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│ By Wang Ke and Professor Wang Jinghui from Tsinghua University, Beijing │
In this blog post we hear from Wang Ke, a student at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and Wang Ke’s mentor, Professor Wang Jinghui, about how the primary source archives that were made available to the university through the Gale Scholar programme helped Wang Ke achieve high marks in his thesis.
‘How Gale Scholar helped with my Graduation Thesis’ by Wang Ke
Entitled Serious Reflections? Daniel Defoe’s Animosity towards China, my thesis is a case study of Sino-Western cultural communication. Western images of China have undergone a long history of development. From the wealthy and dreamy Oriental world described by Marco Polo, to the Confucian state ruled by an enlightened despot as envisaged by Jesuit missionaries, to the rise of the idea of a “Yellow Peril” in the wake of the modern era, China has been repeatedly reinterpreted by writers in the West. The study of this history offers valuable insights into the formation of current relations between China and the West.
Daniel Defoe, one of the first major critics to dismiss the Chinese civilisation, merits special attention. Whilst many of his contemporaries held overwhelmingly positive views of China, Defoe presented an almost completely negative image of the country. Through careful textual analysis of his Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and other works, I intend to explore his criticism of China, and the possible sources upon which it was based. My thesis also analyses the four Chinese translations of Farther Adventures and the translators’ respective attitudes toward it, so as to shed some light on the reception of Defoe’s ideas about China in the land he was striving to depict.
In order to achieve my goals, I need (I) the first editions (and other early editions) of the main texts and (II) early editions of books that Daniel Defoe might have used as his sources for comparison. Gale Scholar helped me in both aspects. In the following two sections, I give examples for each.
The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, the first volume of the Crusoe trilogy, appeared in print in April 1719 and was met with immediate popularity. To build on this prodigious success, Defoe managed to dash out a sequel (The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe) in a mere four months, and a third part (Serious Reflections during the Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe) appeared the next year. Today, only the first part of the trilogy still enjoys a wide audience while the other two have long slipped into obscurity. However, the two later additions contain lengthy passages about China. Farther Adventures describes Crusoe’s trip to various parts of the globe including China and Serious Reflections includes comments on many aspects of Chinese culture, about which both texts are extremely critical.
Despite the fact that the latter two volumes are now not as popular as they used to be, many later editions exist bearing various titles and with different levels of editing. In most recent editions, the title and format have been simplified and the spelling modernised. In order to find out more about Defoe’s career and how and why he wrote these works, it was essential that I found the first editions and examined their physical makeup, as well as the content. After all, details such as the fonts used, the illustrations, and even typographic errors, provide valuable information about the industry of publication.
Without much difficulty, I found the first edition of Farther Adventures (1719) in Gale Primary Sources, “Printed for W. Taylor at the Ship in Pater-Noster-Row”. The haphazard manner with which it was set and printed attests to my belief that the book was in the first place a business speculation, rushed out in a haste to make a profit. It contains no illustrations besides some coarse title pieces, tail pieces and drop caps. Interestingly, the front page claims that the book was written by Robinson Crusoe “himself,” perhaps in an attempt to add a touch of realistic appeal.
I also managed to locate some later editions in Gale Primary Sources, in order to find out more about the book’s reception. Among the many later editions, a 1747 version (“the seventh edition”), caught my attention. The book now had a new publisher: “Printed for T. Woodward; And Sold by J. Osborn at the Golden Ball in Pater-Noster-Row.” Almost three decades after its publication, the Crusoe trilogy had apparently become a bestseller, and this edition is thoroughly overhauled with brand new head pieces, tail pieces, drop caps and newly installed illustrations. In addition, a smaller font is used, making this new edition a hundred pages thinner than the first one. This more compact and beautiful edition attests to the enduring popularity of Defoe’s trilogy which, I argue, contributed to a wider acceptance of his prejudice about China.
After reading his fiery critique of China, one is inevitably tempted to ask where Defoe drew his sources of information about China, since he himself never set foot there. With the help of Gale Primary Sources, I managed to find some possible sources. The following is an example.
In Serious Reflections (1720), the third part of the Robinson Crusoe trilogy, we find the following passage that criticises the supposed idolatry of the Chinese people:
“But when we come to these polite Nations of China, which yet we cry up for Sense and Greatness of Genius, we see them groveling in the very Sink [sic] and Filth of Idolatry; their idols are the most frightful monstrous Shapes, not the Form of any real Creature, much less the Images of Virtue, of Chastity, of Literature; but horrid Shapes of their Priests Invention; neither hellish or human Monsters compos’d of invented Forms, with neither Face or Figure, but with the utmost Distortions, form’d neither to walk, stand, fly, or go; neither to heat, see, or speak, but merely to instill horrible Ideas of something nauseous and abominable, into the Minds of Men that ador’d them.” (p. 134-5)
I have located a similar passage in the British diarist John Evelyn’s entry for June 22, 1664, on which day “one Tomson, a Jesuite” showed him a collection of “rarities, sent from the Jesuites of Japan and China,” including:
“prints of Landskips, of their idols, Saints, Pagoods, of most ougly Serpentine, monstrous & hideous shapes to which they paie devotion: Pictures of Men, & Countries, rarely painted on a sort of gumm’d Calico transparent as glasse: also Flowers, Trees, Beasts, birds &c: excellently wrought in a kind of sleve-silk very naturall. Divers Drougs that our Drougists & physitians could make nothing of…” 1
Evelyn’s description demonstrates that ideas about China similar to those of Defoe existed before the latter started to write his novels. Other sources which express similar sentiments are William Wotton’s Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning (1705), which bemoaned the time and energy the Chinese wasted in studying the Chinese language; William Nichols, who ferociously attacked China’s religion and morality, and Francis Lockier, who mocked the inaccuracy of the Chinese calendar. 2
Considering that Farther Adventures was rushed out four months after the publication of the first part of the trilogy, it is unlikely that Defoe could have created his account of China via first-hand research, and would have turned to depictions in existing texts. Whilst it is impossible to identify the exact sources he used, after reading other sources contemporary to the author, I have managed to achieve a better understanding of the landscape in which he was writing these works.
Comments from Professor Wang Jinghui, Wang Ke’s mentor
It was great that Tsinghua University Library invited experts of the Gale Scholar programme to present these primary source databases to students and staff at our university. And what a coincidence that my student, Wang Ke, was searching for primary sources about Daniel Defoe for his paper at that time! The materials he needed were all relatively old, and copies would have been difficult to locate, thus it would take him quite some time to collect all he needed for his thesis. Gale Scholar’s rich content and easy-to-search interface helped Wang Ke write an excellent paper. He has since attended the annual conference organised by the Chinese Society of Comparative Literature and Transcultural Research Society and, because of the high quality of his paper, he was one of the students invited to present their papers at the conference. As his mentor, I believe Gale Scholar was vital in facilitating this progression to a higher level of academic research.
Blog post cover image citation: image by Cole Keister from Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/vEgVWRBr2VY
- Jonathan D. Spence, The Chan’s Great Continent: China in Western Minds, New York & London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999, pp.63-64.
- Ge Guilu 葛桂录. Zhongwai wenxue jiaoliu shi: zhongguo-yingguo juan 中外文学交流史：中 国 — 英 国 卷 (A history of literary exchange between China and other countries: the volume of China and Britain), Jinan: Shangdong jiaoyu chubanshe, 2015, pp.115-135.