I have just heard about a fascinating book on the effect of China on England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is by Chi-ming Yang and is entitled Performing China: Virtue, Commerce, and Orientalism in Eighteenth-Century England, 1660-1760. It is due to be published at the beginning of October 2011 but can be pre-ordered.
In this book Yang reminds us that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries China was admired in Europe as a great empire, a model of strength and virtue. The effect of imported Chinese goods on European material culture has been well documented, but here Yang investigates how Chinese culture influenced English ideas about virtue.
A book of related interest, which I have also only just heard about, is Yu Liu’s Seeds of a Different Eden: Chinese Gardening Ideas and a New English Aesthetic Ideal (2008).
Liu describes how Chinese conceptions of nature and gardening affected the development of the English landscape garden. He also suggests that these ideas went on to influence other areas of European literature, art and philosophy.
I have previously explored similar ideas on this blog – although in much less scholarly fashion! – about what ‘China’ meant to the English in the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. See for instance this post about Confucius as a ‘British hero’, and other posts in the ‘Chinoiserie’ category.