We will look at the fascination the West had with China from Elizabethan times up until the 19th century.
Topics we will cover include The Silk Road, “Chinoiserie” (the taste for Chinese styles which saw its pinnacle with the royal palace in Brighton – the Brighton Pavilion), Marco Polo, and the roots of the Opium Wars.
This will set us up for the rest of the module when we look more fully at contemporary China and its relationship with the West.
Becoming independent scholars
The reading for the next couple of weeks will largely be directed by your own interests – for example you may wish to start investigating Chinese metal design and craft, or interiors, Chinese illustration styles or the development of writing and type. Don’t feel you have to remain within your discipline, however – use this opportunity to venture outside. For now, though, stay focused on historical aspects of Chinese culture, art, design and craft. Some recommended reading is listed below, and you should be using the library’s search facility to access research and other resources, as well as the web and museum visits.
Lecture: Chinoiserie – The British obsession with Chinese style
This lecture will explore how the British (among other nations) became obsessed with the Chinese style (“Chinoiserie”) and how this Sinophilia (love of China) contrasted with Sinophobia (fear of China) which led ultimately to the Opium Wars.
City of Heavenly Tranquillity
Chapter 1 (review)
The Silk Road
These books are worth investigating to look at particular aspects of this topic. Depending on your personal focus, you may wish to purchase one or more of them – some can be bought very cheaply on Amazon.
- Dawn Jacobson Chinoiserie (Amazon Link)
- David Beevers Chinese Whispers: Chinoiserie in Britain 1650-1930 (Amazon Link)
- John Chinnery Treasures of China (Amazon Link)
- Scott Minick and Jiao Ping Arts & Crafts of China (Amazon Link)
- Craig Clunas Art in China (Amazon Link)
If you are interested in a readable history of the Opium Wars, try The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China by Julia Lovell (Amazon Link). The last few chapters connect the war with modern China’s attitude towards the rest of the world. An interesting read for after the module, perhaps.