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 characterized 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.”

Venue: Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN


Friday 11 November

17:30–18:00 Registration

18:00–18:10 Welcome: Ted Lipman (The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation) and David Park (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

18:10–19:15 Donald S. Lopez (University of Michigan): “Britain and Buddhism: George Bogle in Tibet, 1774–1775”

19:15 Reception

Saturday 12 November

09:45–10:15 Registration

Session 1 – Chair: Roderick Whitfield (School of Oriental and African Studies)

10:15–10:45 Greg Clingham (Bucknell University, PA): “Cosmology and Commerce on Lord Macartney’s Embassy to China, 1792–1794”

10:45–11:45 Catherine Pagani (University of Alabama): “Elaborate Clocks and Sino-British Encounters in the 18th Century”

11:15–11:25 Discussion

11:25–11:55 Break

Session 2 – Chair: David Park (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

11:55–12:25 Tang Hui (University of Warwick): “’The finest of Earth’: Selling Porcelain in 18th Century Canton”

12:25–12:50 Lars Tharp: “China on a Plate: Images from Hogarth to Whistler”

12:50–13:00 Discussion

13:00–14:30 Lunch

Session 3 – Chair: Frances Wood

14:30–15:00 Jessica Harrison-Hall (The British Museum): “Collecting Chinese Art at the British Museum 1760–1860”

15:00–15:35 Edward Weech and Nancy Charley (Royal Asiatic Society): “The Thomas Manning Archive and Prospects for a New Perspective on British Intellectual Engagement with China in the Early 1800s”

15:35–15:45 Discussion

15:45–16:15 Break

Session 4 – Chair: Lars Tharp

16:45–17:15 Elizabeth Chang (University of Missouri): “Writing Personhood from the Frontier of Western China”

17:15–17:45 Frances Wood: “The View from the Other Side: China’s Reactions to the West”

17:45–18:00 Discussion and concluding Remarks