“Counterfeiting Mandarins: Early Modern English Marginality/ia in Western Encounters with China

Adele Lee
Queen's University, Belfast

Adele Lee.“'Counterfeiting Mandarins': Early Modern English Marginality/ia in Western Encounters with China". Early Modern Literary Studies 15.2 (2010-11): 4.1-32 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/15-2/leemand2.htm>



  1. The objective of this article is to examine the ways in which early modern England responded to the country and inhabitants of late Ming China. However, for much of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries any direct or sustained contact between the English and the Chinese was limited and it was not until 1699 that the English East India Company began to trade at Canton on a regular basis. In the absence of first-hand experience of the Chinese, most of what the English reading public learnt about Chinese people, culture, religion and customs, throughout this period, was from translations of Portuguese and Spanish texts, the majority of which were written by Jesuit fathers as well as friars of other orders such as the Dominicans and Franciscans.[1] Securely ensconced in Peking by the turn of the century, the Jesuits were the primary disseminators and interpreters of information about China for much of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With the exception of a small number of writers, such as Martín de Rada and Alonso Sánchez, the image of China that these missionaries commonly transmitted to England was of an almost utopian kingdom that was munificently ruled, enormous in size, decorous in customs and fabulously wealthy. With regards to this, the Augustinian friar Juan Gonzalez de Mendozas portrayal of China in his influential The historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China, which was translated into English by Robert Parke in 1588, as “one of the greatest and best kingdomes of the world, as well for riches as for fertility, by reason whereof … they haue sufficient of all things necessarie to the maintaining of humane life,” and of the Chinese people as, “exceed[ing] all nations of the world” in terms of wisdom and governance, is typical.[2] The Dominican friar, Gaspar da Cruz, despite finding the people “ill-favoured” in appearance, lavished similar praise on China when he described it as “exceed[ing] all … others in populace, in greatness of realm, in excellence of polity and government, and in abundance of possessions and wealth,” in his Tractado (1569-1570), which was extracted by Samuel Purchas in his Hakluytus posthumus (1625).[3] Likewise, the Galisia priest, Bernardino de Escalante, wrote that “without all doubt [China] is the greatest and most abundant [country] that is knowen in the wide worlde” (fol. 14r ), while Henri de Feynes deemed it an “Earthly Paradise” in his Preface to An exact and curious suruey of all the East Indies (1615).

  2. Although such descriptions of China proliferated throughout Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and would have inevitably contributed to the shaping of English opinion of China, it is doubtful whether the English were merely the passive recipients of such accounts. Indeed, contrary to common assumption, I would argue that a substantial faction of the English actively subjected these accounts to re-interpretation in their own terms.[4] In other words, many English translators, editors and readers of Iberian texts about China found ways of reappraising or appropriating the text to fit with their own, often preconceived, ideas about geopolitics, non-Europeans, and the nature of foreign travel.

  3. Early seventeenth-century translators,” according to William W. E. Slights, “were bold as brass in their acts of cultural-textual appropriation as they creatively adapted their chosen texts to suit their language, their situations, their ends” (Managing Readers 171). Many of these appropriations are affected silently, but others are noted in the margins, as is the case with the texts examined in this article. These marginal notes reveal much, I contend, about the early modern English attitude towards Others as well as their own self-conceptualization as a nation. In particular, the marginalia point to an interesting discrepancy between English and Iberian opinion with regard to the Chinese. Often disagreeing and differing with the original texts’ claims about Chinese “greatness,” especially, the side notes divide the reader’s opinion on China and serve to question the claim that England received China favourably right up until the eighteenth century.[5] Two, often conflicting, opinions or conceptualizations of the “Middle Kingdom,” then, are presented on literally the same page. Exploring the religious and socio-political reasons behind this split is the main intention of much of this article.

  4. The marginalia in English translations of Spanish and Portuguese representations of China also suggest the presence of alternative, quite possibly homebred, source material on China in Renaissance England.[6] Although they did not yet possess the vast colonial archive of knowledge about other cultures that they would in later epochs, the seventeenth-century English were increasingly gathering their own resources on China. These sources include texts like Edmund Scotts An exact discourse of the subtilties, fasciations [sic], policies, religion, and ceremonies of the East Indians (1606) and Thomas Gainsfords The Glory of England (1618). These texts, often critically sidelined, include the few descriptions of China that were written by Englishmen themselves. This article, therefore, will examine these as well as other, non-published, accounts of the Chinese by the English; in particular, the letters written by merchants resident in Bantam, Java, Japan and other East India Company outposts. Although these narratives remained in manuscript form, they could well have enjoyed a much wider readership since, as critics such as H. R. Woudhuysen and Marcy L. North have established, manuscript culture in the Renaissance played a significant role in the transmission and circulation of ideas. Thus, the importance of these manuscripts in determining the opinions of the English towards China, and by extension, on their reception of Jesuit accounts of China, cannot be underestimated. One can only surmise that the early modern English had other sources of information about the Chinese at their disposal that are, unfortunately, no longer extant. 

  5. Indeed, one instance that is highly suggestive of this is Samuel Purchas dismissal of Fernćo Mendes Pinto’s claim that since the death of the “King of China” civil war has erupted in the empire. In response to this, Purchas writes in the margins, Civill warres in China. Fabulous rumour” (XII, 80). While, as Slights contends, Purchas throughout Hakluytus posthumus uses the margins to demystify the fabulous accounts of travellers, [and] reject some astounding tales,” this could not be the case in the above example, since from an Englishmans perspective there is nothing exceptionally fabulous about the contest for power following the death of the sovereign (The Edifying Margins 751). Therefore, it is justifiable to assume that Purchas must have based his rebuttal on alternative, now untraceable, sources of information. Yet there is, of course, the possibility that Purchas had absolutely no authority to refute the Iberian author, but was purposefully creating the illusion that the English were contenders for textual, and by extension, actual, control over China. Put simply, through challenging Pintos assertions, Purchas is falsely representing himself, and the English, as an authority on China. This reading neatly fits in with Purchas project as a whole, which was to consolidate an image of England as an imperial nation, one that was able to compete on a global scale with fellow Europeans. Fashioning an impression of himself, on the written page, as a confident and well-informed expert on the Chinese, is one way of achieving this illusion. 

  6. In the final section of this article, as a means of exploring further the more negative stance of the English toward the Chinese than the Iberians, I will analyze Peter Mundys Itinerarivm, in particular, his account of Captain Weddells expedition to Macao in 1637. This was the first time that English merchants arrived on the coast of China and dealt with the Chinese on a face-to-face basis. It therefore marks a singular moment during the Renaissance in that the English writer is the sole formulator of images of China. Nevertheless, Macao and Canton (where Mundy and the English found themselves confined) were Portuguese-governed provinces; as such, the English ended up negotiating mainly with Jesuits for trading privileges. Thus, the Portuguese played a pivotal role in governing not only Englands textual encounters but its actual encounters with China. This is not to say, however, that Mundy did not attempt to form and articulate a subject position vis-à-vis the Chinese that is peculiar to the English. Indeed, like the English translators and editors of Iberian accounts of China, Mundy wrestled for representational control of the Chinese, often subjecting them to re-appropriation in his own terms. Again, the English difference in tone and attitude towards the Chinese when compared to Jesuit accounts of the same country, which were, in general, highly admiring and sympathetic, is striking. The discrepancies between the two perspectives could be attributed to the fact that, as Robert Markley argues, secular traders were freer than their missionary counterparts to disparage pagan temples and Heathen practices” (Civility 64). Also, unlike the missionaries, merchants and seamen knew no Chinese and nothing of Confucian ethics or Buddhist theology and therefore “saw only the haziest outlines of the empire’s grand political edifice, and had no notion of how it was supposed to work” (Lach and Kley 1568). This is a sound point, yet, when one considers that the Spanish Pinto was also writing about China from the perspective of a merchant, and that his discourse on China does not differ as dramatically from the Catholic missionaries’ as Mundys does, then it seems highly probable that difference in nationality as much as social status accounts for the difference in opinion. Furthermore, when one takes into consideration that crucial to Orientalist approaches to China in the nineteenth century was the arrival of British Protestant missionaries with their condescending and negative views of China, Mundys often unfavorable remarks about the Chinese would appear to stem less from his position as a lay person and more from his identity as an English Protestant (Pennycook 169).[7] It is on this premise that many of the claims in this article are founded.


  7. Through their commentary in the sidelines of the text, the English translator/editor reveals much about early modern English ethnology. But it is not surprising that modern scholars have overlooked these textual traces, for in deploying the margins to express their responses to China, the English chose a form of expression that has been critically sidelined. This contemporary equating of marginalia with marginality, though, it must be remembered, was not necessarily the case in the early modern period when “major and minor, centre and margin, [was] yet to be firmly established” (Tribble 103). In fact, Renaissance marginalia were actually a legitimate and highly effective mode of exerting power over the opinion of the reader, and as such played a pivotal role in contributing to the meaning of the text.

  8. It is also important to retain in mind that English translators did not only deploy the margins as a site of subversion or resistance to Iberian accounts of China, but that their relationship to the text proper is more complicated. Purchas introduction to Pintos work aptly demonstrates the ambiguous relationship between English translator and Iberian author. In it, Purchas writes what is effectively an apologia, defending Pinto against accusations of telling tales.”[8] Arguing that the latter is religious, and that his work has not been contradicted elsewhere, Purchas not only draws attention to Pintos work as suspect, but in defending the author, that is, in giving Pintos work validity, Purchas usurps the original authors role in authorizing his own words (XII, 54-55). This shows how one does not have to challenge overtly an authors claims in order to stage a contest of authority, for even through reaffirming the original authors words, the translator can diminish the latters position of authority.

  9. Making it clear from the outset that he is not going to play a passive role in the translating process, Purchas’ defence of Pinto has noticeable similarities with that of John Pory’s defence of Leo Africanus. Translating Africanus’ The History and Description of Africa into English in 1600, Pory makes it evident that he regards the writer as culturally and theologically suspect.[9] While Pory’s defence of Africanus, who was a Muslim convert to Christianity, within a Renaissance context is not particularly surprising, Purchas’ defence of a fellow European is less expected. This is because students of early modern cross-cultural encounters are not accustomed to discriminating between Europeans. Travel narratives describing non-Europeans by the English, French, Italian, Iberians and so forth are frequently studied collectively (as in Daniel Carey’s Asian Travel in the Renaissance [2004]) as well as collated in anthologies on Renaissance travel (as in Andrew Hadfield’s otherwise excellent Amazons, Savages and Machiavels [2001]). This situating is, of course, a contemporary one, and serves falsely to consolidate an image of a united European Renaissance identity. In reality, Renaissance Englishmen regarded their relationship with fellow Europeans as highly problematic, which inevitably impinged on their responses to continental writing.

  10. This ambivalence toward Iberians resulted in the authorial and ideological parallax central to English translations of Portuguese and Spanish accounts of China. Ostensibly, translation is an expression of value for another cultures intellectual products, yet Purchas appeal to his reader to use thou thy freedom, and him [Pinto] at thy pleasure suggests that Purchas did not hold the original author in esteem (XII, 57). One wonders why, then, Purchas would labour to bring Pinto to the English readership. The obvious answer is that English encounters with the Chinese in the early modern period were rare, and thus the English had to resort to outside sources. Even though Purchas, in general, looked for accounts that “celebrated English achievements” (Kley and Foss 276) he was compelled to look elsewhere for material when it came to China: I was forced to get as I could(XII, 54).[10] In fact, in order to obtain information about the Chinese, the English needed to draw on accounts by others that were, quite literally, considered Other. Moreover, the authors that the English were forced rely on were often, ironically, perceived as even more different/deviant as the foreigners they purported to represent. As A. J. Hoenselaars, in his illuminating Images of Englishmen and Foreigners (1992), explains, English Renaissance culture as a whole often perceived its fellow Europeans as an even more radical and threatening form of alterity than any Easterner. This is particularly the case with regards to the Jesuits, for “with the probable exception of the Jews, no single body of men in Europe seems to have met with so much … dislike [and suspicion] as the Society of Jesus” (Edwards 13). Kept under constant surveillance, the Jesuits in England were threatened with imprisonment, torture, and, in the case of John Ogilvie and Robert Southwell, execution for practising their religion. Indeed, a statute of 1585 against Jesuits and seminary priests made their very presence in England an act of high treason (Walsham 52). In forcing the English to rely on the accounts of the despised latter, China, then, served as a pointed reminder to the English of just how much they lagged behind rival Europeans in terms of overseas achievement.

  11. After defending Pinto in the opening paragraph, Purchas proceeds to apologize to the reader if it is but a lye,” in which case, it is not him that has [a] mind to deceive thee, but [only] to give you what I found” (XII, 56). Thus Purchas, in shifting the blame, distances himself from the Portuguese author. This suspicion of the fraudulence of Iberian accounts of China was a common and long-lasting one: William Wotton, for instance, branded the Spanish and Portuguese authors of descriptions of China tell talers (144), while James Howell wrote in Instructions for forreine travell (1642) that the Spanish traveler who spoke of a church in China that was ten thousand yards long[is] so habituated to hyperbolize and relate wonders that he became ridiculous in al companies” (178).[11] Such cynicism was not, however, unfounded: aware that the Spanish and Portuguese deliberately keepe others from the true knowledge of these parts,” the English had good reason to receive both descriptions and maps of China with suspicion (Purchas XII, 94).[12] Purchas then continues to remark, in a resentful tone, that cheaper I am sure he [meaning Pinto] is by farre to thee then to mee, who would be loath to be so true a labourer in a lying author, willingly or commonly … falsifying his owne sight, though perhaps not seldom deceived in things taken up in China mens trust(XII, 57). Initially setting up a binary opposition between himself, who is true,” and the lying Portuguese author, Purchas next upbraids the Chinese for deception, in which case the Chinese become responsible for duping all Europeans alike. Hence, a shifting and unstable set of relations between European and fellow European and between Europeans and Non-Europeans, is invoked. This shifting set of alliances, which, according to the recent scholarship of Daniel Vitkus, Jerry Brotton, Matthew Dimmock, and Nabil Matar, to name just a few, is also evident in the relationship between England, Spain and the Ottoman Empire, is played out continuously on the pages of English translations of Iberian accounts of China.[13] Purchas, for instance, sometimes envisions himself and his English readership as travelling “with our persecuted Jesuites ship[ping] ourselves for China,” conveying a sense of the English voyaging alongside the Jesuits, sharing the latters plight and perspective (XII, 268). At other moments, though, Purchas bars himself and the English reader from sharing the Iberian authors outlook regarding the Chinese; for instance, adjacent to Pintos comment on the filthy and public practice of sodomy in China at which he cannot but grieve,” Purchas oddly remarks in a marginal note that this is The Authors opinion and therefore not, by implication, his own (XII, 112). Interestingly, it is unclear with which aspect of Pintos comment Purchas is not in agreement: is it the claim that sodomy is commonly practiced in China? Is it Pintos assertion that sodomy is filthy? Or is it Pintos rather sympathetic response to Chinese depravity” (he is more “grieved” than disgusted by it) to which Purchas takes issue? This indeterminacy demonstrates the sometimes ineffectuality of the English in articulating or fixing their own, culture-specific, responses to China. Yet, when I come to examine in more detail the socio-political and religious factors governing English response to the Chinese, which I argue made them less flexible and more judgmental than their Catholic counterparts, it would seem that Purchas took issue with Pintos response to, rather than his derogatory description of, the Chinese.

  12. The relationship between the English translator and the Iberian author does not always entail a straightforward clash: sometimes their marginalia simply paraphrase the events or sentiments described in the text proper. More often than not, though, their marginalia merely signal or involve the re-appropriation of the text to suit the main concerns of the English. This can be seen in the use of marginalia to highlight certain passages that were deemed by the Renaissance English to be of particular interest. The presence of copious marginal notes at moments in the text that discuss Chinas resources suggests that what is of most interest to the English regarding China is its commodities. Take, for instance, Robert Parkes marginal notes in Mendozas The historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China (1588) which read as follows:
    Pure gold.
    Fine siluer.
    Precious stones.
    Muske and amber.
    … Peeces of silk.
    Raw silke.
    Cotton wool.

  13. These notes serve to show the way in which the English translator interpreted China as, and reduced it to, a storehouse of material goods. It is also highly indicative of how the English nation was increasingly defining itself in this period as a nation of merchants, that is, as a producer and consumer of goods.[14] In contrast to the theologically and academically laden underpinnings of the Jesuits’ encounter with the Chinese, Englands attitude toward the same is, therefore, fundamentally shaped by economic interests. Indeed the English, arguably, translated and appropriated texts on China primarily for the purposes of commercial expansion. As the translator of Alvaro Semedos The history of that great and renowned monarchy of China (1655) states on the title page, the latter was translated to advance the Trade of Great Brittain.” Learning about Chinese trading customs, geography and culture from the Iberians, it was thought, would prove vital to English profit in China (Mendoza I, 6). This would explain why large parts of the story of Catholic missionaries in China are often omitted entirely or passed over by English translators without comment, while details pertaining to Chinese commodities, geography, place names, or trading customs are almost always emphasized. For instance, notes in the margin that read China perilous Coast or point out that From the Philippinas to China is 200 leagues are clearly intended for the attention of English pilots (Purchas XII, 75 and 216). These notes, like Parkes above, are clinical and detached observations: they do not suggest an emotional or intellectual response. The tendency by English translators to intercept and reinterpret Iberian narratives on China through comments in the margins could, if we read the page as analogous to the land of China itself, represent an actual struggle between England and its European rivals for possession of the “Celestial Empire.” In other words, in presenting the page as a territory of contestation between the margins and the centre, the English translator is representing China itself as contested territory. Such a reading is validated by the early modern conceptualization of rhetorical possession as analogous to literal possession. However, this perceived battle between the English and the Iberians over China that the English translator conveys is ultimately the staging of a fantasy, a fantasy that plays itself out on the printed page only.[15] In reality, the East Asian theatre was dominated by the Portuguese and Spanish in this period, the English were not in a position to compete. The marginal notes thereby betray both Renaissance Englands imperial ambitions and inadequacies. After all, although the marginal note in this period did not necessarily reflect a firm subordination of subtext to text, the English still occupy a relatively marginal position both on the page and in actuality when it comes to early modern encounters with China.


  14. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to claim that the English translator had absolutely no grounds on which to challenge Iberian representations of China. Home-bred sources of information about the Chinese were circulating more and more in England throughout this period. That these alternative sources helped shape how the English responded to the Chinese is evident in the numerous instances when Purchas casually interjects from the margins that the Chinese are “miserable churls” and “perverse” as well other pejorative terms used in response to negative Iberian descriptions of Chinese. Quick to home in on and elaborate on the (rare) moments when the Iberian author criticises the Chinese, the English translator reveals that he is keen to impress on his reader the failings of the Chinese much more than he is their positive attributes. As well as suggesting early modern England’s less receptive approach to non-Europeans in general, these instances also expose the impact that highly unfavourable depictions of the Chinese by English merchants overseas had on the English back home. The letters that servants of the East India Company such as Samuel Boyle, Nicholas Downton, and Richard Wickham, wrote often express highly derisive opinions about the Chinese. And it is very probable that Purchas, with his personal and professional connections with the London trading companies, was privy to some of these. The 1617 letter to Sir Thomas Smythe (the East India Company’s director) from George Ball, an agent stationed at Bantam, is typical. In it, Ball writes that “for our dealing in this place, it is most with Chinamen [with whom] we had good … in the way of commerce … But being now into favour with the government … all things are as they please [and they are] a great cross unto us in all our affairs.”[16] To the English staffing East India Company stations, the Chinese were a common but unwelcome presence. The “ritch” Chinese, Edmund Scott, who was an agent in Java, tells his reader, “through their industry” play a prominent role in trade throughout the South Seas islands (sig. N1r). But from the perspective of the English, the Chinese proved difficult to deal with, leading to frequent accusations that they are “dishonest,” “without faith,” and “very rogues.”[17] The condemnation of the Chinese for being deceitful and crafty extended beyond the unpublished letters of merchants and into the wider reading public. In 1606 Edmund Scott published An exact discourse in which the Chinese, who had their own China towne in Bantam, received scathing criticism.[18] Accused of coyning false Ryalls and of vsing all kinds of cosoning and de[c]eit which may be possible to devise to get wealth,” the Chinese are branded heathen dogs,” “craftie,” “thievish and like Iewes, [in] liue crouching vnder them, robb[ing] them of their wealth.[19] In portraying the Chinese as being like Iewes,” Scott was, arguably, invoking the most radical form of alterity at his disposal. His description, therefore, stands in direct opposition with the Jesuits’ common labelling of the Chinese as gentiles when one considers the Biblical division of the world into Jews and Gentiles. In using the term Gentile to apply to the Chinese, the Jesuits were casting the Chinese in the same, broad, theological framework as themselves, that is, as non-Jews. This framing of the Chinese by the Jesuits illustrates the latters’ desire to stress similarities between the Chinese and themselves, which was part of their policy of accommodation in China (I will be examining this in further detail later). On the other hand, Scott and the English in general, it would seem, were keen to maintain and assert Chinese racial, religious and cultural difference.

  15. In Thomas Gainsford’s The Glory of England (1618), the “malicious” Chinese are also depicted in a derogatory fashion. Gainsford’s text is a deliberate and self-conscious attempt to break away from Portuguese and Spanish accounts of China. Acknowledging the tendency by travel writers to rehash and copy others’ work, Gainsford claims that his chapter on China is “original” and that no historiographer can “challenge [him] from stealing any wealth or riches from them” (167). Concerning these writers that he “disclaime[s],” Gainsford continues by saying, “I wonder they are not ashamed to fill up their leaves with lines of falsehood,” which, although not directly aimed at the best-selling Portuguese and Spanish chroniclers, these chroniclers are conspicuous by their absence from Gainsford’s list of “reliable” sources (167). Gainsford’s so-called trustworthy sources include a “Persian ambassador, Indians, Iewes, Arabians and Armenians” and “our English both at the Philippines and … Iapan” (168-69 – emphasis mine). This, firstly, pays testimony to the wider dissemination of English merchants’ accounts of the Chinese, but it also shows how Gainsford, even though he rejects the Iberians as authorities on China, was prepared to accept Persians, Indians, Arabians, Armenians and even Jews as dependable. This surprising stance adopted by Gainsford illustrates how early modern England was struggling to position itself in relation to new, global, systems of difference. But England was unambiguous about one thing at least: its desire to become independent of the rest of Europe. Also of note is the way in which Gainsford’s insistence on “originality” is undermined by his subsequent, and continued, reliance on others as eyewitnesses. Once again, early modern England, despite its best efforts to become an independent formulator of images of China, did not yet possess the technological and navigational skills to do so. Nonetheless, this did not thwart Gainsford in attempting to depict an image of China that was not inherited from Iberian travel writers; in particular, as his very title for this chapter, “China and her deficiency manifested,” suggests, Gainsford was keen to escape from idealised conceptions of China. One way he does this is by claiming that China is subject to famine, drought and pestilence and that its inhabitants are “jelous,” “malicious,” immoral, and ultimately unhappy (171-72).[20] His China, thus, stands in stark contrast to the Iberians’ view of it as an almost terrestrial paradise.


  16. Claims like Gainsford’s that the Chinese are “diuers time subject to famine of bread” and their land “troubled with serpents, and many venomous worms, distempered by strange tempests, and winds,” also impinged on English translations of Iberian accounts (169-70). Purchas, for instance, is often at pains to diminish or dismiss completely Spanish and Portuguese claims about Chinese wealth and opulence; for instance, at one point he writes in a note beside Pinto’s rather awestruck description of a Chinese pagoda gilded in gold that: “[t]his gilding perhaps is but a kind of earth which the Chinois have, looking like gold” (XII, 95). Purchas’ undercutting of too encomiastic a description of China is also visible when, alongside the Jesuit Matteo Ricci’s portrayal of a Chinese “Mart” as “excell[ing] Venice,” his note (under)states, “Another Venice” (XII, 313).[21] Unlike Ricci, Purchas is only willing to concede that a Chinese city could be equal to a European one, not better. Purchas also rebukes Pinto for exaggerating about the number of men the emperor has in service, showing how he was unwilling to admit that China’s monarch surpassed England’s in military might (XII, 117). Robert Burton also mocked the Iberians for overstating the number of men the emperor of China had under his command when he sarcastically wrote, in The anatomy of melancholy (1621), that “the King of China maintains 10,000 eunuchs in his family to keep his wives.[22] Like Purchas, Burton seems reluctant to accept the existence of an empire surpassing England in terms of size and military capability. Richard Hakluyt, writing twenty five years earlier, was likewise critical of idealised visions of China, and warned against the opinion that famine, war and pestilence have not afflicted China: “[that] opinion,” he writes, “is more common than true: sithens there have been most terrible intestine and civile warres … sithens also that some provinces of the said kingdom … have been afflicted with pestilence and contagious diseases, and with famine” (VI, 352-3). The reason behind this denial of Chinese wealth, economic stability and military prowess is not merely English arrogance but a more complicated, and theological issue.

  17. Post-Reformation England, particularly following the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, was increasingly fashioning itself as the “nation of elect.” As John Spurr writes, “Protestantism inspired messianic ideals about national destiny and mission. The English were God’s chosen people, England was another Israel” (35).[23] Promoted by William Camden, John Foxe, and Matthew Parker, among others, this myth of England as the “earth of majesty,” “seat of Mars,” “blessed plot” and “other Eden, demi-paradise,” to quote from Shakespeare’s Richard II, and of Elizabeth I and her Stuart successors as providential monarchs, did not, understandably, sit well with the similar mode in which China was extolled.[24] It was China’s incongruousness to England’s self-identification as God’s chosen people that led John Milton, an ardent believer in England’s elect status, to reject Jesuit accounts that celebrated China in the late seventeenth century.

  18. Milton’s distancing of himself from Iberian accounts of China is also indicative, as Robert Markley argues, of China’s seeming failure, from the perspective of English Protestants, to conform to a Providentialist worldview (The destin’d Walls, 192-93) Chinas supposedly infinite wealth and prosperity as well as political stability conflicted with Miltons understanding of the disorder, scarcity and strife that is central to mankinds post-lapsarian condition. The China that Iberian writers’ painted seemed impervious to the consequences of humankinds fall from grace. On top of this, Christian England was plagued by economic, political and social problems. How then could the English claim to be Gods chosen people? Miltons response to this theological conundrum was simply to ignore Jesuit accounts of China, a move that also signalled Englands determination by the end of the seventeenth century to become sole arbiters of Western knowledge of the Chinese.[25] Hakluyt, Gainsford and Purchas, however, responded to the problem by actively refuting and discrediting the claims of the Portuguese and Spanish about China in order to reconcile China to their worldview. Catholics, on the other hand, in general, did not recognize in China such a threat to Biblical historiography, and thus did not feel the need to moderate praise of the Chinese. This is due to the fact that, arguably, Providentialism did not play as prominent a role in the Catholic theological outlook as it did in the early modern Protestant, for whom the doctrine of Predestination (fate, destiny, Gods design) was of particular significance. 

  19. The ways in which the Reformation divided Europeans in their attitudes towards non-Europeans, first explored by G. K. Hunter, is increasingly subject to critical attention. In their studies of the often triangulated relationship between England, the Iberian Peninsula and the Middle East, Nabil Matar, Matthew Dimmock and Daniel Vitkus have all noted how “1517 problematized the concentric binary opposition” between Christians and Heathens (Vitkus 48). The cultural lens through which Catholics perceived Others would, inevitably, have been at some variance from the political and religious perspective that governed Protestant Englands perception of Others. For, while medieval travel writers like Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville had the ability to articulate a collective European vision of the “East,” the Reformation arguably destroyed European Christians’ shared perspective on the Other.[26] So, hypothetically speaking, how a Roman Catholic with his or her emphasis on celibacy amongst the clergy reacts to the figure of the Chinese eunuch (a castrated servant to the emperor) would be different to that of a Protestant, who advocated the need for men of the cloth to marry and for whom chastity was a devalued quality. Likewise, the Confucian belief in the essential goodness of human beings would strike an English advocate of (specifically Calvinist) Protestantism, which stressed man’s absolute depravity, as more alternative than it would an adherent of the “Old Religion.”

  20. That the English theological viewpoint moulded their attitude to the Chinese manifests itself on numerous occasions in the translated work of the Spanish and Portuguese. For example, alongside the Dominican friar Gaspar da Cruz’s observation that in China “[t]here be many great husbandmen that set men by the ways with … straw shoes for poor travellers,” Purchas, a Puritan, responds in a carping marginal note that “Alms not alms; the fruit of vainglory not of mercy” (XI, 504). Purchas’ refusal to praise Chinese charity, but to condemn it as “vainglory” is understandable when one considers Protestant attitudes to discipline and labour in this period.[27] As Ilana Krausman Ben-Amos has shown, Protestants (in theory, at least) adopted a more uncompromising standpoint toward those deemed idle poor, such as vagrants, beggars, and masterless youths than adherents of the so-called Old Faith. Instead of relief it was thought that the latter were deserving of correction and punishment, and harsh laws against almsgiving in England were enforced between 1600 and 1750. As well as this, Purchas’ failure to be impressed by Chinese charity derives from the Protestant denial of the efficacy of good works, its focus being more on justification by faith alone. Catholics, by contrast, believed in penitential good works, while according to official Protestant ideology they were merely shows of self-glorification, or, as Purchas puts it, “vanity.”

  21. Condemning statues of Buddhist or Confucian deities as “monstrous,” or Chinese religious rituals (which involved the worshiping of images) as “Pomp,” Purchas also articulates the Reformed Church’s hatred of idol worship, which led to the abolishing of crucifixes and images of saints, and the replacing of them with scriptural sentences instead.[28] The Chinese practice of paying homage to statues, as well as saying prayers for the dead (the idea of purgatory was rejected by Protestant theologians), smacked, from a Protestant point of view, of a corrupt Catholic Church. Indeed, Purchas makes explicit this comparison by frequently interpolating the terms “popish” and “romish” into the text.[29]

  22. Nonetheless, what is really interesting here is that Jesuit missionaries actively incited the reader (Portuguese, Spanish or otherwise) to read the Chinese in this way; that is, the Jesuits encouraged the reader to see similarities between themselves and the Chinese. This endeavour was part of what is now referred to as the Jesuits’ accommodationist policy, a policy that would ultimately lead to the 1640s’Chinese Rites Controversy. This method of proselytising involved, in brief, accommodating or appropriating Confucian beliefs to fit with Catholicism, thereby closing the gap between European and Foreigner.[30] One example of this Confucian-Christian synthesis is Mendoza’s interpretation of a three-headed Buddhist statue as emblematic of the Trinity, and of a statue in the form of a woman with a child as the Madonna and Christ (I, 37). This approach to Chinese culture barely registered physical racial differences, and many of the Jesuits in China depicted the people of China “white” (descriptions of the Chinese as yellow are an eighteenth-century configuration). Therefore, ironically, the English, despite trying to retain a cynical distance from Iberian representations of China, often responded to the text (and thus to the Chinese) precisely how the Catholic missionaries intended them to; that is, in reading the Chinese as “popish.”  

  23. That the English were (unwillingly or otherwise) subject to the authority of the Jesuits with regard to the Chinese is made visually apparent in “The Map of China” published in Purchas’ Hakluytus posthumus (Fig. 1). Obtained by Captain John Saris in Bantam from a Chinese merchant, this map depicts Matteo Ricci above the Chinese man and woman with his outstretched hand presiding over the whole of China. This positioning of Ricci above the two Chinese figures is political, for as Valerie Traub argues, in early modern maps, the social relations of the world are governed by a precise logic of hierarchy and analogy, which explains why Europeans are always positioned along the top border of Western maps of the world. The Chinese, in this map, then, are conceived of as literally under both the influence and the representational control of the Jesuits: they are the Jesuits’ subjects. Yet in placing all three figures, literally, within the same conceptual framework (albeit hierarchically), this map also suggests that the Chinese and the Jesuits’ shared a certain degree of sameness.

  24. The Chinese and the Jesuits’ shared characteristics are stressed by Benedict Goez, a missionary active in China from 1594, when he described Chinese “priests” as wearing “caps like Jesuits,” and their religious practices as “like to our rites” (Purchas XII, 223). The Jesuits shaped English perceptions of the Chinese as being similar to them to such an extent that Purchas read the planting of Catholicism in China as merely an “exchange of idols,” a sign of “the Chinese leav[ing] the worshiping of one idoll to worship another” (XII, 469 and 168). Parke, in his translation of Mendoza’s Historie, likewise conjectures in the margins that “[the Chinese] leaue the worshipping of one idol to the worship of another” (Mendoza I, 37). The English translators thereby cast the Chinese within the same conceptual framework as European Catholics: Jesuits and the Chinese are understood as interchangeable. This signals both the breakdown in the traditional Christian/Heathen, West/East dichotomy and the redundancy of the colonial paradigm in describing this cross-cultural encounter.


  25. The collapse in distinction between the Chinese and the Portuguese and Spanish from an English viewpoint is also evident in Peter Mundy’s recollection of an expedition to China in 1637.[31] Arriving in Macao, the English were initially interviewed by a Portuguese official and told that they did not have the consent of the Chinese to trade in these waters, to which Mundy responds that it was merely falce” (III, 168). This highlights how the Portuguese governed not only Englands textual but actual encounters with the Chinese, and how just like on the written page, the English are cast in a marginal position. Additionally, Mundys distrust of the Portuguese officials words regarding the Chinese resonates with Purchas and others’ conviction that the Iberians lie about China in order to conceale from others that which they have found sweet and gainful” (Mundy III, 56). Once again the English feel they are being kept in the dark when it comes to China.

  26. The Portuguese in China played a major role in shaping the English response to the Chinese, not only as authors of books on China, but when the English were actually in China. Firstly, the Portuguese, having acquired the Chinese tongue, acted as interpreters and mediated between the English and the Chinese. Secondly, as the Portuguese had been resident in South China for decades before the arrival of the English, and many had married Chinese women, they had become assimilated into the ways and habits of the Chinese. The Portuguese and Chinese, as perceived by the English, were therefore almost indistinguishable. In a letter addressed to the Portuguese in Macao, the English represent themselves as but foreigners in these parts. Thus, by implication, the English do not view the Portuguese, their European counterparts, as fellow foreigners in China. The idea that the Portuguese were more than merely foreign traders in China is reinforced in their reply to the said letter, in which they write: we who are residents in the lands of the King of China and have received from him many favours are natives of this land” (Mundy III, 250). Such is the extent to which the Portuguese in Macao had become assimilated by Chinese culture that when Mundy describes the habits of the people of Macao,” the reader is uncertain whether it is the Chinese or the Portuguese to which he is referring. Mundy does not specify. This is probably because many Portuguese officials, deemed counterfeite mandarins,” “petty counterfeites and imposter[s]” by Mundy, had adopted Chinese dress and mannerisms.[32] Echoing the fears back home about the chameleon-like quality of the Jesuits and their unsettling ability to blend in unnoticed (some in England even suspected them of disguising themselves as Quakers), Mundy’s “counterfeit mandarins” also taps into to common association in the this period of Jesuits with lying and dissembling.[33] Confusing matters further, Mundy notes how many of the Chinese similarly adopted Portuguese clothing in Canton, and “[were] cladde after the Portuguese fashion” (III, 267). The collapse in distinction in appearance also leads Mundy, like Purchas and other Englishmen, to fail to distinguish Confucianism from Catholicism; for instance, Mundy refers to what is most probably a Catholic Monastery, as his observation was made on a little Iland opposite Canton (most likely Napier Island) which was home to many Jesuits, as a pagode or temple of Idolls” (III, 282). Mundy’s inability to distinguish between the religion of fellow Europeans and that of Easterners demonstrates, once more, the effect that the Jesuitsaccommodationist policy in China had on English understandings of the latter. The English simply cannot see (or read) the Chinese without their perception being coloured, or more accurately tarnished, to varying degrees, by the Jesuits.

  27. Mundy does, however, attempt to disengage or extract the Chinese subject from the Portuguese governed socio-political context in which they seemed to be embedded, and it is these moments of resistance, like that of Purchas, that convey a specifically English attitude toward the Chinese in this period. Devoting several paragraphs to describing the Chinese from firsthand observations, Mundy accompanies his comments with several remarkable drawings.[34] The first of these (Fig. 2) depicts a Chinaman eating with chopsticks. Sat on the ground, barefoot, and coarsely dressed, this drawing dramatically differs from the dignified and majestic image of the Chinese that the Portuguese relayed. Mundys written description of this particular man eating is equally uncomplimentary: Hee thrusts, Crammes and stuffes …” (III, 192). Again, this compares unfavourably with the Portuguese portrayal of the cleanliness and neatness of the Chinese dining manner. One possible reason for this is that Englands contact with the Chinese throughout the seventeenth century was limited to the southern ports and therefore with the less educated Chinese people. In other words, the English did not come into contact with the more culturally refined Chinese of, say, Nanking or Peking. Thus, the English and the Portuguese were perhaps conveying differences present among the Chinese people themselves.

  28. However, Mundys second set of drawings (Fig. 3) strongly suggests that it is English difference in approach to the Chinese that is primarily responsible for the difference in representation. Categorising the Chinese in a scientific fashion (like specimens in a laboratory), Mundy, like English translators, is a distant and clinical observer. In extracting the Chinese from a lived environment, and depicting them as floating in time and space located only by labels and captions, these illustrations anticipate Enlightenment schemes of scientific racism. Mundys more cold and detached approach to the Chinese also anticipates the attitude of Protestant missionaries to the Chinese in the early nineteenth century. Their mode of proselytising, unlike that of the Jesuits, which involved polite intellectual conversation,” became in large part a matter of print (Barnett and Fairbank 6). The belief in the efficiency of the printed scripture, while coinciding with definitions of Protestantism as a text-based Faith, signified a much more impersonal approach to the Chinese than the Jesuits had adopted. Mundys representational strategy here, therefore, can be read as revealing a specifically Protestant response to the Chinese.

  29.  The early modern English, arguably, were more indifferent to and disapproving of outsiders in general when compared to other Europeans. Evidence of this is the official stance the English took regarding interracial sex and marriage in its colonies. Keen to assert and uphold distinctions between themselves and Others, the English feared the potentially “contaminating” effect of travel (a fear expressed in Edmund Spenser’s A View of the Present State of Ireland [1596], for example), and condemned the Iberians for engaging in interracial relationships with natives. Frowning upon the mestizoes (mixed race children) population in Iberian colonies, the English, according to Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker, viewed the Spanish and Portuguese as being “the most mingled, most uncertain and most bastardly [of nations]” (2). The English desire to emphasise and keep intact the boundaries between Self and Other can be glimpsed in Mundys depiction of the Chinese as obviously different.” Compared with Portuguese representations of the people of the same nation, the English depict the Chinese as much more visually Other. As stated earlier, Jesuit accommodationist strategies tended to ignore any essential racial differences; Mundy’s drawings, on the other hand, stress Chinese difference in appearance. In fact, Mundy exaggerates the physiological differences between himself and the Chinese to such an extent that the Chinese resemble the “Moor,” particularly figure G, who is the wearer of Buddhist headgear. This practice of associating the Chinese with more obvious manifestations of alterity in the context of Renaissance England was evident in Edmund Scott’s discourse in which he compared the Chinese to the “Iewes” and is made explicit by Mundy himself when he describes the Chinese voice, which, given its complex tonal structure, sounded like unintelligible and barbarous “noise” from the perspective of many of the early modern English, as “after the manner of the Irish hubbub,” which came to mean any savage cry, tumult or turmoil (III, 202). Irish speech, Michael Neill points out, was commonly characterised and condemned by early modern Englishmen as “shrieks” and cries, “which savour greatly of Scythian … barbarism,” and taken as a symbol of Irish cultural inferiority (7). In likening the Chinese to the “wild Irish,” Mundy is translating the Chinese in terms that are familiar to an English readership: the Irish are a recognisable form of alterity with which to compare the Chinese. He is also deploying a common strategy in the period, for, as Ann Rosalind Jones has shown, Englishmen regularly invoked the Irish, whose supposed savagery justified English superiority and righteousness as colonizers, as an insult (257). This “frequently invoked Other” is used by Brachiano in The White Devil, for instance, to insult Vittoria (a Venetian prostitute) when he intercepts a love letter sent to her by his rival Francisco. By comparing the Chinese to the Irish, Mundy, then, like other contemporary Englishmen, demonstrates an unwillingness to discriminate between foreigners but rather to obstinately condemn all alike.  

  30. Mundy’s feminisation of the Chinese is also significant: “I thincke Noe men in the world in their outtward habitt More resemble weomen then of these Doe,” he writes (III, 257). This is made abundantly apparent in Fig. 4. Comparing and contrasting a Chinese with a Japanese man, this sketch marks an important departure from Portuguese representations of the Chinese in that, instead of comparing the Chinese with themselves, the English once more frame the Chinese within the context of other Others. In it, the Chinese male is rendered effeminate and passive (his gaze is averted), and he is made physically smaller than the Japanese. The Japanese by contrast is tall and assertive (his hand and gaze is pointed outward); he is masculine (his sword a phallic symbol), and his body is depicted in motion, thus suggesting progress and forward-thinking, whereas the static posture of the Chinese suggests that as a race they are unchanging and backward. It is in just such terms that the Chinese would come to be deprecated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the heyday of British imperialism.

  31. In concluding, it would seem that Mundy’s attitude, and that of the Renaissance English in general, towards the Chinese, both at home and abroad, in many ways anticipated the Sinophobia of later periods; certainly, the response to the Chinese, expressed via comments in the margins of Iberian texts and in accounts of experience in the Far East is, in general, more critical, more derogatory and ultimately more aggressive than that of their European counterparts. I say “aggressive” because the English in Macao initiated several attacks against the Chinese in 1637; they even, at one point, “tooke downe the China flagge, hung it over the wall and thereon advanced our kings coulours at the fort of Annunghoi, as well as temporarily seized the island of Hainan (Mundy III, 198).[35] It was this kind of behaviour that would culminate in the Opium Wars (or Anglo-Chinese Wars) of the 1800s and the colonization of Hong Kong.

  32. In contrast to the Iberians (and the Jesuits in particular) in their approach towards the Chinese, the early modern English, due to several factors, such as religion and politics, found it difficult to accept that they played a marginal role on the Far Eastern stage/page, and that a “Heathen” country could exceed their own in terms of size, power, and prosperity. China, then, challenged both seventeenth-century England’s imperial ambitions and its self-conceptualisation as a nation of the elect. And it was not just accounts of China, but England’s actual encounter with the “Middle Kingdom,” that fractured their national self-image. Described as behaving like “puppies and goats who have no learning or reason” by the Portuguese official, Domingos de Figueiredo, the English were humiliated in Macao in 1637 (Mundy III, 215). This branding of the English in terms usually reserved for the non-European Other – bestial, uncivilised and ignorant – reconfigures the conventional East/West binary and turns the claim that exotic foreign locations often served as a platform to glorify English excellence on its head. Perhaps more accurately, though, it was the Spanish and Portuguese that exposed early modern England’s shortcomings rather than the Chinese, for as the primary traders with, and authors on, China, the Iberians made England’s failure to fulfil its global aspirations all the more apparent.     


Works Cited




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Fig. 1: “The Map of China” published in Samuel Purchas’ Hakluytus posthumus (1625)




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Fig. 2: Peter Mundy’s “a Chinaman eating with Chopstickes” (1637)


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Fig. 3: Peter Mundy’s “Sundry habits of Chinois” (1637)




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Fig. 4: Peter Mundy’s “A Japonian: A Chinese making his Salutation” (1637)

[1] While antique and Biblical sources were still consulted in this period, it was the contemporary reports of the Spanish and Portuguese on China that were relied upon most heavily by the English. Chief amongst these Iberian accounts, from the sixteenth to the end of the seventeenth century are: Bernardino de Escalante, A discourse of the nauigation which the Portugales doe make to the realmes and provinces of the east partes of the worlde, trans. John Frampton (London, 1579; STC 10529); Juan González de Mendoza, The historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China, trans. Robert Parke (London, 1588; STC 12003); Alvaro Semedo, The history of that great and renowned monarchy of China (London 1655; Wing S2490); Fernćo Mendes Pinto, The voyages and adventures of Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, trans. “H. C. Gent” (London, 1663; Wing M1706); and Louis le Comte, Memoirs and observations topographical, physical, mathematical, mechanical, natural, civil, and ecclesiastical made in a late journey through the empire of China (London, 1698; Wing L831A).

[2] Edition cited from here and henceforth is Juan González de Mendoza, The historie of the great and mightie kingdome of China, ed. George T. Staunton, 2 vols. (London: Hakluyt Society, 1853) I, 93 and 141.

[3] Gaspar da Cruz, “A Treatise of China,” in Samuel Purchas, Hakluytus posthumus, or Purchas his Pilgrimes, 20 vols. (Glasgow: J. MacLehose and Sons, 1905-1907) XI, 474-565.

[4] Critics often, and usually implicitly, take it for granted that the English readership of Spanish and Portuguese relations of China in the early modern period accepted such discourse unequivocally. See, for instance, Edwin J. Van Kley, “Some Seventeenth-Century European Protestant Responses to Matteo Ricci and his Mission in China,” Asia and the West: Encounters and Exchanges from the Age of Explorations: Essays in Honour of Donald F. Lach, ed. Donald F. Lach, Cyriac K. Pullapilly, and Edwin J. Van Kley (Notre Dame: Cross Cultural Publications, 1986) 195-203.

[5] It is widely accepted that China was almost universally admired in this period and it was not until the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century that Sinophobia (dislike or fear of China, its culture or its people) became widespread in Europe, and China was subsequently stripped of all its glories. And although China did undoubtedly have the admiration of some Englishmen in this period, most notably Royalists Peter Heylyn and John Webb, this article argues that such sentiments were not widespread.

 See, for instance, Colin Mackerras, Western Images of China (Oxford and Hong Kong: Oxford U P, 1989); Thomas H. C. Lee, ed., China and Europe: Images and Influences in Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries (Hong Kong: Chinese U P, 1991); and David E. Mungello, The Great Encounter of China and the West, 1500-1800 (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009) 113-46.

[6]  I am defining certain accounts of China as “homebred” more to signify what they are not – that is, Portuguese or Spanish in origin – than what they are, which is, loosely speaking, accounts written (rather than translated) by the English, either at home or abroad.  

[7] Colin Mackerras also argues that the increase in negative views of the Chinese concurred with the rise of specifically British imperialism (43).

[8] “H. C. Gent” also wrote “An Apologetical Defence of Fernand Mendez Pinto” in his 1663 translation of the same. 

[9] See Jonathan Burton, ‘“A most wily bird”: Leo Africanus, Othello and the trafficking in difference”, Post-Colonial Shakespeares, ed, Ania Loomba and Martin Orkin (London and New York: Routledge, 1998) 43-63.  

[10] Purchas’ resentment at having to rely on Iberian accounts of the Chinese is shared by William Wotton, who complained, as late as 1694, that “the whole Chinese history depends upon the sole authority of Martinius and [the] missionaries.” See his Reflections upon ancient and modern learning (London, 1694; Wing W3658) 144-45.

[11] Ben Jonson also subjected Iberian (and Jesuit in particular) travel writers to cynicism and ridicule in his masque, News from the New World discovered in the Moon (1620). In it, a chronicler, when receiving news of a world in the moon, bemoans having been cheated with false relations in the past (338). He is reassured, however, by the heralds that this time the report does not come to him via a “brother of the Rosie Cross’s intelligence” and that it, therefore, can be trusted (339). That this is an allusion to Jesuit accounts of China in particular, is made explicit when the heralds explain how the “The Brethren of the Rosie Cross have their college within a mile of the moon” (342). Since the Jesuits had founded several colleges in China in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the moon, then, can be read as a euphemism for China. Furthermore, in this “new world” we are told “the coaches are much of the nature of the ladies, for they go only with the wind,” to which the chronicler replies, “pretty like China wagons” (343). That Jonson would equate China with the moon further attests to the extent to which the English regarded Jesuit accounts of the said as fantastical.

[12] The (anonymous) English translator of the French traveller Henri de Feynes’ description of China also harbours the suspicion that the Iberians refrain from revealing the truth about China in case their European rivals, namely the Dutch, French and English, also gain “an entrance to that Earthly Paradise.” The Jesuits, he wrote, “enuiously barre [China] from all notice” (see Feynes, “A Preface” n. p.). Likewise, the English translator of Alvaro Semedo’s The history of that great and renowned monarchy of China claims in the preface that the Jesuits’ “reserve onely to themselves the knowledge of their own Affairs” (n.p.). 

[13] See, for example, Daniel Vitkus, Turning Turk: English Theatre and the Multicultural Mediterranaen 1570-1630 (New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); Jerry Brotton, The Renaissance Bazaar: From the Silk Road to Michelangelo (Oxford: Oxford U P, 2003); Matthew Dimmock, New Turks: Dramatising Islam and the Ottomans in Early Modern England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005); and Nabil Matar, Turks, Moors and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery (New York: Columbia University P, 1999).

[14] On Renaissance England’s self-conceptualisation as a merchant nation, see Richard Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England (London and Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992) 151-91.

[15] According to Francisco J. Borge, predating material success, England managed to create and develop an empire-oriented consciousness through the written word. See his “Richard Hakluyt, Promoter of the New World: The Navigational Origins of the English Nation.” Spanish and Portuguese Society for English Renaissance Studies 13 (2003): 1-9.

[16] “Extract of a letter from George Ball in Bantam, 19 January 1617,” Oriental and India Office, IOR, G/12/1, 4.

[17] “Samuel Boyle, 20 December 1615,” Letters Received by the East India Company from its Servants in the East: Transcribed from the ‘Original Correspondence’ Series of the India Office Records, ed, Frederick Charles Danvers and Sir William Foster, 6 vols. (London: Sampson Low, Marston, 1896-1902), III, 261; “Letter from George Ball to Richard Cocks, 9th June 1617,” Letters Received by the East India Company, ed, Danvers and Foster, V, 13; “Richard Wickham at Osaka to John Osterwick at Hirado, 22nd September 1616,” The English Factory in Japan, 1613-1623, ed, Anthony Farrington, 2 vols. (London: British Library, 1991), I, 504.

[18] In Java, the Chinese also occupied their own living quarters, which Nicholas Downton called a “stinking stew” in a letter to Sir Thomas Smythe. See Letters Received by the East India Company, ed, Danvers and Foster, I, 260. 

[19] Scott, An exact discourse, sigs. D4r, N2r, E1r, and N2r. Scott also writes that the Chinese are the “most effeminate and cowardliest people that liue,” sig. N4v. Similar sentiments were expressed by Sir Thomas Herbert in his A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile (London, 1634; STC 13190), in which he describes the Chinese as “subtle and cowardly” as well as “inveterate gamblers … given to Epicureanism” (206).

[20] Richard Baxter would similarly argue that the Chinese are a miserable race, more to be pitied than envied. See his The reasons of the Christian religion (London, 1667; Wing B1367) 200.

[21] Purchas was also reluctant to accept Pinto’s descriptions of the greatness of Chinese buildings and temples; beside the latter’s account of the castle(?) “Muxiparan,” which the writer claims was “compassed with a strong wall and ditch, with many stone Towers and painted pinnacles,” Purchas comments in the margins, “Another admirable Fabrike” (XII, 118). 

[22] Cited in Robert Cawley, The Voyages and Elizabethan Drama (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1938) 211.

[23] See also Patrick Collinson, “Biblical Rhetoric: The English Nation and National Sentiment in the Prophetic Mode,” Religion and Culture in Renaissance England, ed, Claire Elizabeth McEachern and Debora K Shuger (Cambridge: Cambridge U P) 15-45.

[24] William Shakespeare, Richard II, in The Norton Shakespeare, ed, Stephen Greenblatt et. al. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997) II. i. 40-58.

[25] In a letter dated 25 June 1656, Milton responds to Henry Oldenburg’s report of the anticipation surrounding the publication of Pere Martini’s Sinicae historiae by dismissing it as a “novelty” (Markley, The destin’d Walls 198).

[26] The fact that Sir John Mandeville’s indeterminate national identity was of no apparent significance to the medieval reader indicates that Europeans in their attitudes towards Others before the Reformation shared broadly the same conceptual outlook. 

[27] Purchas also decries Pinto’s account of Chinese charity by writing in the margins “Filthy” (XII, 112).   

[28]  Purchas XII, 99, 288, 81 and 113.

[29]  See, for instance, Purchas XII, 223.

[30] For a more in-depth discussion of the Jesuits’ accommodationist strategies in China, I refer the reader to David E. Mungello, Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology (Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 1989); Thomas H. C. Lee, China and Europe: Images and Influences in Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries (Hong Kong: Chinese U P, 1991) 1-27; and Andrew Ross, A Vision Betrayed: The Jesuits in Japan and China, 1542-1742 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh U P, 1994).

[31] The edition cited from is Peter Mundy, The Travels of Peter Mundy in Europe and Asia, 1608-1667, 5 vols., ed. Richard Carnac Temple and Lavinia Mary Anstey (Cambridge: Hakluyt Society, l907-36).

[32] Mundy III, 283-84 and 244.

[33] See Gary Wills, Witches and Jesuits: Shakespeare’s Macbeth (New York and Oxford: Oxford U P, 1995) 94, and Alexandra Walsham, Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England, 1500-1700 (Manchester: Manchester U P, 2006) 26.

[34] These drawings have been commented upon (in a non-analytical way) in Rogerio Miguel Puga, “Images and Representations of Japan and Macao in Peter Mundy’s Travels (1637),” Bulletin of Portuguese/Japanese Studies 1 (2001): 97-109. 

[35] For a more detailed account of these incidences, see Hosea Ballou Morse, The Chronicles of the East India Company: Trading to China, 1635-1834, 5 vols. (Oxford: The Clarendon P, 1926-1929) I, 18-28.


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2011-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).