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A Vivid Chronicle of Hong Kong, Canton, and Hainan Island in the 1880s.
By Benjamin Couch ‘BC’ Henry, introduced and annotated by Paul French
Benjamin Couch “BC” Henry, who worked as a missionary in Hong Kong and southern China during the latter part of the 19th century, was far more than just that. He was also an explorer, a skilled naturalist, and an astute observer. His deep interest in the region’s unique plant and animal life is clearly evidenced in his writings in LING-NAM.
Publisher: Blacksmith Books
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Most of his tenure in China was spent in the area known as “Ling-nam”, primarily the Pearl River Delta and the surrounding regions of Guangzhou, as was the custom of the time. His book, LING-NAM, published in 1886, includes one of the most comprehensive pedestrian guides to Guangzhou that still exists. His journeys also extend to the adjacent silk, tea, and market garden areas near the city.
Moreover, Henry’s innovative report of his trips around Hainan Island in 1882 is notable. It was, at that time, the most comprehensive exploration carried out by a foreigner. His interests also lay in anthropology, evident in his study of the diverse ethnic groups on the island, like the Lois, and the various languages and dialects spoken in Hainan.
Through two decades of work and exploration, Henry constructed a comprehensive depiction of southern China. His accounts provide an unprecedented depth of insight into life in southern China, from the rise of Hong Kong to the bustling lanes of Guangzhou, and from there to the “Island of Palms”, Hainan.
“Drifting slowly by a large collection of flower-boats, gay with lamps and mirrors, and richly furnished with black-wood sofas and embroidered curtains… Dire confusion is often created among the slipper-boats, whose anchorage adjoins, by the surging of the steamer against their outer lines, causing them to jump, and sputter, and dart about like a swarm of ants, shell-like craft, whilst they vociferously hurl maledictions at the great steamer.”
Topics: BC Henry Missionary, LING-NAM Historical Accounts, Life in 1880s Hong Kong, Guangzhou in the 1880s, Hainan Island Exploration, Southern China in the 19th Century, Historical Insights into Canton, Historical Travelogues from China, BC Henry’s Contribution to Anthropology, Pearl River Delta History