Се Лия -
The Rise and Fall of the Image of China in Russian Orientalism (1760-1840): Comparing Textual and Material Representations
Прикладная и междисциплинарная история
The motif of the Orient has always been in the history of the Russian thought, although the meaning of the Orient throughout time is manifold. This research aims to investigate how Russia received and interacted with one particular “East”—China, both in the textual and material dimensions. The chronological framework of this research covers almost a century between mid-18th and mid-19th centuries, namely from 1760 to 1840. It is during this period, I would argue, that we may identify the interesting and even paradoxical dynamics of the image of China between literary works and material culture. Historical sources for textual representations mainly include travelogues and accounts on China written by Russian naval officers Ivan Krusenstern and Yuriy Lisyanski, the Irish-American adventurer serving in Russia Peter Dobell, and the Russian Sinologist Nikita Bichurin. As for the material dimension, this study examines art and architecture produced in the ‘chinoiserie’ style. By juxtaposing textual and material representations of China, this research provides a fresh theoretical framework for understanding the complexity of the image of China in Russian Orientalism. In this case, China embodies a mélange of multi-layered meanings: an exotic faraway land with ‘ideal’ morality, “a semi-barbarian nation falsely renowned for virtues”, a ‘quarrelsome’ neighbor, as well as the ceramic material itself and the technology behind it. Eventually, this study suggests that the Saidian notion of Orientalism as “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” is not applicable to Russia’s perception of China, especially if we take into account the social meaning embedded in them. Instead, material representations more often than not blur the politically and textually constructed boundaries between ‘Self’ and ‘Other’.