THE YEAR OF THE RAT: THE JOURNAL OF JASPER WHITING–A RECENT GIFT TO THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY

During a recent business trip to New England, I had the pleasure of visiting  our long-time Wolfsonian library supporters Jean and Frederic Sharf at their home in Chestnut Hill. While there, Fred most generously allowed me to peruse his library collection and to make a selection of extraordinarily rare journals, photograph albums, sketchbooks, diaries, and books, which were packed up and shipped down to Miami Beach. Mr. Sharf has amassed a large and fine collection of rare (and often unique) materials documenting late nineteenth and early twentieth century colonial expeditions, travel, military conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. While many of these items are the work of “Westerners” and provide a view of these regions from that perspective, the drawings, photographs, historical maps, and other visual elements make them invaluable resources for ethnohistorians and other scholars with an interest in subaltern studies, gender issues, etc. We could not be more grateful to Fred and Jean for their continued generosity, not only for donating these materials, but also for providing us with the wherewithal to catalog and digitize them so that we can make them available to our local Florida International University faculty and students, and to the worldwide community of scholars. Here is the first of Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn’s reports publicizing one item from that most recent gift: 

The Chinese Zodiac defines 2013 as the Year of the Snake. As a living creature, the snake is flexible, with a tendency to coil around its prey. Recently the plight of an American businessman held hostage by his company employees in the land of the “Sleeping Giant” parallels this New Year idea:

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Andy Wong, Associated Press, NYT

A week or so later the Beijing employees of Chip Sarnes (shown above) unfurled their boa grips and allowed him to return to America—but only after they were assured that Sarnes would not close the China leg of his Florida company, causing them to lose their jobs.

Rats, with their intellectual and social natures, tend to scurry curiously toward the unexplored. In 1900, the Year of the Rat, twenty-four year old American Illinois Steel Company employee, Jasper Whiting, was so incensed by the Chinese Boxer Rebellion’s consequences on foreign settlements that he signed with the Westminster Gazette of London as a war correspondent and made way for the Far East to investigate. Mr. Whiting’s rare two-volume journal of his adventures, a recent gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, documents his travels with lively, opinionated narrative, and period photographic prints of the sights.

Whiting’s journey by sea first brought him to Ceylon. The writer complimented the native women: “The ‘weaker sex’ is a term scarcely to be applied to the women of Ceylon. They are strong, sturdy, and able in appearance … ”

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After this brief respite the writer and his company set off to China: “Nothing could be more dreary and monotonous than the approach to the European metropolis of China. For hours we passed through a sea of yellow mud … “

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Finally Whiting arrived at his destination: the central point of conflict. He reflected, “In going from Taku to Tientsin I got my first insight into the seriousness of the trouble which had drawn us to that city … Everywhere were evidences of the havoc wrought by the Chinese and by the invading armies.”

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The Boxer Rebellion brought local protest toward foreign Christian missionary infiltration to a violent peak in China. Whiting described the scene he found: “Soldiers of every nation of consequence … Englishmen and Frenchmen, Germans, Italians, Austrians, Americans and Russians; men from Korea and men from Japan, and men from a half-dozen different nations of India, all came and went.”

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“Everywhere were evidence of the devastation wrought by the invading armies. Corn fields and crops were going to waste. Villages were destroyed, and occasionally a dead body marked only too plainly the path of the avenging hosts.”

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In spite of Whiting’s given predisposition against the Chinese Boxers who massacred the Christian missionaries, in a chapter entitled, “The Soldiers of the Nations,” he systematically takes apart the multicultural militia, including his own:

“The Russian soldier is a ruffian. He is unkempt, unshaven, and unclean.”

“The French soldier of the colonies is a slouchy and slovenly individual.”

“The Italian soldier is never taken seriously.”

“The American soldier is blanket blank sure he is as good as any other soldier on earth, and he is when he is properly trained, which isn’t often.”

While in Asia, Whiting decided to join some fellow prospectors on an unplanned quest for gold:

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“It was quite an undertaking to get together the necessary implements, clothing, food and supplies, but at the end of a week, all was in readiness.”

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To find out what happens next, visit The Wolfsonian–FIU library and enjoy perusing Whiting’s journals in full.

~ by "The Chief" on August 13, 2013.

One Response to “THE YEAR OF THE RAT: THE JOURNAL OF JASPER WHITING–A RECENT GIFT TO THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY”

  1. Very Interesting Blog. Thanks.

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