To do something that others have not yet done, to dare something, that was entirely to Heinrich Schliemann’s taste. In 1864, the successful and wealthy merchant set out to travel around the world for 20 months. Result: five thick diaries in eight languages. In his tiny cabin, during his 50-day voyage from Japan to the United States, he penned his debut Journey through China and Japan in 1865.
It was only in 1861/62 that the so-called Eulenburg Mission had negotiated a treaty of friendship between Prussia and Japan – but western foreigners were still a rarity here. The enthusiastic China fashion of the 18th century had already faded, and Europeans felt this part of the world to be too backward. Since the opium wars of the Western powers had just forced the opening of China, traveling was not without its dangers. Despite the American gunboat policy, Japan was still largely closed to western visitors. Schliemann saw an opportunity for himself to fill a gap in the market with a travelogue about China and Japan. The disappointment was all the greater when this book, published in French at his own expense in Paris in 1867, became a flop.
Nevertheless, his report is not uninteresting with regard to the later do-it-yourself archaeologist Schliemann, who was obsessed with describing the object of his research as precisely as possible and recording all the details. In China, Schliemann was particularly attracted by the “Great Wall”, a childhood dream. Schliemann observed closely, often arrogantly and caustically – a child of his time. Above all, he noticed the dirt. In Tientsin, “all senses of the traveler are offended,” he wrote. But he marveled at the size of the cities, the intensive horticulture and agriculture needed to feed the then 400 million people. He marveled at the glorification of women’s forcibly reduced feet and the Chinese’s passion for gambling.
In the face of dilapidated palaces in the capital, he criticizes the current generation as “degenerate and run-down”. In the north at the Great Wall of China, whose stones he measured exactly, he noticed that people were happier here. There were no beggars, they were kind to him. Schliemann attributes this to the absence of opium consumption, with which the British had flooded and destroyed the south of the country. In Shanghai he noted: “I regret to say that the most feared pirate junks are commanded by Europeans.”
“Every Japanese home is a model of cleanliness,” he was quick to remark in Yokohama. He was all the more astonished that large-scale prostitution was not a problem. Schliemann witnessed the Shogun’s visit to the city, which strangers were not normally allowed to see. He paid a visit to Edo, today’s Tokyo, and noted that the upper class was critical of the country’s opening up, in contrast to the shogun. It is amazing that Schliemann’s detailed, curiosity-driven report met with little interest at the time. He was ahead of his time even then.