Displaying China: The Impact of Chinoiserie in Shaping British Identity and Culture in the Eighteenth Century

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2021
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Haverford College. Department of History
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Thesis
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Award
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eng
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Haverford users only
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Abstract
This thesis explores Sino-Western exchanges in eighteenth-century England, from the 1740s-1760s, to investigate the material culture side of Chinese porcelain and ceramic goods within the context of the English fascination with China. I wanted to research thistopic to explain porcelain's cultural significance in the expanding global economy and consumer culture, centering chinoiserie porcelain as an active participant in cross-cultural interaction, not merely a passive commodity of Sino-British exchange.Investigating the material culture of porcelain, the consumption of a specific material good, is not only concerned with social prestige or imitation but presents signs of English commercial success, cultural superiority, and modernity in relation to China. My primary sources focus on paintings, eighteenth-century magazines and papers, travel journals, Chinese porcelain from the 16th and 17th centuries, and 18th C chinoiserie porcelain goods produced by the English Bow Factory. The combination of texts, objects, and images provides a new perspective on cultural conceptions of chinoiserie porcelain in England, allowing me to explore how the display and usage of chinoiserie porcelain transformed a material good into a force in the creation of a British sense of national identity. My four sections trace porcelain from an imported product of the sixteenth century as an exotic luxury for royalty to porcelain's consumption by wealthy consumers in the seventeenth century, ending with the eighteenth-century British capacity to domestically produce porcelain wares. This thesis surveys European perceptions of China throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries to understand how porcelain came to represent a concept of self-identity, such that it no longer had any relation or relevance to the culture that produced them. Through porcelain, I trace the foundations of the British empire through domestic production, exploding consumption, and global conquest.
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