Across China on Foot: Study of A Changing China at A Very Exciting Time

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One of the things I did on my Christmas vacation was finish Edwin John Dingle’s Across China on Foot— one of the great books in China Economic Review’s CER Classic series.

Dingle decided in 1909 to walk across Western China to learn about the country and particularly its mysterious interior. He decided with a friend to take a boat from Singapore — where he was living at the time — to Shanghai. From Shanghai he then traveled up the Yangtze River by boat to the city of Chongqing. But from Chongqing on, Dingle decided to give up the boat and walk across the country into the province of Yunnan and eventually into British-controlled Burma. It took him about a year and half — a delay was caused by a life-threating bout of malaria.

As Paul French’s blurb on the front cover says Dingle does follow in the steps of the British gentleman traveler. But for me, it was Dingle’s anthropological study of the people in an area that was — and still pretty much is — untouched by the wealth and progress being made on China’s eastern coast.

You can also tell that writing this book had a deep effect on Dingle. After writing this book, he stayed on in China and founded the journal that later became the Far Eastern Economic Review. Dingle’s life after he left China is a little bit stranger — he went onto found a meditation and sex cult based on the idea of “Mental Physics” in the 1920s that kept him alive until the ripe old age of 91.

J.

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