Romantic China: Cultural Relations between China and the West in the Later Qing Period, 1793-1850

This project is concerned with cultural relations between China and the West from the Macartney embassy of 1793-4 through to the beginning of the Taiping Rebellion in 1850 – the Romantic period in European cultural history – which witnessed, along with the violence, some of the first steps in the long and difficult (and ongoing) process of mutual adjustment by two powerful but very different civilisations.

This research network brings together scholars from both Western universities and the universities of China and other eastern nations with the broad aim of mapping and interpreting events and cultural interactions during the gradual opening up of China to an enterprising and expansive West during the Qing dynasty, as respective Chinese emperors developed different policies of accommodation and exclusion in reaction to different and accumulating pressures from Western commerce and religion. It focusses on the way different events, as well as the different ideas and beliefs and cultural practices of the Chinese and Western nations, were understood and evaluated – and misunderstood and misevaluated – by each other.

Art, architecture, literature, music, ‘science’ (as it would come to be called), politics, gender and family relationships, cooking, dress – how did they (literally) see each other, and how did they interpret what they saw? What artistic and cultural influences resulted from contact and trade, with what long term benefits or legacies? What passed for knowledge in China and the West, and how were these different knowledges and knowledge economies modified by their contact?

This project will extend and deepen scholarly enquiry into this vital period, bringing into play different national and disciplinary perspectives to achieve a more thorough and cross-culturally nuanced understanding of the political, economic, and cultural background to current negotiations and realignments taking place between different nations in the East and the West.

University of Bristol - Prof. Robert Bickers, Dept of Historical Studies

University of Leeds - Prof. David Higgins, School of English

University of East Anglia - Prof. Peter John Kitson, School of Literature, Drama & Creative Writing

Understanding Cultures