Linda Jaivin gives the 72nd Annual George E Morrison Lecture at The Australian National University - Morrison's World.
When George Morrison was born in 1862 in Geelong, the Colony of Victoria was only eleven years old and the Second Industrial Revolution twelve. Freud was five, Oscar Wilde eight. Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal had only been in print five scandalous years and Darwin's On the Origin of Species three. Queen Victoria sat on the throne of England. Travel was arduous, slow and for the adventurous. Most people apprehended the wider world through books and journals; photography was not yet a mass or even highly portable technology.
Morrison was a toddler by the time issues of the London Illustrated News arrived at the family home by sea mail with etchings of the burning of the Yuanming Yuan by British and Allied forces in 1860. He was still a schoolboy hunting koalas and possum when the Empress Dowager Cixi took virtual control of the Chinese throne. By the time Morrison became China correspondent for the London Times in 1897, the Qing was in terminal decline. He'd live to see men in China cut off their queues and involve himself in China's first ambitious experiment with republicanism as advisor to one of modern Chinese history's most controversial figures, Yuan Shikai. He'd also witness a revolution in journalism -- the simultaneous transmission of reports from the battlefield -- and the shocking rise of the New Woman in the West, demanding the vote, the right to own property, and in the case of one Miss Mae Perkins, to have sex and boast about it like a man.
'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.' The mission of the historian and the calling of the novelist converge in the desire to recreate lost worlds. The historian is a storyteller, after all -- and a novelist can sometimes find herself an historian.
Ms Jaivin is the author of eight books including six novels and two non-fiction, as well as co-editor with Geremie Barmé of New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices. Her first novel, the comic-erotic Eat Me, went on to become an international bestseller. Her fifth, The Infernal Optimist, was short-listed for the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal in 2007. The judges of the 2001 Kiriyama prize named The Monkey and the Dragon, part China memoir, part biography of the singer-songwriter Hou Dejian, a 'notable' entry. She is also a translator, essayist, playwright, and cultural commentator. She is a Visiting Fellow at the Pacific and Asian History Division at ANU and chair of the Advisory Committee for the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney. Her most recent novel, A Most Immoral Woman is based on an episode in the life of George Morrison. She lives in Sydney.
The annual Morrison Lecture was founded by Chinese residents of Australia and others to commemorate the work of Dr George Ernest Morrison of Geelong who lived in China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and to stimulate interest in Australia in Chinese art, literature and culture.