The lure of the masses

Canton / Guangzhou – Shamian Island, January–February 1930

Guangzhou’s waterfront bustle is a site of extreme racial anxiety for Ross, but one of fascination, too.

This chapter, added to Ross’s 1924 book Das Meer der Entscheidungen in 1936, is called “Swimming city at night”. While Ross cruises the nightly harbor of Guangzhou (Canton), he ponders its constant coming and going (see Running out of ground). With city life being equally busy on land and on the water, he rhapsodizes that “[a] strong lure emanates from this stream of people, the lure to join in and be carried submissively into the unknown, into adventure.” [p. 262] Ross takes on this adventure by night, indirectly emphasizing the risk he takes by mocking those well-protected globetrotters who only venture into the city in sedans with guides and interpreters. On his sampan trip, the transgressions of opium-smoking, gambling, and prostitution are evoked. But Ross without Ross remains uninvolved, save for some half-hearted bets. The Chinese whom Ross encounters remain fundamentally other, most clearly, and openly, in his description of prostitutes who work on small boats while surrounded by their parents and siblings. Consequently, the trip reaches its comforting end at the foreigner’s enclave of Shamian Island.

Joachim Schätz

Colin Ross. Nächtliche schwimmende Stadt. In: Das Meer der Entscheidungen. Beiderseits des Pazifik. 7. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1942 [1924]; 261–4.

Topic: Volk ohne Raum
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30

See also

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