300 years after Kangxi

Pedro Luengo’s Global architecture for eighteenth-century Beijing is the April volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series. This book reinterprets Beijing during the eighteenth century, revealing a new chapter in the global history of architecture. In this blog post, Pedro Luengo discusses the beginning of a new period of Chinese international relations after the death of Qing emperor Kangxi and the new approach to cosmopolitanism developed in response to eighteenth-century global modernity.

China’s relations with the rest of world is a vital issue for our times. International relationships are deeply connected to notions of the perceived Other, which in turn can be shaped by personal experiences, powerful propaganda and historical events. To better understand China’s approach to foreign relations in the present, it can be useful to look to its past.

Portrait of the emperor Kangxi at age 32 by Caspar Luiken (1698).

The death of the Qing emperor Kangxi on 20 December 1722 marked the beginning of a new period of Chinese international relations. First with Kangxi’s successor, emperor Yongzheng, at the helm, followed by emperor Qianlong from 1735, the Qing dynasty developed different ways of dealing with eighteenth-century global modernity. Ethnically Manchu while governing a Han society, they proposed a new approach to cosmopolitanism. As part of a Chinese cosmovision, the emperor was placed at the centre of the globalised world, governing both their territories and beyond. While previous scholarship has tended to examine the role of European missionaries and the exchange of artistic traditions among the local elite, Global architecture for eighteenth-century Beijing: Building Qing Enlightenments aims to explain how these Qing emperors defined an image of globalisation in eighteenth-century Beijing.

More specifically, the book begins by reviewing the most recent approaches to court history in order to provide an analysis of specific building complexes. Yuánmíng Yuán is treated here not as a Chinese garden with exotic buildings based on European forms but as a vast architectural project that showcases Asian and European influences as well as Chinese styles. Indeed, references to French, Italian, Persian, and southeast Asian architecture can all be identified.

From Catholic churches to Russian monasteries to mosques, the second set of buildings under consideration provide a means to examine the Qing emperors’ support for religious tolerance during the period. This particular aspect of globalisation spread among both the elite and rural populations with engravings and paintings providing evidence of this cosmopolitan view, including in artworks found to adorn opera stages and shrines.

Green Wutong Tree Academy from Forty scenes of Yuanming Yuan commisioned by the Qianlong emperor in 1744 (BnF).

Analysed using new historical sources and the latest digital technology, these buildings help to provide a more accurate image of Beijing as an important global centre during the eighteenth century. This also allows for comparisons to be drawn between other contemporary cities, such as Istanbul, Paris, and Rome among many others. Knowledge of how the issue of multiculturalism was dealt with by these societies may help others to address similar challenges in the present. In addition, it might prompt renewed conservation efforts to help preserve or restore these historical sites. Yuánmíng Yuán is currently preserved as ruins after the destruction wrought by British and French soldiers in the nineteenth-century, while the churches, monasteries, and mosques examined mostly disappeared during the current century. The paintings found at rural sites are, themselves, at high risk. Curiously, the typical Chinese approach to heritage and its preservation insists on community value at the expense of other aspects such as material authenticity. In this way, the ruins of Yuánmíng Yuán are explained today as the consequence of European barbary, and not so much noted as a prime example of the Chinese contribution to the international history of multilateralism. Notwithstanding its terrible attack, the monument might therefore be better used to highlight and reinforce the potentially positive role that China can play as the world navigates its current tensions and challenges.

Pedro Luengo (Universidad de Sevilla)

Global architecture for eighteenth-century Beijing is part of the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, published in collaboration with the Voltaire Foundation, University of Oxford.

This article first appeared in the Liverpool University Press Blog.

Les Antiquités dépaysées

Charlotte Guichard and Stéphane Van Damme’s Les Antiquités dépaysées is the March volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series. This book is the first on the geopolitics of antiquarianism in the eighteenth century. In this blog post Charlotte Guichard and Stéphane Van Damme discuss this new publication and how the volume came to exist.

In recent decades there has been a proliferation of conferences, books and articles that have rethought antiquarian knowledge in a global context in art history, history of material culture, and the history of knowledge. They were mainly based on the idea of the long – even deep – history of Antiquity and on a comparative approach between cultures of collecting. There were also perspectives on the history of Antiquity more rooted in the colonial world or addressing global Renaissance. In all these cases, the aim was to break with the disciplinary genealogies of modern archaeology in order to recapture the early modern period.

Our viewpoint in this book was slightly different: we questioned the idea that antiquarian curiosity was an anthropological invariant, and we also wanted to interrogate further the shift from antiquarianism to archaeology that occurred during the Enlightenment. We come from two different but complementary backgrounds: Charlotte Guichard comes from art history and has done a lot of work on collecting, expertise and the world of objects, and Stéphane Van Damme comes from the history of science and has taken an interest in urban antiquities. This volume is therefore the result of a series of meetings that took place in Paris that aimed to pool the approaches of a new generation of historians and art historians who belong to different historiographical fields and who have been sensitized to the question of the circulation of antiques in the eighteenth century in worlds and spaces as different as the Mughal Empire, the Chinese Empire, the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East, the Spanish empires in New Spain, or the antiquarian culture in the young Republic of the United States.

Our problem is anchored in a connected history and we chose to focus on the devices of encounter that constitute moments of testing and appraising of these artefacts. Circulation is not an inert framework but a phase of transformation, translation and adaptation that played a role in giving a new identity to these artefacts. We have therefore always paid attention to the actors, the mediations that made these circulations possible or, on the contrary, hindered them. Less than structural comparison, the connection and circulation between these worlds required agreements on the nature of these objects and their interpretations. The history of knowledge mobilized here is part of the material turn to account for this intense work of qualification, as the ontologies of objects and artefacts are not fixed but constantly discussed and negotiated. The global dimension does not invite us to focus solely on the analysis of the processes of globalization of a material culture of Antiquity, but rather to show the diversity of the collecting enterprises and the variety of local contexts in which they were embedded.

By studying antiquarian knowledge in context, the book aims to give an archipelagic representation of the antiquarian world rather than the plenary vision that has become established, and which gives a false image of these exchanges. In the eighteenth century there were indeed high places and metropolitan cities where these meetings took place: Paris, London, Philadelphia, Constantinople, Beijing, Delhi, Mexico. The collective work therefore consisted in mapping these exchanges. While the paradigm of international trade was established in eighteenth-century European societies, the flow of antique objects was not homogeneous. Antiquarian curiosity was not unanimously shared, and enthusiasm was often tempered. This book reveals, on the contrary, the indifference or the obstacles in this pursuit. In so doing, our collective investigation aims to re-politicize the exchanges, highlight the conflicts and power relations, and even the economy of predation that surrounded these circulations of Antiquity in the eighteenth century.

Charlotte Guichard and Stéphane Van Damme (Ecole normale supérieure)

Les Antiquités dépaysées: Histoire globale de la culture antiquaire au siècle des Lumières is part of the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, published in collaboration with the Voltaire Foundation, University of Oxford.

This notice first appeared in the Liverpool University Press blog in March 2022.

The Oxford Complete Works of Voltaire … complete!

The Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, one of the most complex publishing projects ever, has been underway since 1967. Two of the editors look back on this great undertaking.

Gillian Pink: It’s amazing to think that we’ve finally reached the end! When I tell non-specialists that our edition of Voltaire’s works runs to 205 volumes, they are always astonished to learn that he wrote so much. Certainly, his better-known works represent only a very small part of the whole.

Alison Oliver: That’s true – and there is so much to discover! We should remember also that almost exactly a quarter of those 205 volumes is correspondence – an astonishing editorial feat by our founder, Theodore Besterman, who edited it not once, but twice. The edition we use now is what he called ‘definitive’ – a bold claim even in 1968, especially as new letters are emerging even now.

GP: Yes, and while there have been fewer ‘new’ discoveries outside the correspondence, one obvious place in which our edition breaks fresh ground compared to its predecessors is in the inclusion of Voltaire’s marginalia. Publication began in the seventies as a separate project run by a team of Russian specialists, but it joined the Complete Works in the early 2000s and was finished here at the Voltaire Foundation, in collaboration with our Russian colleagues.

AO: All this adds up to an extraordinary body of work. Voltaire is an astonishingly versatile writer, and nothing was beneath his notice. For example, his support for victims of injustice, such as Jean Calas, is well known, but he also interested himself in more quotidian matters in his capacity of lord of the manor on his estate of Ferney on the Swiss border. His epic poems La Henriade and La Pucelle brought him fame (and infamy), but there are also gems of occasional verse in which his wit and style are encapsulated in just a few lines.

Gillian Pink and Alison Oliver.

GP: And the chronological organisation of the edition means that those lesser-known writings may gain more visibility: anyone consulting Œdipe [the play that made Voltaire famous in his twenties] in vol.1A may be interested to find the tantalising fragments of an even earlier play, Amulius et Numitor, dating from his school days. Or a reader interested in another of his well-known plays, Mahomet, would find, in the same volume 20B, the short prose text De l’Alcoran et de Mahomet, which was published with the play in Voltaire’s lifetime, but separated from it in all the posthumous editions until this one.

AO: What I like about the idea of the chronological principle is that it is non-judgemental. Literary judgements are apt to date badly, and we want the edition to be, as far as any can be, timeless. By organising according to chronology – at least as far as this can be determined – we are trying to provide a neutral framework on which to hang the content, rather than engage in judgements about genre, hierarchy and literary merit. The founders of the edition opted for ‘date of substantial composition’, rather than date of publication – for the sound reason that Voltaire did not always publish works (and sometimes ones of major importance) as soon as they were written. It’s true that the chronological principle has immeasurably complicated the publishing process… if we’d decided to put all the poetry together, for example, a single volume could potentially have been edited by an individual editor, with all of it ready to publish as soon as it was received. As it is, we’ve often had to hold back texts edited by one person while waiting for other editors to catch up.

GP: I laughed when you referred, very delicately, to ‘complicating the publishing process’! As we know so well, but our readers won’t, that number of 205 has been in constant flux over the years.

AO: We’ve recently been delving into the archives relating to the founding of the project. The fact that ‘as many as 200 volumes’ was mentioned way back in 1967 (before being dialled back later, and then eventually reached) surprised me for one! It’s also been interesting to discover that William Barber and Owen Taylor, who pitched the project to Besterman, initially envisaged only a fairly modest project – just a good, reliable text to replace that of the standard nineteenth-century edition then in use, with minimal introductions and annotation.

GP: These elements have certainly expanded over the years, and with them has come the need to split volumes. I think it was in 1990 that it was first deemed necessary to do that, with volume 63, because it became clear that the content would result in far too many pages to fit within a single physical binding. Since then, we’ve had not only pairs, like 75A and 75B, but as many as a four-way split, with 60A-D. This did allow us a certain amount of leeway sometimes in getting round the problem of waiting for contributors to submit their work, but must have confused librarians and frustrated readers. The Œuvres complètes were a sort of Penelope’s shroud, a seemingly ever-expanding universe of Voltaire, stretching endlessly into the future!

AO: It’s one of the challenges of taking on such an ambitious project, though. And over the course of the 50+ years of the endeavour, editorial standards have inevitably evolved. As the edition has grown, it has allowed scholars to study the Voltaire corpus in ways unimagined at the start of the project, and so it is unsurprising that the more we publish, the more there is to say!

GP: This is something we’re encountering right now as we prepare to make the print edition into a digital resource. Some of this is a (relatively) straightforward conversion process, but occasionally we’d quite like to be able to add little supplements to some of the volumes published longer ago.

AO: Yes, and there will be new ways of looking at the corpus by making it cross-searchable, adding metadata and links to other resources. It’s exciting to think of these possibilities for research evolving in ways that we can’t predict. But also reassuring to know that the books themselves will endure and will be on library shelves for generations to come.

– Alison Oliver and Gillian Pink

First blogged in: The Oxford Polyglot 2021-22, Issue 2, Hilary term 2022.