CONFERENCE: The Inexplicable and the Unfathomable: China and Britain, 1600-1900
Venue: The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, London WC2R 0RN
Date and Time: 11 – 12 November 2016
Fees: £16 general admission / £11 students and concessions (advance booking required: link here to Event Brite)
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’.
Particularly interesting sessions to the SHC:
Catherine Pagani (University of Alabama): Elaborate Clocks and Sino-British Encounters in the Eighteenth Century (10.45-11.45, 12 Nov)
Tang Hui (University of Warwick): ‘The finest of Earth’: Selling Porcelain in Eighteenth-century Canton (1.55-12.25, 12 Nov)
Jessica Harrison-Hall (The British Museum): Collecting Chinese Art at the British Museum 1760-1860 (14.30-15.00, 12 Nov)

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