When President Brooks of the University of Missouri was in Ann Arbor for President Little’s inauguration last fall, he met Harry Franck, ’03, whose last book, “Roving through Southern China,” had only recently come off the press. Upon his introduction to our Michigan “vagabond” President Brooks said, “Mr. Franck, I want to thank you. I have read most of your books. They did me a lot of good, particularly the ones about South America. Ever since I’ve been a boy, South America has been the place above all others I wanted to visit. Now, having read your book, I find I don’t want to go at all.” Rather an equivocal compliment, that, but it pays tribute to Franck’s uncanny ability of seeing things as they are, and setting them down without prejudice. Certainly, what he has to say about Southern China often makes one congratulate himself that it is Franck who is enduring the discomforts and hardships and above all the dirt, which he doesn’t let us forget, rather than we, who follow his rovings through his 650-page book.
Every page of it is interesting. One feels instinctively that it is China as it is, even if the author were not at some pains to inform us that the ordinary traveler of the treaty ports rarely sees or becomes acquainted with the real Chinese people and their life. While our traveler has abandoned apparently, the purely vagabond methods of his earlier wanderings and does condescend to use other means of transport besides his own legs, he still prefers to use the simplest means of getting around, like native boats. donkeys and wheelbarrows, which keep him in touch with the teeming life of the people.
Occasionally one notice he leaves the native Inn to his servant and sleeps in the open air, even though such an unheard of proceeding excites the whole countryside. The territory covered by this book includes the Southern part of China, from Shanghai south to Canton and the neighboring Hong Kong, with a long swing up through the western provinces where the author came into contact with a number of curious aboriginal tribes which hare never been absorbed by the Chinese race. China is infinitely the same throughout its great extent, and yet there are many differences in people. Climate, and landscape, which give the key to many of his chapters.
What he has to say, for instance, about Canton with its totally different language spoken by only about 3,000,000 Chinese. where the women do not bind their feet and from which our own Chinese all come, is of particular interest to American readers. What he has to say of Sun Yat Sen, too, and his ineffective southern government, is at least a healthy corrective to some of our preconceived notions.
The same is true of the chapter where he evaluates with a certain humorous philosophy some general aspects of Chinese life, such as Chinese honesty, “squeeze,” “losing face,” over-population, or his “musings from a Holy mountain top” where he sets down frankly his ideas of missionary effort and accomplishments as well as Chinese religious philosophy. This book is not one to read through at one sitting. or in fact several sittings. Yet when the last page is turned, one feels that here you have a real and sympathetic picture of China, with perhaps, a little overemphasis on poverty and dirt. There must be beauty, too, the beauty of color and atmosphere and poetry sometimes, which somehow one seems to get only at second hand. In spite of it all—that is the over-population with its accompanying filth and disease—one seems to catch the fascination of China, and the reason why seasoned travelers all like the Chinese.
– review from The Michigan Alumnus, Volume 32