Discover China: 167-year-old almanac republished to show Shanghai in Westerners' eyes

Source: Xinhua| 2019-10-30 23:36:13|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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SHANGHAI, Oct. 30 (Xinhua) -- What was Shanghai like in the mid-19th century in the eyes of early Western expatriates in the port city? Why did some of them masquerade as Chinese while traveling around?

Answers to these questions can be found in the "Shanghai Almanac for 1852, and Commercial Guide," an encyclopedia-style book about Shanghai published by the British in December 1851, and translated and republished recently by the Office of Shanghai Chronicles.

Published by the North-China Herald office, which was established by a British merchant, the book is the first almanac of Shanghai and the first such book known to exist on the Chinese mainland.

The book kept a detailed account of Shanghai in the early years after the city opened its port in 1843, covering everything from a name list of the expatriates and information about major local businesses, to travel tips for the Yangtze River and weather data of the city.

The book included a detailed bilingual map of Shanghai in the 1850s drawn by Westerners, providing precious historical data for studying the urban development of Shanghai.

Besides historical data, the almanac also included more personal accounts of Shanghai by Westerners, such as travel essays, showing their nascent understanding of the Chinese culture and customs.

One piece told of the anecdote that many foreigners masqueraded as Chinese by wearing long gowns and even plait wigs as they traveled to faraway places, in order to dodge travel restrictions imposed by Chinese.

Wanyan Shaoyuan, a publisher and historian, said as an almanac compiled by early Western expatriates, the book is of high bibliographical value.

"The book documented the changes of Shanghai and China in the interactions between China and the West," said Wanyan. "It is unique in its accounts of Shanghai's customs through the eyes of Westerners."

From 1852 to 1863, the North-China Herald office published a total of 10 volumes of almanacs of Shanghai.

In 2016, the Shanghai Library obtained the work from 1852 through auction, and partnered with the Office of Shanghai Chronicles for its translation and republishing.