We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham e-Theses
You are in:

Foreignness and Selfhood: Reflections of China in Eighteenth-Century English Literature

YAN, MENGMENG (2018) Foreignness and Selfhood: Reflections of China in Eighteenth-Century English Literature. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The eighteenth century was a transition period between Britain’s knowledge of China as mere projection of Chinoiserie values and the development of British sinological studies. It was a historical moment for the exploration and establishment of British attitudes towards China, as well as for Britain’s formation of its own identity in a globalizing world order. Reflections of China in eighteenth-century English literature were at once about contemplation of a foreign entity and about ways of holding up a critical mirror to nature, for speculating about culture and politics closer to home. This study aims to make a distinctive contribution to research on Sino-British encounters in the eighteenth century, in its detailed critical and literary analysis of individual texts pertaining to China in this period. It shows the significance of reading these texts not simply as documents of a historical kind, but as texts that are worthy of literary and artistic attention on the basis of their rich variety in genre, style, and themes. Chapter One of this study traces both the social-historical development of tea and representations of tea in literature, since the leaf was first introduced to Britain in the late seventeenth century. Chapter Two looks at Arthur Murphy’s adaptation of an original Chinese opera, The Orphan of China (1759), and investigates both the play’s manipulation of tragic conventions and the way the original Chinese plot is adapted to carry allusions to events happening in eighteenth-century Britain. Chapter Three focuses on Oliver Goldsmith’s The Citizen of the World (1760-62), a collection of pseudo-letters written by a fictional Chinese visitor in England to his friend in China, and examines the way Goldsmith adopts reverse ethnography in his depiction of Sino-British encounters. Chapter Four studies Thomas Percy’s Hau Kiou Choaan (1761), a text that is based on an original Chinese novel, and analyses Percy’s heavy interventions in the text as a reflection of his particular approach to the Chinese theme. Through exploring reflections of China in eighteenth-century English literature, this study invites a rethinking of ideas of foreignness and selfhood. The eighteenth-century authors discussed in this study are among the bold thinkers who – in their various ways – have thought to build bridges between the East and the West. Chinese and British cultures are not antithetical entities; they exist in relation to one another and create possibilities in the continuing appreciation of diversity amidst a drive to universality.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2018
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:17 Dec 2018 15:08

Social bookmarking: del.icio.usConnoteaBibSonomyCiteULikeFacebookTwitter