Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Life and Times of Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor

As someone who wrote a biography of a great China Hand (Carl Crow) I'm interested in who other biographers choose. Isidore Cyril Cannon's new book Public Success, Private Sorrow is a biography of Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor (1857-1938) a veteran of the Boxers and the Siege of the Legations, a long serving China Customs Commissioner and a pioneering translator of Chinese texts into English.

Brewitt-Taylor had a distinguished career in the Chinese customs service, an important institution that mediated China's relationship with the outside world. During the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 he was trapped inside the British Legation compound though survived the siege. But he was also a scholarly China Hand and undertook the first high-quality translation of the classic Chinese novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which made him an important interpreter of Chinese culture in the West.

Though these were the historical highlights of his life Cannon’s book is also fascinating in providing an insight into the experiences of those Britons who went abroad in the Victorian and Edwardian ages, particularly of course to China. Brewitt-Taylor was not just in large cities but often in remote outposts. He is also of interest to me in that he is a case study of the opportunities the Empire and foreign service gave to those of ordinary birth, or humble origins, to go East and make a career based on being smart and competent school without having to worry too much about all the what class are you?, where did you go to old boy? nonsense that the English upper classes revel in so drearily.

If you are in Shanghai this weekend you can hear Isidore Cyril Cannon speak on Brewitt-Taylor’s life and work and her book at the Shanghai International Literary Festival this Saturday morning:

Saturday, March 21


M on the Bund

The Life and Times of Charles Henry Brewitt-Taylor

Isidore Cyril Cannon

More information click here


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