Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Current Research

Romantics Reading China

This project studies Anglophone potrayals of China in the nineteenth century with emphasis on Romantic authors. Here are abstracts for two articles from this project, currently in preparation:

Romantic Confucius: (Mis)Reading Confucian Philosophy in the British Romantic Period

While the first complete English translations from Confucian philosophy have been attacked for their inaccuracy, they were invoked for political use during the Romantic period. Two English versions of Da Xue were published between 1809 and 1814, the work of missionaries Joshua Marshman and Robert Morrison. Both modern and contemporary commentators have recognized that the translations were primitive, but nonetheless the works stimulated interest in Britain. This article argues that the missionary versions of Confucian philosophy are significant within several political contexts of the British Romantic period. The translations arose from the politics of British missions in Asia. Marshman and Morrison produced their Confucian texts in attempts to appease local administration that suspected their religious activities might cause unrest. Yet the translations also stimulated enough interest at home in the missionaries’ overall activities secure funds for their religious efforts. I analyze responses to Confucianism in three interrelated debates in British periodicals: the rivalry between Catholicism and Protestantism; China as the emerging site of Anglo-French rivalry; and Liberal commentary on principles of leadership with allusion to Britain’s ruler, the Prince Regent. The missionary translations have been neglected as poor Confucianism, but need to be viewed in the historical context of the Romantic period and to be rehabilitated within political discussion.

Greeks on de Quincey’s Chinese Stage: Orientalism, Opium Warfare and the ‘Theory of Greek Tragedy’

Prior to the outbreak of the Opium Wars in 1840 and 1857, the celebrated English Opium Eater Thomas de Quincey published journalism that urged Britain to attack China. De Quincey claims that the ‘Mantchoo’ rule invites destruction with ‘the demoniac hybris of Greek Tragedy’. This article examines the transposition of ideas between de Quincey’s China articles and his ‘Theory of Greek Tragedy’ in the context of his lifelong use of Classical culture in Orientalist texts. While de Quincey relies on Classics to assert his identity and resist the Orient, the concept he attributes to Manchurian folly – the daimon – also symbolises his own helplessness. De Quincey’s portrayal of inexorable conflict between Apollonian Britain and Dionysian China, the identity of his Malay visitor in Confessions, and plight of opium addiction all converge with intimations of compulsion identifiable with the daimon. Hence de Quincey’s warmongering politics and personal guilt are so deeply enmeshed that his journalism cannot be taken at face value. While de Quincey’s tone is aggressive, I argue that the intent of his journalism is undermined by the self-referential aspects of his Orientalism and his use of tragedy, in which context the conflict of war is representative rather than real.