In the garden of the world
From Firenze University Press Book
Miriam Castorina, University of Florence
On September 14th 1859, a young Chinese traveler named Guo Liancheng 郭連城 (1839–1866) from a small village far from the capital, landed in Civitavecchia, Italy, after a long journey of overland travel and months of navigation.
He was only 20 years old and was in the company of an Italian priest, Luigi Celestino Spelta, who had taken the young convert under his wing in the Christian community he was responsible for in the province of Hubei. Guo was of course not the first Chinese man to visit Europe, since many before him had been to the continent, some as slaves, some in the company of European priests and others for reasons unknown, whose journeys have left no trace in the pages of history.
The young traveler had a particular family background, coming from a literati family and being a student of a Seminary in Wuchang run by Italian priests, already present in the area for at least one hundred years. Before leaving the motherland, he decided to keep a daily journal of his experience far from home, starting from day one, 6th April 1859, and ending the day he finally returned home safe and sound on 27th July 1860.
His journal was published a year after his return under the modest title of Xiyou bilüe 西游筆略 (Brief Account of the Journey to the West, hereafter also indicated as XYBL). The title echoes the most celebrated of Chinese novels: the Xiyou ji 西游記 or Journey to the West, a journey undertaken centuries before by the Buddhist monk Xuanzang 玄奘 (600–664) in search of sacred scriptures in India.
But what was Guo Liancheng searching for? The most relevant motive of his travel is religion but, as the pages of his account prove, the journey would not have been possible if the author had not been a talented and open-minded man.
Guo is one of the many forgotten and often unknown Chinese travelers who made up the history of these exchanges but his contribution is not manifest or has not been taken into due account.
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