West meets East: British perceptions of China through the life and works of Sir George Thomas Staunton, 1781--1859

Jodi Rhea Bartley Eastberg, Marquette University


This dissertation employs the simple framework of Sir George Thomas Staunton's life to reveal persistent and changing British perceptions of the Chinese between 1781 and 1859. As the first British sinologist, Staunton was an important and influential voice in British political, mercantile, and intellectual circles regarding China. By focusing on Staunton's work both within and outside China, this approach provides a nuanced and complex view of the Anglo-Chinese dynamic with a primary focus on epistemology or the production of knowledge about the China. Furthermore, it avoids producing a history of the period that presupposes an inevitable conflict and instead attempts to understand the evolution of the relationship between these two empires through one of the many agents who shaped it. Staunton's perceptions of the Qing Empire and the Chinese people are representative of a man who was exceptional in his access to and knowledge of China, respected as an expert on China in London, and marked as a person of interest by the Qing court. I emphasize the impact of global, local, and even personal factors in Anglo-Chinese relations and argue that Staunton reflected and shaped changing British perceptions of China. The dissertation also considers why popular perceptions of China contrasted with Staunton's by the end of his life and examines how he was remembered and his legacy. Ultimately, Staunton's perceptions of China were founded in his eighteenth-century education, developed through diplomacy and merchant interests, refined by his translations of Chinese texts and interactions with members of the Cantonese community and Peking court, and impacted British policy toward China.

Recommended Citation

Eastberg, Jodi Rhea Bartley, "West meets East: British perceptions of China through the life and works of Sir George Thomas Staunton, 1781--1859" (2009). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3357949.