The Chinese Influence on the Spanish Enlightenment
Abstract: Sustained direct contact with China in the early modern period
brought into focus distinguishing and—to many in the West—enviable characteristics of the
Chinese Empire: riches, efficiency, a political system widely judged to be benign, and a
culture superior in many respects to others, with arts, science, philosophies, and
political institutions from which Europeans could learn. ... read moreEspecially in the eighteenth
century, China inspired European monarchs and their courts as they sought to expand central
power and create efficient bureaucratic states. A great deal is known about the impact of
knowledge of China on the Enlightenment in France. I interrogate Spanish sources to see
how, at the apogee of the Chinese influence on Europe, Sinophilia (with the attending
Sinophobia) manifested itself in Spanish newspapers, consumer goods, and art. Indeed,
unlike many historians, who use art only for illustrative purposes, I make artistic
endeavors a central part of my work. Art is an expression of culture, and understanding a
society's art makes it possible to comprehend that society's deepest aspirations and most
compelling obsessions. By studying court entertainments and palace décor I argue that
unlike other exotic societies, China had an inspirational effect on Spanish discourse and
was explicitly deployed as a model for bolstering the monarchy's powers and prerogatives.
Chiefly through an analysis of the content of periodicals, meanwhile, I approach the
problems of how elite Spaniards perceived China and absorbed aspects of Chinese influence
through anecdotes, stories, and descriptions. I bring to bear classified ads and cargo
manifests to shed light on the types of objects that were characteristic of the elite
lifestyle, which depended heavily for its aesthetic on the vogue of chinoiserie. I
demonstrate that the elite's interest in China was far more than a passing fancy and
constituted a serious interest sustained over many decades. The evidence I unfold tends to
confirm that the Enlightenment in Spain, like that in Christendom generally, is best
understood in the context of trans-Eurasian exchanges.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2017.
Submitted to the Dept. of History.
Advisor: Felipe Fernández-Armesto.
Committee: Paolo Luca Bernardini, José Antonio Mazzotti, and Ma Ning.
Keywords: World history, and History.read less