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The Jesuits as knowledge brokers between Europe and China (1582-1773): shaping European views of the Middle Kingdom

Department of Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Science
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  • Hc Economic History And Conditions
  • D901 Europe (General)
  • Ds Asia
  • D204 Modern History
  • Economics
  • Political Science


Europe in the sixteenth and most of the seventeenth century was engulfed in a wave of Sinophilia. However, by the eighteenth century a dramatic shift in the popular view of China in Europe occurred and Sinophobic writings began to dominate. The primary scholarly argument about the causes behind this shift in perceptions maintains the transformation stemmed predominantly from changes in European history, particularly, economic growth and political consolidation. This paper asks how the motives, the roles and the consequences of the Jesuits as agents of information regarding China affected the European perception of the Middle Kingdom and contributed to the evolution of Orientalism. It examines the evolution of the Jesuit mission in China, the role of personal motivation and problems surrounding conceptual and practical barriers to the construction and transmission of information. It finds that economic progress and political consolidation in Europe did result in a changing of perspectives on the nature of the Empire of China. However, this shift did not occur solely due to endogenous changes in Europe, but was also a result of the creation of the one-dimensional image of China by the Jesuits according to their personal motivations and unique context.

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