Palimpsesting : Cultural Imaginaries and Charles Halcombe’s “Mystic Flowery Land”

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

View graph of relations

Related Research Unit(s)


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)438–446
Journal / PublicationEnglish Studies
Issue number4
Online published30 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


Published in 1896 in London, The Mystic Flowerly Land: A Personal Narrative of a Visit to China was one of the three major works written by Charles Halcombe (b. c.1865) that were set in China. As one who first worked as an editorial staff for the North China Daily News then an Imperial Maritime Customs Officer in China, Halcombe’s The Mystic Flowerly Land contained a range of archives, folklore and legends that he presumably heard and collected during his seven-year sojourn in China. From appropriating the styles of Romantic lyric poetry and Victorian popular urban sketches to citing Chinese and English newspaper cuttings, Halcombe textually recreates a mystic flowerly land to his intended readers. By invoking the concept of the palimpsest in this essay, I explore his acts of palimpsesting, as well as reveal the ‘palimpsestuous’ condition – ‘a simultaneous relation of intimacy and separation’ in Sarah Dillon’s terms – in the narrative. My paper will show that the textual and visual entanglements within the narrative ultimately reveal the ambivalent attitude of the writer and the various, and at times conflicted, cultural assumptions that underline the portrayal of China in the long nineteenth century.