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Reviewed by:
  • The English Renaissance and the Far East: Cross-Cultural Encounters by Adele Lee
  • Miriam Lau (bio)

English Renaissance, East Asian Renaissance, China, Japan, Shakespearean adaptations, Chinese Shakespeare, Japanese Shakespeare

Review of Adele Lee. The English Renaissance and the Far East: Cross-Cultural Encounters. London: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2018, 185 pages. $95.00 hardcover. $39.99 paperbck.

Adele Lee's The English Renaissance and the Far East: Cross-Cultural Encounters is a significant and engaging work that illustrates the transition from the English Renaissance to the East Asian Renaissance in the twenty-first century. The book is neatly divided into two sections. In "Part One: The English Renaissance," Lee painstakingly outlines English encounters with two East Asian powers, China and Japan, in the Renaissance period. She also gives a detailed historical account of the convergences of East and West in the sociopolitical realms. In chapters one and two, respectively, Lee recounts the English imagination of China before setting foot in the "Middle Kingdom" and records their actual encounters with the Chinese after the first Englishmen, Captain Jeremy Weddell, Thomas Robinson, William Bushell, and Peter Mundy, visited China in 1637. Chapter one, "Decrypting Dee's Dreams: An Elizabethan Magus and the Search for Cathay," focuses on the imagination [End Page 119] of "Cathay" (an old Mongolian name for China) by Dr. John Dee who served as the advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. Lee states that there was a widespread opinion in the Renaissance that the "Chinese were Adamite people, that is, original members of the human race" (19). In addition, the Chinese language was regarded as the original lingua humana by Francis Bacon. Chapter two, "'Dumb Shewes of (Dis) Curtesie': England's First Encounter with China," draws a comparison between the English and the Iberians' (Jesuits in particular) early presence in China. Lee argues that, compared to the Iberians, the English had "limited understanding of Chinese culture and the type of men sent on trading missions in this period tended to lack education and refinement" (35). One such example is John Weddell's reckless attempt to secure trading rights in China through force in 1637, which "ruined [England's] chances of direct trading with China for the rest of the seventeenth century" (34). On the other hand, Lee states that Macau, known as the "City of the Name of God," was the "keystone of the Portuguese trade empire" and also a "well-known Jesuit stronghold" (34). Therefore, it was not difficult for the Portuguese to shape local opinion of the English as a "dangerous, quarrelsome race with little to offer in terms of trade" (35), as recorded in Peter Mundy's journal, the earliest, firsthand description of China by an Englishman.

In chapter three, "'Naturalized Japanners': 'Samurai William' and the English in Hirado, 1613-1623," Lee continues to explore the Renaissance English's perceptions of another Asian superpower—Japan. She begins by recording the Renaissance English view of Japan as an "island of great wealth" (63) and the perception that Japanese people far exceed all nations lately discovered in terms of wit and virtue. Lee then describes the legacy of William Adams, better known as "Samurai William," the first Englishman to set foot in Japan, in 1600. Adams formed a long-lasting friendship with Tokugawa Ieyasu, who awarded him samurai status, a large estate in Hemi-mura, and the marriage of a Japanese noblewoman. After living in Kyushu for almost two decades, Adams became a "naturalized Japanner," and "spoke Japanese, wore Japanese clothes . . . married a Japanese woman, with whom he fathered two children, despite already having a wife in England" (78). At that time, anxieties stirred in Renaissance England about Englishmen who had "gone native," leaving the interests of their homeland behind.

After underscoring the social and political contexts of China and Japan in part one, Lee proceeds to examine Shakespearean adaptations in the two regions in "Part Two: The East Asian Renaissance." The book's recurring [End Page 120] mention of the 2006 Beijing Olympics serves as linkage between parts one and two in which Lee quotes Yiyi Lu that there is a "deep-rooted Chinese desire to always present its best image to foreigners and win admiration...


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