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The Western Representation of Modern China: Orientalism, Culturalism and Historiographical Criticism

Author(s): David Martínez-Robles

ISSN 1575-2275

Issue: 10;
Date: 2008;
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Keywords: China | Orientalism | historiography | paradigm | representation

The West's perception of China as a historical entity has evolved over the centuries. China has gone from a country of miracles and marvels in the medieval world and a refined and erudite culture in early modern Europe, to become a nation without history or progress since the Enlightenment of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The first historians of China were, in fact, representatives of the great Western empires at the end of the 19th century and their work perceives China from epistemological positions that clearly form part of the Orientalist and colonial thought that was characteristic of the period. History written throughout the 20th century, despite the efforts made to overcome the prejudices of the past, was unable to distance itself completely from some of the resources used in representation or the stereotypes that the Western world had come to accept about China and East Asia since the Enlightenment. Only in recent decades has a critical historiography appeared to denounce the problems inherent in the discourse produced on China, and even this has failed to address them fully.
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