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THE WISE TRAVELLER

MacLean, Margaret
Edited by Beverley Stapells and Pam Young, Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1990. 114pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-806-5 (paper) $12.95,0-88750-805-7 (cloth) $25.95.


Grades 10 and up/Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by Joan M. Payzant

Volume 18 Number 5
1990 September


Readers should not judge this book by its cover, which is poorly designed and irritating. However, inside there are treasures an introduction by editor Beverley Stapells, giving a biographical sketch of author Margaret MacLean (founder of the education programme at the Royal Ontario Museum), followed by MacLean's lively account of her four-week visit to China in 1905.

The Wise Traveller was originally published in 1906 under the title Chinese Ladies at Home, when the author was living in Japan with her elderly father, who was situated there because of a Canadian government appointment. The editors of the present volume made "changes only for clarity and comprehension," a wise decision, because MacLean's style is breezy and witty, unexpected in a maiden lady of the early 1900s whose friends were mainly of the missionary community in China.

The adventurous author sought out experiences to sample the life and customs of middle class Chinese families, attending weddings both Christian and "heathen," a birthday feast, and exploring a 300-room Mohammedan mansion.

On these occasions she bravely partook of shark's fins, dried watermelon seeds; bird's nest soup and a dish of sea slugs. She travelled on jinrikshas, sampans, sedan chairs and a Chinese wheelbarrow, but avoided one of the little donkeys on which "one often sees a big Chinaman sitting... quite unconscious that the fitness of things would be better sustained if he carried the donkey."

Whether climbing to the fifth storey of a Chinese pagoda to look down at the "crust of roofs" below or narrowly escaping a dangerous riot in Shanghai, MacLean treats her subject in a light, humorous manner. Line drawings by Elizabeth Stapells admirably capture the spirit of the text.


Joan M. Payzant, Halifax, N.S.

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