Senzaimaru’s Maiden Voyage to Shanghai in 1862: Brush Conversation between Japanese Travelers and People They Encountered in Qing China

Chor Shing David Li, Reijiro Aoyama

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingChapter in an edited book (as author)Academic researchpeer-review


The year 1862 marked the maiden voyage by 51 Japanese passengers to Shanghai after Chinese-Japanese official contact was suspended for over 220 years. After that two-month visit, some of the samurais wrote up their insightful observations and detailed recollections in the form of travelogues or diary accounts. A total of 17 texts were produced. Among the rich details gauged through their lens was a rich variety of anecdotes involving brushtalking—using brush, ink and paper—when they were engaged in communication with Chinese street vendors and shopkeepers, but also acquaintances and friends they made. Verbatim records of the exact words improvised during brushed encounters afford us a glimpse into patterned writing-mediated communication between Chinese and Japanese people interactively face-to-face, despite the absence of a shared spoken language. This seems unparalleled in other ancient cultures, thanks to phonetic inter-subjectivity of written Chinese, a morphographic, non-alphabetic script. Meaning is conveyed morphographically without neither side having to know or ask: ‘How do you say this in your language?’ The Senzaimaru travelers’ collective experiences suggest that brushtalk was a viable modality of transcultural, cross-border communication between Chinese and Japanese literati of Classical Chinese (wenyan 文言) or Literary Sinitic in early modern East Asia.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBrush Conversation in the Sinographic Cosmopolis
Subtitle of host publicationInteractional Cross-border Communication Using Literary Sinitic in Early Modern East Asia
EditorsDavid C. S. Li, Reijiro Aoyama, Tak-Sum Wong
Place of PublicationLondon & New York
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781003048176
ISBN (Print)9780367499402
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2022

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in the Early History of Asia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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