Diplomatenfrau between Two Worlds: Elisabeth Heyking’s China Journal

Mary Rhiel


In the context of German colonial representations of China, this essay focuses on the travel journals of Elisabeth von Heyking, a Diplomatenfrau, who lived in Beijing from 1896–99 while her husband played a key role in acquiring Ger-many’s concession in Qingdao. The article examines Heyking’s travel text as a mapping of her desires, anxieties, disavowals, and shifts in textual strategies as her vision for Germany’s entrance into colonialism is destroyed by the competitive realities of the New Imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century. When her use of colonial representational strategies breaks down in China, Heyking moves to writing fiction. Her first novel of 1903, Briefe, die ihn nicht erreich-ten, was the best-selling novel of the year in Germany and was translated into several languages. This novel’s conservative critique of imperialism diminishes for its protagonist the connection between home and nation. Because Briefe’s resolution does not produce a replacement vision to modern imperialism, this piece of writing represents an unintentional contemplation of the impossibility of unified solutions grounded in bordered nations and binary gendered distinctions.

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