HH J J Kapurthala & wife in Peking, 1903

My travels in China, Japan and Java, 1903 written by  J J Singh, a royal member of the Kapurthala Sikh family recounts his observations of the 3 countries he visited. He voyaged in October 1903 via the port of Bombay recording his brief visit intending to present the end-product, a book, to his circle of friends.His personal impressions of places, people and food are succinct . Japan interested him but China and Java were unappealing. The Chinese, he stated hold no national ideals and were selfish. He describes the international settlement, French concession in Shanghai, the Anglo-Saxon predominance, the European shops on Bubbling Well Road, opium dens, the proceedings of mixed tribunal court , the foreign police, the ‘variety and strength of  smells’ encountered in the native Chinese city.

From Sikhs in Shanghai research perspective, it is his stay in Tientsin that further sheds light on the Indians stationed there – an Indian doctor, the Indian army regiments, a contingent of Sikh police representatives approaching him for funds to build a gurdwara. His meeting with Yuan Shikai – someone he views as ‘the only statesman to realise the grave state of his country’.

The book is a rare Indian view of China. Since J J Singh was from the royal Kapurthala family, he had access and privileges, which an ordinary British Indian subject could not afford. But nevertheless the account offers ‘fresh’, lesser known perspective and should be scrutinized for historical purposes.