University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
expand section 
expand section 

expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
collapse sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 


Like the West itself, China possesses an ancient civili-
zation of great complexity that is difficult to compre-
hend quickly and fully.

Before 1514, Europeans learned of China mainly
through intermediaries, a few travelers, and luxury
imports. In the sixteenth century China was thought
to be a “Mightie Kingdome,” technologically more
advanced than Europe. The Europeans of the seven-
teenth century were told by the Jesuits that China had
a rational society of great antiquity and continuous
development that would have to be incorporated, by
one means or another, into their Christian, mono-
genetic view of the world. Both the Jesuits and the
philosophes of the Enlightenment saw China as a model
of Enlightened Despotism. Artists and connoisseurs of
the eighteenth century were intrigued with China as
the source of exotic objets d'art and as the home of


an imaginary, happy people who came to life in the
paintings on porcelain. The reaction against China as
a rational model and as a source of exotic delight came
in the nineteenth century. While Sinologists sought to
understand the China of historical reality, other
Europeans esteemed Chinese poetry and culture as
being aesthetically superior, and worthy of study and
imitation. There were Westerners who also derided
China as a stagnant, inferior society that had nothing
to offer the West but problems. The modernizing,
nationalizing, and communizing of China produced the
contemporary fear of China as a nemesis of Western


In antiquity China gradually received a delineation
in Western thought which set it apart from the rest
of Asia, especially India, as an independent civilization.
Trade on an important scale convinced the Romans
of China's advanced technical capability, but the ideas
of China, even in arts and crafts, left few deep or
lasting imprints upon Roman culture. From the fourth
century A.D. to the return of Marco Polo to Venice,
nearly a millennium later, medieval Europe almost lost
sight of China as an independent civilization and it
again became an undifferentiated part of a vague or
mythical Asia.

The restoration of overland communications by the
Mongols from 1215 to 1350 permitted Christian mis-
sionaries and merchants to visit China (Cathay) and
enabled them to prepare accounts of their experiences
there. But even commentators as acute as Marco Polo
and Odoric of Pordenone were unable to provide in-
sights into Chinese thought, probably because they did
not command the language. What the European re-
porters of the Mongol era accomplished was to re-
awaken interest in China as an advanced, wealthy, and
independent civilization. It was not until the establish-
ment in the sixteenth century of permanent relations
by the sea routes that Europe began to acquire a sense
of the depth and sophistication of Chinese thought and

The sea passage opened to India by the Portuguese
in 1499 was extended to the coast of south China by
1514. With the establishment of direct intercourse the
Portuguese and their associates in Europe eagerly
sought information on the merchandise, military po-
tential, religion, and customs of the Chinese. Their
concern to learn about religion and customs was origi-
nally inspired by the fear that the hated Muslims might
be firmly entrenched in China, as they were in India
and southeast Asia. The Portuguese were quick to
learn, however, that the obstacles to intercourse with
China were not created by the Moors but by the
Chinese themselves. The Ming policy of isolation se-
verely restricted foreign intercourse, but a few
Europeans still managed to penetrate China illegally.
The earliest reports to reach the West based upon
direct experience came from Europeans who were
prisoners in China.

In Europe the accounts of the Portuguese prisoners
were used as sources by the chroniclers of the discov-
eries, Fernão Lopes de Castanheda and Joāo de Barros.
The chroniclers also garnered whatever information
they could from the oral reports of European mer-
chants and sailors and natives coming from China itself,
or from Eastern ports where information on China was
current. Barros had a Chinese slave who read and
abstracted materials for him from Chinese books that
had been expressly collected for this purpose in the
East. The Portuguese chronicles, like most of the pre-
vious accounts, are limited to descriptions of the phys-
ical aspects of life, political institutions, and history,
and the most striking and obvious social practices.

Observers and writers of the Catholic orders pro-
vided the first glimpses of China's religious and intel-
lectual life. The Portuguese Dominican, Gaspar da
Cruz, after spending several months in south China
in 1556, presented in his Tractado... (Evora, 1569)
a rounded and detailed account of life in China. In
obedience to orders from Pope Gregory XIII, the
Spanish Augustinian, Juan González de Mendoza,
completed his comprehensive Historia... del gran
Reyno de la China
(Rome, 1585). It was quickly trans-
lated into most European languages and soon became
one of the best selling and most widely quoted books
of the day. The first systematic Jesuit work in which
China figures prominently is the compendium of
Giovanni Petri Maffei entitled Historiarum Indicarum
libri XVI
(Florence, 1588). Maffei's sketch of China is
based in large part upon the manuscript descriptions
prepared by Alessandro Valignano, the notable Jesuit
Visitor to the Asian mission. Richard Hakluyt in his
Voyages (1599) published, in English translation, a
small discourse prepared by the Jesuits in China which
summarized briefly what the missionaries had learned
of Chinese civilization to that time.

In their descriptions of China the sixteenth-century
religious observers in the field and the compilers in
Europe show a fresh and lively interest in Chinese
language, customs, arts, thought, and religious prac-
tices. The Jesuits are the first to undertake the system-
atic study of the Chinese language, the tool essential
to the penetration of learning. Aside from describing
the peculiarities of the Chinese language, certain of
the more sophisticated commentators begin to specu-
late on the possible relationships between Chinese
pictographs, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and the Amerindian


languages of the New World. Chinese books on cere-
monies, laws, sciences, arts, and history were collected
and sent to Europe. Excerpts from some of these books
were translated in the Philippines and then relayed to
Europe. Mendoza, apparently on the basis of such
translations, seeks to give a complete list of the names,
chronological limits, and great achievements of the
Chinese dynasties. All of the writers comment admir-
ingly on the architectural monuments, great cities, and
excellent social organization of the Chinese. Close
attention is paid to Chinese methods and organization
in education and to the examination system for state
offices. The religious writers comment favorably on
the treatment of women, and on the maintenance by
the state of almshouses and hospitals. While their ad-
miration in these cases is genuine, it should also be re-
membered that the religious commentators were
always writing for the edification of their European

Certain of the sixteenth-century religious writers are
highly critical of the content of Chinese learning. More
than once the Europeans remark with disdain on the
unsophisticated character of Chinese astronomy,
mathematics, and geography. The knowledge of the
Chinese in these fields is judged to be limited to empir-
ical observations of the sort that people everywhere
make. Chinese science is esteemed to be in the same
primitive state that the European sciences were in
before Aristotle organized them and before Christianity
enlightened them.

In their social life the Chinese are said to suffer from
gross superstition, inhumane tortures, unnatural prac-
tices, and excessive preoccupation with pleasures of
the flesh. Their three principal religions—Confucian-
ism, Buddhism, and Taoism—do little, in the estimation
of the Christians, to raise the moral tone of Chinese
personal life. Confucianism, with its stress upon attain-
ing the five virtues and an orderly society, approaches
truth more closely than the other two faiths. Buddhism,
which teaches a primitive notion of immortality, is
otherwise fraught with obvious errors that are easily
refuted. Neither the Taoists nor the Buddhists show
any interest in learning and their priests are reviled
for their evil and servile behavior.

To the Europeans of the sixteenth century, China
was a “Mightie Kingdome” whose major art was gov-
ernment, or the effective political and social orga-
nization of a large and heavily peopled nation. Its
civilization was admired for longevity, continuity, and
cohesiveness. In the arts and crafts it was thought to
be as advanced as Europe, perhaps even more so. Its
limitations in theoretical science, in personal morality,
and in appreciation of religious truth were attributed
to its ignorance of Christianity. Once China had been
evangelized, the inference is clear that it would neces-
sarily become worthy of emulation by Europe.


The Jesuits of the last generation of the sixteenth
century had directed their efforts toward the develop-
ment of a policy and program that would help them
to penetrate the Chinese mainland and establish rela-
tions with the highest levels of cultivated society. On
the basis of their experiences at Macao, the Jesuits
under Valignano's leadership decided to pursue a policy
of “accommodation,” or cultural compromise. It was
in this conciliatory spirit that the Jesuits began to study
seriously Chinese language, customs, and learning.
Matteo Ricci, an Italian priest, appeared on the
Chinese mainland in 1583, established cordial relations
with Chinese officials and scholars, and ultimately
made his way to the imperial court in Peking.

Ricci resided at Peking from 1601 to his death in
1610. During that decade he won the confidence of
the Ming Emperor and the Confucian literati through
his gracious and dignified bearing, his polite and intel-
ligent absorption in Chinese learning, and his sincere
and sophisticated efforts to explain Western science and
Christian teachings in terms that could be appreciated
and understood by the learned and tolerant. While
writing of Western thought and religion in Chinese,
Ricci composed a manuscript history of the introduc-
tion of Christianity to China. His Italian text, and
references from his Journals, were translated into Latin
by Father Nicolas Trigault while on a sea voyage from
China to Europe. Trigault published Ricci's work in
five books under the title De Christiana expeditione
apud Sinas
... (Rome, 1615). This account was quickly
accepted throughout Europe as the official, best in-
formed, and most recent exposition on China and the
progress of Christianity there. Within a few years after
its appearance, translations were issued in French,
German, Spanish, and Italian. The first and the last
of Ricci's books deal with China; the others are mainly
concerned with the history of the mission.

Ricci, unlike Mendoza, was a close student of China's
thought and religions. Since he lived in China at a time
when Buddhism and Taoism were degenerating, his
works exhibit forthright scorn for them. Especially
repellent are Buddhist practices which appear to be
devilish parodies of Christian rites. The “delirium” and
“ravings” of the Taoists about Lao-Tze he attributes
to the inspiration of the devil. Confucianism, the offi-
cial thought of the literati, is much more to Ricci's
taste. Confucius he sees as the equal of the best pagan
philosophers of antiquity and superior to many of them.
The emphasis in Confucianism upon morality, ration-
alism, public order, and teaching by precept and ex-


ample appeal to Ricci as being in accord with Christian
principles. He points out further that the Confucianists
have no idols, believe in one God, and revere the
principle of reward for good and punishment for evil.

The Chinese literati convinced Ricci that Confu-
cianism was not a competing faith but rather a set of
moral precepts which was used for the proper govern-
ment and general welfare of the state. Ricci was also
led to believe that Confucianism “could derive great
benefit from Christianity and might be developed and
perfected by it” (Gallagher, p. 98). It was Ricci's sim-
plistic presentations of early Confucianism, uncompli-
cated by the subtleties of later exegesis, that led several
generations of Jesuits to believe that China could best
be won by close study of the Confucian Classics, by
alliance with a native literati devoted to its moral
precepts, and by conversion of the leading lights of
the realm and the emperor himself to Christianity. To
the Jesuits at home such a program seemed congenial
and likely, for it paralleled closely the educational,
social, and conversion policies that they were then
following in Europe.

The Jesuit successors of Ricci in China included a
number of mathematicians and scientists who contin-
ued to advance the cultural mission. Reports on their
progress began to appear in Europe at mid-century.
Alvaro Semedo, a Portuguese Jesuit, published at
Madrid in 1642 a work on the empire of China in
which he pays far greater attention to secular affairs
than Ricci had. He also gives the text of and explana-
tory notes for the Nestorian monument found at Sianfu
in 1625. He informs Europe about the wars being
fought between the Ming and the Manchus. More
material on the calamitous events taking place in north
China was provided with the publication of Father
Martin Martini's De bello Tartarico historia (Rome,
1654). In the following year Martini published his
Novus Atlas Sinensis (Amsterdam), the first scientific
atlas and geography of China and one that remains
a standard reference work. In 1658 Martini published
at Munich his Sinicae historiae, the first history of
China written by a European from Chinese annals. In
the meantime Father Michel Boym had returned to
Europe to announce in 1654 the conversion to Chris-
tianity of members of the expiring Ming family and
court. Far more important for European science and
thought was the publication of Boym's Flora Sinensis
(Vienna, 1656), a work comparable in intellectual
merit to Martini's Atlas.

The Jesuits also published Latin translations of
selected Confucian Classics. Prospero Intorcetta issued
the translation by Ignatius da Costa of the Ta Hsüeh
(“Great Learning”) in his Sapientia sinica (Goa, 1662).
At Paris in 1673, Intorcetta published his own transla
tion of the Chung yung (Doctrine of the Mean). Four-
teen years later a group of French Jesuits headed by
Philippe Couplet published the Confucius Sinarum
(Paris) and dedicated it to King Louis XIV.
It contains translations of the Classics previously pub-
lished as well as the Lun Yü (“Analects”). Francisco
Noël in his Sinensis imperii libri classici sex (Prague,
1711) republished the earlier translations and added
to them his own version of the Meng-tzu (“Mencius”),
the Hsiao ching (“Filial Piety”), and the Hsiao hsüeh
(“Moral Philosophy for Youths”), a small work of inter-
pretation by Chu Hsi (1130-1200) that was then used
in China for elementary instruction in the Classics. The
Classics selected by the Jesuits for translation were
those which had been given new prominence by Chu
Hsi and the Neo-Confucianists of the orthodox school
then dominant in China.

While the Jesuits provided scholarly treatises and
translations of the Confucian Classics, the merchants
and diplomatic emissaries of Europe supplied by their
accounts a less sophisticated and a more impressionistic
documentation on China and its people. The Dutch,
who had been sailing directly to the East since 1595,
became particularly aggressive in the 1620's as they
sought to secure a monopoly of the trade with China.
In connection with these efforts they established a fort
and settlement in southern Taiwan in 1624. But with
the dynastic troubles that swept China, Dutch hopes
for an expanded trade were quickly disappointed. Once
the Ch'ing dynasty took over at Peking, the Dutch tried
to negotiate directly at the capital. But the embassies
sent to Peking in 1656, 1667, and 1685 produced few
concrete results, and so no further efforts were made
to establish legitimate trading relations with China.

The Dutch produced a number of independent ac-
counts of China that were published in Europe be-
tween 1644 and 1670. Isaac Commelin issued a collec-
tion of early Dutch travel accounts in 1644 that was
followed two years later by the publication of William
Bontekoe's Journal. These reminiscences paint a pic-
ture of the Chinese that is far different from the glow-
ing and adulatory image of an ancient, rational society
created by the Jesuits. To the Dutch observers the
Chinese were sinister, devoid of all virtue, and experts
in treachery. The Dutch emissary, Johann Nieuhof, in
his account of the embassy of 1665, presents a more
balanced view of China based both on the Jesuit writers
and his own experiences. Olfert Dapper, a Dutch phy-
sician, compiled in Holland the reports of the second
Dutch embassy to Peking, and in 1670 issued an ency-
clopedic compendium on China gleaned from the em-
bassy descriptions and a wide range of other sources.
His book, entitled Atlas Chinensis in its English trans-
lation, is often erroneously attributed to Arnoldus


Montanus. The Dutch accounts share a distrust of the
Chinese and a skeptical view of China's vaunted civili-
zation. The Dutch also provided Europe with its first
comprehensive descriptions of the Chinese island of
Taiwan, and of the widespread ruin produced on the
mainland by the dynastic wars.


The Jesuits were meanwhile faced with a crisis of
their own, the Rites Controversy. In its origins this
bitter struggle within the Catholic Church can be
traced to Ricci's view, which stressed the idea that no
essential conflict existed between Confucianism in its
pristine form and the tenets of Christianity. The origi-
nal doctrines of Confucius, according to Ricci, taught
monotheism and possibly even contained a primitive
knowledge of Jehovah. Corruption of ancient Confu-
cianism had taken place over the centuries as was
clearly demonstrated by the growth of Taoism and the
successful introduction of Buddhism into China.

Father Nicolas Longobardi, the Jesuit successor of
Ricci at Peking, was himself skeptical that the ancient
Chinese had knowledge of the true God. The Domini-
can and Franciscan missionaries, who began to evan-
gelize in south China in the 1630's, were hostile to
“accommodation” in any form. They branded all the
Chinese sects as idolatrous, and initially made no seri-
ous efforts to study the language or to understand
Chinese civilization. The two methods of evangelizing
quickly came into conflict, as each group embarrassed
and outraged the other. It was not long before the issue
was joined in Europe as well as in the East.

At first the controversy raged over the question as
to whether or not the ancient Chinese had a conception
of the true God. Soon this debate led to the more
practical question of the Chinese term best suited to
render in its full significance the Christian conception
of God, a problem that the Jesuits had earlier resolved
in Japan by introducing the Latin word Deus into
Japanese. But in China, where the Jesuit linguists knew
that new terms could not so readily be added to the
language, and where the Jesuits held that there already
existed a primitive conception of Jehovah, the question
of terminology could not be so adroitly handled. A host
of other Christian terms, “soul” and “spirit” for exam-
ple, could not easily be given Chinese equivalents that
would carry with them the overtones that these words
and concepts necessarily must have for believers. To
the Dominicans and Franciscans the Confucianists for
all their learning were simple atheists or agnostics who
taught a materialistic doctrine inimical to the Christian
faith. They were particularly outraged when the Jesuits
permitted their Christian converts to continue per-
forming ancestral rites. The Jesuits, following the logic
of their original position, held that these rites were
social and political rather than religious ceremonies.

The controversialists first appealed to Rome for an
opinion in 1645. Pope Innocent X took a position that
was critical of the Jesuit policies. But in 1656, Pope
Alexander VII took a benign attitude on the question
of the “Chinese rites” and granted that they should
be permissible under certain conditions. The Domini-
can, Domingo Fernández Navarrete, then assumed
leadership in the struggle against the Jesuits. In China,
where he was superior of the Dominican mission from
1664, Navarrete gathered a mass of data relating to
the “terms” and “rites” questions. On the basis of these
he prepared two imposing and authoritative volumes
called Tratados historicos, politicos, ethicos y religiosos
de la Monarchia de China
(Rome, 1674). While it was
a powerful attack upon the Jesuit position, Navarrete's
book was also an excellent compilation of observations
on Chinese life, customs, and practices.

At this juncture the authorities in Rome became
understandably confused and disturbed over the Rites
Question. The Congregation of the Propaganda in
Rome decided to include the China question among
the problems of general missionary activity and proce-
dure then under investigation. The learned of Europe
were consulted and began to take sides on the question.
The Missions étrangères in Paris, which had increas-
ingly become critical of the Jesuit effort to dominate
the mission field, urged the Holy See to dispatch an
Apostolic Vicar to China. Charles Maigrot, sent to
China in this capacity, stood firmly in his mandate of
1693 against the practices being followed by the
Jesuits. In Europe the Jansenists joined forces with
those who denounced the Jesuit practices in China. The
faculty of the Sorbonne in 1700 condemned the view
advanced by the Jesuit, Louis Le Comte, that the
primitive Chinese had practiced morality while the rest
of the world still lived in corruption. The Rites Con-
troversy, as it became involved with the Jesuit-Jansenist
debate, threatened to produce an irreparable split
within the Church.

In a dramatic effort to investigate and resolve the
controversy, Pope Clement XI sent a special legate to
China in the person of Charles de Tournon, Patriarch
of Antioch. The De Tournon legation arrived at Canton
in 1705 to begin its investigation. The atmosphere
blackened quickly when, in 1706, De Tournon roundly
denounced the Chinese, including the emperor, as
atheists. Opposed on all sides for his ignorance and
intolerance, the legate was condemned and arrested
by the Chinese. De Tournon died in China in 1710
without retracting. In Europe the Papacy forbade
further controversy, and in 1715 issued the constitution
ex illa die which clearly condemned the Jesuit position.


Controversy nonetheless continued, both in Europe and
China, until a strong papal pronouncement, ex quo
was issued in 1742 requiring the Jesuits in
China to take a special oath to abide by the papal


Étienne de Silhouette, a pupil of the Jesuits, wrote
in his Idée générale du gouvernement... des Chinois
(Paris, 1729) that the controversies over the Chinese
Rites “have given rise in the minds of everyone to a
desire to know China” (Rowbotham, p. 145). He might
also have observed that the question of the Rites and
the religious, philosophical, linguistic, and social ques-
tions linked to it, had long been of deep interest and
concern to intellectuals both inside and outside the
Society. The compilation of Athanasius Kircher, China
(Amsterdam, 1667), an important work by
a Jesuit scholar who had never been to China, inaugu-
rated for the last generation of the seventeenth century
the European age of erudition on things Chinese.
Kircher's huge tome, with its numerous illustrations,
was quickly reissued in Dutch, English, and French
translations, and it thereafter became the starting-point
for those who wrote or thought about China. Kircher's
distinction as a scholar, his interest in the comparative
study of languages, his analytical presentation of the
Nestorian monument, his perceptive comments on flora
and fauna, and his incorporation of authentic and nu-
merous engravings of Chinese persons and scenes all
combined to produce a work of enduring value and
persistent influence.

The Chinese language with its peculiar system of
characters had intrigued the earliest commentators.
Sample characters began to appear in European publi-
cations of the late sixteenth century. While a practical
knowledge of Chinese was acquired by most of the
missionaries to China, the scientific study of the
Chinese language in Europe emerged in the seven-
teenth century through diverse routes. Jacob Golius in
the Netherlands first became interested in the Chinese
language by way of his Arabic and Persian studies.
Students of Near Eastern languages were given an even
better starting-point when Kircher published parallel
columns of Syriac and Chinese (also Romanizations)
copied from the Nestorian monument. Andreas Müller,
the provost of Berlin and a student of Near Eastern
languages, was one of the first to use the Nestorian
inscriptions and other available materials in his fruitless
efforts to produce a key for the easy understanding
of Chinese. His contemporary in England, John Webb,
published in 1669 a book in which he sought to prove
that Chinese was the primitive language spoken from
the time of Adam to Noah, and that it had remained
in a petrified condition ever since.

When Father Philippe Couplet brought two Chinese
converts to Europe in 1685, the Jesuit and one of his
charges were quizzed by linguists at Oxford, Berlin,
and Vienna about the nature of the Chinese language.
Another Chinese convert remained in Paris to work
on a dictionary that the French Jesuits were preparing
as a tool for missionaries in the field. By 1700 European
scholars had learned from their investigations of
Chinese something about the differences between the
literary and spoken languages; the tonal system and
dialects of the spoken tongue; the monosyllabic nature
of the characters; the absence of grammar and inflec-
tion; the historical evolution of the characters; and the
various styles of calligraphy. They were not able, how-
ever, to produce the key either to Chinese or to the
hieroglyphs of Egypt, which a number of them vainly

European interest in the Chinese language was orig-
inally linked to the general Renaissance concern with
Hebrew and Egyptian as primitive and emblematic
languages; to the efforts of the rationalists to discover
the primitive language from which all others were
supposed to derive; to the hopes of certain optimists
who sought to find a language more universal than
Latin, and to the ambitions of others to construct an
artificial and perfected philosophical language for use
in the arts and sciences. Chinese appealed to language
theorists because the characters, they believed, were
based on concepts rather than arbitrary sounds.
Seventeenth-century linguists thought this conceptual
basis essential to the construction of a universal lan-

Some interested scholars thought of Chinese as the
lost language of Noah, or as the primitive language
of all mankind; others persisted in holding the belief
that the revival of Chinese would restore the languages
of the world to that perfect condition which had ob-
tained before Babel. Leibniz hoped to use elements
from Chinese in developing a philosophical language
that would replace Latin and help to make direct
communication possible among the intellectuals of the

Closely related to the confusion of tongues was the
problem of China's antiquity and history, and its rela-
tionship to orthodox Christian and Western beliefs in
monogenesis. The publication of Martini's Historiae
(1658) set the stage for a fundamental contro-
versy over historical chronology which was finally to
shatter Western concepts based upon the Bible. Issac
Vossius, an eminent Dutch scholar who was avowedly
an ardent admirer of the Chinese, published his Disser-
tatio de vera aetate mundi
... (The Hague, 1659), the
first essay to examine the implications of Martini's
historical data for Western thought. Martini's book,
according to Vossius, showed that China's history


antedated the universal deluge, that its civilization was
continuous, and that its historical records took no
notice of the Flood. Vossius, casting Christian tradition
aside, proceeded directly to the conclusion that the
history of man was fourteen hundred and forty years
older than it was commonly supposed to be. The reason
for the error in the West was the tendency of the
Christian chroniclers to rely upon Hebrew texts rather
than upon the Septuagint version of the Old Testament.
Vossius likewise concluded that, because the Flood is
not mentioned in the Chinese annals, the probability
is that it was not universal but simply an event in the
history of the Jews. Vossius, on the basis of his faith
in the Chinese annals, thus reduced the Bible to a book
of local history (Pinot, p. 205).

The critics of Vossius, especially Georg Horn,
stressed his rashness in accepting uncritically the evi-
dence of the Chinese annals. They also attacked the
authenticity of China's historical traditions and the
accuracy of Martini's chronological calculations. A
tendency gradually developed, however, to effect a
reconciliation of Chinese and biblical history through
numerous elaborate devices, including the use of the
Septuagint chronology suggested by Vossius. The
Chinese annals were thought to be at best distorted
renditions of the events related in Genesis. The
Chinese, it was surmised, could recall their antedilu-
vian history through remembrances preserved for them
by Noah's family. The sage emperors of China were
identified with Adam, Cain, Enoch, and Noah. Once
such identifications had been established, it became
possible to argue that the Chinese annals provided
verification for the historical authenticity of Genesis.

The Jesuits, in part because of their position in the
Rites Controversy, were compelled to uphold the
veracity of the Chinese annals. In 1686 Philippe
Couplet published a Tabula chronologica monarchiae
... (Paris), an effort at reconciling Chinese and
Christian chronologies by trying to show that concord
existed between the Septuagint and the Chinese
records. In so doing he added fourteen hundred years
to the period between creation and the life of
Abraham. But this solution failed to satisfy either the
intellectuals of Europe or the missionaries in China.
The Bible was hereafter used historically by the mis-
sionaries in China mainly for the purpose of filling in
gaps or of explaining obscure references in the Chinese
annals. In Europe the Bible as a source for world
chronology increasingly fell into desuetude. Even in
the 1970's we are required to use concordances to
reconcile Chinese and European dates.

In their conception of the beginnings of the world
the Europeans were committed to a search for common
origins. The ancient civilizations of Persia and Egypt
were familiar to the writers of antiquity and the Bible,
and so could be brought into universal history through
these channels. China raised an almost insoluble prob-
lem because its civilization developed in isolation, its
history was uninterrupted, and its chronology con-
flicted with Western conventions based on the Bible.
Theories had to be devised consequently to account
for the repopulation of China after the Flood. Egypt,
because of its antiquity and the affinities of the hiero-
glyphs to Chinese characters, was identified by some
as the center from which the great postdiluvian migra-
tion to the East began. The people of Pre-Columbian
America, who likewise wrote in pictographs, were
thought to be descendants of the earliest wave in the
great eastward migration. But such a theory of devel-
opment upset the traditional periodization of the world
based on the “four monarchies”: Chaldean, Persian,
Hellenistic, and Roman. In the light of the new knowl-
edge this old geographical and political scheme of
periodizing gave way completely, and was supplanted
by periods based entirely on chronology, i.e., ancient,
medieval, and modern. It was only by this device that
China's history could be correlated with classical and
later Western historical periods.

The most ingenious and tortuous effort to reconcile
Judeo-Christian and Chinese traditions was advanced
by a small group of Jesuits in China who have been
called “Figurists.” They claimed to find evidence in
the Confucian classics and in other Chinese works that
would support a theory of the common origin of man-
kind and the law. The Figurists held that the Ancient
Law given by God to man was originally in the hands
of a supreme lawgiver: Enoch in the Hebrew tradition,
Zoroaster in Persia, Fu Hsi in China. Shem, the son
of Noah, carried the pure Logos to China after the
Flood. Fu Hsi, following the precepts of Enoch, pro-
mulgated the law in three forms: pictographic concepts
and folk heroes for the simple people, more complex
symbols for scholars and religious leaders, and mystical
symbols for the sages. A source of mystical symbols
of great import was thought to be the I Ching (Book
of Changes
), one of the most cryptic of the Chinese
classical books. Once they had concluded that the
mystical figures (trigrams and hexagrams) of the I Ching
were symbols of eternal verities they tried to decipher
them. While nothing came of these attempts at
cryptography, the Figurists by their enthusiasm and
ingenuity did help to elevate China and its civilization
to a place of primary importance in the deliberations
of those intrigued with theories of common origin and
universal kinship.

The first and greatest of the European thinkers to
come under the spell of Figurist ideas was Leibniz.
The German philosopher, who had long been fasci-
nated by the revelation of China's great civilization,
became a correspondent of Father Joachim Bouvet, one


of the leading Figurists. Around 1701 Leibniz was won
over to the idea that the “hieroglyphics” of the I Ching
were the creations of Fu Hsi and were mystical symbols
that represented the Infinite and the Chaos from which
God had rescued mankind. For a time he himself ex-
perimented with the trigrams, and sought through the
analytical use of his binary arithmetic to show that
they had a coherence and order about them which
indicated that they might be a key to all the sciences.
A successful deciphering of these symbols might lead,
Leibniz thought, to the establishment of a firm scien-
tific basis for the story of Creation and for the history
of the antediluvian epoch. André-Michel Ramsay and
Montesquieu were also intrigued by the ideas of the
Figurists, but they made no serious efforts to help the
Jesuits document their fantastic claims. However, they
were impressed, as Leibniz was, by the Chinese Classics
as sources which provide evidence for the homogeneity
of human thought and for the objective existence of

European religious and lay thinkers of the seven-
teenth century, under the influence of the debates
attending the Rites Controversy, began to speculate
as to whether the Chinese were materialists or spirit-
ualists, atheists or deists. The freethinker François La
Mothe le Vayer in his De la vertu des payens (Paris,
1642) placed Confucius in Paradise with other great
pagan thinkers. He also asserted that the Chinese, from
time immemorial, have recognized but one God, and
he then deduced that the Chinese ethical system is
based on reason and the law of nature. Pascal believed
that the Chinese were God-fearing people whose reli-
gious beliefs could be understood only allegorically.
In the Pensées (1670) he wrote: “China obscures, but
there is clearness to be found; seek it.” Pierre Bayle
suggested that Spinoza's pantheism owed a debt to
Confucian concepts of God. But Bayle, while praising
the tolerance of China, like many other rationalists
unhesitatingly branded the Chinese as atheists, and his
opinion was to have influence well into the eighteenth
century. Herbert of Cherbury, a precursor of the
English Deists, looked upon the Chinese as proponents
of natural religion. Antoine Arnauld, the Jansenist
lawyer and articulate foe of the Jesuits, saw nothing
but iniquity in the Confucian ideas. Christian
Thomasius, the Protestant educator of Halle, viewed
Chinese religion as blind faith in the authority of
dogma. Malebranche, the Oratorian philosopher, in his
Conversation between a Christian Philosopher and a
Chinese Philosopher on the Existence of God
tried to refute the Chinese idea that matter is eternal.
He, like Bayle, saw points of similarity between
Spinoza's philosophy and Chinese thought.

Leibniz was the only secular philosopher of the later
seventeenth century to support the Jesuits in the Rites
Controversy and in their interpretation of Chinese
religion and thought. In his diverse writings Leibniz
shows himself to be convinced that the ancient Chinese
were monotheists who conceived of God as being both
spirit and matter. This Chinese God he sees as an
entelechy similar to his own Supreme Monad. In the
practice of their religion the Chinese worship God in
the virtues of particular objects. But they are not idol-
aters, for they worship the spiritual rather than the
material essence. In ancestral worship, he contends,
there persists a concept of the immortality of the soul;
rites are performed before the ancestors to remind the
living to act so as to deserve the recognition of poster-
ity. Leibniz' interpretation of Chinese religion was
more than faintly reminiscent of the leading ideas in
his own Monadology.

Like the Jesuits themselves, Leibniz rejoiced openly
in the edict of toleration for Christianity promulgated
in 1692 by the K'ang-hsi emperor. He congratulated
the Jesuits on this success and heralded it as a vindica-
tion of their understanding of how best to reconcile
Christian and Chinese thought. In 1697 he published
his Novissima Sinica as a call to Protestants to emulate
the example of the Jesuits and to dispatch a mission
to China. He was even encouraged to hope, after the
conclusion in 1689 of the Treaty of Nerchinsk between
Russia and China, that the land route to Peking might
be reopened and regular communications established
through Russia between learned groups in China and


The Jesuits took seriously Leibniz' advice to send
more useful objects and practical information to
Europe from China. They also continued throughout
the eighteenth century, even after the suppression of
the Society in 1773, to publish detailed information
on Chinese life ranging from the history of the Jews
in China to brief essays on Chinese games. The Lettres
édifiantes et curieuses,
an intentional popularization,
were issued in printed form beginning in 1702, and
were later compiled and reissued in twenty-six volumes
at Paris between 1780 and 1783. J. B. Du Halde, one
of the editors of the Lettres édifiantes, published in
four volumes his encyclopedic Description de la Chine
... (Paris, 1735) which was translated into English and
Dutch in the following year. In following the encyclo-
pedic tradition which they helped to inaugurate, the
Jesuits published at intervals from 1777 to 1814 what
were called Mémoires concernant les Chinois (Paris).
Unlike their earlier publications, the Jesuits, who were
now generally in disrepute, here issued in sixteen vol-
umes, with but few editorial coomments, a wide vari-


ety of translations of Chinese materials. Contem-
poraneously, Father Mauriac de Mailla published in
1778 a translation in twelve volumes of the Tung-chien,
(“The Outline and Details of the Compre-
hensive Mirror”), a twelfth-century version of Chinese
history prepared under the direction of the philosopher
Chu Hsi.

What most impressed the Jesuits and Leibniz about
China, was its superiority to Europe in the establish-
ment and maintenance of a rational social order.
Leibniz fancied from what he read that the K'ang-hsi
emperor was a model ruler who governed his subjects
firmly but with great respect for law and the advice
of his counsellors. So great was Leibniz' admiration
for the government, social stability, and moral system
of the Chinese that he confessed:

... we need missionaries from the Chinese who might teach
us the use and practice of natural religion, just as we have
sent them teachers of revealed theology

(trans. in Lach,
Novissima Sinica, p. 75).

To Leibniz and the Jesuits, the morality of the
Chinese was inseparable from government. The
Chinese, it was alleged, have no concern with abstract
questions of morality but are interested only in apply-
ing to daily life the teachings of Confucius regarding
the duties of men. The morality of the Chinese is seen
to be a set of prescriptions designed to procure and
assure individual, familial, and social happiness. The
successful organization of the Chinese monarchy, as
opposed to the European states, is based on the fact
that the emperor applies and adapts to the adminis-
tration of the state the principles which obtain in
individual and family life. Political means are used in
China to achieve a more perfect morality. The end
of life, society, and government in China is happiness,
here and now. Abstract religious virtue, with its invisi-
ble and other worldly rewards, is of no interest to the
Chinese. China flourishes as a great and virtuous em-
pire without the aid of revealed religion.

Among the earliest of the philosophical popularizers
to propagate to the learned public the Sinophilism of
the Jesuits was Christian Wolff, the follower of Leibniz.
In a lecture delivered at the University of Halle in
1721 before the combined faculty and student body,
Wolff proclaimed the excellence of Chinese moral
philosophy and its correspondence with his own teach-
ings regarding the efficacy of human reason in meeting
the problems of daily life. Duty and virtue, the differ-
ence between good and evil, and the imperative to
right action may be learned from nature as well as
revelation, according to both the Chinese and Wolff.
While Wolff contends that no conflict exists between
this doctrine of lay morality and Christian teachings,
his Pietistic colleagues at the university remained un-
convinced. In their determination to end what they
thought of as Wolff's heretical teachings, the Pietists
prevailed in 1723 upon King Frederick William I of
Prussia to banish Wolff from his territories.

From the sanctuary of the University of Marburg
Wolff continued thereafter to write about and teach
his “practical philosophy.” Others continued to write
polemical tracts about Wolff and his interpretations
of Confucian morality and Chinese statecraft. In 1730
at Marburg Wolff delivered a lengthy lecture on China
as the outstanding working example of an enlightened
government. His views of the “Real Happiness of a
People under a Philosophical King” did not go un-
noticed by Voltaire and the young Frederick whom
he was tutoring at Rheinsberg. Within German univer-
sity circles the moral philosophy and Sinophilism of
Wolff continued to be a subject for learned debate until
the last generation of the eighteenth century. Wolff's
major pronouncements on Chinese morality and gov-
ernment were greeted with great cordiality by the
Jesuits. In the Description of Du Halde, issued five years
after Wolff's lecture at Marburg, emphasis continued
to be placed upon the natural morality, rational reli-
gion, and enlightened statecraft of the Chinese.

The first systematic treatise on the science of state-
craft published in Europe was Montesquieu's L'esprit
des lois
(The Spirit of the Laws, 1748). For his informa-
tion on China Montesquieu used the merchant accounts
as well as the adulatory statements of the Jesuits, but
preferred the merchants as the less biased observers.
The merchants, as we have seen, were as unanimous
in their condemnation of the treachery, deceit, and
dishonesty of the Chinese as the Jesuits were in their
praise of China's natural morality and good govern-
ment. In response to the conflict in his sources, and
in harmony with the thesis of his book, Montesquieu
concluded that a wide gulf separates theory from prac-
tice in the governing of China. Peace and tranquillity
are assured by patriarchal repression and by the do-
minion of fear. An attack upon a magistrate becomes
an attack upon the entire system, hence dissent and
liberty are nonexistent and reform of evil impossible.
As long as the elements are cooperative, the people
industrious, and the state not too repressive, life in
China is satisfactory. But nature is not often benign
and so disruptions occur. And, since reform of the state
is not possible, the individual Chinese make out as best
they can by resorting to artifice. The state, handcuffed
by its own system, tolerates deception while eschewing
reform. China, because it is governed by the rod, is
classified as a despotism in which honor and virtue are
little more than theoretical objectives. Nonetheless, by
the attention he gave to China, Montesquieu recog-


nized that study of its laws and institutions is necessary
to any objective examination of the principles of gov-
ernment and similar questions of universal import.

Rousseau, in his Discourse on Political Economy (first
printed in the Encyclopédie in 1755) likewise experi-
enced the need to reckon with China in propounding
his generalizations. The emperor of China he sees as
being exemplary in unswervingly following the dictates
of the “general will” in resolving disputes between the
officials and the people. Rousseau approvingly noted
that it is “the constant maxim of the prince to decide
against his officers” without delay or investigation, and
concludes that since the “public outcry does not arise
without cause” the Chinese emperor finds “seldom any
injustice to be repaired.” He also praised the fiscal
system of China “where taxes are greater and yet better
paid than in any other part of the world.” The reason
for this, in Rousseau's estimation, is that food grains
are free of taxes, and the heavy duties levied on other
commodities are paid by the ultimate consumer, or by
those who can afford to pay.

Voltaire in his historical works, especially in the
Essai sur les moeurs et l'esprit des nations (1756),
measured China's civilization against the achievements
of other peoples. China occupies the place of honor
in his Essai and is the first civilization he considers.
The Chinese are especially successful, in Voltaire's
eyes, in using government to protect civilization. The
emperors of China, comparable to philosopher-kings,
for centuries maintained a stable, tolerant, and wise
regime. Their benign, patriarchal rule, reinforced and
aided by a corps of dedicated mandarins, served the
people well. Society, following the Confucian princi-
ples, was built on respect for the Golden Rule, mutual
toleration, and public service. In upholding the Confu-
cian ideals, the Chinese produced throughout history
an intelligent, rational, and deistic ruling class which
set an example to the rest of society by cultivating
virtue, refined manners, and an elevated style of life.
But the Chinese system, for all of its moral and political
virtue, could do nothing to encourage the expansion
of the arts and sciences. Superstition, ancestor worship,
and the character system of the language were persist-
ent deterrents to advancement. The consequence was
that China did not develop the arts and sciences as
it might have done. That China's ancient civilization
was overtaken by the European in the mid-seventeenth
century is best documented by the fact that “even”
the Jesuits were able to teach the mandarins something
from their first arrival on the Chinese scene.

If Voltaire's Sinophilism was qualified, a number of
political theorists of the mid-eighteenth century were
convinced that Europe had more to learn from China
than it had to teach. In Germany, a leading cameralist
writer of the day, J. H. G. Justi published in Berlin
in 1762 Vergleichungen der europäischen mit den
asiatischen und andern vermeintlich barbarischen
In this comparative work, as well as in
several of his other writings on political economy, Justi
concentrates on China as the foreign state most worthy
of study. He is particularly attracted by China as an
example of enlightened monarchy in which the un-
limited authority of the ruler is effectually combined
with moderation in its exercise. Moral restraint in the
monarch is inculcated in China by careful education
of the prince in humility, industry, respect for human
life, reverence for learning, and concern for agricul-
ture, the main occupation of the people. Like Leibniz,
he believed that the Chinese emperor is constrained
to virtue by his desire to receive the favorable judg-
ment of history. While subjects have the duty to re-
monstrate with the ruler, he sees in China no formal
constitutional restrictions on the emperor. Systematic
training in civil morality is taught to the people by
the mandarins, who are themselves selected, rated, and
promoted by a civil service institution. No hereditary
nobility exists in China, and elevation to high rank
comes only through excellent performance in public
service. The censorate, which acts as the eyes and ears
of the emperor, is the surveillance institution that
guarantees integrity and efficiency at all levels of gov-
ernment. Administration by boards rather than by
individuals alone also helps to check license and des-
potism among officials. Most impressive of all is the
fact that the Chinese system is internally so well bal-
anced and its administrative machinery so wisely con-
structed that it works automatically to insure the gen-
eral welfare. In China, Justi clearly thought he had
found a working example of the kind of enlightened
despotism that he and others were advocating for the
German states.

In France the ideal of an enlightened and rational
absolutism was most fully articulated by the Physio-
crats. The Physiocrats were especially critical of state
economic policies which overstress commerce and
neglect agriculture. In China they saw a government
vitally concerned with agriculture, as was symbolized
dramatically by the annual spring rites at which the
emperor, or his deputy, turned the first furrow. The
most characteristic of the Physiocratic writings which
elevated China to a model for Europe was François
Quesnay's Le despotisme de la Chine (Paris, 1767).
Quesnay sees the government of China as one in which
the ruler through legal despotism enforces the natural
economic laws. Authority is rightly invested in an
emperor who is impartial, tolerant, and constantly
careful to protect the public welfare. Since China is
an agricultural nation, the ruler correctly pays special


attention to problems relating to the land and the
cultivator. He does not lay arbitrary taxes, but follows
the Natural Law by requiring as payment “a portion
of the annual produce of the soil” (Maverick, p. 290).
He does not tolerate monopolies, but does his best to
encourage free and natural competition in all economic
enterprises. He demands regular accountings of public
funds and swiftly punishes malversations. The per-
petuity of China's government is attributed to the
stable natural order enforced by the ruler. China's
greatest problem is overcrowding of the land with the
result that too many of its people live in poverty or


With the beginning of direct intercourse in the six-
teenth century, the artists and craftsmen of Europe had
become intrigued with Chinese textiles, porcelain, and
lacquer ware. A pronounced taste for Chinese art ob-
jects was widespread in Europe by the time tea was
introduced to Restoration England. The motifs on the
Chinese products were widely copied in Europe both
in imitations that were made of the products them-
selves and in other art forms. Europeans were success-
ful by the late seventeenth century in producing an
acceptable and competitive lacquer ware. A generation
later they had learned to make true hardpaste porce-
lain. Along with the art products themselves, the
Europeans sought to obtain information on Chinese
techniques. Books and articles on Chinese arts were
collected and read by interested amateurs and profes-
sionals as the China vogue spread from France to the
other European countries, and from the nobility to the
lowest classes in society. Never before had Europe
received so powerful and varied an artistic stimulus
from a distant civilization.

The craze for Chinese art objects reached its peak
in the early and middle years of the eighteenth century.
Royalty, nobility, and men of substance collected
Chinese cabinets, chairs, tables, screens, fans, hangings,
porcelains, and lacquered bowls. Interiors were pan-
eled with lacquer or wallpapered with Chinese designs.
In the palaces a special chamber was often designed
to house the porcelain collection of the owner. Many
of the items collected were prepared in China espe-
cially for this vast European market and were designed
to appeal to the European taste for the exotic. As a
consequence they often reflected more about the
Chinese conception of European taste than about
Chinese art itself. Parasols, pagodas, and mandarins
were depicted on the wares made in China as the
Europeans conceived of them rather than as they ac-
tually looked. European artists, who incorporated these
contrived designs into their own works, were often
copying Chinese people, objects, and scenes that were
born in the minds of those European artists and artisans
afflicted by Sinomania.

“Chinoiserie” (meaning bizarre tricks or monkey-
shines in modern French usage) is a term descriptive
of the eighteenth-century European view of China as
a place of escape from the trials of daily life, as a haven
of leisure and luxury, as a utopia where laughter is
always gay. In this conception China is remote in
distance rather than in time. Its “Golden Age” is not
in the past or future, but in a perpetual and glorious
present. Its landscapes are always green, its waters
clear and cool, its skies sunny. The Chinese people are
graceful, delicate, and colorful; they love beautiful
gardens, quiet ponds, tinkling bells, and happy society.
They are the gay Chinese of the porcelains who have
almost no relationship to the wise Chinese of the Jesuits
and philosophers or the wicked Chinese of the mer-
chants. They are the untroubled people who live under
the reasonable and tolerant rule of an enlightened and
prosperous king.

The playful, and sometimes wistful, spirit of chi-
noiserie is best reflected in the visual arts. To
Europeans, weary of Renaissance adulation of the staid
art of antiquity, the strange objects of China provided
welcome relief. Frivolous courtiers and serious artists
at Versailles in the time of Louis XIV were among the
first to bring the light spirit of chinoiserie into the
established arts of Europe. Perhaps as a reaction against
the classical plan of the park at Versailles, an exquisite
pleasure house, the Trianon de porcelaine, was erected
in the gardens in 1670. This was but the first of many
such pavilions that would dot the classical and land-
scape gardens of Europe in the following century. But,
as was often the case, the Trianon was a building whose
basic architecture was uncompromisingly French and
baroque. It was only the surface ornamentation which
gave it a bizarre, Chinese appearance. As a general
rule, the Chinese taste was incorporated into baroque
art by the addition of exotic ornaments and motifs to
forms that remained fundamentally European both in
conception and structure alike.

The rococo art of the Regency period in France lent
itself especially well to exotic treatment. Antoine
Watteau in his drawings and paintings was the earliest
and most influential of the creators of rococo chi-
noiseries. His mandarins, temples, and parasols became
hallmarks of decoration à la Chine and were copied
by lesser artists all over Europe. Monkeys came fre-
quently into his fantastic decorations and they were
regularly added to chinoiseries for exotic effects. The
increased use of watercolors in painting probably owed
a debt to the porcelain pictures. François Boucher, a
painter and a designer of tapestries, stressed the charms


of Chinese pastoral and village life, and his people
began to look like real Chinese in face and figure.
Jean-Baptiste Pillement, draughtsman and painter to
Louis XIV, drew chinoiseries for engravers that were
even more fantastic and vivacious than the paintings
of Watteau. The drawings of Pillement were copied
everywhere, and are still considered to be the best
examples of chinoiserie at the height of its refinement.
While the artists themselves were not influenced by
the conception of China found in the philosophes, there
is no doubt that the popularity of the chinoiseries owed
a debt to the high reputation which the savants gave
to China. The ordinary person could readily draw the
conclusion that these happy people lived under a phi-

In the eighteenth century it was generally agreed
that the English landscape garden, as it then evolved,
owed a substantial debt to the art of Chinese gardening.
Sir William Temple, a critic of classical, formal gar-
dens, noted in 1685 that the Chinese in their gardens
seek to reproduce natural effects by following schemes
based on “Sharawadgi,” his own rendition of a Chinese
or Japanese term meaning “studied irregularity.” On
the basis of Temple's remarks the conviction grew that
the Chinese example was more important to the evolu-
tion of the landscape garden than were Roman proto-
types, the semi-formal garden, or a new attitude to-
wards nature in its wild state. Naturalism as an end
in itself was not enough to satisfy Sir William Cham-
bers, who believed that an inanimate, simple nature
was too insipid and that gardens required “every aid
that either art or nature can furnish” (Bald, p. 318).

It was as such an aid that the chinoiserie form was
used. But because European garden architects had
almost no direct knowledge of Chinese garden design,
art historians today generally hold that the Chinese
example had no influence upon what has been called
the Anglo-Chinese garden. The case for Chinese influ-
ence has usually been supported exclusively by refer-
ence to the large number of garden buildings, pagodas,
and bridges which were included in the new gardens
by their designers or added by their owners. Whatever
else it was, the Anglo-Chinese garden was certainly
another art form which came under the influence of
the vogue for ornamenting through chinoiseries.

From the arts of gardening and architecture, the
revolt against classical rigidity stimulated by the idea
of “Sharawadgi” speedily passed to the other arts.
Chinese persons or scenes were introduced into
baroque novels to provide gallant, grotesque, or fan-
tastic elements, as in C. W. Hagdorn, Aeyquan, oder
der Grosse Mogul
(1670). Romances were based upon
Oriental tales to lend them an idyllic and exotic air.
Utopian writers cited China as an example of a tolerant
society. Books on Chinese designs as exhortations to
adopt the new taste are typified by Thomas Chippen-
dale's The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director
(1754). Writers of fictional travel accounts, sometimes
called extraordinary voyages, provided thumbnail
sketches of Chinese people and places.

The sage chinois, who represented in literature the
idealized Chinese of the philosophes, was frequently
used as a literary spectator of and commentator upon
the European scene. The Marquis d'Argens dedicated
his Lettres chinoises (The Hague, 1755) to the shade of
Confucius, “the greatest man the world has yet pro-
duced,” and he speculated that Confucius and Leibniz
were holding frequent conversations in another world.
Oliver Goldsmith in his Chinese Letters, which ap-
peared in The Public Ledger between 1760 and 1762,
put his critical observations of European society into
the mouth of Lien Chi Altangi out of deference to the
prevailing fashion. Voltaire in his play of 1755 called
L'Orphelin de la Chine (or “Confucian morals in five
acts”) actually utilized as the basis for his plot the
translation of a Chinese drama that had been published
by Du Halde. Voltaire's play, which was extremely
popular on the contemporary stage, celebrates the
triumph of Chinese civilization over the barbarous
Mongols. Voltaire's drama was also an indirect attack
upon Rousseau's adulation of the primitive and un-
spoiled society. The essayists of the Encyclopédie wrote
at length on Chinese customs and compared them to
those prevailing in Europe and in other parts of the
world. In most of these comparisons China's practices
almost always win high honor for their rationality,
refinement, and good taste.


Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century disillu-
sionment with China as a model of rationality, good
government, and the gay life was expressed with in-
creasing frequency and greater vigor. The hostility in
Europe towards the Society of Jesus, its expulsion from
a number of countries, and its formal dissolution by
the Papacy in 1773 led many contemporary observers
to be more than a bit skeptical about the veracity of
the glowing Jesuit reports of China. The growing criti-
cism of rationalistic thought and enlightened absolut-
ism also produced a reaction against a China which
had been elevated to a model society by rationalistic
social, economic, and political theorists. The more
effective closure of China to European trade had the
practical result of eliminating regular intercourse and
of forcing Europe's attention to turn to other more
hospitable places. The outbreak of the French Revolu-
tion and the continental wars brought an end to almost
all European relations with eastern Asia. England,


which managed to retain a degree of independence
from continental involvements, turned the major share
of its attention to India. The United States, where the
China craze imported from Europe began just after
the revolt against Britain, was one of the few places
in the Western world where disenchantment with
China had not set in by the end of the eighteenth

The intellectual and artistic foes of rationalism and
classicism stood in the vanguard of those who attacked
the China of the philosophes and the rococo painters.
The young Rousseau in his Discourse on the Arts and
(1750) raised two fundamental questions.
What advantage, he asked, has China “reaped from
the honors bestowed on its learned men?” Can it be,
he goes on satirically, “that of being peopled by a race
of scoundrels and slaves?” Or is the reward for holding
learning in honor the defeat of the empire by “rude
and ignorant Tatars?” Dr. Samuel Johnson, who had
been an ardent admirer of China in his earlier years,
came to look upon the Chinese as barbarians who had
no art other than “pottery” and who had never ad-
vanced sufficiently to possess an alphabet. Baron F. M.
Grimm, who castigated the Jesuits in his literary corre-
spondence for deceiving Europe with false reports,
branded China an unenlightened despotism with the
Confucian moral code fitting precisely a “herd of
frightened slaves” (Reichwein, p. 96). The young
Goethe, who had read the Analects as well as Mon-
tesquieu and Rousseau, had no patience with the
“knickknacks” of chinoiserie and was inclined to regard
China itself as possessing a hybrid, overrefined, super-
ficial, and sick civilization.

As ideas about China during the Enlightenment were
subjected to a more intimate inspection, the tendency
grew to stress the static quality of its civilization.
Enlightenment philosophers of progress generally con-
cerned themselves with the advance of reason in the
West and rarely referred in their considerations to
other parts of the world. Voltaire and other rationalists
were primarily intent upon revealing the universality
of reason and were content with simply finding a place
for China in their cosmic designs. In doing so, even
some of the greatest admirers of China posited a civili-
zation that was unchanging, unprogressive, and being
rapidly overtaken by the West. None of the englightened
writers, not even the authors of universal history from
Bossuet to the Göttingen school, undertook seriously
to bring China into their considerations of historical

Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations (1776) asserted
that the poverty of China's lowest classes is far greater
than anything to be found in Europe. Like Montes-
quieu, Smith was inclined to accept the travelers' view
of China and to put aside that of the Jesuits as suspect.
“The accounts of all travelers,” he noted, “inconsistent
in many respects, agree in the low wages of labor, and
in the difficulty which a laborer finds in bringing up
a family in China” (Book I, Ch. VIII). Since the travel
accounts from Marco Polo to those of his own day
describe China in essentially the same terms, Smith
concluded that China “seems to have been stationary”
(ibid.). But though China appears to stand still, “it does
not seem to go backwards” (ibid.). Its towns and culti-
vated lands are not deserted or neglected. China's
failure to develop economically, despite its acknowl-
edged wealth in people and resources, he ascribed to
its neglect of international trade. Failure of the state
to encourage trade and provide security for investors
and workers produces a bipolarization of Chinese eco-
nomic life by which “the oppression of the poor must
establish the monopoly of the rich” (Book I, Ch. IX).

J. G. von Herder, in his earliest writings, conceived
of China as an agrarian country dominated by a pater-
nalistic government which inhibits the growth of the
intellectual and creative capacities of the people. In
his Ideen (1791) Herder self-consciously attempted an
objective appraisal of Chinese civilization in an effort
to let it fit itself into his universal historical conception.
He reviewed China's natural environment and history
and concluded that its physical isolation and rigid
institutions prevent the growth of dynamism and cre-
ativity. The descent of the Chinese from barbaric
Mongols left a heritage of coarse habits and unrefined
tastes. Natural growth is repressed by the false stress
placed upon filial piety and obedience to authority.
The civilization that evolves in stubborn isolation from
other world cultures is stultified, artificial, and un-
imaginative. “The empire,” he asserted, “is an em-
balmed mummy inscribed with hieroglyphics and
wrapped in silk.” Later in life Herder modified this
view and praised the Chinese for their tolerance, pa-
tience and enlightened government.

T. R. Malthus in An Essay on the Principle of Popu-
... (1798) analyzed the incentives to and checks
upon the increase of China's population. He estimated
on the basis of Du Halde's figures that China's popula-
tion in the early eighteenth century was almost
240,000,000; at the end of the century Sir George
Staunton, the British emissary to Peking, estimated it
at about 334,000,000. Malthus accounted for China's
vast numbers and their rapid increase by reference to
the productivity of the land, its intensive cultivation,
the government's concern for agriculture, the indus-
triousness and relatively high social position of the
farmer, and the encouragement given to marriage by
the religious and social systems. He also noted that
despite its vast area, China had a population density


of thrice to twice that of France, a deplorable situation
brought on mainly by the cultural imperatives encour-
aging marriage. But limits are set upon the operation
of marriage as an incentive to increase of population
by the large number of priests, monks, scholars, serv-
ants, and slaves who remain single and childless. Dis-
ease, especially among children, is a positive check but
not as important as might be expected in such an
overcrowded country. Infanticide by exposure and
drowning is common but it varies with abundance and
scarcity. Frequent crop failures from drought, floods,
or plagues of insects produce devastating famines that,
because of China's isolation, cannot be relieved by
outside help. Unrelieved scarcity results in riots and
wars, which with widespread famine act as the most
powerful check on population increase. Malthus saw
little prospect for China to improve the lot of its
people through manufacture and the encouragement
of foreign trade. Its wealth, based on cultivation, had
already reached its zenith and little hope for relief
could be envisaged either through greater agricultural
or industrial productivity. In terms of material devel-
opment China seemed doomed to stagnation and pre-
destined to suffer a staggering burden of overpopula-
tion and grinding poverty.

The thesis that China was a static and unprogressive
civilization received its classical formulation in Hegel's
Philosophy of History (1830-31). Hegel was a close
student of the critical merchant and Protestant ac-
counts of China as well as of the adulatory writings
of the Jesuits. China, like other Oriental states, pos-
sesses for Hegel a civilization in which nature terrorizes
man and in which progress is limited by geographical
and racial contradictions. While China has its own
Volksgeist, it has never advanced beyond the initial
stages in the realization of freedom. The only free
individual is the despot; for others freedom under the
state has never been realized and no sense exists of
the infinite worth of the individual.

Hegel saw Confucius as a moralist, not a systematic
or speculative philosopher. The sage prescribed prin-
ciples for action, and made morality for the individual
identical with the emperor's will and law. It is this
prescriptive quality of Chinese morality which ac-
counts for the unchanging, despotic character of
Chinese society and for the failure of the Chinese to
have an interest in abstract knowledge for itself. Since
China's civilization does not progress, it is relatively
certain that China was not better off in antiquity than
at present. Study of prevailing conditions might then
be assumed sufficient to unlock the secrets of China's
past. Hegel, who was also a close student of Voltaire's
idea of universal history, explicitly rejected the uni-
formity of nature and placed the stagnant Orient,
including China, at the bottom of his ladder of linear
history which culminates in freedom's self-realization
in the Europe of his day. But by this scheme Hegel
did not succeed in explaining how universal history
itself progressed from its first “unchanging” phase to
the Greek stage in which a greater degree of freedom
somehow developed.

Marx's concept of Asia, as spelled out in his writings
of the 1850's, was based essentially on the views of
the classical economists, especially John Stuart Mill.
Both Marx and Engels embraced the then current belief
in an Asiatic society that was unique in possessing
peculiar systems of land ownership and production
which definitely set it apart from the agrarian societies
of classical antiquity and feudalism in the West. Cli-
mate and geography necessarily made artificial irriga-
tion the basis of Asian agriculture. The Asiatic state
came into being to control waterworks spread over vast
territories where the people, living in dispersed, self-
supporting villages, depended upon strong central au-
thority to organize and control irrigation. In China the
economy rests upon a combination of small agriculture
and domestic industry in which the state consumes
almost totally whatever surplus value can be produced.
The Asiatic mode of production thus made the state
the real landlord, and it maintains in perpetuity a
condition of general slavery for the masses.

China, Marx and Engels thought in 1850, was the
“oldest and most unshakeable empire of the world”
(Lowe, p. 19), isolated and rotting. But, at about this
time, China began to be forced out of its shell of
isolation by imperialist attacks from the West. The best
evidence for China's loss of stability was the outbreak
of the Taiping rebellion in the 1850's and the changes
that it threatened. Faced by the reality of a China in
decline, Marx and Engels had to fit China into their
theoretical framework as a changing element. China,
it was concluded, under pressure from industrial capi-
talism, would leap over antiquity and feudalism to the
capitalist and ultimately to the socialist modes of pro-
duction. Marx and Engels saw changes in China of the
kind they expected to see in the West. In their preoc-
cupation with Europe they failed to notice indigenous
reasons for change. In their concern with a changing
China, they abandoned their efforts to fit China into
their unilinear scheme of universal history as they tried
to understand what influence it might have upon the
world transition from capitalism to socialism.


Professional study of China, especially of language,
literature, and history, made rapid progress in the early
nineteenth century. In the eighteenth century a few
compendia, grammars, and dictionaries had been pro-


duced, such as G. S. Bayer's Museum Sinicum (St.
Petersburg, 1730) and Étienne Fourmont's Grammaire
(Paris, 1742). The Society of Jesus, which was
revived in 1815, continued to provide the scholars of
Europe with raw materials from the field. The Jesuits
issued translations as well as essays on Chinese and its
relation to other Asian tongues. J. P. Abel Rémusat,
who in 1814 became professor of Chinese at the Col-
lège de France, inaugurated serious study of Taoism
and Chinese medicine, and translated novels of ro-
mance and family life. He also participated in the
organization of the Société asiatique in 1822. J. H.
Klaproth, an associate of Rémusat, published the Asia
(1823) in which he divided Asian languages
into twenty-three groups and indicated how compara-
tive studies might be undertaken. Sir William Jones,
the father of modern Sanskrit studies in the West,
studied Chinese language and history in his efforts to
understand India's early relations with China.

The Protestant missionaries, who started evangeliz-
ing China in 1807, compiled dictionaries in English,
studied dialects seriously, and established educational
institutions and printing presses in southeast Asia and
China. Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary
in China (1807), published between 1815 and 1823 a
six-volume Dictionary of the Chinese Language. W. H.
Medhurst published between 1832 and 1837 his Dic-
tionary of the Hok-kien Dialect of the Chinese Lan-
Both of these early dictionaries were published
at Macao as were other early vocabularies and ency-
clopedias designed for the use of missionaries. The
Chinese themselves began around 1875 to prepare
dictionaries for the use of Westerners. But the English-
speaking world owes its greatest debt to the British
scholar Herbert A. Giles who published at Shanghai
in 1892 his Chinese-English Dictionary, designed for
merchants and missionaries. He provided as well a
system of transliteration which Western students still
depend upon in working with the Chinese language.
In the nineteenth century Chinese dictionaries were
also prepared for Portuguese, French, German, and
Russian users.

As comprehension of Chinese improved, translations
of popular literature, classics, histories, and documents
became more numerous. Dramas, poems, and short
stories were translated into English and French. As the
Protestant pastors and their families steadily grew in
number, they came to exercise an enormous influence
upon the growth of scholarly knowledge and upon the
formation of public opinion and policy in their home-
lands. Elijah C. Bridgman the first American missionary
to China, launched a periodical called the Chinese
published in China from 1832 through
1851, which was designed to inform foreigners about
China's past and present. Bridgman also translated the
Bible into Chinese (with M. S. Culbertson), published
in 1862. S. Wells Williams, an American mission-
ary-scholar, lectured on China and compiled an ency-
clopedic two-volume study, The Middle Kingdom
(1848), which remained a standard reference work until
the end of the nineteenth century. Many of the mis-
sionaries or their children acted as interpreters in
diplomatic negotiations with China or returned home
to teach in the universities, advise the government, or
work in export businesses. In the learned societies
devoted to the investigation of Chinese affairs the
views of the missionaries commanded respect.

Knowledge of China produced a practical impact
upon the agriculture and administration of the enter-
prising West. Serious projects were undertaken in the
United States during the mid-nineteenth century to
compete with China in raising silk and tea, and experi-
ments were performed to adapt Chinese plants and
animals to the needs of American agriculture. T. T.
Meadows, a British diplomat, published Desultory
Notes on the Government and People of China
in which he described the civil service system of China
and urged the institution in Britain of a comparable
examination system for the recruitment, rating, and
advancement of civil servants. Through his statement
the problem was aired, and in 1855 Britain created
its first civil service commission. Most of the civil
service systems now in existence, including those
started before the British system, owe an incalculable
debt to the Chinese example.

James Legge, in the 1850's, undertook the translation
into English of the Confucian and Taoist texts, and
became the first professor of Chinese at Oxford. His
pioneer translations, worked out with the aid of a
Chinese assistant, have been criticized by modern
scholars as being ethnocentric and inaccurate. None-
theless, they still remain the standard English versions.
In France the Marquis d'Hervey Saint-Denys published
a valuable anthology of T'ang poetry in 1852 that was
influential among the literati of Europe. The Berlin
Orientalist, Karl Arendt, rendered into German in the
1870's a number of selections from Ming novels the
themes of which inspired poets and dramatists of the
following generation. Continental Sinologists also
wrote at length on Chinese administration and inter-
national affairs with increasing reliance on Chinese
sources. H. B. Morse in the early twentieth century
organized for the English-speaking world the interna-
tional relations and commercial administration of the
Chinese empire, mainly on the basis of Western

The study of China in relation to its continental
neighbors was given its present structure in the works


of Sir Henry Yule. In 1871 he published The Book of
Ser Marco Polo the Venetian
with a complete scholarly
apparatus. His documentation, drawn from his personal
travel experiences as well as from the best available
literary sources, set a new standard for Eurasian studies.
He also edited the works of other medieval travelers
and his studies were continued and augmented by
Henri Cordier, a French diplomat and scholar. It was
Cordier who compiled the Bibliotheca Sinica (1904-08)
which remains the standard bibliography of Western
works on China. Paul Pelliot, the founder of the lead-
ing scholarly journal T'oung Pao (1890-), continued
the Yule tradition but with a greater attention to
monographic research. René Grousset, a French popu-
larizer of Asian studies, sought more self-consciously
than his colleagues to reinforce the literary sources
with materials derived from study of the visual arts.

The Protestants, originally hostile to Buddhism for
its outward resemblances to Catholicism, began seri-
ously by the end of the century to translate and study
its texts. Much of the growing interest in the study
of Asian religions historically and on their own terms
was due to the inspiration of Max Müller, the editor
of the Sacred Books of the East (1875-1900). In this
collection he presents, side by side with other Oriental
books, most of the Chinese philosophical and religious
texts in careful translations. The availability in English
of this repository of material inspired serious historical
and comparative studies of world religions.

Max Weber in his lengthy essays on Confucianism
and Taoism,
first published in 1916, brought China into
his sociology of religion and more specifically into his
theoretical considerations about the relationship be-
tween the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism.
These essays, which consider the social and economic
as well as the religious foundations of Chinese society,
constitute one part of a series of comparative studies
designed to throw light on the general question as to
why rational bourgeois capitalism became a dominant
phenomenon only in the West. In China, as in other
Asian societies, Weber concludes that the dominant
religious traditions did not possess an “economic ethic”
compatible with capitalistic growth. He concedes that
traditional China possessed the materialistic potential
for capitalistic development, but contends that Confu-
cianism lacked the dynamism of ascetic Protestantism
since it stressed rational adjustment to the world as
given rather than rational mastery of it. Taoism he sees
as a conservative and negative force which stressed
passive acceptance rather than innovation and activ-
ism. In his analysis of the structure and function of
Chinese society, Weber provides startling insights into
the roles of the bureaucracy, literati, and the kinship
system, which have inspired numerous recent investi
gations in depth by specialists in social history. For
comparative religion, his examinations of Confucianism
and Taoism still constitute empirical starting-points for
generalized typological concepts.


In the early nineteenth century the reaction against
China as a model state led to a more positive interest
in the Chinese as human beings. The sources for this
new interest were found in the translations of popular
literature, especially poetry, which had become in-
creasingly available. A precursor of this trend was
Ludwig Unzer, the German poet, who published in
1773 an elegy entitled Vou-ti bey Tsin-nas Grabe, eine
Elegie im chinesischen Geschmack.
In this poem, which
the young Goethe criticized as contrived, Unzer sought
to depict the feelings of a Chinese who is bereaved
at the death of his beloved. Unzer's allusions to Taoist
beliefs and other Chinese attitudes are naive, but his
poem is important as the first European effort to show
that the individual Chinese is subject to the same
emotions as others when facing death.

Goethe, who had satirized the Chinese in his youth,
was in the final decade of his life to express open
admiration for the Chinese attitude towards nature, the
self-discipline and refinement of the people, and the
aesthetic qualities of Chinese literature. He was par-
ticularly moved by the Chinese poems which were
published in English translation in Peter Perring
Thoms' Chinese Courtship (1824). He rendered a few
of Thoms' translations into his own poetic language
and epitomized others in his set of lyrical poems called
Chinesisch-deutsche Jahres- und Tageszeiten (1827).
Friedrich Rückert published in 1833 his imitation in
freely paraphrased odes of the Shih-ching (“Book of
Poetry”). The German romantic poets thus deepened,
personalized, and beautified Europe's conception of the
Chinese. In their vision of Chinese imaginative life they
fused an admiration for the intellectual resources of
the Chinese with a sensitivity to Chinese creativity that
was not appreciated in the eighteenth century.

But not all of the German poets shared Goethe's
enthusiasm. Heinrich Heine, at the beginning of the
third book of his Romantische Schule (1833), used one
of the stories of Chinese beauties, translated by Thomas,
to lend color to his own attack upon the grotesque
character of German romanticism. Others in the ro-
mantic and Young German movements saw in China
nothing but dry pedantry and tiresome automatism in
government. The Liberals of the 1830's regarded China
as a model of the police state that they so heartily
despised (see Rose, p. 314). The American Transcen-
dentalists, like the British romantic poets, were con-
cerned more with Indian than with Chinese thought.


But the ethical teachings of Confucius appealed to
Emerson, particularly the emphasis on the duty of the
individual to assume social responsibility. Tennyson
expressed the Victorian exasperation with a static and
unprogressive China by proclaiming: “Better fifty years
of Europe than a cycle of Cathay” (“Locksley Hall,”
line 184).

In France, Théophile Gautier, influenced by the
China specialist G. Pauthier and the novelist René
Bazin, became at mid-century a propagandist for
Chinese literature and art. He wrote stories and verses
on Chinese themes, collected Chinese art, and talked
about Oriental subjects with Flaubert, Baudelaire, and
Victor Hugo. His daughter, Judith Gautier, who studied
Chinese with a tutor, translated Chinese poems into
French verse in the Livre de jade (1867). Her intention
was to transmit poetic quality rather than linguistic
accuracy, a goal which has been retained by most
Western translators of Chinese poetry ever since. She
also wrote several novels about China and collaborated
with Pierre Loti in preparing a Chinese play entitled
La Fille du Ciel. Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, who
were more interested in Japan than in China, were
among the first to point out the debt of Japanese litera-
ture and art to China. Among those who fell under
the spell of the Goncourts was Émile Guimet, an in-
dustrialist and founder of the Paris museum of Oriental
art that still bears his name. Georges Clemenceau,
while not active in politics, prepared just at the begin-
ning of the twentieth century a play about China that
was inspired by his study of the Chinese classics and
his reactions to the Boxer Rebellion.

Collection of Chinese art became popular in Europe
after 1860, the date of the sacking of the summer
palace in Peking. The Boxer expedition of 1900 also
brought a windfall of Chinese art into the West. But
while individual connoisseurs and museums built up
impressive collections of all forms of Chinese art,
Western artists have so far not been inspired to imitate
Chinese painting and sculpture. The influence of
Chinese art in the West has been limited to a continu-
ation of the popular vogue for chinoiseries and the
decorative arts. This is particularly surprising in the
light of the attraction that Japanese color prints, archi-
tecture, and furnishings have had for Western artists.
The visual arts have also had but a small interest as
sources for China's social and intellectual history. Only
in recent years, and especially in the works of C. W.
Bishop and H. G. Creel, have the findings of archae-
ology been used in the West as aids in the reconstruc-
tion of China's ancient past.

The dispatch of Chinese students to the West on
Boxer fellowships and other grants helped at the be-
ginning of the twentieth century to stimulate a new
interest in Chinese thought. Irving Babbitt at Harvard
early evinced an interest in the humane and moderate
qualities in Buddhism and other faiths as they were
practiced in China. The Imagist poets, particularly
Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell, were attracted to
Chinese poetry for its compact portrayal of universal
wisdom. In Germany, O. J. Bierbaum, one of the lead-
ers of impressionist art and culture, wrote novels and
poems on the basis of his own renditions of Chinese
themes. He stressed the erotic elements and burlesqued
the pompous characters of his Chinese literary sources.
More accurate translations of the meaning and spirit
of Chinese poetry were provided in Germany by
Richard Wilhelm, in America by Florence Ayscough,
and in England by Arthur Waley. Through the efforts
of both poets and translators, Chinese poetry, mythol-
ogy, and history became a source of inspiration for
creative writers in the contemporary West.


The industrial development of Europe and its ex-
pansion overseas in the mid-nineteenth century had the
general result of forcing an end to the seclusion of both
China and Japan. China was opened to Western pene-
tration by the wars of 1839-42 and 1856-60, and by
the treaties which followed. Japan was opened by the
“black ships” of the Americans in 1853-54 and there-
after by a series of treaties with the Western powers.
It was this train of events, observed and commented
upon by Marx and Engels, which transformed quickly
the belief in China's stagnation into a positive assertion
of Europe's superiority. In his essay “On Liberty”
(1859), John Stuart Mill envisaged China as a nation
victimized by despotic custom. China's failure to im-
prove over the millennia he attributed to the success
of the Chinese in repressing individuality and mental
liberty, and in impressing uniformity of thought and
conduct through education and state control. The yoke
of conformity to maxims and rules weighs so heavily
upon society that, in Mill's view, if China is “ever to
be farther improved, it must be by foreigners.”

The Protestant missionaries were initially scornful
of Chinese society, thought, science, and religion. Un-
like the scholarly Jesuits, the conservative Protestants
of the Victorian age saw little but vice and deprivation
in China. The work of the missionary, they thought,
was to bring the light of Christ to the heathen Chinese
in order to save them from eternal damnation. But
preoccupation with Chinese language and literature
gradually brought a more enlightened generation of
missionary scholars into being in Europe and America,
a generation which took a more tolerant view of
Chinese civilization. For example, James Legge, the
missionary linguist, concluded in 1867 after long study


of Confucius that he was unable to regard the sage
as a great man; but by 1893 he admitted: “The more
I have studied his character and opinions, the more
highly have I come to regard him” (Mason, p. 204,
n. 33).

In the mid-nineteenth century the vast majority of
Europeans held widely divergent and contradictory
views on Chinese society. Both missionary and secular
writers praised the Chinese for mildness, docility, and
adaptability. They were also thought of as industrious,
shrewd, and practical, but with a penchant for lying
and deceit without conscience. Chinese of all social
levels were considered to be extremely polite, urbane,
and courageous in facing personal adversities; but they
were also thought to be cruel, sensual, and licentious.
“Of the earth earthy,” in Legge's words, “China was
sure to go to pieces when it came into collision with
a Christianly-civilized power” (Dawson, p. 139).

The “scientific” historians of the nineteenth century,
in their preoccupation with national and European
history, rejected China even for comparative purposes.
Leopold von Ranke in his Lectures on World History
(ca. 1830-48) pronounced as “unhistorical” Hegel's
postulation of the eternal stagnation of the Orient, and
classified the Hindus and Chinese as living eternally
in a state of Naturgeschichte of a completely secular
and unreligious character. Ranke then went on to
exclude China from history proper by asserting that
the Chinese sources are mythical, unreliable, second-
ary, or unavailable to one who does not read Chinese.
Jakob Burckhardt prized the Western heritage so
highly that he completely excluded China from his
lectures in the fear that alien infiltrations might muddy
the limpid stream. Ernest Lavisse, who shared Burck-
hardt's high regard for the West and his fears for the
future, grimly prophesied in 1890: “All strength gives
out; the ability to maintain the lead in history is not
a permanent attribute. Europe, which inherited it from
Asia three thousand years ago, will perhaps not always
keep it” (Vue générale de l'histoire politique de
p. 239).

The potential wealth of China in natural resources
was spelled out for the West in three large volumes
and an atlas published between 1877 and 1885 by
Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen. In his China,
Richthofen gave for the first time a geographer's sys-
tematic estimate of China's economic resources. He
called attention to the rich oil fields of Shantung and
Manchuria and to the huge reservoirs of capable labor
available in China. The prospect envisaged by
Richthofen of an industrialized and modernized China
was shortly transmuted in the West into the specter
known as the “Yellow Peril.”

The threat of China to white, Christian supremacy
was raised repeatedly in the last third of the nineteenth
century by missionaries, racists, and military theorists.
Count Arthur de Gobineau who theorized on the supe-
riority of the white over the yellow and black races,
warned of the dangers to white dominance from exces-
sive intermingling with inferior breeds. Blood pollution
was identified by Houston Stuart Chamberlain as a
threat to the superiority of the Teutonic supermen.
Kaiser William II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II
of Russia corresponded after 1895 about “the Defense
of the Cross and the old Christian European culture
against the inroads of the Mongols and Buddhism...”
(Levine, Letters from the Kaiser..., p. 10). The British
publicist, C. H. Pearson, prophesied in 1893: “We shall
wake to find ourselves elbowed and hustled and per-
haps even thrust aside by peoples whom we looked
down upon as servile and thought of as bound always
to minister to our needs” (National Life and Character,
p. 85). In the United States, the Hearst press warned
at the end of the century that more adequate defenses
were needed to protect the American way of life
against the floodtide of Oriental emigration. The ghosts
of the theorists were given flesh and bones by the
startling military victory of Japan over Russia in 1905
and by the swift rise thereafter of strong nationalist
and anticolonial sentiment throughout the Far East.


While it was generally alleged in the West that the
Chinese were scientifically inept and militarily weak,
it also gradually became apparent after 1860 that
China had staying-power as well. How was it possible
that the Chinese with all their adversities continued
to go their own way and to remain singularly unim-
pressed with the material superiority of the West?
Chinese immigrants proved to be industrious, willing,
and honest workers who adapted successfully to new
environments. The Chinese of the treaty ports were
also quick to learn the ways of the West. The govern-
ment in Peking, despite its obvious weakness, showed
a remarkable ability to play off one Western power
against the other to preserve China from partition.
Nationalist demands for the reform of the Manchu
government and the development of an embryonic
industrial base in the Yangtse valley during the 1860's
provoked Westerners to begin probing for the sources
of China's seemingly unquenchable vitality.

The basis for this new vision of China was not found
simply in the increased knowledge and understanding
that resulted from closer contact. It also emerged from
the belief that there was something to discover in
Chinese culture that the West did not possess at all
or possessed only to a lesser degree. Growing disillu-
sionment with the nationalistic, materialistic, capital-


istic, and individualistic society of the West drove
leading thinkers to seek for new values and directions.
Joseph Ferrari, an Italian parliamentarian, wrote a
comparative study called La Chine et l'Europe (1867)
which denies that China is barbarous, static, or isolated
and asserts that its civilization merits attention as an
historical counterpoise to Europe. Eugène Simon, a
French agricultural expert and consul in China, pub-
lished La cité chinoise (1885; cf. Fustel de Coulanges,
La cité antique, 1864), which idealizes China as a
peasant society where liberty in all its forms—political,
economic, religious, and intellectual—is realized.
Simon's book, which was very popular, prophesied that
all European attempts to subject China to industriali-
zation, colonization, or modernization would fail be-
cause of the astounding vitality of the rural nation and
its naturalistic civilization. On contemporaries, Simon's
book, along with Richthofen's of about the same pe-
riod, had an impact out of all proportion to its intrinsic
importance. Paul Ernst, the German poet, was inspired
by Simon to adulate the collectivist peasant culture
of China for giving a higher place to spiritual than
to material values. Later in life Ernst took most of his
illustrations and inspirations from his study of Chinese
art, poetry, and Taoism. He eventually concluded that
China offered the rest of the world a unique meta-
physical revelation.

Tolstoy began to take an interest in China following
the religious crisis he experienced in 1884. He read
widely, especially in the books of T. T. Meadows and
Eugène Simon, on the political and social organization
of China. Like Simon he was intrigued with Taoism
and the peasant society of China and in his publications
he urged the Chinese not to follow the way of the
West. He discerned a spiritual kinship among China,
Russia, and the other great agrarian countries which
set them apart from the industrialized, materialistic
West. He was especially attracted by the Taoist doc-
trine that men by their own efforts achieve harmony
with nature and that the role of government should
be kept to a minimum. He also responded affirmatively
to Confucian theories about the moral and immoral
effects of music. Tolstoy so greatly admired China that
he asserted just before his death in 1910: “Were I young
I would go to China” (Bodde, p. 29).

John Dewey first lectured at Peking in 1912, and
again after the First World War. Along with his pupil,
Hu Shih, Dewey was disturbed by the popularity of
“isms” in China. He urged Chinese and Westerners
alike to study the problems themselves, propose work-
able solutions, and avoid the panaceas of socialism,
anarchism, or bolshevism. Dewey was convinced that
socialism could have no roots in China because of its
low level of industrial development. Bertrand Russell,
a devoted pacifist in World War I, spent one year
lecturing in China during 1920. Although he was
known internationally as a socialist, Russell felt that
industrialization in China could best be promoted by
a partially nationalized system of capitalism. In the
articles which he wrote for Dial and the Atlantic
in 1921, Russell unabashedly asserted that the
Chinese were more “laughter-loving than any other
race,” not self-assertive either nationally or individ-
ually, avaricious for money for enjoyment rather than
power, and socialist and scientific rather than capital-
istic and mechanistic in temperament. R. H. Tawney,
the British historian and member of the League of
Nations Commission (1931-32) on the reorganization
of education in China, likewise held a romantic notion
of the historical isolation of China and its effects upon
the growth of institutions, ideas, and practices.

While disenchantment grew in the twentieth-
century West over China's inability to solve its own
political and economic problems, inquiring minds
nonetheless continued to examine China's past institu-
tions for fresh ideas. Henry A. Wallace, as a progressive
American student of agriculture, was inspired by
studying the economic principles of Confucius to ad-
vocate experimenting in the United States with the
“ever-normal granary” idea of the Chinese. When
Wallace became Secretary of Agriculture in 1933, he
continued to work for a program that would provide
a constant supply of grain at all times without serious
price fluctuations. In 1938 Wallace's program became
part of the Agricultural Adjustment Act, a piece of
legislation that owed its direct inspiration to Chinese
ideas and practices. At the end of the Second World
War Wallace called for the internationalization of the
“ever-normal granary” idea as a necessary step on the
road to world recovery. In response to Wallace's sug-
gestions and the pressing needs of the time, the United
Nations created a World Food Bank to establish and
manage a world food reserve. Heavy political attacks
from various nations quickly brought an end to this

Twentieth-century efforts at world history have self-
consciously sought to make room for China and to
integrate its civilization into the totality of history.
H. G. Wells, in his Outline of History (1920) deplores
the fact that Chinese culture has received such a
minimal treatment in world history. While he strives
to bring China into his work at each appropriate point,
his isolated paragraphs on China are sketchy to the
point of being unintelligible. Oswald Spengler's The
Decline of the West
(1918-22) treats Chinese civili-
zation as an organism with a life cycle of its own that,
after an initial flowering, fell into decay and putrefac-
tion. Arnold Toynbee in his monumental A Study of


History (1934-61) assigns Chinese civilization a philo-
sophical equivalence to Europe. But the actual amount
of space devoted to Chinese civilization is nonethe-
less relatively slight. Toynbee's ideas about the ori-
gins of the Yellow River civilization as a response to
a challenging environment and his chronological divi-
sions of Chinese history have been severely attacked
by specialists. In William McNeill's The Rise of the
(1963), China is for the first time integrated
intelligibly into the history of the human community
by the stress that is placed on its relationship to
rather than its isolation from other centers of civiliza-

Academic study of China in the West during the
twentieth century has mainly been characterized by
greater attention to command of the language, to in-
ternal developments, and to case studies of village life,
social classes, bureaucracy, and the effects of moderni-
zation and Westernization. Translations from popular
literature have focused upon the novels and dramas
of social and individual discontent. Western literary
creations about China, especially those of Alice Tisdale
Hobart and Pearl Buck, glorified the sturdiness of the
common man in meeting adversity and the satisfactions
found by Chinese of all classes in the fullness and
vitality of the ancient culture. The resistance of China
to Japanese aggression reawakened interest in the study
of China's relations with its neighbors and in the na-
tion's ability to survive in spite of foreign depredations
and internal political divisions. To the end of World
War II the belief was commonly held that the social
and cultural ties of traditional China were still solid
enough to withstand fundamental changes.


Lenin, originally wedded to the Marxist idea that
China suffered from the system of production and
governmental despotism peculiar to Asia, gradually
began by the First World War to shift to the view that
China might become a future center of revolution and
social democracy. In his writings of the war years,
Lenin dismissed as irrelevant the peculiar character of
Asiatic society and sought to demonstrate that elimi-
nation of private property would lead everywhere to
the victory of socialism. But in the 1920's he advocated
a closer union between the Western proletariat and
the Eastern toilers in their common struggle against
traditional bondage and capitalistic imperialism.

Trotsky, a close student of Chinese affairs, saw in
the economic backwardness of China a positive in-
centive to creative revolutionary action. In his theory
of permanent revolution Trotsky envisaged China as
one of the leading elements in the movement towards
global revolution and rapid social and economic
progress. While he did not believe that the peasantry
as a class was devoted to international revolution, he
was convinced by 1927 that a socialist revolution
would succeed in China. The undirected political radi-
calism of the Chinese would be swept towards social-
ism by world revolutionary trends too powerful to be

Stalin, once Lenin's influence was removed, began
to emphasize the “feudal” character of China's agrar-
ian society and bureaucratic government, and to deny
the common interests of the peasants and workers. Of
the three types of class societies described by Stalin
(slave-holding, feudal, and capitalist), Nationalist China
was to become the prototype for latter-day Marxists
of the “feudal” or “semi-feudal” society. Until his death
Stalin remained convinced that the followers of Mao
Tse-tung were “margarine Communists” and that rev-
olution based upon the peasantry would fail. In 1950,
the leading lights in Oriental studies in Russia declared
the complete “rout of the notorious theory of the
'Asiatic mode of production'” (Wittfogel, p. 5).

Karl Wittfogel, a close student of the Marxists and
Weber, finds the source of Oriental Despotism (1957)
in what he defines as the hydraulic society. The total
power characteristic of Asian states derives in his eyes
from governmental management of the large-scale
works of irrigation and flood control necessary to the
development and nurturing of agriculture. The class
that manages the government, not the property-owners
or the workers, constitutes the dominant elite in such
societies. Agrarian despotisms, such as China, suffer
from landlordism, capitalism, and domination by a
gentry inspired and sustained by the administrative
bureaucracy. Social stagnation is characteristic of
hydraulic societies, and fundamental social changes in
them have been affected historically only through the
impact of external forces. The endurance of the Con-
fucian tradition in China is a cultural expression of the
staying power of the monopoly bureaucracy which
upheld it as the official credo. Even in Communist
China a managerial order has been retained which,
while differing from the old bureaucracy in structure
and intent, owes a substantial debt to the agrarian
despotism of traditional China.

The victory of communism in China in 1949 brought
sympathy and affection in most Western powers to a
swift end. The treason of China to the West, and to
Western expectations, set up a formidable, and through
the 1960's, irreducible barrier to communication and
understanding. Communist China is seen by those who
fear it as a growing industrial and nuclear power as
nothing but a belligerent and implacable foe. Respect
persists for its ancient culture; but fear of a united,
efficient, and totalitarian China as the leader of Asian
communism has come to override almost all other


Throughout the history of modern Western thought,
China and its civilization have been subject to a variety
of interpretations. The number increased with the
passage of time, but no one interpretation was ever
completely lost. At all periods the West remained
undecided as to how best to evaluate and relate to
Chinese civilization as a totality. A fascinating ambi-
guity constantly appears between the Westerner's view
of objective conditions in China, and his own vision
of European society in its relations to other civili-
zations. While the West's changing conception of
China strongly reflects the main currents of Western
intellectual history, occasions arise when objective
conditions in China impress themselves upon the cur-
rent image. To our own day China is still conceived
of as being at once remote and fantastic, wise and
admirable, backward and inferior, and fearful and
dangerous. While it is conceivable that these paradox-
ical characterizations are entirely of the West's own
creation, they are also reflections of the distortions that
inevitably occur whenever spokesmen of one civili-
zation take a fixed position from which to look at or
generalize upon an alien civilization of great longevity
and complexity. The total impression which Westerners
possessed at every period derived from the prevailing
intellectual conditions at home, the stereotypes in-
herited from the Western past, and the objective con-
ditions in China itself.


William W. Appleton, A Cycle of Cathay. The Chinese
Vogue in England during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth
(New York, 1951). R. C. Bald, “Sir William
Chambers and the Chinese Garden,” Journal of the History
of Ideas,
11 (1950), 287-320. H. Belevitch-Stankevitch, Le
goût chinois en France au temps de Louis XIV
(Paris, 1910).
Henri Bernard-Maitre, Sagesse chinoise et philosophie
(Paris, 1935). Derk Bodde, Tolstoy and China,
No. 4 in The History of Ideas Series (Princeton, 1950).
Raymond Dawson, The Chinese Chameleon: An Analysis
of European Conceptions of Chinese Civilization
1967). Eleanor von Erdberg, Chinese Influence on European
Garden Structures
(Cambridge, Mass., 1936). Louis J. Gal-
lagher, China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of
Matthew Ricci
(New York, 1953). Hugh Honour, Chinoiserie,
The Vision of Cathay
(London, 1961). G. F. Hudson, Europe
and China: A Survey of Their Relations from the Earliest
Times to 1800
(London, 1931). Harold R. Isaacs, Images of
Asia: American Views of China and India
(New York,
1962). Donald F. Lach, The Preface to Leibniz' Novissima
Sinica. Commentary, Translation, Text
(Honolulu, 1957);
idem, Asia in the Making of Europe, Vols. I and II
(Chicago, 1965; 1970); idem, “The Sinophilism of Chris-
tian Wolff,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 14 (1953),
561-74. Isaac D. Levine, Letters from the Kaiser to the Czar
(New York, 1920). Donald M. Lowe, The Function of
“China” in Marx, Lenin, and Mao
(Berkeley, 1966). Arthur
O. Lovejoy, “The Chinese Origin of a Romanticism,” in A.
O. Lovejoy, Essays in the History of Ideas (New York, 1960),
pp. 99-135. Mary Gertrude Mason, Western Concepts of
China and the Chinese, 1840-1876
(New York, 1939). Lewis
A. Maverick, “Chinese Influences upon the Physiocrats,”
Economic History, 3 (1938), 54-67. J. M. Menzel, “The
Sinophilism of Justi,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 17
(1956), 300-10. Joseph B. Needham and Wang Ling, Science
and Civilization in China,
4 vols. (Cambridge, 1954-65). C.
H. Pearson, National Life and Character. A Forecast
(London, 1893). Virgile Pinot, La Chine et la formation de
l'esprit philosophique en France: 1640-1740
(Paris, 1932).
Adolf Reichwein, China and Europe: Intellectual and
Artistic Contacts in the Eighteenth Century,
trans. J. C.
Powell (London, 1925). Ernst Rose, “Paul Ernst und China,”
Modern Language Quarterly, 4 (1943), 313-28. Arnold H.
Rowbotham, Missionary and Mandarin: The Jesuits at the
Court of China
(Berkeley, 1942). Ernst Schulin, Die welt-
geschichtliche Erfassung des Orients bei Hegel und Ranke

(Göttingen, 1958). Raymond Schwab, La renaissance orien-
(Paris, 1950). Elizabeth Selden, “China in German
Poetry from 1773 to 1833,” in Vol. XXV (1941-44) University
of California Publications in Modern Philology, Berkeley,
1942. Oswald Sirén, China and Gardens of Europe of the
Eighteenth Century
(New York, 1950). Ssu-yü Têng,
“Chinese Influence on the Western Examination System,”
Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 7 (1943), 267-312. Ed.
Horst von Tscharner, China in der deutschen Dichtung bis
zur Klassik
(Munich, 1939). Edwin J. Van Kley, “Europe's
'Discovery' of China and the Writing of World History,”
The American Historical Review, 76 (1971), 358-85. Karl
A. Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of
Total Power
(New Haven, 1957).


[See also Buddhism; Enlightenment; Islamic Conception;
Language; Marxism; Romanticism; Socialism.]