'Would That I Were Marco Polo'

The Travel Writing of Shan Shili (1856-1943)

in Volume 5 (2004): Issue 1 (Jun 2004): Traditions of East Asian Travel. Guest Editor: Joshua A. Fogel
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The turn of the twentieth century witnessed a major sea-change in the Chinese cultural landscape: what was known earlier as xixue (Western learning) was becoming xinxue (new learning), advocated by reformists as a necessity for national survival; in 1905, the civil service examination was abolished and with it disappeared the career ladder of the literati class; soon after the fall of the Qing empire in 1911, the movement to abolish classical Chinese as the literary language would sweep the entire cultural scene. This volatile period was one in which the age-old authority of wen (words, culture) was fast waning; and with it the tradition of women’s learning epitomized by the cainü (talented women) would lose legitimacy as well.1 The next generation of women writers would write in an entirely different mode; many of them would no longer remember the existence of a longstanding women’s culture.