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Performing China

Virtue, Commerce, and Orientalism in Eighteenth-Century England, 1660-1760

Chi-ming Yang

Publication Year: 2011

China in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was a model of economic and political strength, viewed by many as the greatest empire in the world. While the importance of China to eighteenth-century English consumer culture is well documented, less so is its influence on English values. Through a careful study of the literature, drama, philosophy, and material culture of the period, this book articulates how Chinese culture influenced English ideas about virtue. Discourses of virtue were significantly shaped by the intensified trade with the East Indies. Chi-ming Yang focuses on key forms of virtue—heroism, sincerity, piety, moderation, sensibility, and patriotism—whose meanings and social importance developed in the changing economic climate of the period. She highlights the ways in which English understandings of Eastern values transformed these morals. The book is organized by type of performance—theatrical, ethnographic, and literary—and by performances of gender, identity fraud, and religious conversion. In her analysis of these works, Yang brings to light surprising connections between figures as disparate as Confucius and a Chinese Amazon and between cultural norms as far removed as Hindu reincarnation and London coffeehouse culture. Part of a new wave of cross-disciplinary scholarship, where Chinese studies meets the British eighteenth century, this novel work will appeal to a number of fields, including performance studies, East Asian studies, British literature, cultural history, gender studies, and postcolonial studies.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

This book would not have been possible without the generosity of numerous individuals and institutions along the way. It was completed with the assistance of a junior faculty research leave from the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences, ...

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Introduction China as Exemplar: Eastern Spectacle and Western Discourses of Virtue

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pp. 1-31

To early modern Europe, China emerged as an exemplary and controversial model of empire, by turns enlightened and despotic. Representations of virtue in British cultural production were significantly shaped by the intensified trade with the East Indies and by a new environment that combined consumerism with didacticism. ...

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1 Heroic Effeminacy and the Conquest of China

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pp. 32-74

Buried in the annals of English theater history is an obscure play by Elkanah Settle, The Conquest of China, By the Tartars (1676), perhaps most notable for its resounding failure with Restoration audiences. As an eighteenth-century critic remarked, the play was terribly acted ...

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2 Sincerity and Authenticity: George Psalmanazar’s Experiments in Conversion

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pp. 75-113

The staging, in England, of Chinese history was as much an exercise of spectacle as it was an experiment with the conventions and limits of heroic virtue. The unruly example of China’s conquest, imagined in relation to a number of gendered places and times—Tartary, Greece, Rome ...

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3 Transmigration, Fabulous Pedagogy, and the Morals of the Orient

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pp. 114-147

We can explore the spectacle of heathen conversion not only through a cultural forgery such as Psalmanazar’s but through the literary and philosophical fashioning of Eastern religions into consumable objects of moral pedagogy. “Virtue,” as we have seen, is an ever-shifting ground of competing ideologies. ...

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4 Luxury, Moral Sentiment, and The Orphan of China

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pp. 148-183

London audiences attending the opening of Arthur Murphy’s The Orphan of China in February 1759 would have been struck by its elaborate staging, which was a subtle study in contrasts. Unlike Settle’s Conquest of China, this heroic tragedy was an instant success. ...

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Epilogue: Orientalism, Globalization, and the New Business of Spectacle

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pp. 184-198

The moral and material excesses of Eastern empires were of particular interest to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English reflections on the changing nature of global commerce and its increasing impact on everyday metropolitan life and the wealth of the nation. ...


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pp. 199-236


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pp. 237-260


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pp. 261-270

E-ISBN-13: 9781421404417
E-ISBN-10: 1421404419
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421402161
Print-ISBN-10: 1421402165

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 16 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • European literature -- 18th century.
  • China -- Foreign public opinion, British -- History -- 18th century.
  • China -- Civilization -- History.
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