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Chinese Influences or Images?: Fluctuating Histories of How Enlightenment Europe Read China

From: Journal of World History
Volume 24, Number 3, September 2013
pp. 623-660 | 10.1353/jwh.2013.0076



This historiographical survey reveals major fluctuations in twentieth-century studies of how early modern Europe received descriptions of China by travelers and missionaries. The article argues that historians working on the cultural history of this reception have alternated between an overall understanding of this interregional entanglement as either an image, in the meaning of a projection, or an actual influence upon European developments. The image approach and the influence approach are shown to be mutually exclusive, and this is explained by relating the specialized results of the field to the debates on “the West” and “the Other” that reached an apex with Edward Said’s Orientalism. Therefore, apart from presenting a complete state of the art for this field, the article analyzes how the ethical and political research debates of the 1970s made the concept of influence untenable until other branches of world history had been insisting on world historical entanglements for almost a decade in the beginning of the 2000s.

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