CCCH9004 China: Culture, State and Society

Ideas and Images of the West in Late Imperial China

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]


Course Description

During the late imperial period (17th-19th centuries), China was involved in substantive exchanges with the West in politics, religion, sciences, and arts. They made great impacts on China’s later development towards a modern nation. How did the Chinese people perceive and conceptualize the West in textual and visual representations? What factors may have contributed to the creation of diverse ideas and images of the West, including “red-haired barbarians”, “Holy Mother”, “scholars from the West”, “heavenly brothers”, and “foreign masters”, etc.? Are there any common characteristics among these ideas and images, and in what ways did they affect China’s transition from tradition to modernity? For some special terms like the “foreign devil” (Yang guizi in Mandarin, or Gweilo in Cantonese), why do Chinese continue to use them today to refer to the Westerners? In this course, students will have an opportunity to search for answers to these questions through a set of exemplary case studies. They will explore both textual and visual sources to analyze the formation and transformation of a certain idea or image of the West, as well as its historical and cultural implications. Important theories in history, comparative literature and cultural studies will be introduced to facilitate in-depth discussions and critical reflections. From an interdisciplinary perspective, students will be able to reflect upon the increasing presence of the West in late imperial China, explore the changing Chinese identities mirrored by the Western other(s), and express their opinions on controversial issues such as the meaning of Chineseness and the compatibility between Chinese and Western cultures.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate solid knowledge of key components of the traditional Sino-centric world order and its continuous impacts on late imperial Chinese society.
  2. Critically evaluate varied types of textual and visual sources, and develop ability to summarize differences and similarities among ideas/images presented in these sources.
  3. Reflect on important historical and social factors that conditioned Chinese perception, representation, and imagination of the West.
  4. Apply theories and research methods learnt in class to a wider range of academic discussions and writings.
  5. Demonstrate understanding of diversity and dynamism of Chinese culture from past to present, and challenge normative assumptions and views on Chinese ethnic/cultural identity.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Reading / Self-study 35
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 30
Assessment: Discussion, debate, presentation (incl preparation) 30
Assessment: Mini quizzes 4
Total: 133

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Class participation 15
Tutorial participation 35
Mini quizzes 10
Term paper 40

Required Reading

  • Arnold, L. (2005). Folk goddess or Madonna: Early missionary encounters with the image of Guanyin. In X. Wu (Ed.), Encounters and dialogues: Changing perspectives on Chinese-Western exchanges from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Nettetal: Styler Verlag. [pp. 227-238]
  • Cohen, P. A. (1974). Between tradition and modernity: Wang T’ao and reform in late Ch’ing China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Unviersity Press. [pp. 209-235]
  • Fairbank, J. K. (Ed.). (1968). The Chinese world order: Traditional China’s foreign relations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [pp. 1-13]
  • Franke, W. (1967). China and the West (R. A. Wilson, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell. [pp. 66-91]
  • Frodsham, J. D. (1974). The first Chinese embassy to the West: The journals of Kuo Sung-t’ao, Liu Hsi-hung and Chang Te-yi. Oxford: Clarendon Press. [pp. 97-109, 134-149]
  • Gernet, J. (1985). China and the Christian impact: A conflict of cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [pp. 112-126]
  • Meng, H. (2000). The Chinese genesis of the term “Foreign Devil”. In H. Meng & S. Hirakawa (Eds.), Images of Westerners in Chinese and Japanese literature. Amsterdam: Rodopi. [pp. 25-37]
  • Michael, F. H. (1971). The Taiping Rebellion: History and documents. Seattle:  University of Washington Press. [pp. 715-721]
  • Mish, J. L. (1964). Creating an image of Europe for China: Aleni’s Hsi-fang ta-wen. Monumenta Serica: Journal of Oriental Studies, 23. [pp. 43-63]
  • Smith, R. J. (1996). Chinese maps: Images of “All Under Heaven”. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press. [pp. 16-41]
  • Ye, X. (2003). The Dianshizhai pictorial: Shanghai urban life, 1884-1898. Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan. [pp. 117-131]

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr G. Song
School of Chinese, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 7921
Email: songg@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr G. Song
School of Chinese, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 7921
Email: songg@hku.hk