The Inexplicable and the Unfathomable: China and Britain, 1600-1900

The ‘Chinese character seems at present inexplicable’, observed Lord Macartney during his celebrated embassy to China in the 1790s, while the Chinese themselves at this time often described ‘western ocean barbarians’ as ‘unfathomable’. The failure of Macartney’s embassy is well known, not least the Emperor Qianlong’s dismissive comment that ‘we possess all things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and have no use for your country’s manufactures’.

A sense of bafflement might therefore overwhelm the present-day visitor to the Forbidden City, on encountering its glorious array of English clocks, many imported during Qianlong’s reign. The present conference will consider some of the endless misunderstandings and deliberate deceptions that characterised relations between Britain and China in the four centuries under review, in fields as varied as religion and art, and commerce and literature. It will also explore, however, the burgeoning range of contacts between the two countries, and the increased mutual understanding achieved by two cultures separated by ‘the confines of many seas’.




Friday 11 November (DAY 1)
17.30 – 18.00 REGISTRATION
18.00 – 18.10 Welcome: Ted Lipman (The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation) and David Park (The Courtauld  Institute of Art)
18.10 – 19.15 Donald S. Lopez (University of Michigan): Britain and Buddhism: George Bogle in Tibet, 1774-1775
19.15 RECEPTION (in the Front Hall)
Saturday 12 November (DAY 2)
09.45 – 10.15 REGISTRATION
SESSION 1 – Chair: Roderick Whitfield (School of Oriental and African Studies)
10.15 – 10.45 Greg Clingham (Bucknell University, PA): Cosmology and Commerce on Lord Macartney’s Embassy to China, 1792-1794
10.45 – 11.45 Catherine Pagani (University of Alabama): Elaborate Clocks and Sino-British Encounters in the Eighteenth Century
11.15 – 11.25 Discussion
11.25 – 11.55 TEA / COFFEE BREAK (provided in Seminar room 1, 1st floor)
SESSION 2 – Chair: David Park (The Courtauld Institute of Art)
11.55 – 12.25 Tang Hui (University of Warwick): ‘The finest of Earth’: Selling Porcelain in Eighteenth-century Canton
12.25 – 12.50 Lars Tharp: China on a Plate: Images from Hogarth to Whistler
12.50 – 13.00 Discussion
13.00 – 14.30 LUNCH (provided for the speakers/chairs only. Seminar room 1)
SESSION 3 – Chair: Frances Wood
14.30 – 15.00 Jessica Harrison-Hall (The British Museum): Collecting Chinese Art at the British Museum 1760-1860
15.00 – 15.35 Edward Weech and Nancy Charley (Royal Asiatic Society): The Thomas Manning Archive and Prospects for a New Perspective on British     Intellectual Engagement with China in the Early 1800s
15.35 – 15.45 Discussion
15.45 – 16.15 TEA / COFFEE BREAK (provided in Seminar room 1, 1st floor)
SESSION 4 – Chair: Lars Tharp
16.45 – 17.15 Elizabeth Chang (University of Missouri): Writing Personhood from the Frontier of Western China
17.15 – 17.45 Frances Wood: The View from the Other Side: China’s Reactions to the West
17.45 – 18.00 Discussion and Concluding Remarks
18.00 END

11 Nov - 12 Nov 2016

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London