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China Travel: Seeing the Chinese Empire through Travellers' Eyes (HI3S3-30)

This module focuses on the history of China. It does this not in the conventional way of offering a survey of China's past, but by exploring the accounts of travellers to and from China. Visitors to China wrote about their impressions, but of course their accounts were also shaped by the worlds they had left behind; similarly, we can explore the accounts of Chinese travellers who visited other places to learn something about the China they left behind. All kinds of travellers will be considered: from Chinese monks who travelled to India to shipwrecked Koreans who travelled through China on their way home; from Chinese delegates to Cambodia to European diplomats visiting the Chinese emperor. We will read these accounts in English, but we will frame them with secondary literature about Chinese history and a theoretical framework from travel literature. The focus is historical (while drawing on literature), thematic (looking at themes like politics and power, diplomacy, trade, landscape and environment, gender, clothing and dress, material culture and technology) while following a chronological outline. We cover a broad historical period that ranges from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. No prior knowledge of China is expected.

Chinese sage in conversation with a traveller

A Chinese sage, in conversation with a traveller on the road. Gouache by a Chinese artist, ca. 1850. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

Transport of tea

Transport of tea by river @Victoria and Albert Museum. Full details here.