- English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China
There is hardly a more appropriate time than now to read James Hevia's inspiring new book, English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China. As if he were speaking to current events, Hevia reminds us that the pedagogy of imperialism is a Janus-faced operation in which "the violence of arms" and "the violence of language" are used simultaneously for punitive and constructive purposes. In other words, whether it is the carrot or the stick, the so-called "civilizational mission" of imperialism entails physical and symbolic violence that not only disrupts but also reconfigures the colonized sociopolitical order. In the case of China, as Hevia painstakingly illustrates, the Euro-American intrusion in the nineteenth century had indisputably altered the fortune and direction of modern Chinese history. Thus, even though China was not officially colonized by the West, we need to understand its modern era in the global context of colonialism.
In many ways, English Lessons is an outgrowth of Hevia's previous award-winning book, Cherishing Men from Afar: Qing Guest Ritual and the Macartney Embassy of 1793 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995). In that innovative study, Hevia refutes the conventional understanding of the Sino-British encounter in the late eighteenth century in terms of an aggressive West advocating free trade versus an isolated and immobile China. Instead, he equates the cultural arrogance of the British Empire to the sinocentric worldview of the Qing Empire and suggests that both the British and Chinese Empires were equally obsessed with power and prestige. In so doing, he relativizes the exceptionalist claims of these two self-absorbed imperial powers.
In this latest work, Hevia further advances the story of Western [End Page 237] imperialism by analyzing how European powers eventually displaced the Qing political, legal, and cultural order, integrating the latter into the emerging global system that was largely determined by the West. Thus, if the previous study has demonstrated how Britain and China sought to define and represent the other as they spoke past one another, English Lessons is a story in which the Qing Chinese Empire was eventually deprived of its ability to define its counterpart. Rather, it was being defined and forced to speak the same "universal" language of diplomacy, international law, and free trade that was imposed on them.
English Lessons is divided into three parts. The first part provides the empirical context of the Western aggression against the Qing Empire during the Second Opium War of 1856. The discussion of the systematic lootings of Chinese imperial treasures immediately after the military assault is particularly fascinating. Greed aside, these organized lootings were meant to be retributive acts against the Qing transgression of international law. The self-proclaimed solemnity and moral superiority of the allied forces, needless to say, automatically relegated the civilizational status of the Qing, making it vulnerable to the teachings of European imperialism.
Meanwhile, the series of concessions made by the defeated Qing Empire marked the beginning of what the author calls the deterritorialization of the Chinese empire. Significantly, deterritorialization meant more than just the lost of territorial rights in a concrete sense. The Qing also began to lose its ability to control the meanings of its diplomatic protocol, language, art, and history that were central to its cultural and political order. On the contrary, by producing new knowledge about Chinese culture and society, European powers were in effect reterritorializing the Qing Empire, remaking it according to their own conceptions. The second part of the book is an in-depth study of the mechanism through which the Qing learned European diplomatic etiquette as well as new administrative and governmental techniques.
The final section examines the last phase of deterritorialization in the aftermath of the Boxer Uprising. Here, Hevia goes beyond the history of deterritorialization and reterritorialization of Qing China and examines how the past has continued to shape the cultural and...