SOAS University of London

Department of Religions and Philosophies

Situating China II: Missionaries and Misfits in the British Construction of China

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2
This course deals with British (predominantly English) writing on China from the Middle Ages up to the time of the Cultural Revolution, with a particular emphasis on the role played by religious interests within that time span in constructing a notion of China amongst educated people in Britain. Although the notion of Orientalism will be introduced at the start of the course as one of the key ideas recently employed to structure writing about this literature, no particular interpretative scheme will be required of students in discussing the materials studied. Students will, however, acquire an understanding as to how British writing about China has changed over time, with different emphases both in different periods and amongst different groups.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The objective of this course is to alert students to the different meanings assigned to ‘China’ and its predecessor ‘Cathay’ within the English language over the course of time. 

On completion of the course the student will have acquired a sense of the different phases in this history, from dependence on second-hand information, especially through translation, on to the appearance of first-hand accounts largely through missionary writings and then to the age of journalism and the representation of China in English-language fiction. 

The student will further acquire some familiarity with the main issues that emerge from time to time in these writings, e.g. ‘inscrutability’, etc., and with the necessary historical framework for discussing these issues.

Method of assessment

1 essay (3,000 words) (50%), 1 take-home examination (50%).

Suggested reading

  • Dawson, R (1967) The Chinese Chameleon Oxford University Press.
  • Larner J (1999) Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World London, Yale UP.
  • Porter D (2001) Ideographia Stanford University Press.
  • Reinders E (2004) Borrowed Gods and Foreign Bodies Berkeley, University of California Press.


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