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Republished old books illuminate China
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The 19th and early 20th centuries saw an outpouring of illuminating English-language books about China by Western travelers. Most tales have been forgotten. Now many are back in print.

In 2007, Shanghai welcomed more than 6.6 million tourists from overseas, up by almost 10 percent from the previous year. That's a tiny fraction of the huge and frequent interactions between Chinese and foreigners.

Expatriates from all over the world settle in China. They try to find a lifestyle integrating their own traditions and local culture. And Chinese try to discover a way to get along with these foreigners, maintaining both their national pride and respect for outsiders.

Living together is a process that involves conflicts, misunderstandings, adjustments, reassessments and compromises.

Ancient wisdom says, "history is a mirror," so looking back is illuminating and helps us put the present in perspective.

A republished series of old English-language books about China gives readers a window on how Chinese and foreigners got on in earlier days, especially during the mid- to late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most are by Westerners, a few by Chinese.

Graham Earnshaw, who came to China in the 1980s as a journalist and is fascinated by Chinese history, launched the republication in late 2007 by his publishing house, Earnshaw Books.

Earnshaw has published eight old books so far and plans to publish two books every month. He estimates at least 50 to 100 books "deserve another day in the sun."

"In the old China, the 19th and early 20th centuries, there were a lot of books published in English about China and Chinese culture. Some of the books are extremely well written and are illuminating about Chinese culture and traditions. The books, popular when first published, have basically all been forgotten," Earnshaw tells Shanghai Daily.

"Many old books about the old China at that period are poorly written, difficult to read and not very interesting. We chose the books because the content is interesting, they are well written and readable," he says.

Earnshaw knows the books have a small market, but it is a labor of love for someone, who is "very interested in the connections between the old and new China, and the extent to which Chinese culture and society today is the same as or different from Chinese culture and traditions in the old days. And the way that Chinese culture and international/Western culture interact."

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