Botanising in a Sinocentric world : Robert Fortune's travels in China

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-270
Journal / PublicationStudies in Travel Writing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes


This article will discuss the writings of Robert Fortune (1812-80), a Scottish plant collector who travelled in China during the 1840s and 1850s. After the First Opium War (1839-42), trade with China flourished and as European travellers, merchants, and missionaries moved inland, long-held views about China were both confirmed and contested. Fortune's travel books provide important insights into changing British attitudes towards China during this formative period, and often express highly conflicted and ambivalent views towards imperialism. This article will suggest that Fortune's writing can best be interpreted within the dynamic context of 'informal imperalism' and ultimately within a larger macroeconomic model of a Sinocentric economy. As one of the best known Victorians to travel to the Far East, his writing sheds light on the ways in which mid-nineteenth-century Britons imagined the very limits of empire. © 2010 Taylor & Francis.

Research Area(s)

  • botany and travel, China, nineteenth-century travel writing, Robert Fortune, tea, travel writing, Victorian travellers