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Orientalism and Representations of China in the Early 19th Century: A Case Study of The Chinese Repository

JIN, CHENG (2019) Orientalism and Representations of China in the Early 19th Century: A Case Study of The Chinese Repository. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This research focuses on representations of China in English in the early 19th century by Western visitors and residents attracted by trade and missionary opportunities. This was the second major wave of western commentators on China following the Jesuits from the 16th to 18th centuries. As in the earlier case the main commentators are Christian missionaries, but in the 19th century they were mainly British and American protestant missionaries bringing a different world view to China. This world view was conditioned by their religion and their sense of superiority based on the relative decline of China in technological and institutional terms compared to the time of the Jesuits. Their views were widely disseminated in the West, and they became both theoretical and literal interpreters (as a result of their language expertise missionaries were employed as interpreters) for Western policy makers. There were three distinct groups of Westerners: merchants, diplomats and missionaries. The missionaries were the most intellectually curious and hence the most active commentators on China, but at the same time were the most inflexible in the framework of understanding they took to China. They also had different concerns and attitudes towards China, compared to the other groups, such as on the opium trade in China. Missionaries are selected as the main subjects for observation in this research.
There are three main research questions: firstly, how did the Protestant missionaries from the early 19th century represent China to Western readers in their publications—primarily in The Chinese Repository, and why did they represent China in the ways they did? Do these representations share some common characteristics or patterns? To what extent were these representations motivated by a framework of expectations that arose from their Western backgrounds?
The main data used in this research is from The Chinese Repository. It was the first English journal devoted to offering a comprehensive introduction to Sinology. It was published between 1832 and 1851, and it witnessed the outbreak of the first Opium War and the change of discourse that occurred over that period. Around 60 articles are selected from the journal to analyse how missionaries represented China and to suggest some reasons for this.
The main theoretical framework of the research is orientalism propounded by Edward Said in 1978. It is approached by two dimensions: a micro dimension which focuses on the book itself published in 1978 and American scholars’ feedback in the decade following its publication, and macro dimension which concentrates on Chinese scholars’ views of orientalism from the 1990s onwards and Western scholars’ new interpretations in the 21st century. I transpose the notion of orientalism from the 20th century Middle East to the 19th century Chinese context, and apply this notion to analyse missionaries’ representations of the Chinese language, religion and society. I believe that the orientalism has different contextual manifestations: in other words, it should be ‘topic-sensitive’. I find that within the framework of orientalism missionaries adopted three different specific approaches in representing China: syncretism, fundamentalism and progressivism. They used these to inform and reconcile what they found in China with the framework of understanding derived from their religious beliefs and their socio-political view of the world.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Orientalism, The Chinese Repository, Representations of China, Missionaries, Sino-British War
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Modern Languages and Cultures, School of
Thesis Date:2019
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:06 Aug 2019 10:21

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