I recently picked up a book in the library, titled Ennin’s Travels in T’ang China. This book combines a primary source, Ennin’s Diary, with the thoughts of the author, Edwin O. Reischauer who is a professor of far eastern languages at Harvard University. Not only does Reischauer add vital information, but the often summarized writings of Ennin contribute more detailed information than the typical monograph.
Ennin, known as Jikaku Daishi in Japan (sounds familiar as it might been from Japanese Tales), was a Buddhist monk. He traveled from Japan in 838 A.D. in order to later introduce to the world a place absolutely foreign to outsiders–after all, his diary is the first account of life in China by any foreign visitor.
Similar to Ennin, Reischauer, after translating Ennin’s massive work and attaching footnotes, is also one of the first to bring this work to a new (Western) audience.
He writes this in the Preface: In the present age in which we are experiencing the painful process of amalgamation into one world, a great historical document of this sort, although medieval in time and Far Eastern in place, is a part of our common human heritage, with significance beyond these limits of time and space. It is the report of an important traveler in world history and an extraordinary, firsthand account of one of the way stations on man’s long and tortuous journey from his lowly, savage beginnings of his present lofty but precarious position. (vii-viii)
As long-winded as that might have been. I can understand firsthand even just a small part of that. In the fall of 2015, I studied and traveled for roughly four-and-a-half months in China. I climbed Huangshan (Yellow Mtn.), explored Guilin, celebrated an international ice and snow festival in Harbin, lived in Shanghai, and toured Beijing and Hangzhou. Although my travel didn’t have an importance to the degree of Ennin’s (obviously), it was vital to my understanding of both the world as a whole, and the world as it is lived in modern China.
Even though deadlines are fast approaching, I will spend as much time as possible combing through Ennin’s collection–ranging from Chinese officials, popular festivals, and the persecution of Buddhism. This should be a significant source for my portion of the podcast, at least.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned.