‘That mighty Wall, not fabulous/ China’s stupendous mound!’ Romantic Period Accounts of China’s ‘Great Wall’

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Abstract

This essay discusses the first British encounter with the Great Wall of China in the accounts of the Macartney embassy of 1792-94. Macartney's embassy allowed Britons to view and describe the celebrated Great Wall for the first time in their history and to describe and comment on the significance of the monument in the their accounts of the event. This essay will attempt to discuss the ways in which the apparently objective and empirical description of the Wall is imbricated with the discourses of travel, diplomacy, aesthetics, and science. Utilising a discourse of objectivity and an aesthetics of a failed sublime, or “the stupendous”, cross-hatched with the rhetoric of disappointment and temporality, these accounts move from celebrations of the monument by eighteenth-century figures, such as Samuel Johnson, to detailed material discussions of the dimensions and historicity of the Wall itself. The case of the Great Wall, within the larger context of early British understandings of Qing China thus complicates in interesting ways our understanding of Enlightenment Romantic period travel.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Directions in Travel Writing Studies
EditorsPaul Smethurst, Julia Kuehn
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Chapter5
Pages83-96
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-137-45725-7
ISBN (Print)978-1-137-45757-8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015

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