons.[23] The authors describe Italy as the cradle of beautiful landscapes (“人言意大利為藝術淵藪信不誣也”; Chen 1937, p. 13A); the first detailed introduction to the country is about Venice and the Doge’s palace (“總制府”).

Venice is presented as the city of water, with no signs whatsoever of chariots (“有澤國之稱出門除步行外概須乘船無車馬踪跡,” Chen 1937, p. 13A), and as the first city in order of importance in Italy and Europe as well. That is why, as the saying goes, you can skip visiting Rome, but you cannot miss sightseeing in Venice (“意大利之本冠全歐而威尼斯又為豪商富賈所集故有甯不遊羅馬不可不遊威尼斯之諺語,” Chen 1937, p. 13A).[24] This infatuation for the city of Venice is a pervasive topic in Chinese literature and related textual production, starting at least from the fourteenth century and the well-known account of Marco Polo (1254–1324); in fact, the Italian city has been long compared with the Chinese city of Suzhou. Even though the presence of bridges in the latter[25]—although at times overestimated in numbers—makes the comparison plausible, there is a subtle difference in the way Suzhou itself was interpreted: while Europeans perceived it mainly through the comparison with Venice, Chinese, Japanese, and other East Asians could “appreciate Suzhou on its own terms—or rather, in terms of its preeminence in scholarly Chinese culture […].[26] The opposite, however, is not true for Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou’s travelogue: Venice is not examined in comparison with Suzhou, but only for its personal beauty and cultural relics. In Oumei manyou riji the Italian city is particularly praised for its mosaics (“文石”): with their different colours and patterns, mosaics are an Italian specialty, as the Chens put it, making the buildings of Venice similar to oil paintings (“以各色碎石砌成各種花樣如人物花鳥建築等遠觀與油畫無異[…]此為意大利特產發源於茲地”; Chen 1937, p. 13B).

Like contemporary tourists, the members of the convoy are fascinated by the antiquity of Venice’s buildings, St. Mark’s Church in particular, dating back to the eleventh century, according to the authors’ information (“聖馬可教堂即有十一世紀物,” Chen 1937, p. 13B). An interesting switch in the narration can be read here: “隨父親及俞君[…]” [following my father and Mister Yu…]. We might infer that the whole diary is narrated from the point of view of Chen Dayou, reporting the words his father Yifu dictated, and that only at times the paternal figure emerges; however, we do not know who the Mister Yu referred to is.

The description of St. Mark’s Square is extremely detailed. The Chens emphasise it as the most flourishing and beautiful part of Venice, and dedicate a careful representation of the square itself, St. Mark’s Campanile, its peculiar pigeons, and the general atmosphere of the city (“鐘樓造於十五世紀[…]飛鴿成羣畧不畏人飼之則就手中來食[…],” Chen 1937, p. 13B). They particularly refer to the fact that on Sunday nights only music in the square could be heard, given that the musical penchant of Italian people was higher than all other countries. The Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is the next step of their visit to the city; as usual in Oumei manyou riji, the authors detail the time of completion of the church and information on the relics stored inside, such as the heart of the artist Antonio Canova (“意人音樂興趣獨高於各國也[…]此處最華麗教堂之一意名雕刻家坎喏瓦[…]葬心於此,” Chen 1937, p. 13B).

The bridge of Rialto elicits enthusiastic appraisals from father and son, particularly for its barrel vaults; the Chens heard from unspecified sources that the bridge has five to six hundred years of history, and the visit is a chance to buy some mosaics, as well as witness the glassblowing process taking place on the bridge stalls (“利奧爾陀橋[…]有窗頂形[…]當場製各器皿以示作法,” Chen 1937, p. 13B). Most of the workers of these stalls were women and their craftsmanship was so excellent that an expensive table could be sold for ten thousand liras, corresponding to approximately twenty thousand custom gold units,[27] literally leaving people breathless (“往觀製花邊者多女工價亦奇昂一大桌布花樣為某名人設計售十萬里耳合我國二萬元左右令人咋舌,” Chen 1937, pp. 13B–14A).

The description of St. Mark’s Basilica the following day follows the same pattern seen in Oumei manyou riji: it was built during the ninth century, but restored in the eleventh. In the passage we see for the first time in the travelogue an appreciation of Western cultural relics for their supposed resemblance with Oriental counterparts: the five cupolas on its top have an “Oriental feeling” (“圓頂五尊頗具東方氣象,” Chen 1937, p. 14A). This was due perhaps to the presence of four horses, brought from Constantinople and moved to Paris by Napoleon for only a short period; the fact that they were moved to other places during the First World War was an epitome of their value (“四銅馬立門上騰躍如生一二零四年由君士但丁堡[…]以此拿破崙曾移至巴黎但不久即歸還歐戰時亦將四馬藏避他處可証其寶貴,” Chen 1937, p. 14A).

The convoy also visited the Doge’s palace, with its famous painting “Il paradiso” [The paradise], probably the largest one in the world. The last stop before a visit to the Lido is St. Mark’s Campanile. In this case, it is a hotel that is used as an example: the Excelsior, a new building in the Lido. There is a discrepancy, however, in the dates of construction reported in the travelogue: while it is true that the Excelsior opened in 1907 or 1908, in 1937 a new place was built close to it to host movie screenings, one of the most advanced movie theatres in Italy at that time and a success for the hotel as well.[28] The magnificence of the building, as well as the completeness of its interiors, filled Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou with regret that there was nothing comparable in similar seaside resorts in China, such as Qingdao and Beidaihe (“我國青島北戴河諸地即無類此者,” Chen 1937, pp. 14B).

  1. History, literature, and other considerations on the road to France

The journey of the convoy to Verona, passing by Padua and Vicenza, is a chance for the Chens to describe in careful detail the history of Romeo and Juliet, from the tragic plot to their burial site, to the history of the Verona Arena, compared with Rome’s Colosseum. As read earlier in this article, this is not the first time that Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou mix various literary, historical, and broadly-defined cultural elements in Oumei manyou riji; their travelogue is a testimony of both the places visited and their relevant cultural heritage. This should come as no surprise, since according to previous research, recording travel experiences can open various discourses on the others: “Fondamentalement discours sur l’Autre, regard sur l’hétérogène, le récit de voyage offre donc la perspective exaltante et démultipliée de l’ouverture sur les discours des autres.”[29] This enriches the travelogue, even though it makes it depart from its original heuristic intention: “le voyage livresque qu’il effectue le constitue en genre littéraire mais le détourne de sa mission première et heuristique, qui est de rendre compte du monde nouveau découvert.” This link with reality makes the travelogue a factual text, keeping at the same time connections with fiction: “Ainsi, alors même qu’il est ancré dans le réel, le récit de voyage—genre dit «factuel» (Genette)—entretient des liens avec la fiction.”[30]

After crossing the border between France and Italy, in which to the Chens’ surprise there was not much difference in the landscape, with the exception that Italian roads were better equipped (“入法竟後沿途風景與意相同公路及其設備較差或意多新築之路” Chen 1937, p. 28A), the convoy arrives in Nice. Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou take note of the extremely high prices of local meals, with the cost of a meal equivalent to one month of school meals in China (“每餐可敷余在國內學校一月飯費”).

A visit to the Casino de la Jetée, dismantled only a few years after their visit to Europe, was their next stop after a short break in the hotel. As soon as they got inside the building, the visitors were asked about their ages. Mister Xia, one of the members of the convoy, replied twenty-one, since according to the regulations, people under that age were not allowed inside. The authors describe the one-hour tour inside the casino and some of the attractions, including dance representations—this is also a chance to compare them to the relevant shows in China, this time to the detriment of the latter (“跳舞雖無奇特然較在我國所觀者華麗多矣” Chen 1937, p. 28B). A more involved visit to the Monument aux Morts, honouring the fallen of the First World War, is brushed off with few characters: “原路歸經旅舍至歐戰紀念牌” (We went back on the same road, passing by the hotel and stopping at the Monument aux Morts). The visit to the city of Nice is concluded with climatological considerations about the Mediterranean; Nice is in fact known for its Mediterranean climate among the Chinese, even though there were different opinions in other accounts of the time, particularly pertaining to the city’s famous “vent de Bise.”[31]


In Oumei manyou riji, the Mediterranean appears at first glance as a collection of places, more than a unitarian, even if fluid, entity. Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou’s background as entrepreneurs justifies the presence of technicalities and description of infrastructures; their “hidden” role as scholars, however, surprisingly entails descriptions of cultural and immaterial landscapes of the cities visited, from Egypt to Italy to France, from Port Said to Nice to Venice. The pattern used for the descriptions of historical landscapes and cultural relics in the travelogue is indeed almost the same throughout the text: a brief introduction, with historical information highlighting the old history of the relic itself, and considerations about the cultural and historical novelty of the place visited. Most of the time, however, this was only meant to arouse the reader’s interest more than out of a sense of pure exoticism—and comparisons from different perspectives and different outcomes with similar products in the motherland. It is exactly the last point that makes it possible to consider the description of the Mediterranean in Oumei manyou riji as “transcultural”: at times, these comparisons take the form of the authors using the countries visited as an epitome to point out what they consider weaknesses of their motherland, at times weaknesses—from various perspectives—of the Western countries visited.

The transcultural production depicted, including cultural artefacts and relics, is an extremely complex matter: “the space of transcultural art is not Euclidean, but interstitial—between cultures, experience and imagination, memory and loss, desire and anxiety, and dream and reality.”[32] The art described by the Chens places itself exactly at the intersection between two or even more different cultures, the imagination, experience, and expectations of the traveller and the entrepreneur, and of the Chens’ desire for their country to imitate—or reject—the places and relics they saw.

On the other hand, contrary to the tangible artefacts and cultural relics presented in Oumei manyou riji, the contact zones produced by travel narratives are imaginary. These zones can be described as “atopia,” a term that Roland Bartes indicated as a product of texts: “le système est en lui débordé, défait.”[33] The atopic space of transcultural arts has spatialities and temporalities that “may offer cultural self-criticism or a momentary interrogation […]”:[34] this was exactly the case of the Chens’ descriptions of Europe, and the Mediterranean in particular, with self-criticism and interrogations for a possible model for China, as well as judgements and suggestions on the Western countries visited.

Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou’s travels can indeed be considered a mixture of three of the five steps in the so-called “游历的五生型式 (five shengs pattern of experoutination)”:[35] the “industrial experoutination” (shengye 生业), the “idealistic experoutination” (shengsi 生思), and the “trade experoutination” (shengyi 生易). Although it most likely started due to the first intention, in order to study the industrial technologies of Western countries, Oumei manyou riji resulted in a pleasant and culturally-connotated text, particularly pertaining to the Mediterranean section of the travels, to which most of the text is dedicated. This is mostly due to the father and son’s background and the unique era China was going through at the time: in the semi-colonial era after the Opium War, China’s view of the West was especially complicated. The fear and shame brought by the defeat in war and colonisation, the admiration of new technology, and the yearning for a modern society form a mixture of pride and confrontation towards the Chens’ own culture. Chen Yifu was a patriotic entrepreneur and philanthropist in this era, and his determination and contribution to revitalise China through industrial development are renowned and evident within the written characters of Oumei manyou riji.[36]

More generally, the two “worlds” presented in this article, the Mediterranean and China, were always connected; in fact, they were two of the main passages in the travels around the Old World. However, until the nineteenth century, there was an imbalance between the European knowledge of China, and the knowledge of Europe and the Mediterranean by the Chinese people.[37] The odeporic production put into records starting from the first mission to Europe in 1866 tried to successfully fill that gap. The admiration, and at times criticism, by the father and son recorded in their travelogue and analysed in many episodes above is derived exactly from this discrepancy and the complicated historical factors of China’s history in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century.



Abulafia, David. The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Barthes, Roland. Le plaisir du texte. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1973.

Ben-Zaken, Avner. Cross-Cultural Scientific Exchanges in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1560–1660. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

Bescherer Metheny, Karen, and Mary C. Beaudry (eds.). Archaeology of Food: An Encyclopedia. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Braudel Fernand. La Méditerranée: l’espace et l’histoire. Paris: Flammarion, 1985.

Cabanas, Edgar, Razak Khan, and Jani Marjanen. “Travellers: Transformative Journeys and Emotional Contacts.” In Encounters with Emotions: Negotiating Cultural Differences since Early Modernity, edited by Benno Gammerl, Philipp Nielsen, and Margrit Pernau, 61–84. New York: Berghahn Books, 2019.

Carroll Peter J. Between Heaven and Modernity: Reconstructing Suzhou, 1895–1937. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.

Centre de recherche sur la littérature des voyages. Miroirs de textes: récits de voyage et intertextualité. Nice: Publications de la Faculté des lettres, arts et sciences humaines de Nice, 1998.

Chen, Yifu 陳一甫. Oumei manyou riji 歐美漫遊日記 [Diary of a journey in Europe and the United States]. 1937.

Codell, Julie F. (ed.). Transculturation in British Art, 1770–1930. Reprinted edition. London; New York: Routledge, 2016.

Harrison, Robert T. Gladstone’s Imperialism in Egypt: Techniques of Domination. Greenwood Press: Westport, London, 1995.

Leininger, Madeleine. “Transcultural Food Functions, Beliefs, and Practices.” In Transcultural Nursing: Concepts, Theories, Research & Practice, edited by Madeleine Leininger and Marilyn R. McFarland, 205–216. New York: McGraw-Hill Education. Third edition, 2002.

Liu Shanling 刘善龄. “Zhongguoren chu she Suyishi 中国人初涉苏伊士” [The first Chinese to cross the Suez Canal]. Xungen 寻根 (2002) no. 3: 25–29.

Matvejević, ‎Predrag. Mediteranski brevijar. Zagreb: Grafički Zavod Hrvatske, 1990.

Matvejević, ‎Predrag (Silvio Ferrari, trans.). Mediterraneo: un nuovo breviario. Milano: Garzanti, 1993.

Matvejević, ‎Predrag (‎Heim, Michael Henry, trans.). Mediterranean: A Cultural Landscape. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999.

May, Jan Andreas. “«Queen of the Arts» — Exhibitions, Festivals, and Tourism in Fascist Venice, 1922–1945.” In Creative Urban Milieus: Historical Perspectives on Culture, Economy, and the City, edited by Martina Heßler and Clemens Zimmermann, 209–227. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

M’Culloch, John Ramsay. A Dictionary, Geographical, Statistical, and Historical of the Various Countries, Places, and Principal Natural Objects in the World. Vol. III. London: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1866.

Tignor, Robert L. Capitalism and Nationalism at the End of Empire: State and Business in Decolonizing Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya, 1945–1963. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Tola, Gabriele. “An Unknown Diary Across Italy and Europe: Oumei manyou riji and the Late Chinese Rediscovery of the Other.” Nordicum-Mediterraneum 20 (in press) no. 1.

Tomas, David. Transcultural Space and Transcultural Beings. Reprinted edition. New York: Routledge, 2018.

Wang, Yi-Wen, Christian Nolf. “Historic Landscape and Water Heritage of Suzhou Beyond the Tourist Gaze.” In Suzhou in Transition, edited by Beibei Tang and Paul Cheung, 42–86. London; New York: Routledge, 2021.

Wu Bihu 吴必虎, Huang Shanhui 黄珊蕙, Zhong Lina 钟栎娜, et al. “Youli fazhan fenqi, xingshi yu yingxiang: yi ge yanjiu kuangjia de jiangou 游历发展分期、型式与影响:一个研究框架的建构” [Phases, patterns, and impacts of youli (experoutination) development: building a research framework]. Lüyou xuekan 旅游学刊 – Tourism Tribune 37 (2022), no. 3: 50–67.




[1] ‎This article was conceived from a conference panel, organised by Prof. Renata Vinci for the AISC (Italian Association for Chinese Studies) biennial meeting, held at Sapienza University of Rome in September 2023.

[2] ‎Predrag Matvejević (‎Michael Henry Heim, trans.), Mediterranean: A Cultural Landscape (Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999), 10 and passim.

[3] David Abulafia, The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), xxiii–xxiv.

[4] Fernand Braudel, La Méditerranée: l’espace et l’histoire (Paris: Flammarion, 1985), 8.

[5] ‎Predrag Matvejević, Mediteranski brevijar (Zagreb: Grafički Zavod Hrvatske, 1990), 13.

[6] ‎Predrag Matvejević (‎Silvio Ferrari, trans.), Mediterraneo: un nuovo breviario (Milano: Garzanti, 1993), 60.

[7] Gabriele Tola, “An Unknown Diary Across Italy and Europe: Oumei manyou riji and the Late Chinese Rediscovery of the Other,” Nordicum-Mediterraneum 20 (in press) no. 1.

[8] Braudel, La Méditerranée, 75.

[9] Braudel, La Méditerranée, 157.

[10] David Tomas, Transcultural Space and Transcultural Beings (Reprinted edition. New York: Routledge, 2018), 15. I would like to thank Dr. Michèle Thériault for providing me a copy of this text.

[11] Madeleine Leininger, “Transcultural Food Functions, Beliefs, and Practices,” in Transcultural Nursing: Concepts, Theories, Research & Practice, ed. Madeleine Leininger, Marilyn R. McFarland (New York: McGraw-Hill Education. Third edition), 205.

[12] For the sake of legibility, quotations from Oumei manyou riji are pointed out in this article without the addition of a footnote for each.

[13] Karen Bescherer Metheny, Mary C. Beaudry (eds.), Archaeology of Food: An Encyclopedia (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 116.

[14] Other examples of transcultural comparisons, including Rome’s Holy Stairs and Trevi Fountain are examined in Tola, “An Unknown Diary Across Italy and Europe.”

[15] Tola, “An Unknown Diary Across Italy and Europe.”

[16] Edgar Cabanas, Razak Khan, Jani Marjanen, “Travellers: Transformative Journeys and Emotional Contacts,” in Encounters with Emotions: Negotiating Cultural Differences since Early Modernity, ed. Benno Gammerl, Philipp Nielsen, Margrit Pernau (New York: Berghahn Books, 2019), 70.

[17] The chengyu used by Chen, tuibi san she 退避三舍, means to withdraw one she (a unit of measurement roughly corresponding to thirty li 里) in order to avoid confrontation.

[18] Avner Ben-Zaken, Cross-Cultural Scientific Exchanges in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1560–1660 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 114–115.

[19] Liu Shanling, “Zhongguoren chu she Suyishi,” Xungen (2002) no. 3: 25–29.

[20] A ten-metre difference between the two was wrongly calculated; see Robert T. Harrison, Gladstone’s Imperialism in Egypt: Techniques of Domination (Greenwood Press: Westport, London, 1995), 42.

[21] Robert L. Tignor, Capitalism and Nationalism at the End of Empire: State and Business in Decolonizing Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya, 1945–1963 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 42.

[22] Tola, “An Unknown Diary Across Italy and Europe.”

[23] Refer to Tola, “An Unknown Diary Across Italy and Europe.”

[24] The saying, of which I was not able to trace the Italian version, presumably derives from one of the travel books Chen Yifu and Chen Dayou consulted or from the guide that was accompanying them and other travellers during the trip.

[25] Yi-Wen Wang, Christian Nolf, “Historic Landscape and Water Heritage of Suzhou Beyond the Tourist Gaze,” in Suzhou in Transition, ed. Beibei Tang, Paul Cheung (London; New York: Routledge, 2021), 69.

[26] Peter J. Carroll, Between Heaven and Modernity: Reconstructing Suzhou, 1895–1937 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 4.

[27] The currency issued in China at the time of travel, known in Chinese as guanjinyuan 關金圓.

[28] Jan Andreas May, “«Queen of the Arts» – Exhibitions, Festivals, and Tourism in Fascist Venice, 1922–1945,” in Creative Urban Milieus: Historical Perspectives on Culture, Economy, and the City, ed. Martina Heßler, Clemens Zimmermann (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 220.

[29] Centre de recherche sur la littérature des voyages, Miroirs de textes: récits de voyage et intertextualité (Nice: Publications de la Faculté des lettres, arts et sciences humaines de Nice, 1998), X.

[30] Centre de recherche sur la littérature des voyages, Miroirs de textes, XI.

[31] John Ramsay M’Culloch, A Dictionary, Geographical, Statistical, and Historical of the Various Countries, Places, and Principal Natural Objects in the World, vol. III (London: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1866), 437.

[32] Julie F. Codell (ed.), Transculturation in British Art, 1770–1930 (Reprinted edition. London; New York: Routledge, 2016), 9.

[33] Roland Barthes, Le plaisir du texte (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1973), 49.

[34] Codell, Transculturation, 10.

[35] Wu Bihu, Huang Shanhui, Zhong Lina, et al. “Youli fazhan fenqi, xingshi yu yingxiang: yi ge yanjiu kuangjia de jiangou,” Lüyou xuekan 37 (2022), no. 3: 61–62.

[36] This aspect is thoroughly analysed in Tola, “An Unknown Diary Across Italy and Europe.”

[37] Wu Bihu, Huang Shanhui, Zhong Lina, et al. “Youli fazhan fenqi,” 55.

Johann P. Arnason & Kurt A. Raaflaub, The Roman Empire in Context: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (Chichester: Wiley & Sons, 2011)

The Editor argues that while much has been written about Rome, relatively less has attempted to analyze Rome comparatively. As a sociologist and not a historian, this reviewer cannot comment on this claim, but I do appreciate the comparative methodology. In fact, Arnason, the primary editor and author of the “Introduction” is a historical sociologist, who discusses the implications of Greco-Roman analyses on sociological and social theory. While the comparative perspective may be useful for drawing out separate variables between civilizations, there is the inverse danger of redefining variables broadly enough to make those comparisons – but at some cost of precision of the terms. There need to be nuances on all sides which weaken the overarching comparisons. It is essentially the qualitative problem of a small “n,” familiar to the social sciences. This methodological problem is noted several times, but does not stifle the writings.

The first section analyzes Rome’s growth through three essays. Raaflaub looks at Rome’s growth from city state to Mediterranean empire, through a thorough discussion of the particular components of the axial age in Rome. Flaig argues that the ruling elite in Rome eventually become powerful and detached enough that traditional forms of accountability and control waned, and with it their legitimacy among the ruled. The sets up the revolutionary crisis Flaig discusses in relation to other Roman scholars. Cohen and Lendon discuss the relationship of communication and authority between the center and the periphery in Rome. Their comparator is medieval kingships and the authors are seeking to understand the strength or weakness of the political structure as evidenced through these communications.

The volume then traces through the transformation and “decline” of Rome. Ziolowski’s chapter discusses the final crisis faced by Rome – the “Total Crisis.” His argument is that the crisis was more a catalyst to longer building internal problems, individually which would be mere nuisances. These internal problems fell under the rubric of an institutional trap created by the specifically Roman interpretation of ruling legitimacy. Stroumsa argues that among the cultural transformations at the end of the Roman era, the very concept of religion changed. Not simply from pagan to Christian or from poly- to monotheism, but also the rise of religious intolerance which melded violence with state power which made imperial tolerance impossible. Fowden draws an illustration of the larger world of late Rome, showing how Islam as well fits into the picture. His argument contextualizes not just the world of late Rome, but also of contemporary academic understandings of the era, not the least of which is the discussion of “transformation” versus “decline.”

The following section focuses on three of Rome’s successor civilizations. Becher discusses the Franks, Haldon the Eastern Empire, and Robinson Islam. The chapter analyzing Islam makes the argument that at least some of Rome’s developments such as urbanization, epistemologies, and philosophical reflection, were adopted by the growing Islamic civilization. An interesting comparison also exists with the role of religion and politics in the growth of civilization.

The Fourth section includes explicit comparisons with Assyria, China, and Iran. Liverani discusses the Assyrian case to contrast the relationship of the urban center to the empire. Lowe looks to China for the role of its internal administration and penal policies, with some focus on the higher prevalence of bureaucracy in the Chinese case. McDonough studies the Sassanid Empire as a comparator despite being a contemporary rival to Rome. Similarities include rule over several centuries and over a disparate variety of geographies. Fibiger-Bang makes the final comparisons to the Ottoman Empire and the Mughals seeks to discuss vast empires underneath a single ruler – but in distinct contrast to the European examples which were all much smaller states. There may have been a ruler in the European cases, but these were all much more local monarchies.

The final section discusses theoretical implications of the volume, trying to sort out the elements of state, empire, and civilization in Rome. Arnason argues that these three elements form a unique constellation in the Roman case, but the singular uniqueness of Rome is exactly what methodologically requires a comparative perspective. Without a comparative perspective, these variables are not going to be adequately isolated. The Wagner essay that closes the volume addresses the question of whether there is sufficient connection between ancient Rome and modern Europe to draw a continuous line of civilization from the former to the latter.

The appeal of the volume for this reviewer lies in the breadth of the chapters included and with the attempt to include sociologically relevant comparative methodologies. These chapters start with Rome’s transition from city state to empire and its expansion, through its decline, and into its successor regimes, with comparative and theoretical discussions finishing the volume. As a work of comparative sociology, it is interesting to see rigorous sociological methodologies applied to a historical case so easily popularized. As a work of sociology, it is refreshing to go beyond the identity politics which comprise so much of the discipline as of late. It may be the case that this comparative methodology will be less interesting to traditional historians, and it is most definitely the case that this volume is too advanced for anything like an introduction to Roman history.

Herman Salton, Arctic Host, Icy Visit: China and Falun Gong Face Off in Iceland (Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010)

Review by Aníta Einarsdóttir

In June 2002 the President of the People’s Republic of China went to Iceland for an official visit. Consequently, some practitioners of Falun Gong, among many others, booked flights to Iceland at the same time, with the airline Icelandair. Somehow, by means still unknown, since Falun Gong keeps no list of its members itself, the Icelandic government had a blacklist of all these actual and presumed Falun Gong members that they believed to be going to Iceland to protest against the Chinese president and the Chinese government’s alleged human rights violations. The people that were on this blacklist were either denied visas, embarkment onto their booked flight, or arrested at the international airport in Iceland and asked all kinds of questions about the purpose of their visit and their personal beliefs. Many of those eventually admitted into Iceland were then arrested and held in a school near the airport, not knowing what was going on and, like everybody else on the blacklist, wondering how their names got on such a list, which no one ever got to look at, except authorities and flight-personnel. The people that were kept in custody at the school were released after being forced to sign an agreement with the authorities about restricted areas and a peaceful stay in the country.

The people of Iceland do not seem to know very much about these events that in so many ways breach the rights of the people travelling, and if there is anything they know it is the little that the newspapers of Iceland, themselves much influenced by the Icelandic authorities at the time, chose to publish. This year, 2012, will be the tenth anniversary of these events in Iceland and it is therefore about time for the Icelandic people to consider and discuss what has been hidden from them and how such a limited access to public information has been inconsistent with the values of 21st century. The Icelandic government managed so extraordinarily to lower the dignity of Iceland and its international reputation, by bending over for the Chinese government, and the people of the country need to be informed of events of this nature.

The book Arctic Host, Icy Visit is about Falun Gong and various events that happened all over the world after the ban of the movement in China in 1999, but the main idea of the book came from the events in Iceland in June 2002. The book gives precise and detailed information, from the founding of Falun Gong until China’s massive campaigns to try to ban its exercise in the 20th and 21st century, both in China and elsewhere.

It took the author, Herman Salton, eight years to write and publish this book, i.e. from 2002, when he began his inquiries after the events in Iceland, until 2010, when the book was released. This has given him a very long time to gather a lot of sources, some of which very good and reliable. He uses old and recent newspaper articles, books written by Falun Gong members and founders, and judgments made by the Icelandic authorities, for instance the Ombudsman. However, despite all the effort put into the bibliography of the book, it is difficult to verify all sources, since Salton refers to a lot of interviews that he personally conducted with Falun Gong members who, for instance, are talking about what they have been through, either with the Chinese government or other governments and authorities. These sources might be valuable, but it can be hard for the reader to evaluate them, since they are made personally by the author. They also take only the side of Falun Gong members, leaving out any other side of the stories, like that of the Chinese and Icelandic authorities.

Given that Salton indicates in the beginning of the book that he writes it for the people of Iceland – “To The People of Iceland Whose Decency and Sense of Democracy Continue to Be a Source of Inspiration” – for them to be able to be informed about events that nobody has talked about or that have been suppressed by the government, it is written in a way that catches the reader’s attention right away from the first page. The author tells the reader a story, not like a novel but like a documentary. He also writes in an English that should be understandable for most people.

Still, even if the book gives good information written in a clear and understandable way, it is not written in a very critical way. The reader of the book should be aware of this and read it with an open mind and exercise caution regarding the author’s interpretation of the events. As mentioned before, he interviews many Falun Gong practitioners and therefore gets their side of all stories, that is, telling all the good things about the practicing of Falun Gong and insisting upon the “innocence” of their activities. He tries, even though he is struggling with it because of his opinion of the matters, to write somewhat from the governments’ side as well, but it is mostly in an ironic way, letting the reader know that despite excuses from the authorities, their actions are wrong. It might be because it is hard to get in touch with governments on these matters, because they know of their wrongs and are therefore not willing to discuss them. There might also be no excuses from the governments’ side and therefore the only information to give is that coming from the Falun Gong practitioners.

There is one chapter of the book that stands out from all the other good chapters, which is the legal chapter. The book might give a good idea of all the things that are wrong in the governments’ behavior, both the Icelandic government as well as any other government that has done similar things. But for a person that knows the law, especially European and International law, it is rather a confusing chapter. The author erroneously conflates European law and the European Convention on Human Rights throughout and the analysis is superficial, when not simply inaccurate.

This book gives good information but there is always, especially because the author almost only takes Falun Gong‘s side in these matters, more than meets the eye. It is obvious though that the Chinese government has an enormous impact on the whole world, and tries to ban Falun Gong everywhere. At the same time, other governments are aware of the influence that the Chinese government has, and may be aware that their own actions are unjustifiable and therefore try to avoid discussions about these matters. They hide the truth and give no comments on their behavior. Salton´s book takes the reader on a journey all around the world, informing them about the things that not many people seem to know of and digs up sources and information that seem to have been somewhat hidden.



Review by Tiantian Zhang

It was after an eight-year-long delay following the controversial event that the book Arctic Host, Icy Visit: China and Falun Gong Face Off in Iceland by Herman Salton was published. Salton was then an officer at the Icelandic Human Rights Center, among other roles. In this book, the author focuses on a 2002 event where a certain group of people, namely Falun Gong practitioners, were ordered by the Chinese government to be banned to enter Iceland before and during the visit of the Chinese President. In-depth research was made and opinions given by the author, along with a detailed review of the event.

The series of events that was thought to tarnish Iceland’s long and well-respected reputation in human rights history is briefly summarized in the foreword and introduction, and then further described in Chapters 3 and 4. It happened in early June 2002, when the President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Jiang Zemin, planned to make his visit to Iceland. In the author’s description, what happened before and during the President’s visit was ”unforeseen,”and “bizarre, even burlesque.”. Practitioners of a Chinese “spiritual movement,” namely Falun Gong, were barred from Iceland with various methods. Those methods, including denial or withdrawal of their visas to Iceland, interrogation and refusal of entry at airports before boarding Iceland-bound planes, cancellation of their hotel room reservations and secret monitoring of their activities, are listed and submitted in evidence by the author as major breaches of human rights by the Chinese government and interference with Iceland’s sovereignty. What makes these actions stand out, however, is the fact that they were ordered by the Chinese government, but assisted and partly conducted by Icelandic government.

Being a Chinese citizen who has lived in Iceland for 3 years and majored in law for more than 5 years, I find it quite difficult to offer a conclusive evaluation of the events. In order to be able to give an objective opinion, I realize that a better understanding and in-depth investigation are required before I start judging the events, given my limited knowledge, which is probably colored by my experiences in both countries. After a comprehensive search for information from different media and publications, I would like to say that I have to hold a quite unique view on the Falun Gong movement, the 2002 event and its meaning, and the book as a whole.

By simply looking at the cover and reading the title of the book I sensed immediately a subtle hint of criticism in the main theme. The cover displays a picture of police cars under a gloomy semi-dark sky, giving an impression of heavy and solemn atmosphere along with the title “Arctic Host, Icy Visit.” I indiscreetly came to a conclusion that the book I was going to read could be categorized into a certain stereotype of books and publications, namely those typically critical publications dealing with human rights issues whenever the Chinese government is involved. Mere criticisms of the government’s well-known bad manners ignoring or infringing human rights are not the most outstanding characteristic of such publications. Instead, the criticisms and analysis always lead to the same conclusion, which is a routine of blaming the Chinese government for interference with other states’ sovereignty and abuse of its rising political and economic influence. However, the author manages to give some inspiring information and thoughtful conclusions after a careful examination of the 2002 event.

From what I know about the government by living more than 20 years under its regime, I have not much doubt in the truthfulness about their radical actions in Iceland as told in the book. Nor does it surprise me that the actions and orders were actually operated and carried out by the Icelandic government, whom I suppose to have quite some experience in barring foreigners from the country from my own experience. Information from various sources including newspaper reports, individual interviews of practitioners, witnesses and officials, reports from international human rights organizations, and letters by the Minister of Justice all support the story as reported by Salton. The author provides a considerable amount of information in chapters 3 and 4, covering important particulars and details.

However, one of the major flaws in this book lies in the characterization of Falun Gong. The author has made an attempt to give a concise and in some level accurate portrayal of Falun Gong in Chapter 2, but his view is apparently limited, if not totally biased, by the sources that he could access and lack of direct contact with of the innocently self-profiled organization. Appearing to be a “meditation exercise” in origin, Falun Gong is no longer merely a spiritual or religious group. The author makes a relatively objective introduction but fails in accuracy. It is not to be blamed because Falun Gong’s image is profiled drastically differently in international media compared with the Chinese domestic media as well as with what people have observed, not to mention inconsistency within the Falun Gong group itself.

I agree with the author about the anti-scientific and confrontational character of Falun Gong, which are pointed out in the book, but about their nature and non-violent history I have to hold a different opinion. On 23rd January 2001, some Falun Gong devotees committed self-immolation at the Tian’an Men Square. A similar incident took place once again in Beijing on 16th February of the same year. The incidents were reported by Chinese domestic media and were witnessed by Beijing’s citizens. Even though huge controversy emanated from these incidents and Falun Gong claimed that the tragedy was completely planned and manipulated by the Communist Party (CCP), the truth remains undiscovered. These two events came as a huge shock and had a widespread influence at that time, but were not mentioned at all in the book. It is valuable and important information to consider because it was just a year before the event in Iceland. If the incidents as reported in China were true, then the Chinese government’s concerns and bans would be viewed as more reasonable and understandable, even if of questionable legality.

Besides, as the author also noticed, the anti-government character of Falun Gong is obvious to the public. Radical criticisms and literal attacks towards the Chinese government, especially the CCP, are expressed explicitly in their books, official website, newspapers and flyers. As far as I know, almost every Chinese relative and friend of mine has received propaganda from Falun Gong anti-government movements, most commonly emails, mobile phone messages and home phone calls with recorded tape speeches. It is difficult to conclude that this organization is “peaceful in essence.” However, no matter how the nature of Falun Gong is and what the purpose of their movement is, there is inadequate justification for the Chinese government’s actions according to law. Human rights were breached and no excuses or attempts should be made to excuse their unlawfulness. Still, a crucial error is made when the author tries to analyze the legal challenges and legal assessment concerning this event: he refers to the European Convention on Human Rights as European Union law even though the former is under the auspices of the Council of Europe and is quite distinct from the European Union’s institutions. Further, Iceland has long been a party to the former treaty, but is not (yet) a member of the European Union at all.

When reaching its conclusion, the book approaches a routine of emphasizing freedom of association, speech, assembly and expression, and claims that the Chinese government used its political and economic influence to interfere with Iceland’s sovereignty. Meanwhile it also makes an interesting point that Western States are used to look at China’s human rights issues through colonial eyes, with a paternalistic attitude and teacher-pupil template, and try to use human rights as negotiation tools. But what I would like to add is that it is also important to realize that the fear of the West from the supposed threat from a rising power is usually attributable to lack of communication. China’s blockage of media is worsening the case.

With relatively satisfying accuracy and objectivity, this book gives the 2002 event and its background a through introduction and provides a reasonable conclusion. But throughout the whole book, it shows the typical Western superiority complex of a “peaceful, scarcely populated, proudly independent and highly civilized” state (juxtaposed against China) and the pity of its tainted reputation in human rights by the government and its “obedience” to another political power. But I would take a bold guess that the possibility cannot be ruled out that the Icelandic government was aware of the consequences of potential protests, and was not completely unwilling or even forced, as the book has implied, to carry out and assist the actions reported. Welcoming hundreds of radical protestors to its soil to carry out their activities with unforeseen consequences, the Icelandic government, or any other government that cares about its peace and security, was not very likely to favor this idea. But being forced and having to obey another irresistible power to breach human rights unwillingly seems more forgivable. If that was the case, Iceland should really be concerned to protect its sovereignty and remain “one of the most liberal states” and “proudly independent,” but it must stand firmly on its position and take responsibility for its own decisions and actions.

P.S. The author of this book has provided a reply to the reviewers in issue 8(1) of Nordicum-Mediterraneum: http://nome.unak.is/nm-marzo-2012/vol-8-n-1-2013/51-book-review/351-review-response