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Title:A cross-cultural dialogue: Eighteenth-century British representations of China
Author(s):Chen, Lianhong
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Dussinger, John A.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, Comparative
Literature, Asian
Literature, English
Abstract:This dissertation examines Samuel Johnson's essays about China, the travel accounts of a group of British naval officers and a Scottish physician, John Bell, as actual or symbolic responses to changes in eighteenth-century British society, Continental European representations of China, and contemporary Chinese utterances about the British and European travelers. My cross-cultural and historicist approach points to rival Sino-British perceptions about each other, competing narratives among the European community, and double voices in the primary texts.
China resisted the European treatment of other peoples as epistemological and aesthetic spectacles. In the 1740s when British political and religious authorities, as well as generic distinctions, were unstable, Johnson dealt with this resistance by forming a reader-oriented literary criticism. It justified British readers' privilege to turn their knowledge of China into exotic rhetoric reinforcing their cultural values. More than a decade later, when Britain's domestic situation was stabilized and exoticism was out of fashion Johnson no longer regarded China useful.
The British naval officers experienced first hand the Chinese imperial pride and an accentuated anti-European sentiment. They failed to defend the European right to expansion to the Chinese who believed in their sole right to their own space and co-government of Euro-colonized communities such as Macao. The naval officers sought to enrich themselves by minimizing expense, while the Chinese of various classes turned the officers' stay to their economic advantage. The Sino-British confrontation made relative such concepts as civilization and power, thus undermining universality, the premise of European colonization.
Even though he followed European conventional representations of Chinese men as effeminate and jealous to a limited extent, Bell reversed the role of Europeans as spectators and willingly allowed himself to be a spectacle to the Chinese emperor, in an age of sentiment of the 1760s. Contrary to Eurocentric perceptions, Bell represented alternative images of Sino-centric world power, competing musical styles, and versions of world history. These British writers shared a Protestant and practical view, different from the Catholic, and pedant representations of the French Jesuits and their Continental followers.
Critics have long noted the British fascination with China in the eighteenth century. Few, however, have touched on its cross-cultural and historical complexities. Since China does not belong to the conventional paradigm of a civilized European self in contrast to a barbarian other, it constitutes a destabilizing condition in the postcolonial study of European relations with the rest of the world.
Issue Date:1996
Rights Information:Copyright 1996 Chen, Lianhong
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9712224
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9712224

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