Tartars, Monguls, Manchus, and Chinese

  • Peter J. Kitson
Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


In chapter 5, I discussed the changing discourse of China and the extent to which this was affected, or even caused by racial thinking. The focus of that chapter was on historical, diplomatic, travel and missionary writing rather than literary texts. The emphasis in this chapter is more firmly placed on literary texts. There is not a great deal of what one might think of as purely imaginative writing about China in the Romantic period, compared with that written about other areas of the globe and compared with later periods, although there are many cultural references to China, often as a part of political or aesthetic critique. For Ros Ballaster, writing about late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century representations of China, the elements of Chinese culture that gained especial currency in England were “political and moral absolutism, belief in theories of transmigration, and willful linguistic obscurity.” She also argues that for the “cult of China ... the charge of inauthenticity, or fictionality, was central to the robustness and elasticity of its dissemination.” Thus, like the Rococo fripperies of Chinese wallpapers and other effusions of chinoiserie, fictions of China and the Chinese are self-consciously ironized and dependent for their impact on the tacit understanding that they have no referent in an actual polity. They become, in Ballaster’s elegant formulation, “that enigmatic scribal sign which is understood by western commentators as either a vestige of a pure antediluvian language or an illegible erratic mark governed by no grammatical logic” (206, 204, 223, 218, 196).


Romantic Period Yuan Dynasty Racial Discourse Racial Type Nomadic People 
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© Peter J. Kitson 2007

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  • Peter J. Kitson

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